GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Rebuilding Project: Endless. Since 1993-1994, the not only have not made the playoffs in the playoff-spot rich NBA, but they have even played .500 ball.
Rebuilding Method: Primarily through the draft, and occasional trades. The Warriors have made almost no major free agent signings, with the biggest name being former Los Angeles Laker utility guard Derek Fischer.
Lessons to be Learned:
• The Draft is not the fix-all: The Warriors have regularly drafted at the top of the draft for more than a decade. Some picks were simply bad, and other picks were seemingly good choices that just never panned out. In fact, the argument could be made that the best Warrior picks were late first round (Latrell Sprewell) or second round picks (Monta Ellis). It's not for lack of talent, just the lack of big league ready talent being pushed into roles they aren't ready for. Baseball's draft process is obviously different, with most NBA rookies playing for the team right away, but the point can't be ignored.
• Signing Free Agents isn't as easy as it looks: The Warriors genuinely tried to sign free agents, but players simply haven't wanted to come to Oakland. Without a winning team, the Warriors have been relegated to the scraps of the league. Perhaps the best pickup they could've made was moving a player to the coaching role (Avery Johnson).
• Coaching Turnovers disrupt the product: The numerous coaching changes over the years have led to teams that have failed because of player acquisitions made to suit a particular coaches game, only to see a new coach arrive as the team is finally put together to a suitable degree. Again, in basketball, coaches have a bigger direct effect on a game than baseball managers, but a manager's role can't be ignored.
• Character Matters: Chris Webber. Latrell Sprewell. Enough Said.
Rebuilding Project: The Raiders were 11-5 in 2002, and made it to the Super Bowl, where they lost (now, here's someone the Giants can sympathize with). Since then, the team has been 13-35 (not including the 2006 season) and has been a joke in the AFC.
Rebuilding Method: A relatively equal mix of draft picks, free agent signings and trades.
Lessons to be Learned:
• A Change of Scenery for a talented player doesn't always work: Everyone knows Randy Moss is talented. But he simply hasn't played up to his level since the trade to bring him to the Raiders and be a marquee player.
• Older Players aren't a recipe for winning: Like the Giants (and their fans) need to know this? Jerry Rice and Tim Brown would've been a dream pairing of receivers, back in the mid-1990's. Warren Sapp does more now as a team spokesperson than anything else.
• Going Cheap on a key role doesn't usually work: There may be no baseball position as integral to his team as a quarter back is to a football team, but an Ace starter or a closer may be close. Did anyone truly expect either Kerry Collins or Aaron Brooks to work? Rich Gannon, however, might be the exception that proves the rule.
• Uninspiring Coaches lead to Uninspiring Play: Gruden was inspiring. When he was traded, things just never looked the same. Bill Callahan knew the playbook that Gruden used, but never tried to make the team his own. Norv Turner may have had the college resume, but a team of pros is different than a college team. Shell is a work in progress.
• Character Matters: Randy Moss. Bill Romonowski. Enough Said.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Rebuilding Project: They were the team of the 80's, and had a solid start to the 90's. They stumbled through reloading efforts after winning a 1997 division title, and made the playoffs 3 of the next 5 years, but have since slipped into the doldrums and are one of the worst teams in the NFL.
Rebuilding Method: Um…..
Lessons to be Learned:
• Reloading isn't the best long term plan: Let's be honest, the Niners from 198-2002 were not a bad team, overall. A brief doldrums in 1999-2000 was overcome quickly, partially to the play of role-player Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens, but the team never took the big steps to do more, and the reloaded pieces fell apart quite suddenly.
• Give Young Players Time to Develop: Alex Smith hasn't been a bust: he hasn't been given enough time to be one. But he was dumped on in a poor rookie year, a year that wasn't his fault. He's shown more in his second season, and will probably soon be the player he was drafted to become.
