Top 100 Players (Through 1/20/07)

Since I last posted here, I’ve rebuilt my spreadsheet from scratch. Now there are adjustments for the percentage of a players minutes which are versus starters and subs. As all stats are supposed to reflect a player’s 36-minute production in a historically average situation, we now hope to see rates as though they were produced vs the typical 2-to-1 ratio of starters-subs.

Players are ranked by Equivalent Wins Added – eWins, for short. These, too, are equivalent for any team a player finds himself on. Unlike other player-win-shares, players on good or bad teams are credited with eWins based on their own production.

Scoring, Rebounding, and Assist rates are scaled to team/opponent totals, but not directly to W-L records. Points are scaled to a ratio of (TmPts/OppPts), which is raised to a factor (around 1.3). The effect is to raise the Sco rate of a player from a team with a good point-differential.

The eW82 column projects a player’s current eW total to the full season. If he’s missed 1/3 of games so far, he’s projected to miss 1/3 of the remaining games. ‘How good’ a player is might still be considered the last column, labeled ‘T’, which is a weighted sum of the other rates.

EWins are calculated as a multiple of T * minutes.

Eff% = Pts/(FGA*2 + FTA)

rk

eW82

player

tm

G

Min

Eff%

Sco

Reb

Ast

PF

Stl

TO

Blk

3s

T

1

13.7

Nowitzki,Dirk

Dal

40

36

.602

31.9

11.3

3.5

2.1

.7

2.3

.7

39

46.1

2

13.6

Garnett,Kevin

Min

37

39

.539

22.9

13.4

4.0

2.6

1.1

2.5

1.9

6

42.0

3

13.3

James,Lebron

Cle

38

41

.544

27.8

6.7

5.7

1.8

1.4

3.2

.7

51

40.1

4

13.2

Duncan,Tim

SA

40

34

.563

28.3

12.8

3.9

2.8

.8

3.1

2.2

0

45.9

5

11.8

Boozer,Carlos

Uta

39

37

.581

24.2

13.9

3.1

3.1

1.0

2.8

.3

0

39.0

6

11.4

Arenas,Gilbert

Was

38

40

.562

27.4

4.1

5.4

3.1

1.8

3.4

.1

116

35.7

7

10.8

Bryant,Kobe

LAL

37

39

.578

28.6

5.5

5.1

3.0

1.1

3.3

.4

55

37.5

8

10.6

Howard,Dwight

Orl

39

36

.586

21.1

15.1

1.9

3.1

.9

3.7

2.0

1

36.9

9

10.6

Wade,Dwyane

Mia

32

39

.567

27.3

4.7

7.4

2.4

1.9

4.0

1.2

15

40.1

10

10.5

Carter,Vince

NJ

38

39

.549

25.5

6.2

4.0

3.3

1.1

2.4

.3

80

34.6

11

10.3

Marion,Shawn

Pho

38

39

.587

20.4

9.5

1.6

2.5

2.0

1.6

1.3

46

34.2

12

10.3

Nash,Steve

Pho

36

36

.656

24.3

3.4

11.3

1.8

.8

3.9

.1

96

37.7

13

10.2

Kidd,Jason

NJ

38

38

.527

14.8

9.0

9.1

1.8

1.9

2.8

.3

50

34.5

14

10.0

Parker,Tony

SA

39

33

.565

28.4

4.1

6.9

2.0

1.1

3.1

.1

11

38.3

15

9.9

Brand,Elton

LAC

39

38

.588

20.3

9.8

2.2

2.9

.9

2.5

2.0

0

33.4

16

9.9

Mcgrady,Tracy

Hou

32

36

.500

28.7

6.2

7.2

2.1

1.1

3.2

.6

55

41.8

17

9.9

Randolph,Zach

Por

39

35

.533

25.4

12.8

2.1

3.0

.8

3.2

.2

4

36.7

18

9.4

O’Neal,Jermaine

Ind

34

36

.504

20.6

11.5

3.0

3.5

.8

2.9

3.2

0

37.5

19

9.4

Ming,Yao

Hou

27

35

.587

35.4

11.1

2.5

3.6

.4

4.1

2.4

0

47.4

20

9.1

Stoudemire,Amare

Pho

38

30

.633

26.3

11.8

.8

4.6

.9

3.0

1.8

0

37.8

21

9.0

Hamilton,Richard

Det

35

37

.541

25.6

4.4

3.7

3.3

.9

2.1

.3

22

32.8

22

8.8

Butler,Caron

Was

38

40

.557

18.9

7.5

3.4

3.0

1.8

2.6

.3

16

29.1

23

8.8

Williams,Deron

Uta

39

37

.530

18.3

4.3

8.6

3.4

1.2

2.7

.2

43

31.1

24

8.7

Deng,Luol

Chi

40

36

.564

21.6

7.1

2.4

1.9

1.2

1.8

.6

1

31.5

25

8.5

Howard,Josh

Dal

33

35

.550

25.0

8.9

2.3

2.8

1.3

1.8

1.1

50

37.5

26

8.5

Davis,Baron

GS

36

38

.504

19.4

4.3

7.5

2.9

2.0

2.9

.4

51

32.4

27

8.4

Ginobili,Manu

SA

35

28

.588

29.1

7.0

4.9

2.8

2.6

3.1

.5

59

41.9

28

8.4

Okafor,Emeka

Cha

37

36

.524

14.3

12.3

1.2

3.2

.8

1.9

3.1

0

30.9

29

8.3

Iverson,Allen

Den

27

43

.525

25.8

2.3

5.9

1.4

1.8

3.9

.1

23

32.6

30

8.1

Terry,Jason

Dal

41

35

.559

20.6

3.7

6.0

2.4

1.1

1.9

.2

83

30.7

31

7.9

Billups,Chauncey

Det

29

37

.589

21.0

3.6

8.3

2.3

1.2

2.2

.3

57

34.2

32

7.8

Redd,Michael

Mil

33

40

.573

25.2

3.7

1.9

1.4

1.2

2.0

.2

66

30.1

33

7.8

Camby,Marcus

Den

30

33

.496

13.1

14.3

3.2

3.3

1.1

1.9

3.2

0

35.2

34

7.7

Gordon,Ben

Chi

40

31

.572

28.5

3.1

3.9

3.6

.8

3.4

.2

70

32.4

35

7.6

Anthony,Carmelo

Den

22

37

.559

32.6

5.7

3.8

2.9

1.5

3.8

.4

13

39.8

36

7.6

Jamison,Antawn

Was

38

39

.545

16.8

7.9

1.6

2.7

1.1

1.3

.7

78

26.9

37

7.6

Okur,Mehmet

Uta

39

33

.573

20.1

9.9

2.2

4.2

.5

2.2

.6

62

30.3

38

7.5

Martin,Kevin

Sac

35

36

.635

22.1

5.0

2.2

2.4

1.3

1.9

.1

59

28.7

39

7.5

Johnson,Joe

Atl

32

41

.563

22.7

3.8

3.6

1.9

1.1

3.0

.1

73

28.1

40

7.3

Hinrich,Kirk

Chi

38

35

.537

18.9

3.5

6.8

3.5

1.3

2.4

.4

61

29.4

41

7.1

Prince,Tayshaun

Det

37

38

.535

16.8

6.0

3.1

1.4

.5

1.4

.7

49

26.4

42

7.1

Bibby,Mike

Sac

36

37

.499

17.8

4.0

5.6

1.9

1.2

2.6

.1

57

26.7

43

7.0

Ilgauskas,Zydrun

Cle

38

28

.507

18.3

12.5

1.8

4.4

.9

2.7

1.9

0

32.5

44

7.0

Miller,Mike

Mem

40

39

.600

16.0

6.3

4.0

2.1

.9

2.3

.3

112

25.4

45

7.0

Alston,Rafer

Hou

40

37

.475

16.4

3.8

5.7

2.6

1.5

2.3

.2

91

26.3

46

7.0

Bosh,Chris

Tor

28

37

.547

22.2

11.7

2.1

2.3

.5

3.1

1.3

6

34.3

47

6.9

Pierce,Paul

Bos

24

38

.585

26.4

7.6

4.1

2.5

.9

3.7

.4

61

35.2

48

6.9

Nocioni,Andres

Chi

39

29

.583

24.4

8.6

1.7

4.3

.8

2.5

.5

66

32.2

49

6.9

Paul,Chris

NO

27

37

.530

18.7

4.6

8.7

2.2

1.8

3.1

.0

9

32.5

50

6.8

Ford,T.J.

