April 11, 2008
Timing, timing, and timing.
About a year ago this time, I started to put together this column, ranking all the NBA's personnel bosses. And though I still believe the rankings and the words that go along with the rankings to be spot on as far as June of 2007 goes, the whole darn thing has gone topsy-turvy in the months since.
That's not to say I was wrong in my estimation of certain GMs. In fact, though several of the lower-ranked GMs are the top candidates for this year's Executive of the Year Award, I even took in a little heat for giving the once-beleaguered GMs too much credit. The venerable Ken Tremendous of FireJoeMorgan.com told me that I ranked Boston's Danny Ainge too high, and I heard the same thing about Laker boss Mitch Kupchak.
Meanwhile, Chicago's John Paxson (a lofty fifth in that list) now has Bulls fans wondering if he should be allowed to oversee the next rebuilding phase that Chicago will have to endure. And I wrote that thing less than a year ago!
It all comes down to timing, having the right assets, having the flexibility to work with those assets, being able to deal from a position of strength, timing, and also timing. Dig:
In the summer of 2006, Paxson had a cadre of young talent, lottery picks in 2006 and 2007 coming from the New York Knicks (both were tradeable, as Chicago had its own pick in 2006), expiring contracts, and a tradeable (non-BYC) contract in Tyson Chandler to move. He offered just about all of that to Minnesota GM Kevin McHale for Kevin Garnett, and was turned down. McHale thought his team to be one 6-2 shooting guard away from another playoff run, and wasn't ready to dump KG.
In February of 2007, Paxson had the same young talent, the impending lottery pick, a hefty expiring contract (the same size as, say, Kwame Brown's current expiring deal), and he offered just about all of that to Memphis for Pau Gasol. No dice, said Jerry West, who didn't want to leave the cupboard bare as he moved on.
The summer of 2007 and February of 2008 hit, and Paxson has no lottery picks left to deal (that he knew of at the time), no expiring contracts left to offer, and all his sizeable contracts (Kirk Hinrich, Andres Nocioni) are BYC deals, and tough to negotiate with.
Meanwhile, Ainge and Kupchak send similar but crummier (instead of potentially LaMarcus Aldridge and Joakim Noah, you get Gerald Green and Javaris Crittenton!) packages to Minnesota (now ready to deal) and Memphis (now ready to deal) for KG and Gasol, and they'll be fighting over the Executive of the Year trophy as a result.
From the dregs, to the top. And for Paxson, the opposite. Boston and Los Angeles might meet in the Finals, and the Bulls are back in the lottery. Timing.
And it's Danny Ainge's time. Drafting every year without the benefit of a lottery pick (part of that is his fault, as Ainge foolishly parlayed his 2006 pick to Portland for Sebastian Telfair), Ainge put together a stable of young talent; talent that probably should have made the playoffs in 2006-07 had injuries and a thirst for Greg Oden not hit.
On top of that, he grabbed Theo Ratliff, whose massive contract (among the last that Portland handed out during the Jail Blazer era, not that Ratliff was a miscreant of any sort) expires this summer. Using the lottery picked earned from an awful 2006-07 showing, while recognizing that a rebuilding SuperSonics team doesn't need an eight-figure contract being shoveled to a guy on the wrong side of 30, Ainge nabbed Ray Allen.
And he didn't have to give up Ratliff. That was huge. That's the first thing that struck us upon seeing the Seattle/Boston trade details on the wire. That meant he was still in the race for Garnett.
(Notice a trend here? Often times, it's who you don't have to give up, because Powe's absence in the details of the Boston/Minnesota trade was the first thing that stood out to me as well, leaving Boston with a modicum of depth up front.)
Add Allen, and Garnett wants to play with you. Add KG, and Sam Cassell, Eddie House, and James Posey want to play with you. That takes you from thin to passable to workable to really, really, deep. And it's just a couple of small choices that lead to an avalanche.
And that avalanche has Boston atop the league. And it will result in Danny Ainge taking in a deserved Executive of the Year Award.