Weekly Countdown (cont.)
On to the rest of the Countdown ...
4 questions rescued from the spam
So based on your story about the Knicks rebuilding plan, are we supposed to believe it's Isiah Thomas' fault the Knicks didn't draft Jennings, when he begged to be in NY?
So Donnie Walsh isn't responsible for drafting Hill over Jennings? In throwing Isiah's group under the bus, he doesn't take ANY responsibility for the draft? And with all the bad money Dolan has thrown at players, he can't absorb a few hundred thousand more to clear out some front-office people who are holding back the team? C'mon. Walsh is covering his tracks, no?
I didn't view Walsh's comments as an attempt to escape responsibility. Just the opposite: He was accepting it.
This comes up because I wanted to know why Walsh hasn't brought in more of his own people to help change the organization. I'm not saying he should throw out everyone -- senior VP is among the many valuable Knicks staffers who would help any NBA franchise -- and I'm not saying that Isiah's people aren't competent. The issue is inspiration: Why wouldn't you want to import a fresh approach from people who are fired up to help you create a new era?
It's only natural to think that some of the Isiah holdovers have been waiting to be dismissed. Are they going to stick out their necks to help Donnie Walsh?
I credit Walsh with answering these questions head-on. During my interview he acknowledged that the commitment by some of Isiah's people may be an issue. He also recognized that he didn't know his staff well enough to be able to discern the fence-sitters from the go-getters. By admitting to these things he is accepting responsibility, because obviously it's up to him to fire and hire his staff, just as it's up to him to make the decisions on who the Knicks are going to draft.
Here's another thing I picked up from my talk with Walsh: I was reminded that these decisions are rarely so simple or clear-cut as they appear. One of Walsh's biggest assignments is to introduce financial discipline within the organization, because teams don't go far without that kind of accountability. So what kind of example would he be creating if he made a lot of expensive hires instead of trying to make the best of things?
My own opinion is that Walsh needs to hire a GM to chase down leads and do a lot of the thankless behind-the-scenes work necessary to turn a losing franchise into a winner. But I also recognize his job is far more complicated than I can imagine.
Is it really worth it for the Sixers to sign Allen Iverson? He may sell some tickets, but won't he slow the development of the young guys they were grooming? Are we really to believe he will take a back seat so that Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams (when he returns) will get more experience?
The whole idea of NBA teams ignoring a proven Hall of Fame talent like Iverson just to make a point, to make decisions on their terms is petty and ridiculous. Just how badly do they want to win? In particular, if you are a contending team and looking to move to the next level, and a commodity like Iverson is available, sign him. He would likely come for cheap, and you wouldn't necessarily have to sign him long term. What do you have to lose?
The two of you articulated the two sides of the argument. The truth is that the 76ers can't win with Iverson and they can't win without him. His teammates will have to adapt to him, but they weren't going anywhere anyway. Is he going to carry that team to the playoffs? Probably not.
I understand where you're coming from, Todd, but the Knicks and other teams didn't sign Iverson precisely because they didn't think he would help them win. If he hasn't been willing to adapt to the larger needs of the Pistons or the Grizzlies, then what good is he?
Last week I wrote that Iverson would join a team that would reach out to Iverson to replace an injured backcourt starter. That's what Philadelphia has done, and I don't see any harm in it. Plus he's already selling a lot of tickets.
Loved your piece on Gregg Popovich, who I've long thought was criminally overlooked as one of the game's best coaches. Of the coaches who don't have multiple rings (and Jerry Sloan), who do you think has a chance to join Pop's class? For the common fans, what are the telltale signs of a great coach, or one who can be?
Nate, Brooklyn, N.Y.
No one currently in the NBA will mimic Popovich's influence, because he is a coach with total control of his organization. That is why he has been responsible for placing successful coaches and GMs with other franchises around the league.
All of the great coaches in the NBA have great players, that's the first requirement. Then they're able to earn and maintain the respect of those players by helping them win. Few coaches receive the opportunity to coach those players, and fewer are able to make it work.
How much does the NBA have to worry about Tim Donaghy's upcoming book? Is this old news at this point or are there concerns this could hurt the league again?
It's inevitable -- and necessary -- that Donaghy will be heard. We should all hear what he has to say. It isn't old news, and there is no statute of limitations on this issue.
At the same time, no one should believe everything Donaghy says because his career turned into one big lie. Once he has had his say, the NBA will have plenty of opportunities to present its rebuttal.
The NBA should be worried and vigilant. But the league needs to give its fans credit for being able to tell truth from fiction, and for not necessarily believing everything they hear from a referee who brought nothing but shame to his sport and himself.
3 topics with John Hammond
The Bucks GM discusses owner Herb Kohl's role in the decisions to trade Richard Jefferson (to San Antonio for three players) while allowing Charlie Villanueva and Ramon Sessions to walk as free agents. In spite of those losses the surprising Bucks are off to a surprising 9-8 start.
