Friday, July 27, 2007

Bulls Plan to Get Inside Scoring By Committee

After losing their second round playoff series to the Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls general manager, John Paxson, explained that they clearly have a need for someone who can score in the post in order to advance further next season. This immediately started trade rumors that had the Bulls acquiring Kevin Garnett, Pau Gasol, and others. With the league's summer camps now over and teams getting ready to focus on the season ahead, it is becoming more likely that the Bulls will stick to their current roster.

At the power forward position Joe Smith, Tyrus Thomas, Joakim Noah, and Andres Nocioni will all share time. Smith is projected to start at the position and Nocioni will play at that spot sparingly when they want to go with a small lineup. Thomas and Noah may also spend some time backing up Ben Wallace at the center spot.

Here are my projections for the these four guys when they spend time at the power forward position for the Bulls:

Name, Minutes, Points, Rebounds
Joe Smith, 22, 10, 6
Tyrus Thomas, 16, 8, 6
Joakim Noah, 5, 4, 3
Andres Nocioni, 5, 4, 2

So during the 48 minutes of a game, the Bulls project out to get 26 points and 17 rebounds from the power forward position. The idea of having a problematic position be filled by a group of strong role players may work well for the Bulls. Each of these four guys plays with a great deal of energy and provides unique individual talents.

The Bulls certainly hope that the 2007 Pepsi Pro Summer League will be a sign of things to come for Thomas, where he averaged 16 points and 9 rebounds per game, while being named to the First-Team All-Summer League team. Long-term, if Thomas can continue to develop into a reliable power forward, then the Bulls problems may be solved without having to give up any of their assets. Looking at next year, Thomas should be able to provide great help off the bench for Skiles when he looks to spell Smith of minutes. He brings the ability to block shots and play above the rim, skills that Smith no longer can provide well. At the same time, Smith will provide spirts of strong post play and competent post defense.

Noah will be another wildcard for Skiles because his game is still very raw. Undoubtedly, Noah will bring great shot blocking and energy and any offense he can bring will be seen as a bonus. Nocioni's ability to play big allows Skiles to move to a smaller and quicker lineup. I assume that Skiles will look to do this in short stints during a game.

Although these four guys cannot bring what a Jermaine O'Neal or Kevin Garnett can bring to a team, they should be able to form a nice combination at the power forward spot each night. The Bulls big men will certainly be upgraded with a healthy Nocioni, development of Thomas, and the additions of Smith and Noah. Hopefully, at the end of next season, Paxson will not be again quoted as saying that their offseason priority is a scoring big man.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Cuban's Idea to Make Money in Basketball

I read a great blog post that Mark Cuban wrote about an outside-the-box way of making money in basketball.

The post can be found by going to:

Rebuilding an Organization

I read an interesting article Rany Jazayerli of wrote for The article, posted on August 8, 2006, was an in-depth look at how the Detroit Tigers roster was built. After years of losing, the Tigers emerged in 2006 and made it all the way to the World Series before losing to the St. Louis Cardinals. I am posting an excerpt from the article that Jazayerli wrote that I particularly appreciated.

And finally, unquestionably the most important lesson to be learned from the 2006 Tigers is this:

When it comes to building a championship team, there is simply no substitute for good scouting.

This may seem like a pretty basic point, but it's not. While we've gone to great lengths to destroy the notion that the scouts vs. stats debate is anything like an either/or proposition (beer and tacos, remember), it would be silly to deny that different teams emphasize each data set differently, and that on the extremes there are teams that emphasize one almost to the exclusion of the other.

It is an interesting article that is certainly worth the read. The article in its entirety can be found by going to:

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Three Teams Stuck in Neutral

The Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, and Los Angeles Lakers last regular season combined to win 96 games, while losing 150 games. So it would be fair to assume that all three have a clear rebuilding plan, right? Not exactly. Each one of these teams would like to win today, but because of a nucleus of younger players or a lack of talent, at this point they are not ready to make the leap.

Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks must choose between taking a step back and again making cap room their goal while they wait for their young players to develop, retaining their existing nucleus and let them grow together, or packaging some of their young players to bring in another experienced veteran. Based on their moves this offseason, it looks like they plan to retain their existing nucleus and continue to add young talent to it. Tyronn Lue, Lorenzen Wright, and Anthony Johnson will all have their contracts fall off the Hawks payroll after this season clearing more than $9,500,000. Unfortunately for Billy King and the Hawks, with Joe Johnson being the exception, no major free agents have actually shown an interest in joining the Hawks. The Hawks instead are stuck waiting for guys like Marvin Williams, Al Horford, Josh Childress, Shelden Williams, and Acie Law to continue to develop. Josh Smith has shown that he is ready to make an impact now, but the rest of his young teammates are unproven. If I were in the Hawks shoes, I would look to package some of their young players like Childress, Shelden Williams, and Marvin Williams to bring in a star point guard and center to put around Johnson, Smith, and Horford. On a playoff contender, Pachulia, Claxton, and Law are contributors but not starters. By bringing in two experienced scorers at those two key positions, the Hawks would be ready to make a run at the playoffs and get out of neutral for the first time since the 1998-99 season.

Boston Celtics
Since he was hired in 2003, Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics have spent their time trying to put a young group of talented players around their superstar, Paul Pierce. When they started with this plan, Pierce was only twenty-five years old and just had one of the most productive seasons of his career. He was seen as a go-to scorer, who could play two positions and had a solid reputation on defense.

Ainge has drafted young players such as Al Jefferson, Rajon Rondo, Gerald Green, Ryan Gomes, Delonte West, Tony Allen, Glen Davis, Leon Powe, Gabe Pruitt, and traded for Sebastian Telfair. The problem is that they have only won 57 games over the last two seasons and have not gotten past the first round of the playoffs during Ainge's reign. At this point, they have to consider whether or not they are wasting the career of their star, Pierce.

With the trade for Ray Allen this offseason, it only reaffirms that Ainge lacks direction. He is stuck in a middle ground and the Celtics will continue to be mediocre. With a lineup of Rondo, Allen, Pierce, Jefferson, and Kendrick Perkins, they will never be good enough to seriously compete for the Eastern Conference title. Plus, with Allen about to turn 33 years old, they will only have a small window for success and then they will have to start over again.

As I have suggested before, if I was the Celtics I would look to package a handful of their assets, Theo Ratliff (expiring contract of $11,666,666), Sebastian Telfair, Tony Allen, Gerald Green, and a future first round pick for another veteran who can push the Celtics forward, such as Jermaine O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, Lamar Odom, or even Drew Gooden or Boris Diaw. A rotation featuring veterans like Allen, Pierce, and an acquired post player to go along with youngsters Jefferson, Gomes, Perkins, Davis, and Pruitt would be serious competitors, and the Celtics would have true direction for the first time during Ainge’s stint as general manager.

Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers lack of direction has been well-documented this offseason as the trade demands of Kobe Bryant have been made. The talent around Bryant clearly is not strong enough for them to be true competitors in the Western conference. However, with Bryant in his prime, the Lakers should avoid having to rebuild and instead make a play to compete now. The Lakers need to move players like Lamar Odom, Kwame Brown, Andrew Bynum, and Jordan Farmar to bring in players who better fit with Bryant.

As I suggested before, Mitch Kupchek and the Lakers should target Jermaine O'Neal and Ron Artest in an effort to bring in talent that would suit Bryant's game well. Artest would be able to take the burden off of Bryant on the defensive end and O'Neal would be the true post player the Lakers are looking for. Sending Kwame Brown (expiring contract of $9,075,000), Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, and a first round pick to the Kings for Ron Artest and John Salmons (four years and more than $20,000,000 remaining) would be something both teams would be interested in. The Lakers would receive two players who could help right away, while the Kings would gain significant cap flexibility and some young players.

After acquiring Artest, the Lakers should turn their attention to the Pacers' O'Neal. The Lakers would have to give up Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, and Brian Cook to get O'Neal. This trade would give the Pacers a combination of young talent and veterans who can get the job done now. At this point, the Lakers would have rookie Javaris Crittenton and John Salmons at point guard, Kobe Bryant and Maurice Evans at shooting guard, Ron Artest and Luke Walton at small forward, Chris Mihm, Vladimr Radmanovic, and Ronny Turiaf at power forward, and Jermaine O'Neal in the middle. This team would be ready to compete for the championship immediately, and it would give the Lakers direction for the first time since Shaquille O'Neal was traded to the Miami Heat.

Without doing these trades and instead standing pat, the Lakers are looking at a rebuilding process. Although they will not drop to the bottom of the West, they will never truely be a contender. They will watch Kwame Brown and Maurice Evans' contracts come off the payroll at the end of the year, giving them about $10,000,000 in savings, but will be unable to bring in a talented veteran to assist Bryant. Wholesale changes need to be made in Los Angeles for the Lakers to have a good shot to compete for the title.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Ichiro's Unique Contract

The Seattle Mariners and their star rightfielder, Ichrio Suzuki, recently came to terms on a very unique and unprecedented agreement. Below is the Associated Press story, which describes in-depth the terms of the contract.

