16? Not Like That

In N.B.A. Basketball by Brock Bourgase

In 2008-09, both the Toronto Raptors and the Montreal Canadiens experienced disappointment. Both teams began their seasons with high hopes, both fired head coaches during the campaign, and neither achieved playoff success. In addition to those superficial parallels, there are several significant similarities between the two. Each organization believed that they were a step away from championship contention when they actually had a much longer path to travel.

General Managers Bob Gainey and Bryan Colangelo both traded key players (goalie and point guard respectively) for younger and cheaper replacements. The new starters were not able to perform at the same level as their predecessors and the teams suffered. Gainey and Colanagelo felt that they had enough depth at those positions but they were wrong in their analysis.

Instead of acquiring top-shelf talent, the G.M.s settled for bit players (Alex Tanguay instead of Mats Sundin or Vincent Lecavalier; Will Solomon and Roko Ukic instead of an elite wing player). Neither sought the leadership that would improve the defensive intensity of each team.

After Sunday’s Game 1 win over the Utah, Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson wrote on the dressing room whiteboard: “15? Not Like That.” Jackson was referring to performance that was required to win fifteen more games and claim the Association title. A talented team – comprised of veteran players and respected leaders – knows enough to raise their games to the next level. Firstly, Gainey and Colangelo were carried away by previous success and didn’t create that type of team; secondly, their teams didn’t raise their games during the year.