In recent years that generally has meant either you have to have a big man or you have to have a point guard.
Or you could be the 2011-12 Miami Heat.
Center? They played the season's closing stages without one, Chris Bosh ultimately manning the middle.
Point guard? Well, you could call Mario Chalmers many things (and Lord knows most of the Heat players did in the midst of games, in most colorful terms), but true point guard is not one of them.
No, after these Finals, and this still resonating Heat championship, you likely will hear a lot more of what already is emanating from those pre-draft war rooms, "Best player available."
And it is the approach Erik Spoelstra took when he filled out his championship lineup, even though it ultimately meant adding yet another swingman to the mix.
In the cookie-cutter world of center, power forward, small forward, shooting guard and point guard, the Heat rolled with a championship lineup so muddled that it was almost impossible to tell, well, who's on first.
At various stages during the postseason, James jumped center, Shane Battier defended centers, Wade defended point guards, Chalmers was defended by a 6-foot-9 forward. All the while, Riley, whose perfect poultry apparently includes nothing but wings, sat by with a devilish smile, taking it all in.
For years, it had been so much about making pieces fit that the Thunder traded away part of their future for Kendrick Perkins, even though Perkins hardly could find a place to fit in this championship series.
It is why the Jordan Bulls never veered from the blueprints that force fed Bill Cartwright or Luc Longley into the mix.
Why the Phil Jackson Lakers continually searched for answers at point guard, repeatedly settling for Derek Fisher.
Because, as in baseball, the notion was you had to be strong up the middle.
Center and point guard.
And then this.
And then after working through Carlos Arroyo, Mike Bibby and even an extended look at Norris Cole, Spoelstra decided that Chalmers was the best fit at point guard, even if not a fit at the position at all.
Positions? If position mattered then the team that already had James, Wade, Mike Miller and James Jones would not have made Battier their prime offseason acquisition in the first place. But that's where all the free-agency money went.
So Bosh moved from power forward to center.
And Chalmers, not even a true point guard during his championship days at Kansas, was told simply to make plays, without necessarily playing as a play maker.
Make any sense?
Well it must have, because the Larry O'Brien Trophy once again calls Miami home.
"Our versatility," Spoelstra explained, "while it may seem unconventional to some, we think it's one of our greatest strengths."
Perhaps not, because there was Battier, draining 3-pointers and justifying Riley's gambit on this three-wing circus.
"When everybody notices where Shane Battier is when the ball is going in," Spoelstra said. "We notice everything else before that, his versatility. He allows us to play our roster the way we need to, and we weren't necessarily able to do that last year.
"And so now we're able to play LeBron at several different positions, and same with Dwyane, and he kind of ties that all together."
Battier as glue guy is nothing new. Just ask Hubie Brown. Or Jeff Van Gundy. Or Lionel Hollins.
But Battier as power-forward glue guy?
Again, that's where the Heat, correctly, balked at getting caught up in delineations.
"I don't know," Spoelstra said. "We don't necessarily look at it that we're small. I know everybody calls it 'small ball.' We have two forwards, neither one of them is a power forward. One of them is as big as anybody, OK. Chris is as long as any other center.
"And we look at the benefits of the flip side of that. You've got to make decisions against us, as well."
The Thunder tried, and failed. The lane opened for LeBron. The perimeter opened for Battier, Chalmers, Miller and Jones. Perkins and Serge Ibaka no longer could simply stand tall in the paint, as they did against the Mavericks, Lakers and Spurs in the previous three rounds. Instead, they were sent in chase mode, unable to recover by the time LeBron was at the rim.
Granted, it is easier to play the versatility card when the versatility includes James, Wade and Bosh. But Brooks had Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden and never quite was able to create similar chaos, save for dramatic rallies in the first two games of the Finals.
So as the NBA goes on hiatus, with a new, unique champion now coronated, the questions become:
Has Pat Riley developed a better way?
Or does he simply have better players?