"M's to defer $25 million of Ichiro's deal"
Associated Press Posted

The Seattle Mariners will be paying Ichiro Suzuki for at least a quarter century.

The All-Star outfielder's new contract extension calls for the team to defer $25 million of the $90 million he is owed, money that the team will not have to fully pay until at least 2032.

Suzuki, MVP of last week's All-Star game, gets a $5 million signing bonus and annual salaries of $17 million from 2008-12 under the terms of last Friday's deal.

Seattle will pay $12 million in salary each year and defer $5 million per season at 5.5 percent interest. Suzuki, who turns 33 in October, will receive the money in annual installments each Jan. 30 starting with the year after his retirement from the major leagues.

Because of the deferred money, the average annual value of the contract is discounted to $16.1 million under the provisions of baseball's collective bargaining agreement.

In addition, he gets a housing allowance of $32,000 next year, an increase of $1,000 from this season, and the amount will rise by $1,000 each year. He also will be provided with either a new jeep or Mercedes SUV by the team, which also gives him four first-class round trip tickets from Japan each year for his family. Provisions for the Mariners to give him a personal trainer and an interpreter were continued.

When asked Wednesday how appreciative he was that the Mariners went far beyond a basic contract for him, the 33-year-old Suzuki said through his interpreter: "I spoke about the contract on the day I signed. I would not like to talk about that any more."

Two Mariners executives also declined comment before Seattle's game against Baltimore, citing the team's policy of not revealing contract details.

A baseball official with knowledge of Suzuki's new contract — and his current one that ends this fall and is paying him $11 million this season — said the perks of a team-provided vehicle, plane tickets, a personal trainer and an interpreter were also in Suzuki's previous deals and were not a major negotiating issue this time around. The official requested anonymity to honor the Mariners' policy of not discussing contracts.

Suzuki, who would have been eligible to become a free agent after this season, began Wednesday with a .352 batting average and a major league-leading 133 hits.

The seven-time All-Star and six-time Gold Glove outfielder maintains the same limited no-trade clause he had in the $44 million, four-year deal he signed before the 2004 season. In his current deal, Suzuki can pick 10 teams to which he can't be traded without his consent.

GQ's Feature on William Wesley

Today, I read a comprehensive feature that Alex French of GQ magazine wrote on William Wesley called "Is this the Most Powerful Man in Sports?". By all indications, Wesley is the most connected man in sports, specifically the NBA.

The article in its entirety can be found by going to:

Monday, July 23, 2007

Lewis Joins the List of Maximum Contract Players

On July 11, Rashard Lewis signed a six-year contract worth more than $110,000,000 with the Orlando Magic. By doing so, he became the twenty-second player currently making maximum money. Here is the full, up-to-date list in order of team they currently play with:

Joe Johnson, Atlanta
Paul Pierce, Boston
LeBron James, Cleveland
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas
Carmelo Anthony, Denver
Allen Iverson, Denver
Baron Davis, Golden State
Tracy McGrady, Houston
Jermaine O’Neal, Indiana
Elton Brand, L.A. Clippers
Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers
Shaquille O’Neal, Miami
Dwyane Wade, Miami
Michael Redd, Milwaukee
Kevin Garnett, Minnesota
Jason Kidd, New Jersey
Stephon Marbury, New York
Rashard Lewis, Orlando
Shawn Marion, Phoenix
Tim Duncan, San Antonio
Chris Bosh, Toronto
Antawn Jamison, Washington

Wallace and Iavaroni Making an Impact Quickly in Memphis

Newly-hired Grizzlies General Manager and Vice President of Basketball Operations, Chris Wallace, have gotten off to a great start in Memphis. Coming of a 22-60 regular season record last year, the Grizzlies offseason started off with a disappointment when they fell in the lottery down to the fourth spot. However, it has been all positive since then. On May 31, the Grizzlies named Marc Iavaroni as their new head coach. The previous three and a half years, Iavaroni was the Phoenix Suns lead assistant. Iavaroni was credited for helping Amare Stoudemire with his development, as well as, other young players who spent time with the Suns.

The next pivotal step for the Grizzlies occurred when they picked point guard, Mike Conley, with the fourth pick in the draft. Conley will pair with Kyle Lowry to create a great, young tandem of point guards in Memphis. Conley has proven to have a high basketball IQ and is an intense competitor. He has nice moves around the basket, but needs to improve the quickness of his jump shot. He is lightening quick and rebounds well for his size. Adding strength and improving his three-point accuracy will also help him to improve. Conley will be a great leader for the rebuilding of the Grizzlies.

