As journalists across the country continue to cook up how the effects of LeBron James’ “decision” will sizzle for years to come, you can add another item to the grill: building through the draft.

In covering the nonstop circus that was the John Wall draft sweepstakes, one of the points that new Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis mentioned repeatedly to reporters was that he wanted to build through the draft. Mind you, this was weeks ago before Miami’s new empire was erected so Leonsis’ idea seemed noble and refreshing at the time.

Weeks later and Leonsis’ strategy seems as outdated as analog TV.

Building through the draft is the “ideal way” of doing things in most professional sports. It’s cheaper, easier to manage and most leagues sway rules in teams’ favor that allow them better flexibility to retain drafted players.

But the downfalls of building through the draft are and can be plentiful. Draftees bust more than they boom which makes drafting for most teams a slow and patient process. Developing talent is an area most teams routinely struggle with and fitting players into schemes and mixing them with coaches can take years to master.

Drafting is all about patience and potential but in today’s NBA, patience and potential will get you fired. Ask any ex-coach associated with the league.

Now, consider what the Miami Heat just did in acquiring James, Chris Bosh and retaining Dwyane Wade. That power-packed trio now makes them instant title talkers, capable of laying a few 30-point slap fests on rebuilding teams (brace yourself Washington) blocking their path to excellence. Miami’s roster for next season could feature Wade as the only player that the organization can proudly say it drafted. Although that’s not a bad brag in most opinions.

Critics will surely lambaste the Heat for constructing this new “Super Team” but Miami hasn’t done anything but follow the NBA’s trending protocol. They’re taking pages from the books of the Lakers, Celtics and Pistons—who account for seven titles this decade—on how to build championship rosters through sophisticated trades and free agency. Although the Heat’s 2006 title team was fueled by Wade, it was headlined by Shaquille O’Neal, who was acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Lakers in 2004.

Before the 2010 summer of LeBron, it was the 1996 summer of Shaq that saw the Hall of Fame center ink a groundbreaking seven-year deal with Los Angeles. The Lakers also made a draft day trade that same offseason, acquiring Kobe Bryant from the Charlotte Hornets and laying the championship foundation down of three straight titles in just a matter of weeks.

Aside from the San Antonio Spurs—who have won four titles since 1999 headlined mostly by drafted players—the consensus of teams have come to realization that dollars, not the draft, is the best route to go in the championship chase.

If Leonsis’ preference holds, it’s going to take Washington at least three years to field a team formidable enough to even compete with Miami’s overnight powerhouse. And that’s banking on Wall living up to the expectations because if he doesn’t, you’ll more than likely be asking another ex-head coach about the virtues of building through the draft.


Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO