One Quick Fix to Improve Each of the NBA's Worst Teams
Within the instant-gratification society of the NBA, one day you’re brilliant and building the next dynasty, the next you’re the idiot who has lost it.
In the spirit of microwaved results, let’s play fantasy executive and determine the quick fix to turn around the worst NBA franchises.
Let’s first establish one simple truth: General managers are paid way too much money. The good ones aren’t geniuses; they’re used car salesmen.
Pat Riley didn’t conceive some complex formula to help the Miami Heat win a championship. He just whispered the right things into the right ears.
Riley turned the NBA into a fantasy football auction league. He collected the greatest talent available and let the rest work itself out, making promises of championships to role players he paid less than they deserved.
He’s no more of a championship architect than any kid who ever played NBA 2K and found the right loopholes to craft a dream team.
Danny Ainge did it first in Boston, and now they’re ready to run him out. Bryan Colangelo won Executive of the Year in Toronto after the Raptors made the playoffs, but since then, they have never played better than .500 ball.
One day you are the greatest mind in sports, the next day you're a failure. The game’s decision-makers take plenty of undeserved praise and criticism.
Ask Geoff Petrie in Sacramento.
It’s not an easy job; let’s not confuse things. The gig magnifies the pressures of decision-making, most of which ultimately falls out of the GM’s control. The undeserved criticism is as misguided as the overblown praise.
But still, it’s not like they’re curing disease, designing the latest smart phone or working in public relations for the Sacramento Kings. The best GMs are luckiest in terms of timing and finding unexpected, or hidden, talent.
So with that said, it’s important to realize that sudden change for the better for any NBA team isn’t completely out of reach. In the past, we’ve seen turnaround through the draft (Tim Duncan), trade (Jason Kidd) or not-so-obvious free-agent signing (Steve Nash).
Here's a letter to the GMs of the league's worst franchises, detailing quick, rebuild-enhancing moves to be completed either ASAP or at the end of the season.
I'm no mastermind, but I'll go into their salesman mode, looking to sell the league's personnel decision-makers on these fixes to help their struggling NBA franchises.
Sacramento Kings: Trade DeMarcus Cousins
To Geoff Petrie:
Remember the scene in Good Will Hunting?
“Look at me, son. It's not your fault. It's not your fault. It's not your fault. It's not your fault.…It's not your fault.”
Cry into my shoulders, Geoff; I understand—you have the worst bosses in the NBA.
The Sacramento Kings are the worst franchise in basketball, maybe in sports. The easiest move would be to force the team out of the grasp of the Maloofs. But Geoff, you know that your job probably goes too if new ownership enters.
So here’s some advice: Trade DeMarcus Cousins.
You don’t even have to say it. You’re right: The 22-year-old center with all that potential is the greatest talent you have.
But that’s like trying to spend dollar bills in space. The exchange rate isn’t the same.
Cousins is never going to be good in Sacramento. He’s too big for the small city. He’ll devour any coach who isn't a big name. He needs veteran leadership who can go into Danny Tanner-dad-mode with the young big man.
He is an extreme talent, and he should be great. But he will never be great for you, and it’s time to get something for him while you can. At some point, movies about high school stop being entertaining. He may never mature there.
Check in with the Charlotte Bobcats. Could you package Cousins with some other pieces in exchange for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Byron Mullens and Ben Gordon? What would the Dallas Mavericks send back?
Go Oakland A’s mode and start trading your talent for more, seemingly lesser talent.
Your job will be lost soon if you don’t try something drastic. Prove you can identify overlooked talent like in the good old days.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Draft Nerlens Noel
Dear Chris Grant,
Did you hear about LeBron James losing to the Washington Wizards? In your face, LeBron, right?
He totally made the wrong move. Dan Gilbert was so right.
Anyway, I have the move for you. I know you hate how Kyrie Irving keeps going into suit mode. But you know he's superstar quality, and you’re seeing the results of your risky Dion Waiters pick.
Anderson Varejao might be one of the league’s most improved players, and with that, suddenly the roster is taking shape.
Keep building. Don’t fall for chasing a free agent like Andre Iguodala, who would be a great fit, but not at the rate of 30 to 35 percent of your team's payroll.
Do it through the draft. Take the best wing or the best frontcourt player available. It’s a quick fix that also fills the down-the-road issues of talent collection and depth.
No one has more NBA potential in the upcoming draft than Nerlens Noel of Kentucky. He may be available to your Cavaliers early in the draft. If you pair the 6'11" big man with the still-young Varejao, you will have an incredibly balanced, young nucleus.
Sprinkle in a free agent such as David West or Andrei Kirilenko, and suddenly you’re a competitive young team.
Washington Wizards: Draft Cody Zeller and Wait
Dear Ernie Grunfeld:
Owners can be such a drag, man.
Don’t think I didn’t read “Ted’s Take” last spring from your owner, Ted Leonsis.
“I give credit to Ernie (that's you!) for putting us in this position so quickly, but, like you, I now expect the Wizards to transition from a work-in-progress to a team that competes for a playoff spot.”
Sounds like bulletin-board material to me, Ernie. Thanks, Ted.
He further added: “We now are able to evaluate talent with a unique use of high-speed cameras and an innovative approach to statistics.”
Talk about taking the legs out right from under you. Thanks for the take and the help, Ted.
Anyway, we can go on and on about Ted, but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re on the hot seat and you need a plan.
You can’t control John Wall’s injuries. You also didn't draft Bradley Beal to have to be Wall. He is supposed to be the guy who would take open shots alongside Wall.
Either way, the backcourt is set. Jordan Crawford just turned 24 years old, and you have him on the cheap for the next couple of seasons.
