Thursday, April 29, 2010

Assessing Executive Performances

In a series of three posts last year, we evaluated executive performance in 2008-09, ultimately choosing Denver's Mark Warkentien as the greatest achiever that year. Warkentien went on to win the NBA's Executive of the Year award.

This year's Executive of the Year was Milwaukee's John Hammond, who received 12 of 30 votes. The runner-up was Oklahoma City's Sam Presti, who received 9 votes. This was odd, given that (as described below) Presti did virtually nothing in the past 12 months to improve his team, other than prudent omission. It is generally recognized that the Coach of the Year award is not a prize for cumulative past deeds, but rather a bauble for punctuated single-year success (hence Jerry Sloan's failure to ever win), so why should Presti get any votes?
The voting year is generally considered to start with the 2009 NBA draft and extend until the end of the 2009-10 regular season in mid-April, when roster moves cease.

Hammond certainly has done a great job, as he built a deep and resilient roster that was able to weather season-ending injuries to Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut yet still (as of this writing) take 3 of the first 5 playoff games from the favored Atlanta Hawks. Still, I am not sure that he was the best team executive in the past 12 months.

Here are the candidates, arranged into tiers of Great, Good, OK, and Poor:


Cleveland's Danny Ferry (drafted Christian Eyenga and Danny Green; traded Sasha Pavlovic and Ben Wallace for Shaquille O'Neal; signed Leon Powe, Anthony Parker, and Jamario Moon; traded Zydrunas Ilgauskas and a draft pick for Antawn Jamison). The trades for Shaq and Jamison were brilliant, losing no usable talent (note that Ilgauskas returned to the team 30 days after the trade) for multi-time All-Stars who help the Cavs credibly threaten Orlando. The free-agent signings of ex-Raptors Parker and Moon were also sharp, as Delonte West and LeBron James alone were not sufficient as perimeter defenders in the playoffs last year.

San Antonio's R.C. Buford (drafted Dejuan Blair, Garrett Temple, and Cedric Jackson; traded Fabricio Oberto/Kurt Thomas/Bruce Bowen for Richard Jefferson; brought Ian Mahinmi aboard the main roster from France; signed Keith Bogans and Antonio McDyess). The Spurs kept only Parker, Ginobili, Duncan, Hill, and Bonner from last year's rotation. Out went the aging Finley, Bowen, Oberto, and Thomas; younger legs including Blair, Jefferson, and Bogans (plus the admittedly mature McDyess) supplanted them. As of this writing, they lead Dallas 3-2 in their first-round playoff series. Last year Dallas won the series in five games, so at the least the Spurs have improved.

Dallas's Donnie Nelson (drafted Rodrigue Beaubois; signed Drew Gooden and Tim Thomas; traded Jerry Stackhouse/Devean George/Antoine Wright for Shawn Marion/Kris Humphries/Greg Buckner; traded Humphries/Shawne Williams for Eduardo Najera; traded Josh Howard/Gooden/James Singleton/Quentin Ross for Caron Butler/Brendan Haywood/Deshawn Stevenson). Some of the Mavs' moves seem akin to a "Flip This House" strategy, as the above transaction list clearly includes the acquisition and then abrumpt dismissal of players including Gooden and Humphries. Still, it is hard to argue against the point that they have improved their roster. Caron Butler and Shawn Marion are former All-Stars, and Brendan Haywood is an above-average defensive center. Even ignoring all the trades, they came up with a brilliant late-first-round pick by nabbing Beaubois, who has shown enticing flashes of preternatural ability.

Milwaukee's John Hammond (drafted Brandon Jennings; signed Ersan Ilyasova; traded Richard Jefferson for Kurt Thomas/Bruce Bowen/Amir Johnson; traded Amir Johnson/Sonny Weems for Roko Ukic/Carlos Delfino; traded Joe Alexander/Hakim Warrick for John Salmons; signed Jerry Stackhouse). Jennings, Ilyasova, Delfino, Salmons, and Stackhouse are now all contributing to the Bucks' playoff success. Jefferson, who starred for many years in New Jersey, disappointed in his one year in Milwaukee and is not playing much better in San Antonio; meanwhile, Kurt Thomas has played 70 games for the Bucks and contributes 4 rebounds per game from a bench position. Bowen retired and represented saved money for Milwaukee.

