Continuity becomes a buzz word heading into All-Star break

BY foxsports • February 11, 2015

The Atlanta Hawks tried to get into the LeBron James sweepstakes last summer, but never really had a chance.

In fact, high profile free agents for the last couple of years had been giving the Hawks the cold shoulder, forcing them to keep rolling with a roster long on talent but short on star power, and it may be the best thing that ever happened to them.

The Hawks have been the surprise story of the season, racking up an NBA-leading 43 victories as the All-Star break approaches. They've done it largely on the strength of a group of players that have grown together, learned to play with each other and how to complement one another to find a rare bit of stability and continuity in a volatile league.

''Bring back a lot of the guys, add a few guys around the edges, had a great summer, our guys work ethic, their commitment to each other, to getting better every day from our players has been really, really high,'' coach Mike Budenholzer said. ''Hopefully we can continue that going forward.''

The Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers are among the teams that have eschewed major roster changes for one reason or another and kept their cores together, hoping to follow the San Antonio Spurs model for success.

The Warriors changed coaches of course, replacing Mark Jackson with Steve Kerr. The Wizards essentially swapped Trevor Ariza for Paul Pierce and the Grizzlies brought in Jeff Green from the Celtics in a midseason trade. But these teams all have one thing in common - the core talent on their rosters have been largely unchanged for multiple years.

''We've been going through some battles together and just continuing to grow our chemistry and our unity in the locker room,'' Warriors guard Steph Curry said. ''We have a solid core that's been together and it shows in the little things that come out in the course of a game throughout the season. Obviously with the new coaching staff that was a huge bonus for us to have, along with a couple of key additions, pretty much the same core.''

In the NBA, it can be tempting to make wholesale changes when immediate results are not seen. But that strategy does have its pitfalls.

In Cleveland, where the Cavaliers brought in James, Kevin Love, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Timofey Mozgov, the start was a rough one. And even as the Cavs have found their footing with 13 wins in their last 14 games, there continue to be subplots bubbling underneath the surface that point to a lack of trust between teammates that can be expected in the early stages of partnership.

James saw similar struggles early in his first season with the Miami Heat in 2010, but they righted themselves and made it all the way to the NBA Finals before losing to the Dallas Mavericks. So there is still plenty of time for the Cavs to figure each other out, find that cohesion and get to where they want to be.

But when you begin the long grind of an NBA season with everyone on the same page, it makes it that much easier to navigate the inevitable points in the season where things just aren't clicking.

''Whatever lineup we throw out there, I feel like we have the ultimate high confidence to play well,'' Curry said. ''That comes with the experience of going through a couple of playoff series together and falling short of our expectations before, and now being even more hungry as a group to get to the next level. That's a huge bonus for us.''

After losing to the Clippers in the first round last season, the Warriors could have traded for Love to add another All-Star to a talented team. But the Minnesota Timberwolves demanded Klay Thompson be part of the deal, and the Warriors declined.

At the time, many questioned that decision. But Thompson has emerged as a star, and the Warriors' tight-knit locker room has been a key to their surge to the top of the Western Conference this year.

''It's the key to the whole thing,'' Kerr said. ''This team's been really good for two years now, 51 wins last year. The foundation was already set. But what happens in this game, the longer a group is together, the better they become. That made our job as a new staff much easier. The fact that these guys were already good, they were already familiar with one another and they're growing and getting better because of that continuity.''

The continuity can also inspire a certain kind of loyalty among teammates. Portland star LaMarcus Aldridge has decided to postpone surgery on his thumb until after the season despite playing in a contract year because of the bond he's formed with Damian Lillard, Wes Matthews and Nicolas Batum over the last three years. The sacrifice has galvanized the Blazers.

''He can't sit out. He doesn't want to sit out,'' Matthews said. ''He loves this game and figures if he's got something to give, he's going to give.''

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