Tor

37

32

.509

18.8

4.4

8.8

2.9

1.4

3.9

.1

11

30.6

51

6.7

Allen,Ray

Sea

30

41

.562

22.7

4.1

3.3

1.8

1.3

2.3

.2

82

29.5

52

6.7

Iguodala,Andre

Phi

39

39

.559

14.7

5.5

4.3

2.7

2.0

2.8

.3

25

24.4

53

6.6

Curry,Eddy

NY

40

34

.584

21.3

9.2

.8

3.8

.4

3.6

.6

0

26.8

54

6.6

Tinsley,Jamaal

Ind

39

31

.456

15.5

4.6

7.9

3.2

1.9

3.1

.5

35

28.7

55

6.5

Wallace,Rasheed

Det

35

34

.489

13.9

10.1

1.7

3.5

.9

1.5

1.9

45

27.7

56

6.5

Miller,Andre

Phi

37

36

.496

12.7

4.9

8.4

2.5

1.5

2.8

.2

5

26.6

57

6.4

Davis,Ricky

Min

37

37

.528

16.8

4.2

4.4

2.4

1.1

2.3

.2

35

24.6

58

6.3

Williams,Mo

Mil

33

35

.522

17.7

5.8

5.8

2.9

1.2

2.9

.1

37

28.0

59

6.3

Artest,Ron

Sac

30

36

.496

16.4

6.8

3.0

2.9

2.3

1.9

.7

30

28.2

60

6.2

Gooden,Drew

Cle

36

28

.530

18.3

13.3

1.0

4.2

1.0

2.1

.7

1

31.2

61

6.1

Bogut,Andrew

Mil

38

33

.577

14.1

10.8

3.2

3.7

.9

2.8

.6

1

26.2

62

6.1

Wallace,Ben

Chi

38

34

.446

7.8

11.7

2.5

2.3

1.8

1.6

2.2

0

26.2

63

6.1

Lee,David

NY

40

30

.639

12.7

13.9

1.9

3.4

1.1

1.8

.5

0

27.7

64

6.0

Barbosa,Leandro

Pho

36

31

.575

21.1

2.9

4.5

3.0

1.3

2.2

.2

69

28.2

65

5.8

Lewis,Rashard

Sea

27

38

.608

20.7

7.0

2.1

2.2

1.3

2.0

.6

62

29.9

66

5.8

Walton,Luke

LAL

40

34

.560

14.1

6.0

4.6

2.2

1.2

2.2

.5

28

24.8

67

5.8

Smith,Josh

Atl

28

37

.501

12.9

8.6

3.3

3.0

1.6

2.9

2.7

20

27.8

68

5.8

Felton,Raymond

Cha

36

38

.472

12.7

3.6

7.0

2.3

1.4

3.0

.2

49

23.0

69

5.8

Biedrins,Andris

GS

40

29

.610

12.5

11.6

1.3

4.9

.9

2.0

2.5

0

27.1

70

5.6

Dalembert,Samuel

Phi

39

29

.605

13.1

11.7

.8

4.9

1.0

2.3

2.7

0

27.2

71

5.5

Wilcox,Chris

Sea

40

32

.549

14.6

9.7

1.3

3.7

1.1

1.8

.5

0

24.8

72

5.5

Hill,Grant

Orl

33

31

.568

20.8

5.7

3.2

2.7

1.4

3.0

.5

2

28.6

73

5.5

Nelson,Jameer

Orl

35

29

.529

19.7

4.4

5.4

3.6

1.4

2.9

.1

29

28.5

74

5.5

Blount,Mark

Min

37

32

.572

16.8

8.7

.9

3.6

.7

2.5

1.1

4

24.9

75

5.5

Crawford,Jamal

NY

40

37

.480

15.7

3.6

4.2

2.0

1.1

2.6

.2

64

22.4

76

5.4

Ridnour,Luke

Sea

40

33

.530

15.2

3.4

6.1

3.2

1.5

3.0

.3

34

24.1

77

5.4

Marbury,Stephon

NY

40

36

.510

14.5

3.2

5.4

2.8

1.0

2.4

.2

47

22.4

78

5.4

Diaw,Boris

Pho

38

32

.556

13.1

5.7

6.0

3.0

.5

2.6

.8

6

24.2

79

5.4

Battier,Shane

Hou

40

38

.584

12.5

4.7

2.7

2.4

1.2

1.0

.7

81

21.7

80

5.3

Harris,Devin

Dal

40

27

.553

18.5

3.8

5.8

4.4

1.7

3.0

.4

7

27.5

81

5.3

Patterson,Ruben

Mil

37

31

.557

16.1

6.5

3.5

3.4

1.3

2.6

.4

1

25.1

82

5.3

Jefferson,Al

Bos

30

30

.520

15.6

13.4

1.1

4.4

.4

2.5

1.7

0

29.0

83

5.3

Haslem,Udonis

Mia

38

33

.527

12.1

10.8

1.8

3.7

.8

1.6

.3

0

23.5

84

5.2

Dampier,Erick

Dal

41

26

.627

13.8

13.6

.7

4.7

.4

2.2

1.8

0

27.5

85

5.2

Harrington,Al

Ind

36

34

.532

18.2

7.4

1.6

3.6

.8

2.8

.3

54

24.2

86

5.1

Mourning,Alonzo

Mia

38

24

.590

16.0

9.9

.3

5.2

.3

3.1

4.6

0

28.8

87

5.0

Kirilenko,Andrei

Uta

34

32

.543

11.3

7.3

4.1

3.4

1.2

2.6

2.5

12

25.3

88

4.8

Maggette,Corey

LAC

35

28

.543

19.7

8.1

2.2

3.9

.9

3.0

.2

5

26.9

89

4.8

Krstic,Nenad

NJ

26

33

.555

19.8

8.5

2.0

3.9

.4

2.3

1.1

0

29.0

90

4.8

James,Mike

Min

37

29

.525

16.5

3.3

5.6

3.1

1.0

2.7

.1

37

24.2

91

4.8

Pachulia,Zaza

Atl

33

29

.539

15.9

9.2

2.1

4.6

1.4

3.0

.6

0

25.3

92

4.8

Bell,Raja

Pho

35

38

.573

16.0

3.4

2.3

3.1

.6

1.1

.3

96

21.3

93

4.7

Jefferson,Richard

NJ

32

37

.540

16.9

5.1

2.7

2.4

.7

2.3

.2

23

22.8

94

4.7

Jackson,Stephen

Ind

37

32

.518

16.9

3.1

3.6

2.7

1.0

2.6

.6

41

22.9

95

4.7

Jack,Jarrett

Por

37

35

.549

13.3

3.1

5.9

2.9

1.3

2.5

.1

23

21.9

96

4.7

Chandler,Tyson

NO

36

32

.584

7.3

13.7

.8

4.0

.7

1.7

1.8

0

22.5

97

4.6

Head,Luther

Hou

40

29

.577

16.3

4.7

3.1

2.3

1.3

2.2

.1

93

23.4

98

4.6

Livingston,Shaun

LAC

38

31

.488

11.6

4.5

6.4

3.0

1.0

2.6

.7

4

22.7

99

4.5

Atkins,Chucky

Mem

40

27

.552

16.5

2.8

5.2

2.3

.9

2.0

.1

53

24.0

100

4.5

Boykins,Earl

Mil

34

30

.531

17.8

2.5

4.7

1.3

1.1

2.2

.1

47

24.6

 

GM Report: Jeff Bower

Overview

Generally when we evaluate GMs, there is a concrete body of work to evaluate.  In the case of Jeff Bower, there is really only the 2005-06 season to review.  A review of Bower’s rise to GM, does reveal how one might rise up the ladder to an executive position on an NBA team.  Bower started his career in the early 1980s as an assistant coach at Penn State (1983-1986) and then over as an assistant at Marist (1986-1995).  The Hornets hired Bower as a scout in 1995, a position he held until they needed him to fill in as an assistant coach when Dave Cowens resigned in the middle of the 1998-99 season.