Orlando's Otis Smith (traded Courtney Lee and Rafer Alston for Ryan Anderson and Vince Carter; signed Matt Barnes, Jason Williams, and Brandon Bass; re-signed Marcin Gortat). Orlando made the Finals last year, and now they're even better. They are clearly the deepest team in the league. If Jameer Nelson goes down, you've got El Chocolate Blanco or Anthony Johnson. In the "bigs" rotation, you have Dwight Howard, Bass, Anderson, Gortat, Rashard Lewis, and even Adonal Foyle. Perimeter players include Carter, Barnes, mainstay J.J. Redick, and Mickael Pietrus. Nearly every guy save Bass, Gortat, Foyle, and of course Howard can easily stroke 3-pointers. The new players are clearly an upgrade on the departed Lee, Alston, Tony Battie, and Hedo Turkoglu. None of the latter four players played as well in 2009-10 as they had with Orlando.

Houston's Daryl Morey (drafted Chase Budinger; signed Trevor Ariza; traded Carl Landry and Tracy McGrady for Jordan Hill, Jared Jeffries, Kevin Martin, and draft picks). Morey's team has not appreciably improved since they came within one game of the Western Conference Finals nearly 12 months ago. The continued deterioration of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming's chronic foot problems means that the dominant inside-outside combination that team leaders happily imagined back in 2004 will never obtain. Houston missed the playoffs this season; however, with all of the new assets in Houston, the Rox may be ready to implement a trade that will bring a star like LeBron James or Chris Bosh to lower Texas.

New York's Donnie Walsh (drafted Jordan Hill and Toney Douglas; traded Quentin Richardson for Darko Milicic; re-signed David Lee for one year; signed Earl Barron and Jonathan Bender; traded Jordan Hill, Jared Jeffries, and draft picks for Tracy McGrady; traded Milicic for Brian Cardinal). The incoming talent in these deals has not been above average. The purpose of the McGrady trade was to remove Jared Jeffries from New York's 2010-11 salary roll in order to clear salary room for a big free agent. Of course, if Isiah Thomas had not signed Jeffries to such a long contract, such a movie would not have been necessary. For Thomas's folly, the Knicks lost two future draft picks. But at least Walsh has put the Knicks in a position to potentially lure in James and Bosh. As this article makes clear, Walsh has a pretty good plan for the free-agent signing period this summer.

Charlotte's Michael Jordan (drafted Gerald Henderson Jr.; traded Emeka Okafor to New Orleans for Tyson Chandler; signed Ronald "Flip" Murray; re-signed Raymond Felton to a one-year qualifying offer; traded Raja Bell and Vlad Radmanovic for Stephen Jackson and Acie Law; traded Law, Murray, and a draft pick for Tyrus Thomas; traded a future draft pick for Theo Ratliff). To me this one is simple. The Bobcats never made the playoffs before this season. Okafor was not defensively lithe enough to gain any purchase with Dwight Howard, say. Additionally, Okafor's contract extends to June 2014, too long for a team with parlous finances. With Jackson, Chandler, and Tyrus Thomas, the Bobcats escaped the lottery.

GOOD General Managers:

Sacramento's Geoff Petrie (drafted Tyreke Evans and Omri Casspi; traded draft rights to Jeff Pendergraph for Sergio Rodriguez and draft rights to Jon Brockman; signed Sean May and Ime Udoka; traded Kevin Martin and Sergio Rodriguez for Carl Landry and Joey Dorsey). Petrie's rookies turned out great, as Evans won the ROY award, Casspi earned starter minutes with his high energy and accurate shooting, and Brockman delivered several double-digit rebounding games. I think we do not yet know enough to evaluate the Landry trade. Martin and Evans probably could not co-exist together, as Evans is not a good enough distributor to deliver the ball to Martin in prime shooting positions. Landry has completed only three pro seasons and still has time to blossom as a top-caliber PF. With a plum lottery pick upcoming, Sacramento has positioned its roster to hotly succeed in the medium term.

Chicago's John Paxson (drafted Taj Gibson; decided to let Ben Gordon sign with Detroit; traded John Salmons for Warrick and Alexander; traded Tyrus Thomas for Acie Law and Flip Murray). Like New York's Donnie Walsh, the Bulls did not make a great deal of basketball progress, losing in the first round for the second consecutive year. Taj Gibson was a very good selection at the 26th position in the first-round. (One must consider that such draft pick was acquired in February 2009 via the Bulls' trading Thabo Sefolosha, who has blossomed into a very good defender with Oklahoma City. However, in this blog post we are evaluating only 2009-10 roster moves.) Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, the team's two best players, certainly improved to a near-All-Star level during '09-'10. The roster moves entailed the loss of some good players, with resulting 2010-11 salary room to sign even better players. We do not know whether the best of 2003's class will choose to join Chicago, but the team is positioned well.

