Friday, September 7, 2007

Spurs Maintain Core in Attempt to Repeat

For the first time since the San Antonio Spurs began their run of great success, they will be returning the same core players. In the past, their championship teams have always lost key pieces the following season – Sean Elliott due to health issues after 1998-99, Stephen Jackson and David Robinson after 2002-03, and a collection of players in 2004-05.

Significant Contributors: Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Sean Elliott, Mario Elie, Avery Johnson, Jaren Jackson, Malik Rose, Antonio Daniels, Steve Kerr, Jerome Kersey, Will Perdue

Lost the next season: Will Perdue (left for Chicago - played 37 games and averaged 3.7 rebounds per game with the Spurs), Sean Elliott (kidney – missed the first 63 games)

Significant Contributors: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Stephen Jackson, Malik Rose, Bruce Bowen, David Robinson, Manu Ginobili, Steve Smith, Steve Kerr, Kevin Willis, Speedy Claxton, Danny Ferry

Lost the next season: Steve Smith (Portland - played 19.5 minutes per game), Steve Kerr (Portland - played in 75 games), Stephen Jackson (Atlanta - third on the team in points), Speedy Claxton (Golden State – averaged 15.7 minutes per game), Danny Ferry (retired – played in 64 games), David Robinson (retired - fourth on the team in points per game)

Notes: On July 25, 2001 San Antonio traded Steve Smith, Steve Kerr, and a 2003 second round draft choice to Portland for Derek Anderson.

Significant Contributors: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Bruce Bowen, Brent Barry, Devin Brown, Beno Udrih, Robert Horry, Rasho Nestorovic, Malik Rose, Tony Massenburg, Nazr Mohammed, Glenn Robinson, Mike Wilks, Sean Marks

Lost: Devin Brown (Utah - sixth on the team in points per game), Malik Rose (New York – see below), Tony Massenburg (retired – played in 61 games), Glenn Robinson (retired – see below), Mike Wilks (Cleveland - played in 48 games)

Notes: Robinson was signed at the end of the season and played in 13 of the team's 23 playoff games and nine regular season games. On February 25, 2005, the Knicks traded Nazr Mohammed and Jamison Brewer to the Spurs for Malik Rose and conditional 2005 and 2006 conditional first round picks.

Significant Contributors: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Bruce Bowen, Brent Barry, Michael Finley, Fransisco Elson, Matt Bonner, Beno Udrih, Fransisco Oberto, Robert Horry, Jacque Vaughn

Lost: Melvin Ely (played in 6 games last season), Jackie Butler (11 games), Eric Williams (16 games), James White (6 games).

Notes: The Spurs drafted Tiago Splitter and Marcus Williams in this past year’s draft. With the signing of Ime Udoka and Ian Mahinmi, it is very likely that the Spurs will not bring in either rookies this season. Splitter will most likely stay overseas for the entire year and Williams will play in the NBDL.

Unlike previous seasons, the Spurs will bring back the exact same core from last season. Adding Udoka to defend skilled wing players and Mahinmi to rebound in the paint, the Spurs may even be stronger. For the first time in their franchise history, the Spurs will try to successfully win back-to-back championships.

The Business of Sports: Here Come the Technocrats

The Business of Sports: Here Come the Technocrats
Wall Street Journal
By Russell Adams | September 16, 2006

This past spring, the Houston Rockets hired a 33-year-old guy with almost no playing, coaching or scouting experience to be the National Basketball Association team's general manager of the future -- a move that reverberated loudly in the basketball world.

In some corners, the hiring of Daryl Morey, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan School of Management), part-time business professor and former financial consultant, signaled the official arrival in the NBA of the data-oriented approach to running a team chronicled in "Moneyball," Michael Lewis's 2003 best-seller about baseball's Oakland A's. Others saw it as evidence of an owner gone mad.

The Business of Sports

As sports has grown into big business, the teams and leagues have gotten serious about how they find off-field talent. Plus, as any nonathlete who has tried knows, it takes a lot more than desire to get to the top of the sports business.

But at 226 Causeway St. in Boston, where the NBA's Boston Celtics conduct business, the Rockets' move brought validation. It was the Celtics that, three years earlier, had given Mr. Morey, then a financial consultant who had never sniffed an NBA front office, his first job in professional sports.

"It's so much fun trying to do things in a way they haven't been done before," says Wyc Grousbeck, managing partner and governor of the Celtics. "I didn't hire him thinking he was going to become an NBA GM. But why couldn't a junior consultant become an NBA general manager?"

