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Executive order (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday June 26, 2007 1:03PM; Updated: Tuesday June 26, 2007 5:02PM
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More Rankings: 25-30

Executive Rankings
Rank   Personnel Boss
Isiah Thomas, New York Knicks
Pluses: Isiah knows how to draft. With one notable exception (begging boss Donnie Walsh to grab Fred Jones for the Isiah-coached Pacers in 2002), Thomas' selections have been knockouts regardless of his team or its position in the draft order. His crowning achievement came in the '05 and '06 drafts, when he turned lower first-round picks into David Lee (one of the game's more underrated talents) and Renaldo Balkman, a productive hustler who wasn't even a part of the second round of many observers' mock drafts.

Minuses: Everything else. He had a run of deals seemingly lifted from a worst-case scenario fiction column you'd read on some NBA fan message board. He bid against himself in throwing two eventual lottery selections and heaps of second-round picks (ones that Isiah has proved capable of using to draft rotation players) toward Chicago for the right to overpay Eddy Curry. He acquired overpaid and under-inspired players from Stephon Marbury to Jalen Rose to Maurice Taylor to Steve Francis to Anfernee Hardaway to Tim Thomas. Thomas sacrificed expiring deals for these players as well as for Jamal Crawford, who hasn't improved a lick despite his youth (check out the per-minute stats). He gave Jerome James and Jared Jeffries a combined $60 million in consecutive summers, and somehow thought Larry Brown would work as a coach for this lot. Had Thomas just had the good sense to rebuild after Scott Layden's time running the Knicks, the team would have been well under the salary cap last season. Instead, it paid $200 million (after the luxury taxes kick in) for 33 victories.

Bottom line: Assuming the Knicks try to at least extend a few of the players they have currently performing under rookie contracts, the team won't be under the salary cap until 2010. Isiah could get lucky pairing one of his big contracts with any number of his young prospects for a star, but it's hard to see said star doing much while having to work with two prominent members of a '03-04 Bulls team (Curry and Crawford) that lost 59 games. The best that could happen for Knicks fans is if owner James Dolan continues to insist that Thomas not add to the payroll outside of extending the rookie deals. Apparently, relieving Thomas of his duties is out of the question.
Billy King, Philadelphia 76ers
Pluses: Larry Brown was essentially running the show from 1997 until 2003. It was King's job to talk Brown out of wanting to either quit or trade his entire roster about twice a week during that six-year span. Working from '03 on, it was nice to see King grab Kyle Korver in the second round that year, nab Andre Iguodala with the 8th pick in '04 and dump Glenn Robinson on the New Orleans Hornets for Jamal Mashburn's insured expiring contract in February '05. King did well in dumping Allen Iverson for draft picks plus Andre Miller, though we don't understand rebuilding with a 31-year-old point guard making eight figures at the helm.

Minuses: Even without Brown calling the shots, he's pointlessly extended the deals of solid but subpar guys like Eric Snow, Greg Buckner and Kenny Thomas, and bid against himself to secure Korver for more than he was worth. He was set to extend Willie Green to an outrageous deal in 2005 before Green tore his ACL in a pickup game, only to hand Green (8.8 points on 8.8 field goal attempts in 19.7 minutes for his career) a five-year deal a year later. Traded for a diminished Chris Webber in February '05 and watched as Webber took the air out of his team's offense and handicapped his team's defense for nearly two seasons. Employed four head coaches between June '03 and May '05. Wasted Iverson's prime.

Bottom line: The Sixers are rebuilding, which is good, but King isn't the man for the job. The Sixers have the 12th, 21st and 30th picks in the draft, but that's not exactly an awe-inspiring lot. Lottery teams rarely trade down for several picks as happens in the NFL. The 76ers are on track to be under the cap in 2008, but not by much.

Chris Wallace, Memphis Grizzlies
Pluses: Gregarious, willing to hash out deals, has every contact you would want and boasts an intricate knowledge of the European leagues.

Minuses: Most of Wallace's early moves with the Celtics were heavily influenced by then-president Rick Pitino, so we're throwing out his pre-2001 résumé. That said, Grizzlies fans have to be nervous over his recent hiring. With three first-round picks in '01, Wallace got one right (Joe Johnson at No. 10) and two wrong (Kedrick Brown at No. 11 and Joe Forte at No. 21). He then compounded the issue by sending Johnson to Phoenix in February '02 for Rodney Rogers, Tony Delk and the 22nd pick in that year's draft. Rogers and Delk helped the Celtics make the conference finals in a pathetic East and promptly left town the following summer -- which is when the Celtics acquired Vin Baker, whose contract is just coming off the books now. By the end of '02-03, the Celtics were so desperate for front-office help that they hired Danny Ainge.

Bottom line: You have to be a little dubious about Wallace's chances, even though the Grizzlies will have about $8 million in cap room this offseason after signing the fourth pick in the draft. With financial issues for the Memphis ownership and Pau Gasol's on-again, off-again trade demands, Wallace will have his work cut out for him.
Billy Knight, Atlanta Hawks
Pluses: Knight fired coach Terry Stotts, which always helps, and saw enough of Zaza Pachulia in limited minutes to go after him during the summer of 2005. He'd also seen enough of Al Harrington by the summer of '06 to send him to the Indiana Pacers for the 11th pick in this year's draft. Taking Josh Smith 17th overall in '04 was a steal.