But you also have some pieces that are killing you. Nenê is not the answer for your rebuilding ways. Neither is Trevor Ariza. Those two combine for $20 million in salary in 2013-14, in addition to the other $14.5 million owed to Emeka Okafor next season.
Your first instinct should be to offer your high lottery pick and any package to the Sacramento Kings for DeMarcus Cousins. But the cheap culture there won’t take on any additional money, and you might not have cheap talent to offer—unless you can make Beal look attractive enough to fill the likely hole that Tyreke Evans will leave.
So, the only true logical move would be to simply stand in place.
With a hopeful No. 1 pick in the draft, take the best big man available, Cody Zeller. You’ll still have to wait a couple years for freedom from those bad contracts, but at least you’ll keep collecting talent in the meantime.
Okay, who are we kidding? You’re done in Washington.
So maybe resign and post one of these sticky notes on Leonsis’s door: “Why don’t you write your little blog about Grunfeld’s destruction of the ‘champs’ last night, huh Ted? Ernie out.”
Orlando Magic: Trade Glen Davis
To Rob Hennigan:
Dwight Howard probably feels pretty silly watching you mount wins. You showed him.
Hennigan 1, Howard 0.
What’s next in your playbook, you old dog?
Hear me out on this one: Trade another big man.
Glen Davis might have the most value at this time. I'm not ignoring Arron Afflalo, but I think you will want to hold on to him for the long term.
I get that Davis is still just 26 years old. But let’s be real, he’s more of a great piece to complement a contending team than he is a franchise building block. His ceiling is about 15 points and eight rebounds per game.
Instead, move his value in exchange for smaller pieces of future value.
Take advantage of Houston’s need down low. Trade Davis (and whatever else it takes to make it work) to a team like the Rockets—err...wait, they’re cleaned out.
Okay, trade Davis to a team that needs him more, like the Portland Trail Blazers, in exchange for Wesley Matthews, some contract and their 2013 first-round pick (protected from the Charlotte Bobcats so long as it’s a top-12 pick).
Matthews will replace J.J. Redick, who will leave for more money. Then, with your two top-10 draft picks, hope to draft an athletic wing such as UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad and a center with potential like Maryland's Alex Len.
You'll be ready for a free-agent splash in no time.
Detroit Pistons: Sign Brandon Jennings
Mr. Joe Dumars:
You've reached the playoffs eight times in your 12 seasons. You have a title, an Executive of the Year award and two conference titles. You stole Rasheed Wallace.
Now you have youthful frontcourt talent in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, and with some bad contracts coming off the books, you’ll have spending money this summer.
You need a game-changer.
With that financial freedom, go get Brandon Jennings.
He’ll be 23 when he hits free agency, and he’s the next great Pistons guard. C’mon Joe, how does that sound?
The Milwaukee Bucks will have a chance to match your offer, and they can offer more money in a max deal. But I wouldn’t bet that the Bucks are completely sold that Jennings is the answer for them.
He’s a better fit with you, Mr. Dumars.
Your young size and talent, which includes big shooter Kyle Singler, is the perfect balance to Jennings’ ball-dominant style. Jennings-Monroe-Singler—sounds like a dream team, huh?
Jennings has the talent to be a superstar, and he has the desire to win. He’s the perfect fit to lift the Pistons back into the playoffs.
New Orleans Hornets: Sign Paul Millsap
Mr. Dell Demps:
Waste less money in market research, Pelicans, and more money in medicine.
Keeping your best scorers on the court is the biggest challenge for your team. Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon won’t help the one-on-one offensive sets of New Orleans from the bench.
Gordon's contract is your reality, and he won't be going anywhere.
The hope lies with the youth: Davis, Austin Rivers and the bright-side play of Ryan Anderson. There are no deals to be made this year.
But in 2013, Paul Millsap would be the perfect fit in New Orleans. He is the efficient-scoring glue guy that the young team needs, and he can probably be swayed to New Orleans with cash.
Davis is your size for the future, and scoring should eventually come from Rivers and Gordon to add to Anderson. Bring in Millsap to fill the gaps.
Toronto Raptors: Sign Andrew Bynum
Sir Bryan Colangelo:
Apparently, some feel that sending Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Pau Gasol is a no-brainer for you.
You're no dummy. That 2007 Executive of the Year award still looks plenty shiny to me.
Time sure does fly though, eh? Look how quickly Gasol has fallen into the downside of his career. He’s not the long-term solution you need. Save your money. He's not worth the $19 million due next season.
It’s honestly not that bad of a situation for you there in Canada. With no NHL, it’s truly the Colangelo show up north. It’s too bad about all those close losses.
The good news is that the money is coming.
You're probably overpaying for the talents of Bargnani at $10 million per year and $11 million per year in both 2013-14 and 2014-15. However, Calderon's 10 points and seven assists for $10 million will come off the books following this season.
So with some money to spend and franchise keys to deliver, there is one especially intriguing name coming up in free agency: Andrew Bynum.
The 25-year-old could be your centerpiece in a way that Bargnani—or Gasol—cannot. Bynum may benefit from falling away from the spotlight and into Toronto.
The injury worry is there, but so is Jonas Valanciunas as insurance.
If Bynum can finish this season healthy, it’s well worth the risk. Someone is probably going to regret his contract. It might as well be you.
If it worked out, though, suddenly the Raptors would have one of the game’s best frontcourts. Since you’re likely losing your first-round pick to the Thunder this season, it’s the best way to improve.
Or you can always settle for that Dwight Howard guy—he may be dying to leave the spotlight by then.
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