Striving for Efficiency

Since taking over the team in late 2002, the Celtics ownership group has exemplified the challenges of bringing modern business sensibilities to a tradition-bound franchise operating in a world historically averse to change. They've replaced nearly half of the team's employees (some of those through natural attrition), turned the ticket-sales operation into a yield-management business that allows them to use inventory data to maximize revenue, and built a small army of statisticians to unearth valuable information -- on ticket sales and players' performance -- for the front office and coaching staff.

It's a phenomenon playing out throughout sports in recent years: Having spent astronomical sums on their franchises, a new breed of aggressive, tech-savvy owners are demanding greater efficiency in an often pathetically inefficient industry.

But they're not always well-received. The Oakland A's success and "Moneyball" made baseball front offices around the league more open to number-crunching general managers, setting off a turf war between these outsiders and the baseball lifers who view their experience in the game as a requirement for entry. And in the NBA, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban's convention-defying approach -- whether it's turning the arena into an all-purpose entertainment venue or exploring new statistical tools for measuring player performance -- is part of what has made him one of the league's most polarizing figures.

The group of venture capitalists and private-equity investors, who in 2002 paid a then-record $360 million for the Celtics, arrived at the beginning of this sea change, but with the added challenge of melding modernity with tradition. By then, the proud franchise of Bob Cousy, Bill Russell and Larry Bird had fallen into a distant third in the Boston sports hierarchy -- behind baseball's Boston Red Sox and the National Football League's New England Patriots. So when Mr. Morey mastered the NBA salary cap in a weekend while doing a valuation analysis for the prospective owners, the group saw someone who could help maximize an underleveraged asset.

"I said, 'Daryl, you're going to look pretty good in green if you get this deal done,' " recalls Mr. Grousbeck.

Modernizing Ticket Sales

As senior vice president of operations and information, Mr. Morey's first job was to modernize the ticket-sales operation. He tapped a Cambridge company called StratBridge Inc. to install technology allowing the sales team to visually analyze, in real time, who the customers are, where they're sitting and what they're willing to pay for tickets. A 40-inch plasma screen on the wall of the sales office shows a map of the TD Banknorth Garden, with each seat rendered a different shade to indicate availability and sales patterns. The 25-person sales team uses that data to study buying trends and develop promotions -- sometimes just hours before the start of the game -- to sell unused seats.

"It's about finding the right seat for the right price for the right person on the right night of the week," says Rich Gotham, the team's chief operating officer. "It's not rocket science."

Since the new system was implemented a year ago, Mr. Gotham says, the team has doubled its group-sales business and remained at the top of the league in individual ticket sales. But he adds that it's not all about the technology; they've significantly increased their sales staff as well.

Scott O'Neil, the NBA's senior vice president of marketing, says 22 of the league's 30 teams have since adopted the same system. "The Celtics are one of the most forward-thinking, innovative and creative teams when it comes to using data and taking the analytical approach to decision making," says Mr.O'Neil.

Evaluating Players

But basketball operations is where this approach might ultimately produce the biggest rewards. Mr. Morey also had long explored basketball analytics and had worked as a consultant at Stats Inc., a company that provides sports statistics and analysis primarily to teams, leagues and media outlets. At Stats, he had developed a way to apply the Pythagorean theorem of baseball - which predicts wins based on runs scored and runs allowed -- to other sports. Mr. Morey offered to do statistical analyses for the Celtics, which gave him the go-ahead to hire a small team of statisticians who would provide input to the basketball operations and coaching staffs.

One of the first big projects was a regression analysis of 25 years of NBA drafts to determine which college statistics best equate with NBA success at each of the five positions. The stats group now is developing a similar database of European players, says Danny Ainge, the Celtics' executive director of basketball operations, as well as an analysis of the composition of NBA championship teams. But Mr. Ainge plays down the utility of statistics for evaluating basketball players, saying it is "dangerous" to assume the numbers can tell you everything.

"I still am in favor of the old-fashioned way of spending time and studying players," says Mr. Ainge, who adds that the statistical information is merely a complement to what the scouts say.

He says that his skepticism is, in part, a function of the newness of this approach, and that data showing which combinations of players perform best together have been helpful to head coach Doc Rivers and his staff.

For his part, Mr. Morey says he takes a balanced approach, and that while he's "obsessive about testing beliefs about what helps a team win using analytics," the foundation of his beliefs come from traditional approaches. "I'm not someone who leads with numbers," he says.

For sure, the team so far has had mixed results producing a winner -- on and off of the court. The Celtics have lost more games than they've won in two of the past three seasons. And over that period, they've never been higher than 18th in the league in attendance. This season might bring more of the same, as the team remains light on stars and loaded with talented but inexperienced players.

Team officials say that in sports, business only booms when the team wins.