Atlanta's Rick Sund (traded Acie Law and Speedy Claxton to Golden State for Jamal Crawford; drafted Jeff Teague; signed Joe Smith and Jason Collins). The Hawks did not fiddle much with the roster that was readily swept by Cleveland in the 2009 conference semis. Acquiring Crawford, named Sixth Man of the Year just a couple days prior, added a valuable offensive dimension to the team. However, in light of Atlanta's easy destruction in last year's playoffs, a more significant roster upgrade would have been nice. Smith and Collins have hardly played.

L.A. Clippers's Mike Dunleavy (drafted Blake Griffin; traded Zach Randolph to Memphis for Quentin Richardson; traded Q-Rich to Minnesota for Craig Smith and Sebastian Telfair; traded a draft pick to New Orleans for Rasual Butler; traded Marcus Camby for Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw; traded Telfair and Al Thornton for Drew Gooden in a four-team trade). Drafting Griffin was an obvious choice at #1, and Dunleavy did a good job jettisoning Randolph to make room for Griffin in the starting lineup. (Unfortunately, Griffin then suffered a season-ending injury in training camp. Trading Camby was wise, as the Clips have Chris Kaman and young DeAndre Jordan in the middle position. Though Camby will be a 2010 free agent, the Bird rights to Blake and Outlaw might be useful to the Clips.

Portland's Kevin Pritchard (traded Sergio Rodriguez to Sacramento for a draft pick; drafted Jeff Pendergraph, Dante Cunningham, Victor Claver, and Patrick Mills; signed Andre Miller; granted contract extensions to LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy; traded Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw to the Clippers, as noted above, for Marcus Camby; signed Marcus Camby to a two-year contract extension). With a winning and youthful core of Roy, Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, and Greg Oden, the acquisition of so many rookies was somewhat strange; at the time, more veterans like Miller would have been more useful. Then, when Oden was later injured, the Camby trade was a good way to salvage the season, preserving a nontrivial possibility of a serious playoff run. Signing Camby before the summer free-agent frenzy was a smart move.

Oklahoma City's Sam Presti (drafted James Harden and Byron Mullens; traded Chucky Atkins and Damien Wilkins for Etan Thomas and draft picks; traded rights to a European player for Eric Maynor and the injured Matt Harpring). These were good, safe movies, though Oklahoma could have done more to ready their team for a Bosh or Boozer. James Harden at #3 in the draft looks questionable now: why not a better shooter like Stephen Curry? Harden has a couple more inches, enabling him to better defend other SGs, but Curry shoots like a Swedish biathon champion.

Denver's Mark Warkentien (drafted Ty Lawson; re-signed Chris Andersen; signed Joey Graham; traded a draft pick to Detroit for Walter Sharpe and Arron Afflalo; traded Sharpe and Sonny Weems to Milwaukee for Malik Allen; traded Steven Hunter and a draft pick for Dominique Jones). Denver allowed free agents Dahntay Jones and Linas Kleiza to sign elsewhere (the latter, in Greece) Afflalo blossomed in this, his third season, filling the defensive role that Jones occupied in 2008-09. Additionally, Afflalo developed a fine three-point shooting touch and some playmaking ability. After the regular season started, the Nuggets played things chill and easy, not making any roster transactions until a couple minor signings in April to gird for the playoffs. (Unfortunately, Denver quickly lost to Utah, lost without Coach Karl.) Lawson and Afflalo are excellent building blocks for the future, and Warkentien, who won Executive of the Year in 2008-09, must get credit for that.

New Orleans's Jeff Bower (drafted Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton; traded Tyson Chandler to Charlotte for Emeka Okafor; traded Rasual Butler to the Clippers for a draft pick; traded Antonio Daniels to Minnesota for Darius Songaila and Bobby Brown; signed Ike Diogu; traded Hilton Armstrong for a draft pick; traded Devin Brown for Aaron Gray; traded Bobby Brown for a draft pick). A lot of bench-caliber players entered and exited this roster. (Free agents Jannero Pargo and Ryan Bowen also left in the summer of 2009.) Collison and Thornton were very good draft picks late in the selection process; with Chris Paul injured for most of the season, those two young guards showed that they could lead the team and/or score like a piano composer. Okafor, as noted above, has a much longer contract but lacks Chandler's injury profile, and appears an adequate replacement.