The Grizzlies pivotal move came on July 11, when it was reported that they agreed to terms with Darko Milicic. At 22, Milicic is still very raw, but has show flashes of the potential seen what he was the second pick in the draft in 2003. Working with Iavaroni, Milicic should be able to continue to develop and take some of the pressure off of Grizzlies big man, Pau Gasol. Milicic has shown a variety of skills, including a nice mid-range jump shot and a lefty hook shot. He needs to improve from the free throw line and get tougher around the basket. On the defensive side, he has shown an outstanding ability to block shots with great timing and instincts. The main concern in the past has been that Milicic sometimes appears not intense enough and can become out of shape.

Adding Milicic was a win-win situation for Memphis. Signing only a three-year, $21,000,000 deal was a no-brainer for Wallace and the Grizzlies. At worse, he’s a big, young body who can block some shots and fill some minutes for Gasol. After three years, his contract will expire and the Grizzlies can say goodbye to win. At best, Milicic develops into a young, versatile force who pairs with Conley, Rudy Gay, and Gasol to create one of the best young cores in the league.

Last week, the Grizzlies also brought in Andre Brown, who played 38 games last season with Seattle. Brown is an athletic, hard working power forward, who Wallace hopes will improve with more playing time. So, that leaves the Grizzlies right now with a nice mix of youth and veterans. At point guard, Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry, and Damon Stoudamire will be competing for time. Mike Miller, Rudy Gay, and Tarance Kinsey will be fighting for minutes at the shooting guard and small forward positions. Up front, the Grizzlies will be deep with Pau Gasol, Darko Milicic, Stromile Swift, Hakim Warrick, Brian Cardinal, and Andre Brown. The Grizzlies biggest need right now is some outside shooting at the wing positions. The Grizzlies have been rumored to be considering Casey Jacobson and Ime Udoka for this spot. Both of these players would perfectly fit the need for Wallace. Wallace was quoted today as saying, "''It's a small group we're looking at and we could have something pretty soon."

With Conley and Lowry as the point guards, Iavaroni will look to speed up the tempo in Memphis similarly to what they did with his old team, Phoenix. Iavaroni will be expected to work closely with the big men as well, helping Swift reach his potential and to continue to develop Warrick’s game. The style of play and development of players will be essential to Iavaroni's success in Memphis.

At the start of the upcoming season, the Grizzlies will be vastly improved for both today and the future. With Stoudamire and Swift's contract expiring after the 2008-09 season, there will be room to still add in another high-profile player to the mix. If the Grizzlies can continue this positive momentum, Iavaroni and Wallace should have the franchise turned around very quickly.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Young General Managers Coming Up Through the Ranks

"Young Executives Are Coming of Age"

Fresh Faces Molding Teams' Futures

By Greg Sandoval, Washington Post Staff Writer

Friday, November 14, 2003

As the 27-year-old director of player personnel for the San Antonio Spurs, Sam Presti knows what he wants -- to be the Warren Buffett of the NBA.

Presti hopes to select basketball players as shrewdly as Buffett -- one of the world's most successful investors -- chooses stocks.

"I'm in a similar business really," Presti said. "I'm in a futures market. Teams are trying to predict the appreciation of an asset at the same time they identify ways to help grow that asset."

Presti at times sounds like an investment banker rather than an executive of an NBA team, and it's no wonder. He is among a small but growing number of whiz kid executives applying modern business practices and technologies to big league sports. The practice of injecting quantitative analysis into the athletic world has gained a foothold in baseball, with young executives of at least five major league teams using it in their player evaluations. But Presti is among the first to take this model and apply it to the NBA.

The fruits of Presti's work will be on the court at MCI Center on Saturday night, when the Spurs play the Wizards. Presti assumed his current position last summer. But in his previous role as the team's special assistant for basketball operations, he was a major factor in assembling a lineup that last season won the NBA championship. This included drafting rising star Tony Parker, a point guard from France, two years ago and endorsing efforts to bring Turkish-born forward Hedo Turkoglu to San Antonio from Sacramento.

In baseball, some of Presti's contemporaries, people such as Theo Epstein, general manager of the Boston Red Sox, and Paul DePodesta, assistant general manager of the Oakland Athletics, have leapfrogged more-experienced executives by impressing owners with their versatility. They unscramble player contracts, skillfully decipher market-cap rules and slash inefficiencies.

"General managers used to do handshake deals and jot the terms down on napkins," said Kevin Towers, general manager of the San Diego Padres. "Nowadays, you have to get out a payroll-summary sheet. You have to understand contractual language, no-trade provisions, escalators, the way bonuses are structured. . . . It's very complicated."