Bower spent the next few years bouncing back-and-froth between assistant coach and the front office as assistant GM.  Long-time GM Bob Bass retired after the 2003-04 season and was replaced with Allen Bristow, who had coached the team for 1991-92 through 1995-96, before being fired.  Bristow was later re-hired as an assistant GM and replaced Bass as GM.  All this shuffling was emblematic of the Hornets’ ownership under George Shinn, who managed to piss off the Charlotte market that had embraced the team and also ran the team to New Orleans, which was a very specious market for pro hoops even before the terrible flooding of 2005.

In keeping with the theme of capriciousness, Bristow lasted through the 2004-05 season and then he resigned citing health issues and Bower stepped in.  It was a nice way for Bower to get the top, though the Hornets might not be the ideal franchise to run considering that Bower took over a rebuilding team, an uncertain future because of the floods in New Orleans and, even before that, the teams not meeting its attendance quotas, and dealing with Shinn. 

Quick Thoughts

1.    Some Random Musings:   It’s been pretty clear that the Eastern Conference is weak and plenty has been written about this fact.  Here are a couple more facts that you might not have noticed:

 

-There are only five teams in the east that have outscored their opponents for the season.  The last time that happened was the Eastern Conference in 2003-04 (when the Pistons actually won it all).

 

-The worst scoring team in the NBA, so far, is the Hornets.  They average 89.8 ppg, the only team below the 90 ppg mark.  After last night’s win, the team is 207 since Chris Paul went down.  They are the type of team that could actually use an inefficient, high volume chucker.  The team is relying heavily on Jannero Pargo, who can’t shoot (.363 FG%).

 

-As bad as the Atlantic is, the Nets are still the “class” of the division.  They have a point differential of -0.7 ppg and the Celts are second at -1.8 ppg.  If Nets had a home record near what they’ve done during the Jason Kidd Era, they’d be way ahead.  Here is the Nets season-by-season home records in that span

 

   Year      Home W-L

2005-06:        29-12

2004-05:        24-17

2003-04:        28-13

2002-03:        33-8

2001-02:        33-8

 

Over that same span, the team has never been above .500 on the road.  This year the Nets are 11-10 at home and 4-9 on the road.  I have to imagine the team can reestablish a semblance of it’s respectable home court edge.  Incidentally, trading Vince Carter really makes no sense.  VC may be a bit casual on the court but he’s still very good and you won’t get much but cap relief for him.  With Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson, sans Carter, they will contend for the division by accident, so, they can’t tank it for a good draft pick even if they wanted to.  They may as well ride this out and hope they can get a cheap division title.

 

-The east has only one team with a winning record on the road, Detroit at 11-7.  Detroit was the only good road team last year, though the Heat did squeak out a 21-20 record.  The last time a conference had only one team with a winning road record was in 2002-03 when the middling Sixers (48-34) were 23-18 on the road.  That Sixer team lost to the Pistons in the second round of the playoffs 4-2 and lost all three of its road games.

 

-The best teams by point differential by conference are the good old Spurs at +8.7 ppg and the Bulls at +4.3 ppg.  The Spurs are like old reliable…they’ve led the NBA in this category in every year since 2003-04.  The Bulls point differential, if it holds up, is the lowest differential to lead a conference since the 2001-02 Nets at +4.2 ppg.

 

2.    AI and Melo:    We’ve already examined how Iverson’s shots might be affected by playing in Denver.  I’d thought it might be interesting to see how trades affected other high scorers in the past.  Here’s a list of players who were scoring big and found themselves traded shortly thereafter.  We’ll compare the year before with the year after, or in some cases the mid-season split:

 

Player Year Team MPG PPG FGM/PG FGA/PG FG% FTM/PG FTA/PG PER
A. Dantley 1986-87 Utah 36.1 29.8 10.8 19.1 0.563 8.3 10.5 24.6
A. Dantley 1987-88 Detroit 33.8 21.5 7.4 13.9 0.534 6.7 8.2 18.6
W. Chamberlain 1964-65 Golden St. 45.9 38.9 16.7 33.6 0.499 5.5 13.2 29.8
W. Chamberlain 1964-65 Philadelphia 44.5 30.1 12.2 23.1 0.528 5.7 10.9 27.3
T. McGrady 2003-04 Orlando 39.9 28.1 9.7 23.4 0.417 5.9 7.5 25.3
T. McGrady 2004-05 Houston 40.8 25.7 9.2 21.3 0.431 5.5 7.1 22.9
B. McAdoo 1976-77 Buffalo 38.4 23.7 9.1 20.1 0.455 5.5 7.9 19.9
B. McAdoo 1976-77 New York 39.1 26.7 10.7 20.1 0.534 5.2 6.9 22.6
O. Robertson 1969-70 Cincinnati 41.5 25.3 9.4 18.4 0.511 6.6 8.1 21.5
O. Robertson 1970-71 Milwaukee 39.4 19.4 7.3 14.7 0.496 4.8 5.6 19.6
W. Free 1979-80 San Diego 38.1 30.2 10.8 22.9 0.474 8.4 11.2 22.7
W. Free 1980-81 Golden St. 36.5 24.1 7.9 17.8 0.446 8.1 10.1 19.5
E. Hayes 1971-72 Houston 42.2 25.2 10.1 23.4 0.434 4.9 7.5 19.4
E. Hayes 1972-73 Baltimore 41.3 21.2 8.8 19.8 0.444 3.6 5.4 17.5

 

Most of the time, the big scorers were going to better teams and, predictably, stats dropped.  McAdoo seemed to be a special case because he was going to a bad team and he was very unhappy in Buffalo at that point.  Free also didn’t go to a much better team but he saw a drop as well.  What have we learned?  The price for going to contention is usually points.  Indeed, even without Melo and playing for a high scoring team, AI’s numbers are down with Denver (from 31.2 ppg with Philly to 26.0 ppg with Denver) and (surprise!) his field goal percentage is up too (from .413% to .430%).  With Anthony’s imminent return, we should see even more drop for Iverson.

GM Report: Jeff Bower

Overview

Generally when we evaluate GMs, there is a concrete body of work to evaluate.  In the case of Jeff Bower, there is really only the 2005-06 season to review.  A review of Bower’s rise to GM, does reveal how one might rise up the ladder to an executive position on an NBA team.  Bower started his career in the early 1980s as an assistant coach at Penn State (1983-1986) and then over as an assistant at Marist (1986-1995).  The Hornets hired Bower as a scout in 1995, a position he held until they needed him to fill in as an assistant coach when Dave Cowens resigned in the middle of the 1998-99 season. 

Bower spent the next few years bouncing back-and-froth between assistant coach and the front office as assistant GM.  Long-time GM Bob Bass retired after the 2003-04 season and was replaced with Allen Bristow, who had coached the team for 1991-92 through 1995-96, before being fired.  Bristow was later re-hired as an assistant GM and replaced Bass as GM.  All this shuffling was emblematic of the Hornets’ ownership under George Shinn, who managed to piss off the Charlotte market that had embraced the team and also ran the team to New Orleans, which was a very specious market for pro hoops even before the terrible flooding of 2005. 

In keeping with the theme of capriciousness, Bristow lasted through the 2004-05 season and then he resigned citing health issues and Bower stepped in.  It was a nice way for Bower to get the top, though the Hornets might not be the ideal franchise to run considering that Bower took over a rebuilding team, an uncertain future because of the floods in New Orleans and, even before that, the teams not meeting its attendance quotas, and dealing with Shinn. 

How’s he done so far?  Well, it’s really too early to tell.  Bower’s only draft was last summer, where he nabbed Hilton Armstrong and Cedric Simmons and he was also involved in the Hornets’ big ticket signing/trades for Peja Stojakovic and Tyson Chandler.  With such a sparse resume, I thought it’d be more interesting to look at the most dominant figure in Hornets history, Shinn, who really has taken this franchise where it is today.

