Danny Ferry and Larry Hughes (Getty Images)In the summer of 2005, Danny Ferry had two weeks to more or less determine his entire run as GM of the Cleveland Cavaliers. During the short stint, he passed on following through with his owner's interest in Larry Brown and used his team's cap space to sign free agents Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall and re-sign Zydrunas Ilgauskas. He also hired coach Mike Brown, heretofore an assistant coach and veteran of several well-respected coaching staffs.
All of the moves were applauded, as they should have been. All made sense. All should have worked. All completely backfired. All undercut his entire career as the Cavs' el jefe. All led to his firing, in 2010. All color the way we look at Ferry, who was just hired as the GM of the Atlanta Hawks, as first reported by Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
And is any of this fair at, um, all?
To quite a few, Ferry being taken in by Atlanta represents yet another hiring of an NBA retread, following the Hawks' recent history of employing Billy Knight and Rick Sund. That initial realization and response is completely fair, because the Hawks have acted as the ultimate safe-at-home franchise over the last 15 years or so.
Since the Hawks swooped in to sign Dikembe Mutombo and re-sign Christian Laettner in the summer of 1996, they have matched safe coaching hires with safe re-signings and free-agent moves. Even the team's gut-it-out rebuilding project in 2004-05 only resulted in the milquetoast drafting and signing of Marvin Williams and Joe Johnson. Mega-yawn.
That same summer, Ferry unknowingly signed off on the next five years of his Cavaliers run with his own big offseason splash. In moves that most — including yours truly — agreed with completely, Ferry tossed big money at Hughes, Marshall and Ilgauskas in an attempt to give soon-to-be third-year stud LeBron James a versatile and veteran core to work with. All were entering their prime and Hughes was coming off an All-Star season that saw the 26-year-old score 22 a game while getting to the line a ton and posting a Player Efficiency Rating over 21. Seemingly a working man's Scottie Pippen, Hughes also led the NBA in steals per game and averaged a combined 11 rebounds/assists.
He also fell off completely after that. Hughes' PER dropped to below average after rising steadily every season prior to that. He stopped driving. He didn't mesh with James in the slightest. And his massive salary would have to be tossed around (for fellow disappointment Ben Wallace) as a cap hold in the years after that. Ferry could never shake him.
Ilgauskas and, to a far lesser extent, Marshall? They worked. Marshall's 3-point shooting dimmed a bit in his time with Cleveland, but Big Z played out the string of a fabulous career, and Ferry was to be lauded in keeping around a 7-3 dude with skills for as long as he could.
Mike Brown? He learned on the job. And he learned how to placate a superstar. To put it mildly, it didn't work in Cleveland. So far, it's not working in Los Angeles, where he currently coaches the Lakers. And Ferry, because you don't easily hire and fire coaches when you have championship expectations (and certainly not the 2009 Coach of the Year), had to live for five years with the decisions he made in July 2005.
And until he shakes up these Atlanta Hawks -- or does something swift and smart with what little assets they have that other teams want that wouldn't destroy Atlanta's core -- he'll be living off of that summer.
Atlanta has players other teams want, but it gets muddy after that. Teams want Al Horford, but do the Hawks want to trade their low-post stud in a league always working with a paucity of them? Teams want Josh Smith, but with his contract expiring so soon and with his all-around skills so perfectly suited for Atlanta's orthodox structure? Teams would want Joe Johnson, but with four years and around $89 million left on his contract?
It's a tough road to stray from, chucking towards 50 wins and hopefully the second round every year. Your cap is full, because you have 50-win talent, but it's hard to work around that. And forget the draft, because Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker (two players that Ferry's former bosses in San Antonio found in the late second and first round) would be scouted all the way to the lottery in these modern times. And yes, the difference between 1999 (Ginobili) and 2001 (Parker) and 2012 can be considered the difference between old and modern times, NBA-wise.
Ferry isn't short on experience, even if that one month in 2005 defined him as an NBA exec. He played at a major college, overseas, on a championship NBA team, on middling NBA teams, and for a series of fantastic coaches throughout. His father Bob Ferry had sound success as an NBA executive for years, and the man knows his way around a BlackBerry dial. As retreads go, this cat is in the know.
We're looking for a new way to know him, though. A more recent take on someone who is likely chomping at the bit to redefine his legacy. Good luck, Danny.