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NBA middle teams and strategies for advancement

The general managers of NBA middle teams need to strategically implement methods to increase their teams' rankings and chance at competing for a championship.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/zamersi0501/" target="_self">Zayaan Amersi</a>

Zayaan Amersi

March 29, 2023
In the NBA, there is a list of teams like the Bucks, Clippers, Celtics, and Warriors, who we know are contenders and are doing everything they can to compete for a championship. Another list of teams is entirely tanking their season for a lottery pick, like the Rockets, Thunder, Magic, and Pistons.

Then, there is a list of teams that don’t have a direction to push their franchises because they aren’t terrible enough to tank, but they’re also not good enough to compete for a championship. Teams like the Hawks, Mavericks, and in my opinion, the 76ers.

This leads to the question, what is the next step if a team fits that category?

A general manager possesses one of the most complex jobs in a sports organization, not only do they have to win the hearts and affection of millions of fans, but they have to compete against 29 other general managers with the same goals.

In looking at the middle teams, the general manager can use a couple of methods: trade all of their best players that put them in the medium category and start from scratch.

We recently saw the Utah Jazz use this method when they traded their two All-Stars, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, this summer to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Lauri Markkanen, Ochai Agbaji, Collin Sexton, three unprotected first-round picks (2025, 2027, and 2029) and two pick swaps (2026 and 2028). This trade has set up Utah for the future and put them in contention for a lottery pick in this upcoming draft. We also saw the Celtics successfully use this method years ago when they traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn for draft picks, which then turned into Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, and the rest is history.

If you have a generational talent, trading your best player to start over isn’t always the best method. The Dallas Mavericks are a perfect example of this because you cannot trade Luka Doncic, it would be wrong, and it is tough to draft or get players like that as a small-market team. It would be best if you did everything in your power to surround Luka with the right pieces. As a GM, especially for a small market team, you cannot underestimate the importance of the NBA draft because there are constantly high-value players that will end up falling to the 1st and even 2nd rounds.

Another thing a franchise can do is ensure you keep your young assets because, in this market, young players are precious, and keeping those players can help you trade for the right players to surround your best player, which is Luka in this instance.

Free agency is also a decent market to shop for players, but many NBA players want a lot more money than what teams are willing to give to them, so then many players will fall into an unrestricted free agency, which has the freedom to sign with any organization and players become a member of that new team after they sign. This is where players will lower their asking price making it easier to get good players for a cheaper price. Sometimes teams can never get over that middle ground, and many franchises struggle to get to a contending stop in the competitive NBA.