• ‘Supporting Parts' are as important to develop as anything: The Niners of the last 3 years have had talent at the so-called ‘talent' positions. But the lack of anything cohesive on the offensive line makes wide receivers useless, running backs defenseless, and quarterbacks cannon fodder. Without that supporting part, the rest of the team was rendered useless.
• It Comes From the Top: Giants fans can be critical of Peter Magowan sometimes, but look at how the Niners have operated under John York. Say what you will about Magowan, at least he makes apparent his love for the team and has truly tried to improve things.
• Character Matters: Terrell Owens. John York. Enough Said.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
Rebuilding Project: Well, it wasn't true rebuilding: this team has been building from their inception, and they've been successful. Since the 2000-2001 season, they have been a consistent presence at the top of the division with the exception of one season.
Rebuilding Method: Mostly the draft, with signing solid role players and a couple of big trades, including the willingness to trade big names away.
Lessons to be Learned:
• Gutsy Trades Can Do A Lot: This is a team that traded away the face of its franchise, Owen Nolan, after a disappointing season. While the pieces didn't do much, the team functioned much better. Then the team traded away three promising young players for a faltering superstar. That was the eventual league MVP, Joe Thornton.
• Smart Drafting Can Nullify The Risky Nature of the Draft: Patrick Marleau. Jonathan Cheechoo. Evgeni Nabokov. Vesa Toskala. Brad Stuart. And that's just a few of the homegrown products the Sharks have made. True, the Sharks benefited by trading for higher draft picks in ways baseball teams can't, but the Sharks used their young players both on their own team and to help in trades. And the NHL's drafting and minor league process is the one closest to the way that Baseball's works.
• Slow and Steady: The Sharks have not wavered from their plan to build from within. They have been hesitant to change coaches over bad times, and trusted in their method. It has not won them a championship yet, but the longer they stuck to their plan the more successful they have become.
• Character Matters: Teemu Selanne. Enough Said.
Rebuilding Project: Giants fans don't need to be reminded of how the A's were in the late 80's to early 90's. But from that, they fell into a doldrums in the mid ‘90s very similar to how the Giants fell, but didn't come out of it until 1999. They have been a constant contender since 1999, but have only won one playoff series in 5 appearances.
Rebuilding Method: Does it need to be said? The A's have operated almost completely by building through the draft. Trade acquisitions and free agents have happened, but rarely.
Lessons to be Learned:
• Building From Within is Good, but it doesn't work by itself: The Athletics' postseason failures under Beane's reign as G.M. have been well-documented. The team of young players has been consistently good, but never truly successful.
• An Overbearing G.M. can be as bad as an Overbearing Owner: Billy Beane knows what he's doing, but he also knows it. Especially after the 2006 season, it became clear what his regard for managers can be. His direct interaction with the team seems to sometimes undermine the need for on-field leadership.
• Trading Soon-To-Be-Departing Players works better than losing them for picks: The first wave of young A's were truly led by Jason Giambi, and then Miguel Tejada. Both left not through trades, but through free agency. Giambi left in 2001, and then Tejada in 2003. The team received little compensation for either, and the team suffered. Before 2005, the team then broke up its highly touted trio of starting pitchers in trades. While the A's missed the playoffs in '05, the acquisitions from those trade led to the team's performance in 2006, when they won their first playoff series since 1990.
• Character Matters: Milton Bradley. Schott-Hoffman. Enough Said.
What it all means:
There's more than one way to rebuild a team. But there are some common threads. Smart drafting should always be the foundation. However, rebuilding through the draft is a slow, slow process that requires patience and sometimes lost years. The process can be sped along with smart trades. Trades for an MVP like Thornton won't fall into anyone's lap, and shouldn't be expected. But smart trades can help. And sometimes, it might mean trading away the promising young players or the superstars many think they may need to build around.
Failing methods are trying to build primarily free agency and impatience with rebuilding methods. The Giants are truly just beginning the rebuilding process. What they choose to do this offseason is the start. But whatever plan they choose, they need to stick to it. Switching plans prematurely almost always spells disaster.
Oh, and character matters. Naturally.
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