George Shinn, The Backstory

Shinn’s back history is pretty improbable.  According to BusinessWeek, Shinn graduated last in his high school class of 293 students and worked transient jobs in a textile plant, a car wash, and as a custodian.  Shinn later bought into several small business schools and consolidated them into a single name school Rutledge Educational System, Inc..  Shinn was said to have excelled in drumming up admissions and was paid in shares, which he eventually redeemed for somewhere between $30-$50 million back in 1987.  Shinn also became a well-known local in Charlotte as a motivational speaker and man about town.

Shinn and Charlotte

Shinn used his newfound wealth to buy into the expansion Charlotte Hornets, who were formed in 1988.  The Hornets were an instant hit in Charlotte, a market without another professional team and a market that was situated in the heart of college basketball fandom of Duke, UNC, and NC State (who were all ACC  powerhouses), not to mention Wake Forest.  The Hornets were a ridiculously hot tickets their first few years in Charlotte, from their debut in1988-89 through 1997-98, the team averaged over 23,000 fans per game, and never averaged fewer than 23,172 in a season. 

After that, things got tough.  Attendance plummeted:

YearTotalAvg
1997-98959,63423,406
1998-99480,80719,232
1999-00732,82717,874
2000-01615,42415,010
2001-02462,73811,286

What happened?  Shinn found numerous ways to piss off the good folks of Charlotte.  For years, people were not enamored with the way Shinn ran the franchise.  In the early 1990s, the Hornets scored in the draft, nabbing Larry Johnson first overall in 1991 and Alonzo Mourning second overall in 1992.  They were a granite frontline that looked like it would carry the team through the decade.  Shinn gave LJ a huge $84 million extension in 1993-94 only to find out shortly thereafter that Johnson had serious back problems.  Johnson played through the pain but was never the Charles Barkley-type monster he had been his first two years in the NBA.  When Mourning came due for an extension before the 1995-96 season, Shinn refused to ante up a similar deal.  Mourning, as a dominant center, probably was worth paying for but Bob Bass followed instructions and dumped Zo for Matt Geiger and Glen Rice.

The trade worked out better than could’ve been expected and Rice blossomed into an All-Star and helped keep the team competitive, if not a potential championship contender.  When Rice’s contract was expiring, Shinn followed the same pattern, and dealt him for Eddie Jones and Elden Campbell in the middle of the 1998-99 season.  Once again, the move worked and the team stayed competitive.  Similarly when Jones’ contract expired after the 1999-00 season, Bass dealt him for Jamal Mashburn and P.J. Brown, who played at least as well as Jones thereafter.  Still, this constant flipping of players wasn’t endearing to fans and there was a sense that Shinn was cheap and wouldn’t pay his players or keep fan favorites.  This perception was probably unfair, as nearly every post-LJ contract driven trade was a clear Hornet win, except the Zo trade.

Shinn & Charlotte, The Business Side

At the same time as he was doing all this trading, Shinn was demanding a new arena with more modern amenities.  The new arena was supposed to cost about $250 million and Shinn was willing to kick in no more than $100 million, essentially demanding that the city fund well over 50% of the cost. This was also not a good time for Shinn to be asking for charity as Shinn became embroiled in accusations when an female employee accused him of sexual assault.  No charges were filed but a civil suit ensued.  Shinn won after trial but the win was not clean, as Shinn’s defense was that he, a noted family man, and the married plaintiff were engaged in consensual activity.  The trial was a bit of a circus and the ancillary good will the case cost Shinn all of his goodwill in a conservative town like Charlotte.  Shinn’s attorney scoffed at the civil suit characterizing the plaintiff’s case as follows: “They met, she gave him a blowjob, she left.”  If an owner had problems getting public money under the best of circumstances, this was far from even such a case.

Shinn even had a chance to recapture the good will when Michael Jordan expressed an interest in buying into the team, an offer that Shinn rejected.  This also peeved the locals.  Despite public outcry, this was probably not an unreasoanblemove.  Based upon Jordan’s later dealings with Milwaukee and Washington, it was evident that Jordan wasn’t willing to put much money into the team and thought that his presence was worth a good deal of equity.  (One might argue, however, that MJ had a point because he might have fixed things with with specific regard to Shinn’s messy situation in Charlotte). 

The public scorn seriously deteriorated the Hornets’ fan base by 2000-01.  The team came within one game of the Eastern Conference Finals but had weak attendance.  Publicly, Shinn was considered a cheapskate, a hypocrite, a jerk, and unreasonable.  In a rather amazing collective decision, the population basically shunned the Hornets.  Shinn, who was not happy to be denied the new arena, threatened to cut the first deal he saw to get out of town.  At one time this threat might’ve carried some weight but times had changed.  In 1988, the Hornets were the only game in town.  Now Charlotte had an NFL and NHL team, neither of whom were run by people who pissed off the populace. 

New Orleans

In 2002, Shinn moved the Hornets to New Orleans.  New Orleans had failed as an NBA city once before, when the New Orleans Jazz left in the late 1970s.  In “To the Brink”, Michael C. Lewis’ history of the Jazz, felt that the New Orleans Jazz failed more because of mismanagement and mediocrity.  According to Rod Hundley, “[The Jazz] were managed terribly…We had nonbasketball people making basketball decisions.”  Most famously, the team gave up the draft pick that turned out to be Magic Johnson for an older Gail Goodrich.  Hundley contended that “[i]f we had Magic Johnson, we’d have never left New Orleans.”

Notwithstanding this anecdotal history, the feeling of many was that New Orleans was, at its heart, a small city with strong competition for the entertainment dollar (ever heard of Mardi Gras?) and the Saints were already the first sports team in town.  The rumor has it that the NBA only permitted to the move unless Shinn guaranteed that the Hornets would meet certain attendance thresholds.  The Hornets first three years in New Orleans were far from successful:

YearTotalAvg
2002-03641,68315,651
2003-04587,61314,332
2004-05583,07014,221

By the beginning of the 2005-06 season, Shinn was in serious trouble.  Attendance was falling, Bass had retired, and the team was coming off of a 18-64 season, it’s worse showing since the early 1990s and they had the worst attendance in the entire NBA.  To make matters worse, the team was also being hit with several lawsuits for: (1) failing to pay overtime, (2) improperly intimidating employees, (3) cheating ticket brokers by recording luxury box sales as ticket sales.  This last one was particularly interesting because as ESPN.com noted: “The scheme also could have boosted official attendance figures by reflecting sales for large numbers of inexpensive tickets when the money paid really only should have reflected the size of the group in the suite.”  Truly mind-boggling when you consider how low the recorded ticket sales were anyway (state officials also believed that the 14,221 listed attendance average of 2004-05 did not reflect the actual turnstile attendance of about 9,000 fans per game).

The interesting issue was whether the NBA had any recourse against Shinn for greatly devaluing the franchise and potentially violating federal employment laws.  Much of this, however, became less important to everyone when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans before the 2005-06 season.  The Hornets were forced to scramble for a new home and they settled on Oklahoma City.  Turns out that Shinn found a winning location despite himself.  Put in pure attendance numbers, Oklahoma has been quite rewarding to Shinn, as he has had his best attendance since 1998-99:

YearTotalAvg
2005-06744,92018,168
2006-07318,03517,668

Even if the novelty of pro hoops wears off on some level, the Hornets could do okay in Oklahoma City.  According to BusinessWeekly:

“Even if attendance wanes [in Oklahoma], Shinn has a head start toward a winning financial season. In the deal that lured him, Oklahoma City offered an incentive-laden package, including a pledge to make up the difference if Hornets revenues from tickets, concessions, and sponsorships fall below $40 million this season. The money would come from city and state coffers as well as from a consortium of local business leaders. ‘We’re a free-enterprise business. I didn’t want to be in a position where I had to continue to borrow money to fund losses,’ says Shinn.”

This leads us to the question that is on everybody’s mind today, will the Hornets return to New Orleans?  Last month, Shinn was quoted as saying: “[t]he people (in Oklahoma City) have been not just gracious, they’ve been wonderful.  But it’s just a situation that got down to what is the right thing to do, and the right thing is to go back.”  Maybe Shinn believes he is speaking the truth but just looking at the numbers, there is no way in hell that the Hornets end up in New Orleans long term.  The team’s attendance numbers were putrid before the area was decimated by a Katrina and now half the population left New Orleans.  At the same time, Oklahoma City is delivering attendance and profit guarantees.  I’d ignore Shinn’s posturing and watch where the money is.  Absent, some crazy subsidies, Shinn won’t and really can’t stay in New Orleans much longer.

