Through the years with NBA dynasties
Magic to Bird to Isiah to Jordan to Shaq to Duncan.
With the Spurs on the verge of their fourth NBA championship in nine seasons (or third title in five seasons if you prefer to discount the lockout-season title of 1999), it's safe to discuss Tim Duncan and company as a dynasty, the fifth in the NBA since the league merged with the ABA in 1976.
(And, yes, we offer apologies to Hakeem Olajuwon's mid-1990s Rockets, who won back-to-back titles but only reached the conference finals one other time.)
Of course, dynasties aren't built overnight. Let's take a look at how each franchise was transformed into a winner and how it fell apart. In determining dynastic years, we considered championship seasons and seasons surrounding those championship years in which a team reached the conference finals.
Dynasty No. 1: Los Angeles Lakers, 1980-1991
NBA Finals appearances: 9
Winning percentage: 712-272, .724
Playoffs: 127-60, .679
Before the dynasty: In 1976, despite featuring league MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Lakers finished 40-42 and missed the playoffs. In 1979, the Lakers won 47 games but lost to eventual champ Seattle in the Western Conference semis.
The transformation begins: With the first pick in the 1979 draft, the Lakers selected Magic Johnson, in a pick acquired from the Jazz for Gail Goodrich (umm yes, Jazz fans, this could have been your dynasty.) The Lakers never looked back, winning 10 division titles in 12 seasons and reaching 60 or more wins six times.
Other key pieces: Norm Nixon (22nd pick by Lakers in 1977); Jamaal Wilkes (signed as a free agent in 1977); Michael Cooper (third-round pick in 1978); James Worthy (first overall pick in 1982, acquired from Cleveland for Don Ford and a 1980 first-round pick); Bob McAdoo (acquired from Nets for cash and a second-round pick in 1982); Byron Scott (acquired from Clippers for Norm Nixon in 1983); A.C. Green (23rd pick in 1985).
The Lakers built their dynasty the old-fashioned way: ripping off the three sad-sack franchises of that time -- the Jazz, Cavs and Clippers -- in lopsided trades. But it was more than that: They acquired McAdoo, who provided scoring off the bench, for 50 cents on the dollar because of a perceived attitude problem; and Cooper and Green were astute draft picks. Of course, it didn't hurt that Kareem played until he was 41.
How it fell apart: Kareem retired after the '89 season, and then Magic retired before the '91-92 season. With Worthy and Scott starting to age, the Lakers were out of the playoffs in two seasons.
Dynasty No. 2: Boston Celtics, 1980-1988
NBA Finals appearances: 5
Winning percentage: 550-188, .745
Playoffs: 91-56, .619
Before the dynasty: The once-proud Celtics had slipped to 29-53 in 1979 -- last place in the Atlantic Division.
The transformation begins: GM Red Auerbach had drafted Larry Bird as junior-eligible with the sixth pick in the 1978 draft (behind Mychal Thompson, Phil Ford, Rick Robey, Michael Ray Richardson and Purvis Short). Although Bird returned for his senior season, the Celtics retained his rights (the draft rules since have changed). When Bird joined the team, the transformation was immediate, as the Celtics improved by 32 wins.
Other key pieces: Robert Parish and Kevin McHale were acquired in one of the great trades in history -- the Celtics traded the first pick and the 13th pick in the 1980 draft to the Warriors for Parish and the third pick. The Warriors drafted Joe Barry Carroll and Rickey Brown; the Celtics drafted Kevin McHale. Also: Danny Ainge (second round, 1981); Dennis Johnson (acquired for Rick Robey in 1983); Cedric Maxwell (12th pick, 1977); Gerald Henderson (picked up from the CBA in 1979); Bill Walton (acquired from the Clippers for Maxwell and a first-round pick).
A key here is the Celtics had two picks in the 1980 draft thanks to the Bob McAdoo trade the year before; Auerbach had traded McAdoo, a former league MVP, to Detroit for M.L. Carr and two first-round picks. When Detroit floundered to a league-worst record, the Celtics suddenly had the first overall pick despite having the league's best record.
How it fell apart: Beginning with Len Bias' death (he was selected No. 2 overall in '86 with a pick acquired from Seattle for Henderson), the Celtics failed to acquire the young players to replace a roster that didn't age well. When Bird missed most of the 1989 season, the Celtics fell to 42-40. Although the Celtics topped 50 wins the next three seasons with Bird back, the dynasty was over: the Celtics never again reached the conference finals. McHale retired after the '92-93 season, Reggie Lewis died that offseason and the Celtics missed the playoffs seven of the next eight seasons. Yes, injuries to Bird and McHale accelerated the decline, but so did the rise of two new powers.
Dynasty No. 3: Detroit Pistons, 1987-1991
NBA Finals appearances: 3
Winning percentage: 278-132, .678
Playoffs: 61-29, .678
Before the dynasty: The Pistons had missed the playoffs six straight seasons from 1978 to 1983.
The transformation begins: Detroit selected Isiah Thomas with the second pick in the 1981 draft.
