Great teams do not exist exclusively because of great players. Those types of talents are the foundation of a great team, but what binds a team together, makes them great, and becomes the reason why confetti falls and banners are raised are the glue players.
They bind the team together by masking the inefficiencies of stars and doing the little things to win games.
For a Phoenix Mercury team with stars a plenty -- Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, and DeWanna Bonner -- among other talented players that give this team the potential to be great. They allow role players to slide in and fill in the blanks. That is what allows great players to be great.
Krystal Thomas, Alexis Hornbuckle, and Charde Houston all fill a void whether it is rebounding, ball-handling, or shooting.
The one player not mentioned there is the glue that does a little bit of everything to make others great. Briana Gilbreath was not acclaimed coming out of the University of Southern California two years ago and has made a significant impact on the team.
Last year she was one of many "fill-ins" on the roster that was required more as a need, a stopgap, rather than the commodity that she has become. Coming out of college Gilbreath was the 35th Overall Pick to the Washington Mystics, but never played a game with them. After the 11 games she played last season the door remained open to join the Mercury despite having two, maybe one realistic roster spot open.
Gilbreath defends the perimeter so Taurasi does not. She chases around guards and forwards alike to preserve Bonner. She rebounds the ball, makes the extra pass, and fills lanes because someone has to.
"When Bri and Charde play like that we are a tough team," Taurasi on her role players. "For 40 minutes Bri chases the best scorer around and Charde gets buckets when we need them."
Players and coaches alike know the value in a player like Gilbreath and others like her. She has a value that goes past 5.9 points per game and 36.6% shooting for her career. Those are logistics that are just a form of her function. Her function is to do the little things. Bind the team together.
"Solid player. Steady, like you said plays defense," said head coach Corey Gaines. "Very long and can guard different types of players she can guard a point and guard a two. At one point we had her guard (Candace) Parker and she is hungry. She is hungry. That is always something that makes someone go hard."
Briana is just fine with being Briana.
"That is my role," Gilbreath said about herself. "Come in, play defense, and bring the energy. Hit open shots. That is my job and I feel like I have accepted that role and have no problem with that."
Accepting that role is key to any player being able to step into the position she is in. Come in and play and as Coach Gaines stated, she is hungry.
That is the common thread with other players of her ilk.
Bruce Bowen did all the same things that Gilbreath currently does for her team. Like Gilbreath, Bowen played with great players like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili that allowed him to move around the court freely, defending, rebounding, and shooting the ball situationally. Both players had defined roles that were essential to raising banners.
"When you have players like Diana (Taurasi), DB (DeWanna Bonner), and Brittney Griner you don't have to do it all," Gilbreath said about her role. "You just have to do your job. They gave me a role and I try my hardest to go out there and execute it."
That is exactly what she does night-in-and-night-out.
At her peak, Gilbreath can score the ball in double figures as well fill in the stat-sheet with rebounds, steals, and assists. That is not her role despite being capable of doing it. Instead it is the steady consistency that allows Briana to show her value, much like Bruce with the Spurs and other role players of years past; she just does whatever the team needs.
When: Saturday, July 13, 2013, 5:30 PM local time (8:30 EST)
Where: Thomas and Mack Center, Las Vegas, NV
Watch: The game is being shown on tape delay on NBA TV at 10:30 PM (local time). DVR is always an option. If you don't have access to NBA TV or would rather watch it live, the entire summer league slate can streamed online via a $14.99 subscription on NBA.com.
What to watch for:
Not Alex Len. He's recovering from his second surgery in less than three months to treat stress fractures in both of his ankles. It's really a shame because it would have been nice to see him match up against the Blazers talented young center, Meyers Leonard.
Archie Goodwin. This guy's going to be around for a minute and this might be one of the best chances to get a sneak peek. He likely won't see a ton of playing time during the regular season being such a raw young talent. Interestingly, if Archie is back in Vegas for his last summer league two years from now he still won't be old enough to buy a beer.
Robinson vs. the Morri in a battle of underperforming power forwards from Kansas. Marshall vs. Strickland in a clash for powder blue supremacy.
C.J. McCollum starts his quest to stultify the nine teams that passed him over in last year's draft.
This will be new head coach Jeff Hornacek's first time acting in that capacity. It's summer league, but it's still good experience for a novice coach with a new team.
Remember everyone. This year counts!
This will be the first year that a "champion" of the summer league is crowned.
Teams will play three games between July 12-16 and be seeded based on those results to compete in a single elimination tournament.
The point system is as follows:
3 points for a win
1 point for winning a quarter
.5 points for tying a quarter
Tiebreakers will be head-to-head record, overall point differential and (as a last result, awesomely) a coin flip.
Obviously this is mostly about getting eyes on new prospects and letting the coaches and players feel each other out, but winning is fun too.