Perhaps the most important attribute the new executives share in this era of skyrocketing player salaries and flat revenue growth is a desire to operate teams more on a corporate model by tightly controlling costs and risk. They crunch traditional statistics -- be it slugging percentages in baseball or free throw percentage in basketball -- looking for new ways to more accurately measure an athlete's skills. The goal is to reduce the risk of making a bad draft pick or paying too much for a free agent.

When their methods work, they manage to put together winning teams of lesser-known, lower-cost players. The Spurs' payroll ranks 20th in the 29-team NBA.

"Owners are tired of losing money," Towers said. "They want people who manage their payroll wisely, put a good product on the field and turn a profit."

DePodesta, 30, of Alexandria, is credited with helping A's General Manager Billy Beane develop Oakland's seemingly limitless pipeline of stars that has propelled the club into the playoffs four consecutive years.

DePodesta is known in business parlance as a "quant." He pours over statistics in his laptop to dig up talented but overlooked free agents or potential draft picks. Beane and DePodesta refuse to assess players solely on the opinions of sage scouts, whom the A's say are statistically wrong as often as they are right. Crunching numbers is just another way to hedge their bets, DePodesta said.

But statistics are just one part of the equation, and teams always need scouts, said DePodesta, who two years ago turned down an offer to become general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. Statistics, for example, can't reveal whether a player has trouble getting along with teammates, drinks too much or doesn't like to practice.

"A mutual-fund manager won't pour money into a stock after only reading a financial report," DePodesta said. "If he's smart, he's also going to talk to the company's executives. We want to combine the subjective with the objective. All we're trying to do is take out as much of the guesswork we can."

In addition to their business smarts, Epstein, Presti and DePodesta have wowed coworkers and bosses with their hustle. Epstein, 29, earned his law degree at the University of San Diego at night while working 70 hours a week for the Padres.

Towers, Epstein's former boss, remembered asking him to prepare the complex statistics the team would need for salary arbitration cases. Some major league teams, Towers said, hire law firms to compile data that show what an arbitration-eligible player should earn, a process that can take up to two weeks and incur $50,000 in fees. Epstein plunked the brief down on Towers's desk the next day. "The work he was able to turn out was incredible," Towers said.
Presti is described much the same way in San Antonio.

A former basketball player at Division III Emerson College in Boston, where he was the school's first Rhodes Scholar candidate, Presti once wrote up a contract that legally bound each of his teammates to play hard. After learning of Presti's promotion with the Spurs, one of those teammates, Alex Tse, said, "I don't mean any disrespect to the people who held his job previously, but there's no doubt in my mind that Sam outworked them."

When the Spurs hired Presti as a $250-a-month intern three years ago, Presti immediately immersed himself in the history of the NBA draft. He noted which first-round picks flopped and which late-round picks flourished. He created charts and spreadsheets to unearth patterns and tendencies. Presti refused to disclose exactly what he discovered, citing the competitive pressures of the NBA, but said the Spurs have since put his findings to use.

Presti said the Spurs are experimenting with new ways to analyze statistics to gauge player performance. Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, is using similar methods to put together his team, one of the best in the league.

"I told [Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich] within two weeks after we hired Sam, 'Pop, this is a guy we need to keep,' " said Spurs General Manager R.C. Buford, who has promoted Presti in each of his three years with the club.

Presti crisscrosses the United States to scout high school and college players. Gym rats in countries such as Greece, Spain and Serbia and Montenegro recognize him when he swings through to see foreign players. One European scout dubbed him the "NBA's Indiana Jones."
Presti was still in his first year with the Spurs when he pressed the team not to give up on drafting Parker after the French-born guard had a poor pre-draft workout. Presti created a five-minute highlight videotape of Parker that persuaded Popovich to give Parker, then 19, another look, Buford said.

The Spurs chose Parker with the 28th pick of the first round in the 2001 NBA draft. About two weeks into the season, Parker was made a starter. Last season, he averaged 15 points and five assists while helping the Spurs win the championship. Few of the guards drafted before Parker, such as Brandon Armstrong, Kedrick Brown and Joseph Forte, have come close to his impact. Forte is already out of the league.

Presti, whom one NBA executive said is almost certain to be courted by other teams for a front-office job, said he has only begun to apply business management techniques to professional basketball.

"I don't think it makes sense for me to account for my age or how many years I've been in the business," he said. "That's where I think I have an advantage on some who've been around for a while. They are used to doing things a certain way. I go ahead and challenge those concepts."

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