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I am reading about strategies that general managers use to rebuild an NBA basketball team. By rebuilding I mean the process of letting go existing players and signing new young players with the aim of making a competitive team in the future.

I was reading about the rebuilding process by the Boston Celtics, which seems to be centered around getting draft picks:

In the meantime, Ainge has been doing a great job accumulating future draft picks, and that can only help accelerate the restocking of his roster. When Ainge traded Jordan Crawford and former Net MarShon Brooks to Golden State this past week in a three-way deal with the Heat, the Celtics picked up two more draft picks. Between Ainge’s deals with the Nets and Clippers and other moves, the Celtics now have 17 potential draft picks over the next five seasons. Some will be used for their drafts, but others are likely to be included as sweeteners in deals for established players.

My question is: how important is it to accumulate draft picks in a rebuilding effort compared to any other available strategies? And are there examples of teams that have built competitive teams without giving up important players? For example, I would think the San Antonio Spurs as an example of a team that has had competitive teams without going through a rebuilding phase in many years.

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It can be a risky strategy because not all draft picks deliver on the potential/promise of their college performance. There is a similar situation in the NFL where the transition from college to professional playing schedule/style makes it very difficult for young players to handle. A good manager would try to balance the risk of draft picks with the safety of tried and tested players. It is also about getting the right balance in a team of mixing experienced with rookie players so that the energy and respect within the team is good and a solid culture can be established.

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There's no one-size-fits all answer here. Some teams have been fabulously successful rebuilding through the draft. Often it helps to get lucky and have the first pick fall to your team in a year when there is a clear great player to be drafted like Tim Duncan or LeBron James. Other teams have tried to rebuild through the draft and failed because the players they chose did not turn into stars. In the past ten years, teams like the Celtics (who traded for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen) and the Heat (who signed or traded for LeBron James and Chris Bosh) have been built through a mixture of savvy trades and clever free agent signings. The NBA has a salary cap and a byzantine set of rules about how much you can pay who, so a big factor to success is avoiding bad contracts as much as signing good ones. The Celtics have been stockpiling draft picks but it remains to be seen if they try to rebuild by using them or by trading them for more established players.

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