Verdict

Ordinarily, we’d assess how a team’s GM had executed his decision making in terms of transactions.  Here, all we have to assess is the owner.  We did this once before, looking at Donald Sterling and the Clippers and concluded that Sterling, was running a pretty nice and profitable organization.  In the case of Shinn, we can’t be quite as charitable.  Shinn killed his golden goose in Charlotte without need by refusing to budge on the public financing issue and probably lost a lot of money as a result.  To compound the problem he left town in a snit, taking the team to a terrible NBA market in New Orleans. 

We’ve seen plenty of owners who were unreasonable, were cheap, or just plain putzes.  But they all usually had some grand design of winning or being profitable, if not both.  Shinn is one of the rare breed who was able to kill the product publicly and kill the bottom line.  As an owner, Shinn is entitled to do what he wants but it’s tough to think of a worse owner in the NBA.

NBA Transactions 12/21-1/4

Atlanta Hawks

 

12/28    Sign Stanislav Medvedenko

1/3        Waive Cedric Bozeman

 

Medvedenko hasn’t really played since 2004-05 because of a herniated disk in his back.  He wasn’t really the most athletic player before the back injury so I’m not sure what he has to offer.  At best, he’s nice jump shooter (a talent he isn’t shy to exhibit).  Of course, he’s an extreme non-entity defensively (40 blocks in 248 career games).  Still, the Hawks could use a live body (assuming Medvedenko is healthy) up front after Zaza Pachulia because the reserves (Lorenzen Wright and Esteban Batsta) don’t have much.

 

Charlotte Bobcats

 

1/3    Acquire Jeff McInnis from New Jersey for Bernard Robinson

 

There was a degree of desperation to this for the Bobcats.  They’ve had some nice wins but, in all, they are still clearly an expansion time.  This shouldn’t be surprising but with Michael Jordan coming into the fold and the general sense that fans and observers want results fast, the team felt pressure to have a replacement for Brevin Knight (torn abdominal muscle) over the next month. McInnis has been under the deep freeze since the middle of last year, when the Nets tired of him and sent him home, claiming that he was not diligently working on his rehab.  This was preceded by a similar circumstance occurring to McInnis in Cleveland in 2004-05 and before that with Portland (who had a ton of guards in early 2000s).

 

McInnis claims that he has had a bum rap, telling Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer that “[d]amn, I don’t get how I get that reputation. Most guys wouldn’t take the roles I have taken. I’ve always been a shadow guy. I wouldn’t go to UNC to get attention and let Stack and Rasheed get all the props. I would’ve gone somewhere where I could get noticed more. Man, I just wanna know who says all this stuff about me?”

 

Well, it doesn’t take much to find crazy McInnis quotes:

 

-When the Nets tried to buy him out this past off-season McInnis refused to accept a dime less than his full deal, opting to sit out and then dragged his own name through the mud: “Not playing me is one thing, but having a personal grudge against me is another thing….If I have to [sit out the whole season], I will.  But it ain’t going to be that simple. There are going to be other steps taken and all that.”

 

-At the end of his tenure with the Cavs, McInnis was also benched and it was also acrimonious.  MSNBC described the situation:

“McInnis blamed stomach cramps, not a ‘viral syndrome’ as the team called it, for him not traveling to the season finale in Toronto. However, McInnis’ excuse seemed shaky after the soon-to-be free agent sulked over playing time and his benching by both Silas and Malone.  During Tuesday night’s final home game, McInnis didn’t join his teammates on the bench for long stretches of the second half. And when he was there, he sat with a towel wrapped around his head.  ‘I thought I was a true professional during all of this,’ he said. ‘I think they wanted me to blow up and do something crazy.’”

 

-CNNSI.com quoted a scout on McInnis prior to the 2001-02 season: “It isn’t going to get any easier for Mo Cheeks. I saw McInnis hollering at [his coach with the Clippers] Alvin Gentry a lot last season.”

 

For what it’s worth, you can’t really find any silly quotes from McInnis prior to his time in Cleveland, just innuendo from the press that he could be difficult to deal with.  So what do we really know?  It’s clear that McInnis is not easy to deal with and that he can score but doesn’t defend.  It’s a bad combination and probably gets him in to trouble that other players with a similar skill-set might not.  McInnis can marginally help the Bobcats and all he’ll cost is a little bit of extra money.  As McInnis enters his 30s, however, it might behoove to be a quiet because the good soldiers usually last long after their talent disappears and the prima donnas usually leave the court before their playable years are truly up (see Sprewell, Latrell).

 

Denver Nuggets

 

12/22    Waive Ivan McFarlin

1/2        Recall Julius Hodge from Colorado of the D-League

 

I’m not sure if McFarlin actually traveled to Denver, but life in the NBA involves players offering more as salary slots than players.  As for Hodge, even if he played well in the NBDL, things are looking bad.  Adding Allen Iverson to the mix blocks out even the slightest possibility of breaking into the rotation, as he now has four other guards ahead of him on the depth chart.  Still, it’s better to sit on the bench in the NBA then to take the bus to Albuquerque.

 

Golden State Warriors

 

1/2    Sign Kelenna Azubuike from Ft. Worth of the D-League

 

Azubuike had been playing very well in the NBDL (26.2 ppg, .514 FG%, .485 3-FG%) and he’ll be slotted in with Jason Richardson out with the broken finger.  It’s unlikely that Azubuike will stick but this is a great spot to possibly play because Don Nelson style of play is guard-oriented, as Matt Barnes can attest.

 

Memphis Grizzlies

 

12/29    Fire head coach Mike Fratello and name Tony Barone as interim coach

 

On pure performance, Fratello probably got a raw deal.  The team played it’s best ball under him but Fratello-fatigue seems to always set with all his teams.  I know Jerry West was not happy that the Grizz were unable to win a single playoff game in each of Fratello’s two playoff appearances.  But let’s be honest, the Grizz played the 2004-05 Suns and the 2005-06 Mavs in the playoffs, two teams that are supposed to sweep the Grizzlies.  This year’s poor start was also somewhat excusable.  This season effectively ended with Pau Gasol’s broken foot during the summer.

 

On the other hand, there were good reasons to cut bait with Fratello.  The team was not exciting to watch and he did not play the rookies much even when it was clear that this was a rebuilding year.  The tight play calling might make sense with a less-talented team but neither fans nor the players like the style and when the style gets you from 25 wins to 30, as opposed to the playoffs before losing.  West noted as much, stating that Fratello had run his course with the team.

 

Fratello’s termination with Cleveland in 1999 had a similar feel to it.  Wayne Embry, the GM who was fired along with Fratello, noted in his biography “The Inside Game” that “I think [Fratello] was in the wrong place at the wrong time after the composition of the team changed.  Some coaches are better coaching veteran teams. In today’s NBA, I questioned whether Mike had the patience to build a young team and let the youngsters work through their mistakes.”

 

Finally as to the question of whether Fratello is truly a slowdown coach, here’s a year-by-year comparison of Fratello-coached teams to NBA average:

 

(With Memphis)

Year        Fratello Team PPG    NBA Average Difference

2005-06               92.2                        97.0               -4.8

2004-05               93.4                        97.2               -3.8  

 

(With Cleveland)

1998-99               86.4                        91.6               -5.2

1997-98               92.5                        95.6               -3.1

1996-97               87.5                        96.9               -9.4

1995-96               91.1                        99.5               -8.4

1994-95               90.5                      101.4              -10.9

1993-94              101.2                     101.5               -0.3

 

(With Atlanta)

1989-90              108.5                     107.0              +1.5

1988-89              111.0                     109.2              +1.8

1987-88              107.9                     108.2               -1.3           

1986-87              110.0                     109.9               +0.1

1985-86              108.6                     110.2               -1.6

1984-85              106.6                     110.8               -4.2

1983-84              101.4                     110.1               -8.7

 

Miami Heat

 

1/3    Announce that head coach Pat Riley will take a leave of absence and name Ron Rothstein as interim coach

 

The cynics will note that Riley’s timing to enter the fray and leave it coincide remarkably with the points where the Heat were expected to ascend or crumble.  We can’t know that Riley needs surgery ASAP just like we’re not sure that Stan Van Gundy had to re-sign to spend more time with his family in the middle of 2005-06 season.  If you assume that Riley may have pulled some strings I still can’t condemn him too much for either move.  The Heat ended up with a title from the flipping.  Besides, Riley has equity in the team, he can do whatever ownership permits.  Hell, most really good coaches aren’t actually that nice anyway.  It’s possible Riley could be spending karma points, as some argue, but that’s his prerogative.