The key is squeezing the most out of the asset when demand is low so that you can maximize growth when the team is winning. The model for getting the most out of an asset is just across town, where the Red Sox have squeezed every last penny out of historic Fenway Park. In so doing, the Red Sox have opened themselves to criticism from some baseball fans who see a front office full of bean counters willing to stomp on tradition.

Emotional Investment

The Celtics' new regime has been similarly aggressive on the business side, but team officials say they realized early on that they couldn't operate the team like they operate any other business. Buying a season ticket or a sponsorship, say team officials, is an emotional investment that demands personal attention from the team.

"It's very much an interpersonal industry," says Mr. Gotham, "and you can't just take a quantitative approach. The successful organizations understand that pretty well."

The Mavericks' Mr. Cuban advised these owners early on to let the fan base know that the owners are the team's biggest fans. Mr. Grousbeck is such a staple in the stands and around the team that some of the players have taken to calling him a clone of Mr. Cuban. At least it's not an act.

Mr. Grousbeck is a lifelong fan of the team. And in that, he's far from alone among the ownership group. Stephen Pagliuca, a managing director of Bain Capital, one of the biggest buyout firms in the world, is a Celtics diehard with a basketball court in his house. Robert Epstein, a principal at Boston real-estate company Abbey Group, is a graduate of Mr. Cousy's basketball camp. And James Pallotta, a managing director at Tudor Investments Corp., plays in a regular pick-up game at Harvard University's gym with several former NBA players. Mr. Grousbeck has asked if he could play but was told he's not good enough.

R.C. Buford's Travels Through Europe

On September 30, 2006, the Express-News published a story by Johnny Ludden called "Blazing a Euro trail: Eight-day travelogue details nuances of Spurs' scouting". Ludden accompanied Spurs general manager R.C. Buford on a European scouting trip from December 8, 2004 to December 15, 2004.

The article below is a daily recount of their travels:

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Milwaukee's Negotiations with Yi Jianlian

Today, Peter Lattman of the Wall Street Journal wrote an article entitled "Milwaukee's Secret Weapon For Snagging a Chinese Star". Lattman provides insight on how the Bucks negotiations with Yi Jianlian went from being very far apart to a signed agreement.

After the Milwaukee Bucks made Yi Jianlian their first-round pick in the National Basketball Association draft in June, questions lingered over whether the tea would be able to persuade the Chinese basketball start to come on board. After two months of negotiations the Bucks last week signed a multiyear agreement with Mr. Yi.

The team’s secret weapon in sealing the deal: Z. Julie Lee, a partner at Foley & Lardner LLP in Milwaukee. Last week, Ms. Lee accompanied Bucks owner Sen. Herb Kohl and two team officials to Hong Kong where they came to terms with Mr. Yi.

Ron Walter, a Bucks senior executive, asked Ms. Lee to work on the assignment the day after the NBA draft. It was a natural fit: Ms. Lee, a native of China and graduate of Beijing University, speaks fluent Mandarin and specializes in representing Foley’s clients in their business dealing in China. “Her role was extremely important,” Mr. Walter said. “It was Julie who was really able to open the lines of communication, facilitate the discussions and create mutual trust” between the two sides.

Ms. Lee, 38 years old, moved to the U.S. in 1992 to pursue graduate work in environmental policy, but later switched courses, and earned a law degree from Northwestern University in 1998. She joined Foley & Lardner after law school and was elected to the partnership earlier this year, shortly after she became a U.S. citizen. During the final stages of negotiations in Hong Kong last week, she not only assisted in the contract talks, but also served as an interpreter for Mr. Kohl and the Bucks officials.

“When I was growing up in China, becoming a lawyer practicing in the United States was beyond my wildest dreams,” she said. “Representing an NBA team in negotiations with a Chinese basketball star? That wasn’t even on the radar screen.”

So is Ms. Lee a Bucks ticket holder? “Not yet, but I’m going to get some.”

Statistics Link

Below is a website with tons of different links to websites with basketball statistics:

Manager-Organization Relationship

An excerpt from a October 20, 2006 article called "Talk isn’t so cheap anymore" by Mike Berardino.

Girardi’s dismissal – and rapid replacement with Braves third base coach Fredi Gonzalez- has made us reconsider the modern relationship between a manager and his general manager.

Must they be best friends? Regular dinner partners? Should their wives be in the same bunco group? Should their children trade Yu-Gi-Oh! Cards in the backyard barbecues?

Not necessary. But it’s clear from the Marlins fallout as well as Buck Showalter’s dismissal in Texas that the chain of command flows from the top down rather than in reverse, regardless of a manager’s resume.

