Chemistry is one of the most important but underrated pieces to building a championship team. As I watched the Rasheed Wallace press conference, I was thinking about chemistry and its importance in building a contender. The Pistons of the 90's were a team with great chemistry because of playing together for several years. Because of that chemistry, they were able to win a championship without a superstar in 2004. Players on that team knew their roles and they worked very well together. For the most part, that team has been together for several years and they developed great chemistry as a team and because of that have been able to contend for a championship year after year.
The Warriors surprised everyone in the playoffs in 2007 when they knocked off the top seeded Mavs. In an article on SFGate, they mentioned the chemistry on that Warriors team.
Nelson calls the Warriors "one of the best chemistry teams (I've had), and I've been around a lot of good ones. But this one's really, really tight." "To see each guy kind of rely on each other, lean on each other, to have someone carry their weakness they struggle with and another guy pick them up? I think from that standpoint, it's been a truly team effort to get here."
It's not a stretch to believe that the chemistry that they had figured into their success in the playoffs.
On the other hand, I think back to the Lakers team that had 4 future Hall of Famers on it in Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Gary Payton and Karl Malone. They even had a future Hall of Fame coach and should have been able to win the championship that year. Granted, Malone and Payton were older at the time, but they still were competitive. Payton went on to be instrumental in the Heat championship in 2006 and Kobe and Shaq were at the top of their games. On paper, they were a lock to win it all. But, they didn't have any chemistry. There was in-fighting and bickering the entire year and I believe that is what kept that team from winning it all. They had the talent but didn't have any chemistry.
The Lakers made a big free agent move this off season in signing Ron Artest. In the process, the allowed a young player who was a perfect fit for the team get away. Artest has never been known as a good character guy and has also never been known as player who knows his role. Rockets fans were happy to see him leave as they felt that his poor shot selection and his insistence on taking too many shots hurt their team down the stretch and in the playoffs. He joins a team with one very strong ego on it already and my guess is that there is going to be some friction between them.
And then there was the Rockets team back in 1996 when they brought their own big 3 trying to win it all. From the Sporting News:
One great player can get a team on NBC. Two great players will give a team an excuse to print playoff tickets But in today's NBA, a team needs three great ones to dream of a championship.That's why the Rockets are smiling in their sleep these days. With Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and Clyde Drexler, they may not have guaranteed reservations for next June. But they won't be swept by the Super-Sonics again, either.
This team had 3 Hall of Fame superstars, but this trio never really meshed and Drexler retired at the end of the season. They then brought in Scottie Pippen to team with Barkley and Olajuwon and the result was the same. The trio never meshed and the Rockets didn't win the championship. They brought in parts that never really fit together.
The USA Olympics committee know the importance of chemistry. They saw US basketball teams fall behind in spite of having some of the best players in the world on them. You throw together a group of players used to playing against each other and let them practice for a few weeks and expect them to develop chemistry. European teams are together for years and have developed a degree of chemistry and that translates into a stronger team. The Olympic committee is now taking a better approach by having the core group together for several years as they seek to develop a team chemistry among them.
Most often, the cause of chemistry problems is player attitudes. Players either have a higher opinion of themselves than they should or just aren't team players. Egos often get in the way as they did on that Lakers team. In putting this team together, Danny has not only brought in good basketball players, but also good character guys.
Before the 2007 draft, Tommy Heinsohn had this to say on the subject:
An often missed element of picking players, Ah and everybody starts going like the football coaches used to go by. Times and by how fast they were in the forty and what have you. Been my experience that the players with the best character, the players that truly love to play, the so called gym rats, who may not quite have all the talent these other guys have, but that by the end of their careers they will work themselves in to be great contributers to a program. And I've seen many players like that help a basketball program. They are not the star, but end up being great contributers. And so, the character guys, the guys that are willing to work, the guys that love to play the game, the guys that would pay ownership to play. Those are the kinda guys that you want to pick and that should be an important part of the mix.
Danny re-built this team with players who are willing to set aside their own egos for the sake of the team. Now, it appears that Danny has added one more player willing to set aside ego for the sake of the team. Here is what Rasheed had to say about his role on the team:
"My role is to back up these guys...if Doc wants me to start I will start, if he wants me to come off the bench I will come off the bench.....2 minutes or 30 minutes....the bottom line is the W. If I score a point and we win...that beats scoring 100 points in a loss."
At that point, Rasheed won me over. He understands the importance of team and chemistry. His teammates and coaches have always described him as a great teammate and a team player. He was a team player in Detroit and will fit right in on this Celtics' team that has been built on Ubuntu.