 

As for Rothstein, he was Miami’s original coach back in 1988-89.  Rothstein has been a defensive specialist and assisted Chuck Daly during the Detroit title days.  In his three years in Miami, Rothstein’s teams improved from 15-67 to 18-64 to 24-58.  After the 1990-91 season, however, the team thought his intense style was too much for the young players and he was bounced in favor of the more easy going Kevin Loughery.  Rothstein, got another shot, this time replacing Chuck Daly in Detroit.  It was an impossible spot because Daly was great and the Pistons were devolving from dynasty to rebuilding.  Rothstein had a headache in Detroit as Dennis Rodman started to go more overtly nuts and Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer had less than picturesque ends to their careers.  The team went 40-42 in1992-93 and missed the playoffs and followed it up with a  miserable 20-62 record in 1993-94, after which Rothstein was replaced with Don Chaney.  Rothstein hasn’t been a head coach since.  Rothstein probably isn’t really an option to coach the team at full strength because Shaquille O’Neal hasn’t taken well to coaching from the less well-known coaches.

 

Milwaukee Bucks

 

1/4    Waive Chris McCray

 

It was a brief cup of coffee for the rookie.  His stat line has no positives so far (0-3 from the field) and his only other stats are 2 turnovers and a personal foul.  Hopefully, he’ll make a better impression next time.

 

New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets

 

12/22    Sign Devin Brown

 

The team has been so decimated by injuries (Chris Paul, Peja Stojakovic, and David West) that they needed some warm bodies.  Brown has his limitations, he’s not a great shooter, but he’s NBA-quality at finishing and defending and has some value.  He won’t win the team many games but he can help the team be semi-respectable while also getting his name back in the consciousness of NBA GMs.

 

New Jersey Nets

 

1/3    Acquire Bernard Robinson from Charlotte for Jeff McInnis

 

Robinson’s strongest point is that he is not McInnis.  The trade removes a very unhappy player and gets the Nets some salary relief.  I’m not sure if Robinson will play much.  Robinson is really a small forward and he’ll have to take minutes from Hassan Adams (not likely) or Antoine Wright (possible) or he’ll have to show he can be an undersized power forward on those days when Bostjan Nachbar picks up his six fouls in less then 10 minutes (very possible).

 

Philadelphia 76ers

 

1/4    Waive Steven Smith

 

Besides a 12-minute stretch against Indiana, Smith didn’t really play.  I assume the NBDL is the next step.

 

Portland Trailblazers

 

1/2    Waive Stephen Graham

 

Not a great player but Graham definitely showed that he can be useful spot player.  Last year, Graham played with three different teams and I expect he’ll get another shot with someone else this year.

 

Seattle SuperSonics

 

1/4    Waive Desmon Farmer and Andreas Glyniadakis

 

Glyniadakis got a chance to play (he started four games) but he is just very raw at this point.  He was a fouling machine and had a ton of turnovers.  At 25, you have to wonder if he can even be worth spot duty.  Still, he’s 7’1 so someone else may take a shot.

The Red Auerbach FAQ

When Red Auerbach passed away a week ago, it marked the loss of one of the true giants of the NBA.  Most people know the story of Auerbach, the man who had the major hand in creating three Celtic dynasties and was a dominant personality in the NBA up until the day he died.  Much has been written about Auerbach over the years and since his death that it’s tough to really tell you something you don’t really know already.  Still, an overview of Auerbach’s career is always helpful, and will launch us into some of the interesting lesser known facts that we’d like to explore.  So off we go…

What did Auerbach do before coaching the Celtics?

After graduating college in the early 1940s, Auerbach started off as a high school basketball coach when he started to get offers to coach professional basketball teams.  In 1946-47, Auerbach was hired to coach the Washington Capitals.  Auerbach coached well for the Caps for three years, even winning 17 in a row at one point.  When the Caps lost to the Cleveland in the Finals 1948-49, Auerbach and ownership split up and Auerbach took a job as assistant coach at Duke.

Duke was an unusual circumstance.  The coach, Gerry Gerard was a friend and was suffering from cancer.  In his autobiography “Let Me Tell You a Story”, Auerbach described the situation thusly: “[i]n a way, they were offering me a job where I was supposed to sit around and wait for Gerry to die. ..He said he didn’t have a problem with that, he wanted someone there.  But it still felt awkward to me.”  Not liking the morbid feel at Duke, Auerbach left shortly thereafter and returned to the NBA with the Tri-Cities Blackhawks.  After one season with the Blackhawks, Auerbach did not get along with owner Ben Kerner and bolted to run the Celtics for the 1950-51 season.

The Celtics Pre-Bill Russell

The Celtics first officially were an BAA (the NBA precursor) in 1946-47.  For the four seasons before Auerbach was in Boston, the team didn’t come close to .500.  In Auerbach’s first year (1950-51), the team jumped up from 22-46 to 39-30.  While Auerbach’s coaching probably helped, the Celtics were helped when by the bankruptcy of two other teams and Auerbach was able to poach Bob Cousy and Ed Macauley as a result, who were the team’s two best players by far.

Cousy was a local college star from Boston College and was drafted by Tri-Cities just few months earlier.  Auerbach had resisted the temptation to draft Cousy at the time in favor of center Charlie Share.  According to Bill Reynolds’ “Cousy”,  Auerbach told the Boston Press that he didn’t need Cousy because “[t]he only thing that counts for me is ability and Cousy hasn’t proven to me he’s got that ability.  I’m not interested in bringing someone in just because he’s a local yokel.”  When Auerbach got Cousy in the dispersal draft, he was less than thrilled and told Cousy: “[y]ou’re not a big man….I hope you make the team, but if you don’t, don’t blame me.  It’s a big man’s game.”  Years later, in an interview for “Tall Tales”, Auerbach backtracked on his harsh initial treatment of Cousy stating that “I saw Cousy in college.  I knew what he could do that he was a great talent.  But I looked at my roster and I didn’t need a guard, I needed someone to get the ball off the boards.”  In the same chapter, Macauley stated it most succinctly: “Red is never one to second-guess himself or admit that he made a mistake, but I guess even he’d have to say that Cousy wasn’t exactly some local yokel.”

Cousy was second in on the team in minutes and was good right away (15.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 4.9 apg).  Cousy would go on to lead the NBA assists from 1952-53 until 1960-61 when Oscar Robertson came around.  Cousy truly dominated his position statistically at a level that few other athletes dominated his peers.  For a little perspective, here are Cousy’s average season versus his peers from the 1950s:

PlayerGamesMPGPPGFG%RPGAPG
B. Cousy92435.318.40.3755.27.5
D. McGuire73828.38.10.3894.25.7
S. Martin74535.99.80.3643.44.2
A. Phillip70132.29.10.3784.45.5
B. Davies46231.314.30.3782.94.9

Everyone of these 1950s point guards went to the Hall of Fame and you can see that Cousy beat pretty much every single one of them.  While I’m not sure that Cousy could dominate in the modern NBA he was as high above his competition as Magic Johnson was to his peers.

Though Cousy was an something of a lucky draw for Auerbach, he did find several other very good players.  The Celts nabbed Bill Sharman in 1951-52 from Auerbach’s former team the Capitals, who also had just folded, and drafted scorer Frank Ramsey in 1954.  This Celtics team was a run ‘n gun fun team that was usually in the playoff hunt.  From 1950-51 through 1955-56 the Celts averaged a solid record of 40-30 but never advanced to the NBA Finals.  The team was fun to watch (they led the NBA in scoring from each year from 1951-52 through 1955-56) but they couldn’t rebound or really stop anyone either–think the Steve Nash Suns or the Don Nelson Warriors of the early 1990s.

