Six Pitfalls of NBA Management, Part 1: Passing on the Best Player

Buy The ClippersContributor IMarch 22, 2010

CHICAGO - MARCH 09: C.J. Miles #34 of the Utah Jazz puts up a shot between Brad Miller #52 and Loul Deng #9 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on March 9, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Jazz defeated the Bulls 132-108. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Fans of bad NBA teams, perpetually bad teams, will try to tell you their plight is a result of plain, old, bad luck.

They have suffered through years of untimely injuries, unforeseen circumstances, bad bounces, poor officiating, unjust suspensions, or the fact that they’re the Utah Jazz. Whenever they’re questioned about the shortfalls of their team, they quickly, and with a complete lack of cynicism or self-awareness, point to these variables.

They claim the failures of their team are the result of things beyond the control of the team.

They point to the fact that every championship team needs a little bit of good luck to win (or just that they can’t be called the Utah Jazz), and that they just haven’t been sprinkled with the pixie dust yet.

How do I respond to this? In a word, HOOEY!

The way I see it, there are six things that bad franchises do that make them bad franchises.

And, as luck would have it, there are six things that good franchises don’t do to continue being good franchises. Believe it or not, they are the same six things. Before I impart of this zen-like wisdom, let me make one thing quite clear.

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Bad franchises suck because they have sucky ownership and sucky management. As Poppy would say, on this, there canna be no debate!

It isn’t luck or a curse or misfortune or karma or even dharma for that matter. That’s just something long suffering fans say to make themselves feel better and to give themselves hope that it can be turned around.

Let me save all of you long suffering fans some grief—your team has sucked, sucks now, and will continue to suck, until you get new ownership and new management.

The respective front offices of these bad teams have the collective basketball acumen of a large pile of poo. They just don’t get it, and they never will.

They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Trust me, if you’re a fan of one of these teams, and you are expecting things to turn around without a major shake-up at the top, you are driving yourself insane. This is your wake-up call! Wake up! Your team is horrendous.

They are steeped in mediocrity, and will remain that way.

If you think next year could be your year, you are deluding yourself. Either that, or you’re a Jazz fan. How do I know this is true? Because your crappy franchise falls guilty to at least four, if not all, of the following pitfalls of NBA team management.

These are time honored rules of putrescence, which in many cases are followed to the letter as if they were the bible of basketball.

Why do so many teams succumb to these evils? I have some ideas, but I’ll get into another time (my favorite theory being that a lot of these owners and GM’s just aren’t that smart. I mean, take a look at the lot of them. Can you imagine any of them doing well on a Mensa quiz?).

But for evidence that teams can turn around their fortunes simply by installing new management, look no further than Mark Cuban. In the 20 years before Cuban bought the team, the Mavs had a winning percentage of 40%.

In the six years following, the team won 69% of their regular season games and reached the playoffs in each of those seasons. As my statistics professor would have said (had I ever taken a class on statistics), “this is statistically significant.”

So, without further ado, here is the first of the six most common pitfalls of NBA franchises:

1) Draft the Best Player Available…or Not.

It has become routine for teams to ignore the best player remaining on the board, in favor of lesser talent for other reasons. But before I explain the two major reasons why teams would do such a thing, go back and read that last sentence again and let it sink in.

Teams routinely ignore the best player on the board in favor of a lesser player.

What is more striking about that statement, that the phenomenon happens at all, or that it has become routine? It is absolutely illogical for a team to pass on the best player available.

It borders on the immoral. Maybe even the criminal. When you’re drafting a player for your team, you want one thing: to increase the level of talent on your team. You want your squad to be made of the best parts possible, not unlike using a recipe that calls for only the best ingredients.

Right? Am I crazy here? No? Then why do teams leave the most talented player for someone else to take? Why go for someone with LESS talent?

This isn’t rocket science. Now, let’s look into this situation a little bit to try to wrap our heads around why this happens. Teams engage in this type of drafting behavior, by and large, for one of two reasons:

A) They want to fill a need on their team, and the best player available doesn’t fill that need, or

B) They elect to take lesser talent because of the type of player he is (read: tall), and what they perceive to be a greater potential impact because of his position (read: Center or Power Forward).

Let’s see how this kind of thinking plays out. The most famous example of this occurrence is the 1984 draft.

In 1984, the Houston Rockets held the first overall pick, and went with the a complete no brainer, taking the best overall prospect who also happened to be a center, the most difficult position to fill in the NBA, Hakeem Olajuwon.

Portland was up next with the second overall pick.

They took a big man prospect by the name of Sam Bowie, who many felt was poised for a long and illustrious career, despite season ending leg injuries in two of his four college years, and averaging ten points and nine rebounds a game for Kentucky in his Senior year.

Was it a risk? Yes. Was the common wisdom that he had the makings of a very good big man? Yes. So what’s the problem?

Only that this pick left the Chicago Bulls free to take a certain North Carolina shooting guard by the name Michael Jeffrey Jordan. I’m told every year in Portland there is a moment of silence at exactly 6:41pm every June 19th, in memoriam of this fateful event.

Much has been written of this, so I’ll spare the editorializing, but failing to draft the best player available left Portland with 10.9 ppg and 7.5 rpg over five seasons, instead of arguably the greatest player of all time.

But there is a silver lining here.

Happily as you know, Portland learned their lesson from this debacle, and, 23 years later, drafted Kevin Durant with the first overall pick, the best player in the draft, over the more risky and injury-prone center Greg Oden…(that noise you’re hearing is the sound of Blazers fans beating their heads against their keyboards after reading this paragraph.)

A great example of passing on the best player available in favor of size, or position filling, can be found in the 2005 NBA draft.

Much has been said already of the top four picks in that draft (Andrew Bogut, Marvin Williams, Deron Williams and Chris Paul). But I’d like to focus on the seventeenth pick.

But before I get there, here are the top 16 players taken in that draft before the player I’m referencing: Bogut, Williams, Williams, Paul, Raymond Felton, Martell Webster, Charlie Villanueva, Channing Frye, Ike Diogu, Andrew Bynum, Fran Vasquez, Yaroslav Korolev (way to go Clippers!), Sean May, Rashad McCants, Antoine Wright, and Joey Graham. On this list, there are exactly two all-stars, Deron Williams and Chris Paul (taken third and fourth respectively).

Of the remaining fourteen, five are currently in the starting line-up for their teams (Bogut, Williams, Felton, Villanueva and Bynum), and three aren’t even in the league anymore (Vasquez never was!).

Why is all this important? Because with the 17th pick in the draft, the Indiana Pacers took another player that turned out to be an all-star, a player by the name of Danny Granger (or, as Fantasy Basketball players call him, the fourth best player in the league).

Why did teams pass him up? Honestly, that remains a mystery.

Most of the analysts at the time had him going somewhere between five and ten. Most likely, teams were looking to fill big man needs on their teams (nine of the first 16 were big men), while others were awed by the infamous “upside” of younger players and European prospects.

But they ignored the best player available.

By the way, of the 14 relevant teams that passed on Granger (I’ve excluded Utah and New Orleans only because their picks were clearly better players than Granger in the 2005 draft), only one, the Lakers, could be considered an elite team, or perpetual contender. I wonder why...

Come back later for NBA pitfall number two.

As always, go to www.buytheclippers.com for more.