Other key pieces: Bill Laimbeer (acquired from Cleveland with Kenny Carr for Phil Hubbard, Paul Mokeski and two draft picks in 1982); Joe Dumars (18th pick in 1985); Vinnie Johnson (acquired from Seattle for Greg Kelser in 1981); Chuck Daly hired as coach prior to '83-84 season; John Salley (12th pick in 1986); Dennis Rodman (second round, 1986); Mark Aguirre (acquired from Dallas for Adrian Dantley and a first-round pick in 1989); Rick Mahorn (acquired from Washington for Dan Roundfield in 1985).
Unlike the Lakers or Celtics, who took advantage of the league's idiot franchises to help build their dynasties, the Pistons were built slowly and more traditionally -- with a combination of good picks (Thomas, Dumars), players who developed after they were acquired (Johnson, Laimbeer) and players who fit Daly's system (Rodman, Mahorn).
How it fell apart: Although Detroit's second title team featured a backcourt of the 28-year-old Thomas and 26-year-old Dumars, the rest of the team was old: Laimbeer was 33, Johnson 33, Aguirre 31 and James Edwards 34. With those guys aging, Thomas suffering a string of injuries that eventually led to an early retirement at 32 and the rise of the Bulls, the Pistons' dynasty was over.
Dynasty No. 4: Chicago Bulls, 1989-1998
NBA Finals appearances: 6
Winning percentage: 592-228, .722
Before the dynasty: From 1978 through 1987, the Bulls finished above .500 just once.
The transformation begins:With the third pick in the 1984 draft, the Bulls drafted Michael Jordan. By the way -- the Bulls lost 14 of their last 15 games in the '83-84 season to ensure the third pick (they finished one game worse than Cleveland). And you wonder why the draft lottery was instituted the next season?
Other key pieces: Scottie Pippen (acquired from Seattle in a 1987 draft-day deal for Olden Polynice); Horace Grant (10th pick in '87 draft); Bill Cartwright (acquired from Knicks for Charles Oakley in 1988); B.J. Armstrong (18th pick in 1989); Toni Kukoc (second-round pick in 1990, joined team for '93-94 season); Steve Kerr (signed as free agent in 1993); Luc Longley (acquired from Timberwolves for Stacey King in 1994); Ron Harper (signed as free agent in 1994); Dennis Rodman (acquired from Spurs for Will Perdue in 1995).
The Bulls weren't an overnight success after drafting Jordan -- it wasn't until his fourth season that they cracked .500 and his fifth season before they reached a conference finals. But GM Jerry Krause slowly built a championship team around him, first securing Pippen and Grant in the 1987 draft and then adding some good role players. The second three title teams were built in more of the modern method -- a couple key free-agent signings, a European import and a gamble on the turbulent Rodman.
How it fell apart: Jordan retired, Pippen was traded to Houston (for somebody named Roy Rogers) and the Bulls fell to 13-37 in the 1999 lockout season. That was followed by seasons of 17, 15, 21, 30 and 23 wins.
Dynasty No. 5: Los Angeles Lakers, 1998-2004
NBA Finals appearances: 4
Winning percentage: 379-163, .699
Playoffs: 74-39, .655
Before the dynasty: The Lakers bottomed out in 1993-94, missing the playoffs for the first time in 18 seasons. Magic Johnson picked up the pieces from Randy Pfund (27-37) and Bill Bertka (1-1), coaching the team to an unimpressive 5-11 mark over the final 16 games.
The transformation begins: Jerry West had perhaps the best sequence of moves in one offseason by any executive in NBA history in 1996-97. He successfully wooed Shaquille O'Neal from Orlando, acquired the rights to prep superstar Kobe Bryant for Vlade Divac, drafted Derek Fisher with the 24th pick and got Robert Horry in a deal for exiled water skier Ced Ceballos.
Other key pieces: Rick Fox (signed as a free agent in 1997); Glen Rice (acquired from Charlotte in the shortened 1999 season in a deal involving Eddie Jones and Elden Campbell); hired Phil Jackson as coach prior to the 1999-2000 season; Ron Harper (signed as free agent prior to '99-00 season).
With Shaq and Kobe in the fold, West's job became simply to fill out the roster with the right role players. Fox and Rice added outside shooting while Harper brought his solid defense and three rings from Chicago. Jackson managed to keep his two superstars on the same page long enough to win three straight titles -- although it should be remembered that both the Blazers and Kings choked away potential Western Conference series victories. The Lakers were only truly dominant in 2001, when they went 15-1 in the playoffs.
How it fell apart: As it turned out, the Zenmaster proved no different than his peers in one regard. After a few years, the Lakersbasically had tuned out their coach. Then there was that little issue of the two superstars and their total inability to coexist. The Lakers, despite being heavily favored during the 2004 Finals against Detroit, let everything disintegrate in a five-game loss to the scrappy Pistons. Jackson, O'Neal and Bryant squabbled, and Detroit pounced while the Lakers seemed distracted by internal strife.
O'Neal was subsequently jettisoned to Miami, and Jackson took a well-earned sabbatical and penned a book in which he scalded Bryant. Kobe, meantime, used the Clippers as leverage before re-signing, got into legal hot water in Colorado and finally got to be the face of a franchise that immediately became a shadow of its former self.
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