Minuses: Any rip job on Knight comes with the mention that he's been working under borderline untenable ownership issues since taking full control of the Hawks in April 2003. That said, Knight is the biggest reason why the Hawks can't get out of the lottery. For starters, Knight continually suggests that he's often after the best player available in the draft, which would be an admirable philosophy if he actually selected the best players available. Instead, the Hawks have gone with Josh Childress (instead of Luol Deng, Andre Iguodala or Al Jefferson), Marvin Williams (instead of Chris Paul or Deron Williams) and Shelden Williams (instead of Brandon Roy, Randy Foye or Rudy Gay) in three consecutive drafts. He also sent two first-round picks and Boris Diaw to Phoenix for the right to pay Joe Johnson.

Bottom line: The Hawks are stuck with a swingman-heavy roster of young talent. If they keep their two lottery picks (third and 11th), they'll be a few million under the salary cap this summer, though we're not entirely sure if this is a good thing. Knight's two veteran signings from last summer, Speedy Claxton and Lorenzen Wright, were two of the worst rotation players in the NBA in 2006-07.

Michael Jordan, Charlotte Bobcats
Pluses: Interestingly, Jordan seems to employ a Jerry Krause-like willingness to go after versatile athletes with dynamic skill sets. Whether or not these players turn into sound basketball players is anyone's guess. And, as it was during his playing days, Jordan tends to take to the type of person who appears able to stand up to his domineering personality.

Minuses: Jordan's time running the Wizards -- and make no mistake, he was calling the shots during his 2001-03 run as an active player -- was an abject failure. Though he started out solidly, acquiring cap space and young prospects for the heretofore-untradable Juwan Howard in February '01, he was unable to find trading partners for aging talents like Rod Strickland and Mitch Richmond (both saw their contracts bought out, which counted against the salary cap). His selection of Kwame Brown with the first pick in the '01 draft was an outright bust. While playing, Jordan surrounded himself with players he felt comfortable working with, despite their limitations. Though some went on to solid careers (Bobby Simmons, Brian Cardinal, Larry Hughes), the bulk of his roster was filled with aging vets and North Carolina acolytes (and sometimes both). Leonard Hamilton didn't work out as coach, and Doug Collins was hamstrung by Jordan's roster.

Bottom line: Reassigned Bobcats boss Bernie Bickerstaff patiently put together one of the NBA's most potential-laden young rosters. But with Jordan having the final word in Charlotte, one can't help but worry about the team's future. Hopefully the Carolina native has learned from his time in Washington.

Kevin McHale, Minneosta Timberwolves
Pluses: Took Kevin Garnett's game seriously when he entered the 1995 draft. Did as well as could be reasonably expected when Stephon Marbury came out with a trade demand before the trade deadline in March '99 (Minnesota acquired Terrell Brandon and two first-round picks). Managed to pick up Sam Cassell just before a career year and Latrell Sprewell in '03-04, which resulted in a trip to the conference finals that could have been even more if Cassell hadn't gotten hurt in the playoffs. With Garnett's deal limiting his maneuverability, McHale was often able to find cheap role players (LaPhonso Ellis, Reggie Slater, Dean Garrett, Ervin Johnson, Kendall Gill) who worked well within former coach Flip Saunders' offensive schemes.

Minuses: Wasted Garnett's career. McHale has done more than that, but this is about as grievous a misdeed as we can imagine in all of pro sports. Think of all the smooth transactions that the Spurs' brain trust has made to help Tim Duncan, reverse that, add a few 6-2 shooting guards and an illegal signing, and you have McHale's time in Minnesota. More specifically: McHale burned a draft pick from the Marbury trade on Wally Szczerbiak; lost draft picks thanks to an illegal deal with Joe Smith; used first-round picks on William Avery and Ndudi Ebi; acquired a series of combo guards who can't play big minutes at the point (Mike James, Marko Jaric, Rashad McCants, Randy Foye, Troy Hudson, Shane Heal); dumped Flip Saunders; dumped Dwane Casey (the Wolves were 20-20 at the time of Casey's firing last season and finished 12-30 under Randy Wittman even with no major injuries); and refused to entertain the notion of trading Garnett until all other options were exhausted.

Bottom line: There is still hope. A Garnett deal with Boston (for Al Jefferson, assorted other youngsters and Theo Ratliff's expiring contract) would be nice, though we don't see Phoenix getting desperate enough to send Amaré Stoudemire to Minnesota for KG. Chicago is out of the picture unless McHale wants to take on Ben Wallace (we wouldn't put that past him). Meanwhile, right now the Wolves are capped out for 2007-08. They have the seventh pick in this year's draft, but they will have to relinquish a first-rounder (top 10 protected through '11) to the Clippers soon enough as part of the Jaric trade. Whether McHale will be around by then, we don't know -- owner Glen Taylor always seems ready with an excuse or 12 for his team's vice president.

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