The Built vs Bought myth

Built vs Bought.  The Spurs vs the Heat.

The huge billboard in central Texas emphasizes the perception that this is an NBA finals matchup between two teams that are constructed differently.  That is partially true – no two teams are constructed in the same way as there is no perfect formula for success in the NBA.  It is not, however, a simple case of the Spurs being a team that has been “built” playing against a “bought” Heat team.  Firstly, you can’t buy a team in the NBA.  There’s a salary cap.  There are “cash considerations” involved in trades, but these are far from the transfer fees of football clubs like Manchester City or Chelsea.

What has happened in San Antonio is the creation of a system of basketball and the recruitment of players who fit that system.  We shouldn’t forget the extraordinary luck that the Spurs had in putting together the cornerstone of their franchise.  In December 1996 David Robinson broke his foot and missed the remainder of the season.  The team also lost Sean Elliott for most of the season with injury.  The Spurs ended up 20-62, the worst record in franchise history and enough to secure the top pick in the 1997 draft, which ended up being Tim Duncan.  Duncan averaged 21 pts and 11 rebounds a game as a rookie.

The Spurs were immediate contenders with Duncan on their roster.  From that point on, they had to be more discerning with the players they drafted.  From last year back to 2002, here are the players the Spurs have drafted: Livio Jean-Charles, Deshaun Thomas, Marcus Denmon, Cory Joseph, Adam Hanga, James Anderson, Ryan Richards (British player), DeJuan Blair, Jack McClinton, Nando De Colo, George Hill, Goran Dragic, James Gist, Tiago Splitter, Marcus Williams, Giorgos Printezis, Damir Markota, Ian Mahinmi, Beno Udrih, Romain Sato, Sergei Karaulov, Leandro Barbosa, John Salmons, Luis Scola, Randy Holcomb.

Some of those names will be familiar to those of you who are big Euroleague fans.  The Spurs can spot a player, that’s for sure, even if that player doesn’t end up on black, silver and white.

Let’s compare that to the current Spurs roster (with how they arrived at the Spurs in brackets):

Jeff Ayres (free agent), Aron Baynes (free agent), Marco Belinelli (free agent), Matt Bonner (trade), Austin Daye (trade), Boris Diaw (free agent), Tim Duncan (draft), Manu Ginobili (draft, then overseas), Danny Green (free agent), Damion James (free agent), Cory Joseph (draft), Kawhi Leonard (trade), Patrick Mills (free agent), Tony Parker (draft), Tiago Splitter (draft, then overseas).

The current Heat roster (with how they arrived at the Heat in brackets) is:

Ray Allen (free agent), Chris Andersen (free agent), Shane Battier (free agent), Michael Beasley (draft, then reacquired as free agent), Chris Bosh (trade), Mario Chalmers (draft), Norris Cole (trade), Toney Douglas (trade), Justin Hamilton (free agent), Udonis Haslem (free agent), LeBron James (trade), James Jones (drafted, then reacquired through free agency), Rashard Lewis (free agent), Greg Oden (free agent), Dwyane Wade (draft).

Free Agents: Spurs 7, Miami 9

Draft: Spurs 5, Miami 2

Trades: Spurs 3, Miami 4

So the Spurs have more players that they’ve drafted on their roster of 15, whereas Miami has more players that they’ve acquired via free agency.  Let’s quickly look at Miami’s recent draft history, working backwards from 2012 when they traded Arnett Moultrie to Philadelphia: Norris Cole (acquired), Latavious Williams (traded away), Da’Sean Butler (acquired), Jarvis Varnado (acquired), Dexter Pittman (acquired), Robert Dozier, Marcus Thornton (acquired then traded away), Darnell Jackson (acquired then traded away), Michael Beasley, Stanko Barac (acquired then traded away), Jason Smith (traded away), Wayne Simien, Matt Freije, Pape Sow (traded away), Dorell Wright, Jerome Beasley, Dwyane Wade, Rasual Butler, Caron Butler.

That brings us back to 2002.  Not exactly a cast of stars there, although Miami hasn’t tended to draft for itself.

The key difference between the teams is the fact that Miami traded for 4 of its current roster, the Spurs traded for 3.  Other players have arrived at the teams by means which could be described as “building”.  In particular, two of those trades – for LeBron James and Chris Bosh – are the two that lend themselves to the “built vs bought” narrative.

In truth, this isn’t a battle of built vs bought.  No NBA matchup is.  A more accurate portrayal of the series is that it is the battle of team hoops against individual hoops.  The Spurs are the classic “greater than the sum of its parts” team.  The Heat are the classic “star power” team.  Right now, the Spurs are edging it.


Andrew was something of a latecomer to the game of basketball, having given up rugby after leaving high school. Joining Edinburgh’s fabled Pentland Tigers, he quickly moved on to the East Lothian Peregrines in the Scottish national league before moving to Belfast where he played with Queens and then with Belfast Star. After a year in the superleague, he moved back to Scotland and played with the Scottish Rocks in the BBL. He “retired” (the McDermott rule for using the word “retire” instead of “stopped playing” does require you to have been paid to play, so technically he retired) and moved to Seattle where he began life as an academic, which currently sees him working at University College Dublin. He is a legitimate non-frontrunning Miami Heat fan, having taken up following the team in 2001.

Leave Comment