How to Be a Good NBA GM, Part One: Draft Well (That Means You, Steve Kerr!)

Matt Petersen@@TheMattPetersenCorrespondent IJanuary 8, 2010

28 Feb 1997:  Center Oliver Miller of the Toronto Raptors stands on the court during a game against the Los Angeles Clippers at the Los Angeles Sports Arena in Los Angeles, California.  The Clippers won the game 94-92. Mandatory Credit: Jed Jacobsohn  /Allsport
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Too many fans suffer because of their home team's ineptitude.

Check that. Not their home team— their home team's general manager . The team wouldn't suck if the GM:

1. Knew how to do his job right. That's the purpose of this article; think of it as the unofficial "How To Be an NBA GM" series.

2. Have the cajones to do it. This probably won't help. Teams managed by the likes of Steve Kerr/Robert Sarver are doomed to disappoint their fans.

With the two aforementioned examples already between the verbal crosshairs, this article (and those to come) will be addressed as if talking to them. After all, idiots like them need this advice, not sage readers like yourself.

Steve, Bob, draft well.

It only makes sense. If you want a fresh start, or at least a fresh injection into your team, you draft well. Nothing energizes your franchise or its fans like drafting a guy who you think will contribute in a big way.

If you're afraid you can't get anyone of consequence at your draft pick, but there's a stud further up the draft charts, go get him .

Let's say, hypothetically , there's a super-young, can't-miss stud just out of your reach with the initials KB. You know your division rival wants him. You know both of you are on the phone with the team that can get him, but doesn't necessarily want him.

One thing you wouldn't do is low-ball the team in question. Suddenly you're watching helplessly as your division rival (L.A.) snags the young stud by trading away a center (Vlade Divac), only to sign an immeasurably better one (a 24-year-old Shaq) via free agency with cash you knew it was going to spend.

You don't follow this up by drafting a point guard to groom behind Kevin Johnson, only to trade for Jason Kidd a few months later.

This is especially true when your best big men are Hot Rod Williams and Joe Kleine. If you're absolutely resigned to being a chicken and not going after KB, at least draft a stud that fits your need. Say a young, promising center (Jermaine O'Neal).

I love Steve Nash. He's one of the most talented, visioned, and fun guys I've ever seen play the game; that's coming from a guy who swore as a kid no one was better than KJ.

Facts are facts, though. Bryant has four rings. Nash has none. I hate Bryant's attitude; but what I hate more is that the Lakers have won while Phoenix hasn't.

From a basketball standpoint, I totally would have gone for J. O'Neal instead of Nash. Remember, no one thought Nash was good back then. Even if they knew he’d become a two-time MVP, he wasn't going to get there playing behind Kidd and KJ.

If I draft O'Neal (and play him, Kerr), I've got a lineup of O'Neal, Barkley, Manning, Rex Chapman and Kidd. That sounds a lot better than having Nash earn his rookie salary on the bench. Plus, if Barkley still bolts even though you've shown you're trying to get him a ring, you've still got O'Neal instead of Hot Rod and Mark Bryant holding down the paint for the next four years.

Another point to consider: if O’Neal spends his first few years in feel-good Phoenix instead of wilting under the influence of the Portland Jail Blazer era, does he mature faster? Does he develop better with more playing time? I think so.

Again, I love Nash; but I want to win.

Back to the scenario at hand. To prevent a hypothetical disaster from occurring, you man-up and trade good players for this potentially great one. Again, this excites the franchise and its players. You're trying to win a championship, remember? A three-guard lineup with zero competent bigs won't do that.

A young backcourt of Kidd and Kobe? Absolutely.

So what do you do? You give your division rival (L.A.) the finger while you approach the team (Charlotte) with the pick you want. You tell them, "Look. 'Zo Mourning just ditched you, so I know you need a center other than Matt Geiger. Take Kobe for us, and we'll take J. O'Neal or Zydrunas Ilgauskus for you. We'll throw in Danny Manning and a draft pick, too."

Think they won't bite on that over Vlade Divac? Please. But if they do get antsy, offer second-year player Mario Bennett and maybe ask them for a future pick to throw in. At that point, no one knows Bennett won't amount to anything yet.

Suddenly (after making the trade for Kidd), you've got a young core around Charles Barkley (if he doesn't demand a trade). Look at your lineup:

  • Starters: Hot Rod, Barkley, Rex Chapman (maybe Manning if you can get Kobe for O’Neal/Ilgauskus and a draft pick), Kobe, Kidd
  • Bench: Elliott Perry, Wesley Person, Kleine, Wayman Tisdale, A.C. Green

Important follow-up note: when you draft a young stud, you play him . Don't treat him like Earl Clark, Robin Lopez, or Alando Tucker. You don't crow about how you got the guy you wanted and then not play him .

That's a past draft mistake that could have been averted if you a) knew how and 2) had the guts to do it. Most of the time, it's just research and having the nerve to go with your instinct. Two shorter examples:

  • 1987 : Suns draft Armen Gilliam at number two—Scottie Pippen goes number five
  • 1992 : Suns draft Oliver Miller at #22 - Latrell Sprewell goes No. 24

These kill me. Snag Pippen in '87, and Jordan's monopoly over the O'Brien trophy doesn't happen. He gets one, maybe two trophies from sheer will.

Meanwhile, you have a stellar defender in Pippen to make up for Tom Chambers' complete aversion to defense. A trio of Chambers, KJ, and Pippen gets you a championship in the late 80's or early 90's, multiple championships if you still make the trade for Barkely (assuming Philly accepts the same deal and doesn't insist on Pippen being included).

If Chicago still gets Pippen, you’re set back until ‘92. Forget signing spoiled, former Celtic Danny Ainge. Don’t waste your money on him or on Oliver Miller's insatiable appetite. Instead, you get Sprewell.

Suddenly, you've got a lineup of KJ, Barkley, Sprewell, Dan Majerle and Mark West, with Frank Johnson, Kurt Rambis, Chambers, and young studs Ced Ceballos and Richard Dumas coming off the bench.

Don't like your frontcourt? Package Dumas and Chambers for a decent big. Bam—'93 championship.

See? Don't nicely fill a need. Go for the piece that guarantees you a championship—or at least a few shots at it.

Remember, that's why you have this job, Steve and Bob: to win championships.


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