OK General Managers

Phoenix's Steve Kerr (traded Shaquille O'Neal for Sasha Pavlovic and Ben Wallace; signed Channing Frye; chose not to trade Amare Stoudemire). Phoenix did not shuffle the roster much, aside from divesting Shaq. The Suns subsequently bought out the contracts of Pavlovic and Wallace. Phoenix largely did not mess with its roster after the 2008-09 season ended; some discussion of trading Amare Stoudemire before the February '10 trade deadline led to nothing. Phoenix's bench of Lopez/Barbosa/Dudley/Amundsen/Dragic has almost uniformly improved since last season, and their stalwart starters of Nash/Stoudemire/Richardson/Hill have not lost much despite their age. Channing Frye, like many other offensive-oriented players, thrived next to Steve Nash. The Suns are back in the playoffs, showing that Kerr was effective in his restraint.

Memphis's Chris Wallace (traded Darko Milicic for Quentin Richardson; traded Richardson for Zach Randolph; drafted Hasheem Thabeet and Sam Young; traded a draft pick for Ronnie Brewer; signed Jamaal Tinsley). Drafting Hasheem Thabeet at #2 was a terrible idea, when he could have nabbed Harden, Evans, Rubio, Flynn, Curry, Jennings, or Lawson. Flipping Milicic for Zach Randolph worked well, and the acquisition of Brewer showed good foresight (though he quickly suffered a season-ending injury). With Randolph, Memphis came close to its first playoff season since 2006. Still, Hasheem Thabeet?

Boston's Danny Ainge (signed Rasheed Wallace, Shelden Williams, Marquis Daniels, and Michael Finley; re-signed Glen Davis; signed Rajon Rondo to a contract extension; traded Bill Walker and J.R. Giddens for Nate Robinson). Rondo's extension was wise, as too many teams had 2010-11 salary room and would likely throw lush money at Rondo were he to be a free agent in July '10. Most of Boston's new bench players -- Williams, Daniels, and Finley -- were injured all season and contributed little. Wallace was nominally healthy, though mostly out of shape. The Celtics have not yet returned to their championship form of 2008. If Ainge wants to prolong the Celtics' current stretch of excellence, he will need to work harder in the coming summer.

Meanwhile, the WORST GENERAL MANAGER list must surely include:

Detroit's Joe Dumars (drafted Jonas Jerebko; signed Ben Wallace, Chris Wilcox, Ben Gordon, and Charlie Villanueva). Jerebko is a nice player, but Gordon and Villanueva are badly overpaid. Surely Detroit could have done better by waiting until 2010 to commit to long-term contracts.

New Jersey's Rod Thorn (drafted Terrence Williams; traded Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson for Courtney Lee, Rafer Alston, and Tony Battie). Williams is known to be headstrong and difficult to deal with. Vince Carter is an All-NBA-caliber talent who is surely worth much more than a one-year pseudo-veteran like Courtney Lee.

Toronto's Bryan Colangelo (traded Kris Humphries and Shawn Marion for Hedo Turkoglu, Devean George, and Antoine Wright; drafted Demar DeRozan; signed Jarrett Jack; traded George to Golden State for Marco Belinelli; signed Rasho Nesterovic; traded Delfino and Ukic to Milwaukee for Johnson and Weems). Turkoglu played like dirt; meanwhile, Marion helped Dallas remain at the top of any list. DeRozan has no obviously outstanding basketball skill, while the player taken at #10 in the draft immediately after DeRozan, Brandon Jennings, challenged for Rookie of the Year. Most importantly, Colangelo did little to convince Chris Bosh that the team is headed toward championship contention anytime soon. Why should he stay?

Minnesota's David Kahn (drafted Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn, and Wayne Ellington; signed Ramon Sessions; traded Brian Cardinal to the Knicks for Darko Milicic). The signing of Sessions was strange when Flynn was already anointed as the new starting point guard and Rubio, also a 1, is expected to join the team in 2011. Why did Sessions deserve a four-year contract? And if Flynn is good enough to pilot the team to the playoffs, why spend a high draft pick on Rubio? The trade market is hardly liquid; Rubio may not be flippable for a player of equal talent. And why is Darko Milicic worth any sort of speculative investment?

Utah's Kevin O'Connor`(drafted Eric Maynor; signed Wesley Matthews as undrafted rookie; traded Maynor and Matt Harpring to the Thunder for a European player's draft rights; traded Ronnie Brewer to Memphis for a first-round draft pick). The Matthews signing was excellent, but as an undrafted player, and soon to be a free agent again, he is likely to attract salary offers beyond the ken of Jazz ownership. Trading away Maynor and Brewer for nothing was inexplicable. (Harpring's contract was already covered by an insurer, due to the player's career-ending injuries.)

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