Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Position by Position--Management

Since John Nash is next on the block in O-Live's "You Be the GM" poll, talking about management seems apropos.

First of all, it's common knowledge that Nash shouldn't be the only one in the crosshairs, but probably Kevin Pritchard and Steve Patterson as well, since it's been a two or three headed monster from the beginning. As John Canzano pointed out on Sunday, this makes it pretty hard to assess credit or blame. It also explains some of the multiple-personality character of the team as a whole. Darius and Sebastian need to run to be effective, Zach can't run and be effective. At the beginning of the season we had three point guards, three centers, six small forwards, and two guys manning the other two spots. Do you think maybe this team was designed by committee?

Nevertheless, I think too much blame is heaped upon Nash and company. Their initial goal--to clean up the team's image, to cut salary, and to remain competitive--was simply unrealistic. They managed the salary part. They've also taken great strides in reinventing the team. The fact that a couple of the guys they were banking on turned out to be characters simply means the job's not done yet. These things take time. In remaining competitive they utterly failed, of course, but that was going to happen anyway. Stick Damon, Nick, and Shareef back on this team and we probably still stink. Not worst-in-the-league stink, but nobody's idea of a championship contender. If there ever was a time to clean house completely and start over, this was it. Like impending major surgery, it was better to get it done with and start recovering than let the illness linger. And that's what they did. I have no quarrel with it. Especially since, for the first time in years, I think we can see scenarios that offer real hope of getting better (if we're bold enough to take them).

A second area of criticism would be the 2005 contract signings. We've talked about them ad nauseum. They were a mistake. But as Laurel T said in previous post comments, they didn't look so bad at the time they were made. There's also been considerable speculation that some of these signings came straight from the owner. Nevertheless, of all the things that could be pinned on management, this would be the most damning.

A third popular area of contention is the draft. What's funny to me is that folks will often talk of Webster, Jack, and Telfair in glowing terms while at the same time knocking Nash for not drafting Al Jefferson and Chris Paul. Jefferson has hardly impressed in his tenure so far. Paul had a fantastic rookie campaign but it's way too early to make lasting judgments. But even if you think he's a superstar and even if you think he would have gotten the chance to show that here with Telfair already on the roster, it's the draft! Stuff happens every year. Karl Malone was picked 13th behind legends like Waymon Tisdale, Benoit Benjamin, John Koncak, and Joe Klein. Should 12 GM's get the axe? (OK, the guy who picked Klein should have...) Armon Gilliam, Reggie Williams, and Dennis Hopson went before Scottie Pippen, and then the team that drafted Pippen traded him for Olden Polynice. You can blame every GM for missing somebody. The question is, do you like the players he did get? I think most people would say yes, especially this year. You can't like Martell Webster and Jarrett Jack (which apparently 95% of us do according to O-Live) without liking what Nash (or whoever was in charge) did. Maybe it hasn't been perfect, but it hasn't been bad. And that's important because as I said in an earlier post, the draft is the ONLY place we're going to find legitimate, team-carrying talent. It just isn't available on the open market and if it were, we couldn't get it.

The last area would be the accusations about dumping veteran contracts for "nothing". To me, this goes hand in hand with the contract signings. Once you invested that much in two or three guys, you had to let the rest go, otherwise you'd be in the same situation New York is in now. In essence we traded Shareef, Damon, and Nick for keeping Zach, Theo, and Darius. If you're on the side that thinks the latter trio is talented, you should be happy that decision was made. If you're on the side that wants to dump them, you should be doubly happy, because had we taken back a bunch of mid-level, expensive veterans in return for those players, we'd now be so far over the cap that even trading Zach and Darius for expiring contracts wouldn't free us from the hell we're in. Either way, we're lucky it turned out the way it did. Or would we prefer Raef LaFrentz's and Wally Sczcerbiak's contracts on our balance sheet too?

A maxim that has become more apparent as the years roll by:
Despite the temptation to try and spend your way to a title, it's not responsible to operate radically over the cap unless you're SURE the championship window is open and you're making a specific move to get you through. Otherwise you're just throwing good money after bad.

I don't think anybody would give this group an "A", but something in the B-C range wouldn't be amiss. I understand why people who isolate on 21 wins this year would vote for an F-, but in the long-term perspective this is probably the group that set up the team to be turned around. Whether they, themselves will be the ones to do the turning remains to be seen. My biggest fear right now is that the ownership situation will cause everybody to think in the very short term and make moves that might net us a couple more wins next season but cripple us for years to come. I would also say in rebuilding a team it's fine to employ multiple people who compensate for each others' weaknesses, but there has to be an overall, unifying vision which seems to be lacking from this group so far. Maybe that will happen if and when Nash becomes the fall guy. But if he does become the fall guy, it's probably a worse rap than he deserves.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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