It’s also clear that a modern G.M.-manager combo will work only if the two people are able to stay “on the same page,” to borrow Beinfest’s phrase, even if there are minor disagreements along the way.

New Royals G.M. Dayton Moore, who spent his formative years observing Atlanta’s highly productive John Scherholz-Bobby Cox pairing up close, recently ranked “communication with the front office” as his No. 1 criterion for a manager.

Even before he took the Reds G.M. job this spring, Wayne Krivsky made a point of calling incumbent manager Jerry Narron several times to get his input.

“Communication is everything,” Krivsky says. “It’s really been good between us. I don’t go more than a day without talking to Jerry. I can’t remember too many days I haven’t talked to him.”

In Girardi’s case, the problems weren’t merely between him and Beinfest or even between him and owner Jeffrey Loria, with whom Girardi clashed memorably on August 6 over Loria’s habit of umpire-baiting.

Scouts, club officials and support staff all chimed in – anonymously – with gripes about Girardi, most of which revolved around the manager’s “introverted behavior” and “lack of people skills,” as one source who had spoken with the Marlins’ front office put it.

Hornets Plan to Look the Same for Years to Come

Article originally written on November 3, 2006.

This summer the Hornets made a splash adding Bobby Jackson, Jannero Pargo, Peja Stojakovic, Tyson Chandler, Cedric Simmons, and Hilton Armstrong to the mix. This splash pretty much guaranteed that their roster will look the same way for the next several years to come.

Player Name..06/07..07/08.. 08/09....09/10
P. Stojakovic...10.8.... 11.9......13.......... 14.2
T. Chandler.....9.........10.........11............12
D. Mason........8.1.......F/A....F/A..........F/A
M. Jackson....4.9.......F/A.....F/A.........F/A
B. Jackson.....4 5.......6.0.......F/A.........F/A
C. Paul...........3.4.......3.6.........4.5..........6.1
R. Butler.......3.0.......3.3.........3.6..........4.0
A. Macijauskas..2.5..2.5........F/A........F/A
D. West.........2.1.......7.0...........8.0..........9.0
H. Armstrong..1.8....1.9..........2.0.........2.8
C. Simmons....1.5.....1.6...........1.7.........2.7
J. Pargo........1.0........1.1........F/A........F/A
B. Bass.......650k......F/A.......F/A........F/A

06/07 Salaries
$54 million
Free Agents at season’s end: D.Mason, M.Jackson, B. Bass
Total of just under $14 million coming off the cap at end of season.
Mason will demand a contract of about $20 million over 4 years.

07/08 Salaries
$49 million
Free Agents at season’s end: Arvydas Macijauskas, Jannero Pargo
H. Armstrong and C. Simmons have a team option at season’s end.
Total of just over $3.5 million coming off the cap at end of season.

08/09 Salaries
$51 million
Free Agents at season’s end: Bobby Jackson
Chris Paul will be eligible for a contract extension at season’s end.
H. Armstrong and C. Simmons have a team option at season’s end.

09/10 Salaries
$51 million
Free Agents at season’s end: Rasual Butler

With a total of just under fourteen million dollars coming off the cap at the end of the season, it may be the only chance for them to make a significant move in the next four years. This cap relief will come at the expense of Desmond Mason, Marc Jackson, Brandon Bass. Although there is little chance that the team brings back Jackson or Bass, they may return athletic wingman, Desmond Mason, at a reasonable contract. However, if they do not they resign him, they will have money to bring in a player like Gerald Wallace, Morris Peterson, Primoz Brezec, or Darko Milicic. Beyond this, the Hornets personnel will be the same for years to come. Although they will once again receive cap relief after the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons, this money will be saved to extend the contracts of potentially Chris Paul, Cedric Simmons, and Hilton Armstrong. Therefore, Hornets fans better hope that Tyson Chandler lives up to his potential, Peja Stojakovic benefits from a change of scenery, David West continues to work hard after receiving his contract extension, and Bobby Jackson gels well with Chris Paul.

A Successful Front Office Business Strategy

This paragraph is an excerpt from an column by Bill Simmons.

Now we're looking at a similar situation with the Patriots. Belichick and Pioli adamantly stuck to their model for building a team -- they evaluate what each Patriot is worth in their minds, determine his probable value on the open market and then, if the difference between those two figures is too significant, they jettison the player and find someone else. In the salary cap era, they've been the only team with the resolve to stick to their guns EVERY TIME, without fail. And any time those two figures didn't mesh, they either traded the player or allowed him to leave: like Damien Woody, Patten and Givens, Joe Andruzzi, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Willie McGinest, Christian Fauria, Tebucky Jones and, most famously, Deion Branch a few weeks ago.