The First Team Meeting

Bobby Marks, Yahoo Sports (

The Vertical Front-Office Insider Bobby Marks, a 20-year executive with the Nets, looks at how the first team meeting before training camp sets the tone for the season.

Thirty teams with 30 different expectations
For teams like Cleveland and Golden State, a return to the NBA Finals remains the only goal.

For teams such as Brooklyn and Philadelphia, which were at the bottom of the standings last season, the goals will be realistic and pertain to trying to build a foundation for the future.

The goals and expectations teams set forth are based on the draft, free agency and the process of finalizing the roster in camp.

The first step of identifying those goals and principles occurs at a restaurant or ballroom in a hotel the night before training camp starts.

The team meeting before the first practice sets the tone for each team heading into camp while creating an identity for the regular season.

The Vertical talked with league executives and coaches about the first team meeting and the concepts discussed the night before the first practice.

On the same page: unselfishness
The honeymoon period of the offseason has a carryover effect leading up to training camp and during the month before the regular season tips off.

“Every team at this time of year has a belief that they have a chance of making the playoffs,” a league executive told The Vertical.

But will players still have that buy-in mentality the first month of the season after losing five in a row, or when the team is at the bottom of the standings?

Will the malcontent who had a positive attitude before camp resort to his old ways? Will the free agent who signed a lucrative contract this summer become a shell of himself? Or will the returning veteran have one foot out the door once losing creeps in?

“The first night, the foundation and principles are set: unselfishness, trust and communication. The rest of camp and going into the season those principles and [that] culture are reinforced,” said one longtime league executive.

The second family: trust
“The message is simple,” one general manager told The Vertical. “I always tell my team and staff to look to your left and right because the people sitting next to you and across the table will be as important for the next nine months as your family at home.”

From two-a-day practices to late-night treatment sessions and the grueling travel schedule, the players and basketball staff will spend more time together than with their families and friends.

“The goal the first night should not be about X’s and O’s or the style of play during the season, but putting a heavy emphasis on trust,” a former head coach said.

The teams that overcome adversity during the regular season and in the playoffs have built and developed that trust, starting with the first team meeting.

“Trust is not developed overnight with a magic wand, but built over a long period time,” a general manager said.

Getting in front of adversity: communication
There are no losing streaks heading into the camp.

The adversity faced during the season will not rear its head over dinner that first night.

However, like steps taken to prevent injuries, teams will stress the importance of communication and taking a proactive approach to potential issues.

“I don’t tell my coach what to say at the team meeting,” a general manager told The Vertical, “but I do mention the importance of communication amongst the group whether it’s being late to practice or the team bus on the road, to a potential legal issue that comes about during the season.”

Without communication, the principles of trust and family have little meaning.

The regular season is full of peaks and valleys.

The one way a team can withstand the lows is to embrace the values that are established at that first team meeting.

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