Bill Russell:  do we have anything to add?

Now that we have a sense of the running team the Celts had before Bill Russell, one can imagine of how much of a help he was.  By modern standards, it was like taking Alonzo Mourning or Ben Wallace in his prime on the Nash Suns or the old Nellie Warriors.  Well, Russell was significantly more dominant defensive force than Zo or even Wallace in the context of his time and he obviously helped the team jump to championship level.  We all know what happened next, the Celts would win 11 of the next 13 titles.  Auerbach was the coach until 1965-66 and only lost one playoff series in that time,  the 1957-58 Finals against the Hawks when Russell was out with a broken wrist. 

Did Auerbach know that Russell would be that good?

Unlike with Cousy, Auerbach was very high on Russell from the beginning, even trading a star in Macauley to St. Louis for the rights to Russell’s pick (seventh overall).  Auerbach also traded third round draftee Cliff Hagan who would go on to have a Hall of Famer career–though this was far from apparent at the time.  The drafting of Russell was controversial subject and the Hawks and Royals, who picked sixth overall, both had excuses as to why they did what they passed up on him. 

In “Tall Tales”, Royals’ owner Lester Harrison rambled on that “[t]he real truth about this draft was the Auerbach and Russell set me up….I was cheated out of Russell, who played poorly at the All-Star Game because he didn’t want to play in a small city like Rochester….We had Maurice Stokes at center, and he would have been as good as Russell if he hadn’t gotten ill.  Listen, what was I supposed to do?”  In the same chapter, Ben Kerner of the Hawks stated that “I knew I couldn’t afford Russell.  I heard that he had turned down $50,000 from the Globetrotters.  I heard he wanted $25,000 or $50,000–it didn’t matter because to me, it may as well have been a million.  We didn’t have the money.”

Referee Norm Drucker, an impartial observer, saw it differently.  He said that “[i]n 1956, St. Louis was an antiblack city.  The black players who who played there from other teams–the fans called them such names….I don’t know if Ben Kerner was willing to bring a black player into that environment, although I do know that Ben himself got along very well with his black players in the 1960s.”  Likely, money and race played factors.  The Hawks got a quality player and a local favorite in Macauley and the team anticipated that Russell, who was considered combative, would not go over well in a Southern city.

Just for kicks, here are players taken in the first round of the 1956 NBA Draft with their career stats:

Draft No.TeamPlayerGamesPPGFG%RPGAPG
1RochesterS. Green5049.20.3874.33.3
2St. LouisB. Russell96315.10.44122.54.3
3PhiladelphiaJ. Paxson1388.10.3234.51.6
4New YorkR. Shavlik81.30.1742.90
5SyracuseJ. Holup1927.10.3424.41.1
6BostonT. Heinsohn65418.60.4058.82.1
7Ft. WayneR. Sobie1928.40.3794.11.8
8PhiladelphiaH. Lear31.30.3330.30.3

While Rochester and St. Louis would’ve been better off with Russell, you have to wonder how the Pistons, Warriors, and Knicks got off without criticism.  Their picks barely lasted more than a year or two.  Also interesting to note is that only two picks that were great in that first round were both drafted by Auerbach.  In addition, the only other pick in the draft to stick was also a Celtic in K.C. Jones (who was Russell’s college teammate).

How often were the Celts tested during the Red/Russell Era?

In addition to Cousy, Sharman, Ramsey and Russell, Auerbach had collected a bunch of great players to work with Russell when the 1950s core got older.  Auerbach drafted Sam Jones and John Havlicek to replace them and the team didn’t miss a beat and dominated for years.  The league and the playoffs were both smaller back then.  In 1956-57, the Celts needed to win only one five game series to reach the Finals and the Celts didn’t have to play more than one round of playoffs in their own conference until Auerbach’s last year.  In those years, here are the teams that took the Celts to a deciding game in the playoffs:

1956-57: Celts beat Hawks 4-3 in the NBA Finals

-1957-58: Hawks beat Celts 2-4 in the NBA Finals

-1958-59: Celts beat Nationals 4-3 in the Eastern Conference Finals

-1961-62: Celts beat Hawks 4-3 in the NBA Finals

                 Celts beat Lakers 4-3 in the NBA Finals

-1962-63: Celts beat Royals 4-3 in the Eastern Conference Finals

-1964-65: Celts beat 76ers 4-3 in the Eastern Conference Finals

-1965-66: Celts beat Royals 3-2 in the First Round

                 Celts beat Lakers 4-3 in the NBA Finals

While the Celts were tested a couple of times, they were almost always the best team in the league.  From 1956-57 through 1964-65, the Celts had the best record in the NBA each year, usually by a pretty wide margin.  The only year they didn’t lead the NBA in wins, 1965-66, the Celts were off the pace by only one game and had a better expected record than the actual leader, the Sixers.

Auerbach as GM: Russell’s Final Years

In 1966, Auerbach retired and named Russell as player-coach.  To make an African-American coach was fairly revolutionary at the time and he was the first of his kind.  Major League Baseball didn’t have an African-American manager until Frank Robinson in 1975 and the NFL didn’t hire Art Shell until 1989 (which is fairly ridiculous when you stop and think about it).  In Thomas Whalen’s “Dynasty’s End”, it is noted that hiring Russell was very controversial and that both Auerbach and Russell endured tons of questions about the issue.  While Auerbach clearly did not suffer from the racist tendencies of many of the time, it’s pretty clear that he didn’t make any decisions with any idealistic motives at heart.  Rather, Auerbach noted that “when a pro athlete reaches his thirties, the way Russell has, he loses some of his motivating power.  He has trouble getting up for games.  But as coach he won’t have that problem.” 

Auerbach correctly identified that the key now was to squeeze as many title out of the aging core of Russell, Sam Jones, and Havlicek.  Auerbach nabbed Bailey Howell for young seven-footer Mel Counts.  Howell was turning 30 but he aged remarkably well and averaged nearly 20 ppg and 9 rpg in his first three season with the Celts.  Counts would go on to have a middling career for several teams (he’s best remembered for being the recipient of playing time when the Lakers benched Wilt at the end of Game 7 of the 1968-69 Finals, which helped Russell win his final title.  Mel Counts was truly the gift that kept on giving for the Celtics).

The Celtics lost to a historically good Wilt-led Sixers team in 1966-67 but would go on to upset that same team in 1967-68 and win a tenth title.  In 1968-69, the Celts, running on fumes, still managed to win the final Russell title over the favored Lakers troika of Wilt, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor.  Russell and Sam Jones retired after the season and Auerbach was left to find a new star and coach and to rebuild. 

The 1970s Celtics

1969-70, the first year without Russell, was a down year (34-48) and the only good player on the team really was Havlicek.  But Auerbach was already re-loading.  He drafted Jo Jo White with a mid-first rounder in 1969.  In 1970, Auerbach then took Dave Cowens with the fourth overall pick.  The core of Hondo, White, and Cowens was not on the level of the Russell teams but it was very good.  Cowens was a particularly huge pick because he was an anchor at center for the rest of the decade, averaging 17.6 ppg and 13.6 rpg. 

Cowens was a straightforward pick either.  At the fourth slot, it was a toss up between Cowens and fellow big man Sam Lacey, who would be taken fifth by the Royals.  Lacey had a respectable career (he averaged 10.3 ppg and 9.7 for his 13 seasons and peaked at 14.2 ppg and 13.4 in 1973-74) but Cowens was clearly better (he peaked at 20.4 ppg and 14.7 rpg in 1974-75).  It’s unlikely that the Celts could’ve won two titles with Lacey instead of Cowens.

The Celts immediately turned it around with the new core and went 44-38 in 1970-71.  The Celts then went on a a nice five-year run where they won two titles and won an average of 59 games per year. It was a very good team but not quite as good as the Knicks of that era.  They lost to the Knicks 4-1 in the 1971-72 Eastern Conference Finals.  The next year, the Celts won 68-14 games (a franchise record) but they lost to the Knicks 4-3 in the Conference Finals (Havlicek hurt his shoulder and the team was down 3-1 before rallying and losing in Game 7).  But in 1973-74, the Knicks (most notably Willis Reed and Jerry Lucas) had aged and the Celts were hitting their stride.  They won two of the next three titles before it began to erode.

