Friday, June 8

Culture Club

I’m hearing a lot about culture lately. From David Locke, who obviously believes it’s the right way to build a successful team, to Sam Presti, who didn’t use the word specifically, but you get the impression he’d go along with it, it’s become the mantra of the Sonics this summer.

But what is culture? There is much discussion of the Spurs’ “culture” and how it has spread to Cleveland, or the Jazz’ “culture”, or the Mavericks’ “culture,” but just what the heck is it? As Frank Hughes pointed out at the News Tribune, it’s all well and good to say you’re going to have a winning culture, but is there any substance to it?

Well, when I watch the Spurs and Cavs, it’s not “culture” that I think, it’s Tim Duncan and LeBron James. Fine, Mike Brown brought a culture from San Antonio to Cleveland, but it helps just a bit to have the most physically intimidating non-center in NBA history lining up for you every night.

The press can drone on all day about Popovich’s “family,” but if the Spurs had drafted Keith Van Horn with the third pick rather than Duncan with the first, would anybody even be talking about this? (By the way, how sickening was that piece at halftime for Bob Hill? I’m guessing the Hills are shopping for a new set today after Bob put his shoe through the old one last night.)

Likewise with Cleveland. Let’s say the Cavs get Chris Bosh or Darko rather than LeBron, are we still falling over ourselves about how beautiful the San Antonio system is? After all, the Heat don’t have a former Spurs assistant running their team, and somehow they managed to win a title last year. Sure, the Jazz are flying high right now, but their “culture” hadn’t managed a win in the playoffs since Karl Malone left. What was wrong with their culture the last four years? Did they lose the recipe somewhere at Temple?

And what kind of “culture” did the Lakers have when they won three straight? Presti talked a lot about “selflessness” in his press conference, but can you recall a more selfish team than those Lakers? LA was a family alright, but it was more like the Manson Family than the Waltons.

To be honest, I’d wager that Presti and the rest of the NBA knows that culture can only take you so far. Chemistry, family, and culture are all byproducts of winners. No one ever talks about the A’s culture, because they don’t have one. Their culture is winning, and finding the best players they can afford. In the end, it takes a superstar player who is committed to playing basketball on both ends of the court. MJ, Bird, Magic, Duncan, Hakeem ... there’s a thread common to all of those guys – they all played hard all the time (well, at least in the playoffs), they were obsessed with winning, and they were good on both sides of the court (which makes you wonder whether Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis will be getting their mail forwarded any time soon, but that’s another story).

A very wise man once said that talent wins games in the NBA, not coaches. The organization, the coaching staff, the “culture” if you will, all sounds great at press conferences and in power point presentations, but I’ll take a 6’10” small forward who can dunk with one hand and shoot 3’s with another, thank you very much.


Unknown said...

When it comes to culture we must define our terms. Webster Meridian defines culture as

2 : the act of developing the intellectual and moral faculties especially by education
3 : expert care and training (beauty culture)
4 a : enlightenment and excellence of taste acquired by intellectual and aesthetic training b : acquaintance with and taste in fine arts, humanities, and broad aspects of science as distinguished from vocational and technical skills
5 a : the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations b : the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time c : the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization (a corporate culture focused on the bottom line) d : the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic
6 : the act or process of cultivating living material (as bacteria or viruses) in prepared nutrient media"

Key here is c : the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization because we want the Seattle Supersonics not be just a name we want it be like the Bulls, Celtics, or Lakers. In that you say the name and there tradition and style of play during there era of dominance comes to the forefront .

Do we really want to copy and paste the Spur culture into the Sonics franchise? I'm not sure we can nor would want to. You might posite the question "Why wouldn't you want be like the team that's won 3 in the last 8 years (and on the brink of 4 titles in 9 yrs)?" Reason is that they have a 1 once in a decade type player in Tim Duncan. IF YOU KNEW YOU were definitely going to get Oden in draft then maybe you'd want to copy the Spurs model. But since that has a 99% of not happening you have to at you self in the mirror and decide were you want to led or follow. If you want to lead, I think you look away from Carlisle and Carlismino and focus in on a coach like D. Casey.

Personally, I think the Sonics need to fix the broken franchise 1st before jumping the boat and saying this is what our culture is going to be. It starts with Presti. I hope he thinks as out of the box as he does with his draft pick recommendations as he does with his coaching search. Despite my previous posts citing Carlisle as the best hire I think the Sonics need to think of the reservation go for Ettore Mussina, head coach of CSKA Mosscow. Chris Broussard of ESPN wrote this article about Mussina being a possible coach for the Raptors.

And other online blog The Painted Area had his to say about Mussina:

With Mussina the Sonics would be making a statement in the league that the Presti hire was not in hopes of starting the Seattle SuperSPURS but instead that they want to push the envelope and take a chance on a coach that should be in the NBA. If we are truly going to build for the future (one that his hopefully in Seattle beyond 07-08) then we need out of the NBA retread box. And one last point that the last two coaches that we took chances on were McMillian and Karl (though he did have 1 yr in GSW) both turned out to be great gambles. Where as our recent retreads (KC Jones, Biekerstaff, Westphal, Weiss, Hill) all turned out to be duds.

Anonymous said...

Some good insight, John, especially regarding the "retread" coaches. I had never thought of it that way, and you make a good point.

That said, I don't think going for someone 'new' just for the sake of getting someone new is necessarily wise. Karl and Mac both turned out well (as did Bernie Bickerstaff, another newbie), but Terry Stotts was a new hire for the Hawks, Mike Montgomery for the Warriors, etc., etc. New doesn't always mean good.

I'll have to take a look at Mussina to see what his background is. My first bit of hesitation is in regard to his inexperience in the NBA, especially the rule changes and gamestyle. The idea of getting someone totally outside the mainstream is attratice, though.

Anonymous said...

Every rebuilding process I've been a part of, from a coaching standpoint (3 different HS) the culture and chemistry were created by us, the coaches, and it happened before a game was played. It wasn't formed by winning. Sure, winning will tempure the steel, but the molding is done before hand.

A winning mentality, a "culture" is created from the administration on down to the coaches and to the players and their families and peers.

Because let's be honest, "winning" alone is not enough to create it. There is a process there that needs to take place where individuals, despite their talents, subjugate themselves to the team.

Warren Friedrichs, Whitworth's retired all-time winningest head coach talked about needing "espirit de corps" to win.

But he also said you gotta have the horses. You can't take a jackass to the derby, and you can't make chicken salad out of chicken shit.

I think the right head coach could be walking into a beautiful situation. Are there enough "horses" to compete? Definitely. So, the winning may very well come hand in hand with the culture, but do not dismiss the significance of the "culture of success" being formed and committed to at all levels of an organization, prior to maximization of success.

Anonymous said...

I'd say they are both important, but that you can win with talent and no culture, but you cannot win with culture and no talent. Talent is more important.

Anonymous said...

I think Carlisle is exactly what this team needs. The Sonics are full of young, talented, athletic players that lack discipline. Carlisle took a mediocre Detroit team to two 50 win seasons and the Conference Finals. He took a very disfunctional (and often injured) Pacers team to a 60 win season, and a 7 game series against Detroit the year they beat the Lakers. Get those kids executing on the offensive side, and playing some D, and the Sonics could be contenders.