Hammond says he talked Milwaukee owner Herb Kohl into approving the Jefferson trade.
"Yes, I did," said Hammond, in his second year overseeing the Bucks. "It was a very difficult decision that we felt like we had to make.
"Let me say this about Richard: He came to Milwaukee and was great for us, he played 82 games, he was the exact kind of person we needed and he represented our organization in the very best way. We didn't trade Richard for what he did not do. We traded him for what we felt were the right reasons for us as an organization. And Sen. Kohl -- I can tell you this -- Sen. Kohl was like, 'I don't even want to consider this if it's going to hurt us in a win-loss standpoint.' Richard had $29.2 million (due him) over the next two years, and [Kohl] still was saying, 'If it's going to help us win then we'll keep the player.'
"It's very bothersome to me that people are talking about what we've done over the last few months in saying that it's a small-market team, it's an owner who has given me a mandate to cut salaries and save money. That is the furthest thing from the truth. If you look at our salaries and what he's done over the years in paying players and coaches, it's pretty evident he wants to win."
Of the assumption that the Bucks slashed payroll as a small-market team hoping to save money, Hammond insists the opposite is true: That Kohl's preference was to keep the payroll high in pursuit of as many victories as possible this season.
Many owners tell their GMs to cut costs; in this case, according to Hammond, the opposite was true.
"That's where I think the real misperception is regarding Sen. Kohl and this whole talk right now (of NBA franchise cutbacks) because of financial issues that everyone around the country is dealing with. I can tell you that that wasn't a case from the owner's standpoint. I have no reason to say any different, I'm not trying to protect the senator. I'm telling you the truth that this was a decision we felt from a basketball standpoint was the right thing for us to do."
Kohl has maintained a relatively high payroll even though the team hasn't had a winning season in six years. If fans are going to be critical of Milwaukee's moves last summer, Hammond says he should be target because he was pushing for those cutbacks.
"Our thinking," said Hammond in speaking for himself and coach Scott Skiles, "is if we're not going to be an upper-echelon team, then our payroll should not be that [high]. Obviously there are teams that are making money in this league and some teams that are not, and I know in this market it has been a little tougher for the Bucks to make money along with the fact that we haven't won as much as we'd like to. He isn't an owner that's probably making the money he'd like to make in this business, but that doesn't change the fact that he's committed to winning.
The long-term goal. Hammond identified the Bucks' mission by referring to lessons learned from his seven years in Detroit as VP to Joe Dumars. "Joe said to me at the very beginning, 'Let's put the best team possible on the floor, but not at 'any' cost.' Because then you can take on that big contract at the end, or the right piece that could be the difference maker for you to go from good to great. So that's all we're trying to do here, because over the last few years our payroll has probably been higher than it should have been for the wins we were getting back."
In preseason Skiles insisted the Bucks were a deeper -- and a better -- team despite the losses of three starters from last season. Was last year's roster capable of becoming a championship contender down the line? Hammond and Skiles didn't think so. But by 2011 they'll have cap space to sign or trade for players around rookie point guard Brandon Jennings, center Andrew Bogut and power forward Ersan Ilyasova.
"I thought Scott said it best a few months ago -- this is a coach saying this -- when he told me, 'You and I have to look at these jobs like we're going to be here for 10 years. And I respect and appreciate Scott for saying that because I know not every coach is going to be saying that, and not every GM is going to think that way."
2 things you hear over a cup of coffee
From a league GM: "I do this a lot because of nervous energy. When I'm on the road before a game, I'll walk around the building. I'll walk the concourse over and over, and see interesting things people are doing around the league in their arenas. Recently I was in an (NBA) arena on the upper concourse level, and a young guy comes up to me and says, 'Do you have tickets for this level? Because if you do, here's a ticket to go down and sit at a lower level for the game tonight.' In one sense that's not uncommon around the league with your long-time season-ticket holders. Our sales guys will go to a season-ticket holder and say, 'Here's two lower-level seats for this game,' and we'll do that as a reward to thank them for buying their season tickets. But this guy, he didn't know if I was Joe Shmoe. He was just offering them to anybody. It tells me how difficult things are around the league right now."
From a head coach: "Here's what I would do if I was the New Jersey Nets. I would go down to Durham (N.C.) and give Mike Krzyzewski a blank check. I would offer him total control. He's 62, and maybe it's time for him to try this. I know he could recruit those guys on the Olympic team to come play for him (as free agents this summer)."
1 surprising view of Allen Iverson
He was apologetic for his behavior after signing to rejoin the 76ers. Iverson realized he had helped create an environment that convinced other teams to not sign him this season. I spoke to a GM yesterday who hopes to use Iverson's contrition as a teachable moment for the young players on his team. "We all make mistakes," said the GM. "But there are some things you don't have to bring on yourself."