The Late 1970s: A Bad Time

As Hondo, Cowens, and White aged, no new players really came in to replace.  Just the opposite. The team traded Paul Silas, their Charles Oakley-type veteran power forward, for the younger Curtis Rowe.  Rowe was a complete dud as a player and was not particularly well-liked as a teammate either.  Sidney Wicks, Marvin Barnes, and Bob McAdoo were other bad ideas in the late 1970s.  The McAdoo trade (for several draft picks) was reportedly made by owner John Y. Brown without Auerbach’s consent. 

Auerbach’s feud with Brown spun out of control and caused the Knicks to solicit his services.  Auerbach told Brown that he’d take the Knicks job unless Brown sold.  He gave Brown two weeks to sell out his interests or Auerbach would go.  Brown gave in and sold out and Auerbach stayed with the Celts for another grand run in the 1980s.

The Bird Years

Like the Bill Russell years, the Larry Bird years were built  by Auerbach.  As mentioned, the Celts of the late 1970s were the worst kind of team–bad, old, overrated, and overpaid.  After a 32-50 season in 1977-78, the Celts were comprised a good older player in Cowens (age 30) and a bunch of aging vets or prematurely fading players like Rowe (fading), Don Chaney (aging), Marvin Barnes (troubled), and Jo Jo White (aging).  In the 1978 draft, the Celts had the sixth pick.  Auerbach, figuring that the team needed long-term change, chose Bird, who was returning for a fifth year of college but was also eligible to be drafted if a team was willing to wait that year.  Bird, of course, would go on to be as good any forward ever and the team became an instant contender.  Again, Auerbach was lauded as a genius for finding yet another Hall of Famer.

In “Let Me Tell You a Story”, Auerbach put his choice in perspective: “[a]nyone tells you they knew Bird would be as good as he turned out–including me–is a liar.  I thought he was good, very good.  He also played a position where we needed help, a lot of help.  But did I know he had one the great work ethics ever?  No.  Did I know he had a genius IQ for the game?  No.  Smart, yes.  Genius, no.” 

Skill and Luck

After Bird’s rookie year, the Celts found themselves with the first overall picks, thanks to the Pistons who gave up to picks for McAdoo.  We all remember that Auerbach made one of the great trades of All-Time dealing the pick (which ended up being Joe Barry Carroll) to the Warriors for the third pick (Kevin McHale) and Robert Parish, two Hall of Famers in one shot.  But this was Auerbach’s fall back plan.  Really, Auerbach’s first decision was attempting to convince 7’4 freshmen phenom Ralph Sampson to leave college early and play with Bird.

According to Peter May in “The Last Banner”, here’s how it went down: “[a]t the time, Sampson had just complete his freshman season and had said, even before enrolling, that he was unlikely to remain at Virginia beyond his sophomore year.  Auerbach assumed that one more year in college was not a serious obstacle….But a funny thing happened to Auerbach when he flew to Virginia to try and talk Sampson into leaving immediately to join Larry Bird in Boston: Sampson said no.  He was having too much fun in college.  He wasn’t interested in turning pro.  Auerbach, who wasn’t accustomed to having anyone tell him what he didn’t want to hear, was furious.”

If you’re keeping score at home, the Sampson missed two shots of playing with the great dynasties of the 1980s.  Sampson turned down similar entreaties from the Lakers before the 1982 draft. In the end, Sampson went to Houston in 1983-84 and was good but his career was submarined by knee problems and his regular playing days were ostensibly over by 1988-89.  Would things have been different if Sampson had gone to the Celtics for the 1980 season?  Certainly he might’ve been thought of differently had he been part of a perennial contender like the Celts.  He would’ve given Boston a front line of Bird, Maxwell, and Sampson, which while not as good as McHale and Parish, would’ve been enough to possibly win a few titles before Maxwell’s and Sampson’s knees went.  It wouldn’t have been bad but clearly the Celtics got much more mileage out of McHale and Parish.

Still, as May noted, Auerbach “doesn’t try to put a revisionist spin on this pursuit.  He wanted Sampson then, convinced, as many were, that this was going to be the next great center.  ‘You couldn’t tell that his career wouldn’t pan out….[H]e looked like a helluva prospect.  We would have taken him if he had come out.'”

DJ: The Difference

As a young kid in 1980s, it seemed like the Bird and the Celtics won the Eastern Conference every year.  In fact, the Celts window of winning was impressive but they had serious problems with the Sixers.  In fact, from Bird’s rookie year to the 1982-83, the Sixers came out of the east three times, beating the Celts twice (the Celts were swept by the Bucks in 1982-83).  By 1982-83, the Celts were pretty vulnerable.  Tiny Archibald was too old to run the point and the Celts had a decidedly non-offensive backcourt of Quinn Buckner and Gerald Henderson.  Then, out of nowhere, Auerbach was able to acquire Dennis Johnson for Rick Robey, a backup center.  DJ instantly provided a huge upgrade over Buckner and at the same time Danny Ainge emerged and took Henderson’s job.  All of sudden, the frontcourt had some support and this coincided with Bird’s peak and two titles.

Lucky Bluff

After the 1982-83 season, McHale was in line for a big extension and the Knicks wanted him badly.  While the Celtics could match any offer for McHale, they feared that the New York money would’ve been too much to match.  As such, Auerbach devised a plan of signing three Knicks restricted free agents to force the Knicks to choose between using the cap room on the three players or McHale.  In the end, the Knicks blinked and chose to re-sign the three.  Who were these jewels?  Rory Sparrow, Sly Williams, and Marvin Webster.  Sparrow was young but ended up being a middling point guard.  Williams (who was let go to Atlanta) had personality issues that undercut a his promising ability.  Webster was 31 at the time and ended up playing only one more full season where he scored 3.8 ppg. 

The Future Never Comes: Len Bias

By the late 1980s, Auerbach took a step back from day-to-day operations and retired.  His last huge move, drafting Len Bias, had turned out tragically when Bias died of a drug overdose the night after the draft.  Could Bias have continued the dynasty for Bird?  I examined this issue a few years ago and concluded that Bias was a great player but I doubted that he was enough to keep the team at the level of the Bulls of the early 1990s.  If you never saw Bias play, I do recommend that you take a look at some highlights of his college career and see what a monster talent he was.

For fun, I thought we’d take a look at Bias’ stats per 40 minutes versus that off other great guards and forwards of the ACC in the mid-1980s in their final college seasons:

PlayerPPGFG%RPGAPGTOPGBPGSPG
Bias25.10.5447.61.13.10.40.9
Bailey18.40.5018.51.41.92.90.7
Jordan26.60.5517.22.82.91.52.2
Alarie23.10.5358.30.92.60.91.9
Wiggins24.90.5279.11.82.70.92.3

Based on pure numbers, Bias was great–though his ball handling/passing was the worst of the bunch.  In addition, Jordan as a junior was clearly superior to Bias in every aspect of the game but rebounds.  Really, it looks like Bias might project into one of those great pure scoring small forwards but not a guy who does much in other areas.   Let’s see how Bias compares with other scoring college forwards:

PlayerPPGFG%RPGAPGTOPGBPGSPG
Bias25.10.5447.61.13.10.40.9
Wilkins24.40.5299.31.52.31.81.3
Worthy18.10.5737.32.83.21.31.7
Drexler18.20.53610.14.43.10.63.8
Barkley21.30.63813.42.93.22.51.6
Person23.80.5198.70.92.40.41.1
Mullin20.90.5215.14.52.70.52.2
K.Walker22.90.5828.91.61.71.41.4

These comps aren’t quite as illustrative as the ACC comparison because the stats came, primarily, against different leagues and we have no idea what the pace of play was.  We assume the pace was a crawl for Worthy and Nique, who played in the pre-shot clock era, thus those comps are somewhat out the window.  In looking at these stats, you still are concerned that Bias had, by far, the weakest block and steal rates and again, he is at the bottom in ball handling.  While you hate to get bogged in numbers versus ability, it seems that Bias wasn’t destined to be a superstar as much as single-minded scorer.  In either case, the Celtics would’ve been much more respectable in the early 1990s with Bias in a featured role.

The End

Even though we’ve spent some time dissecting how much credit Auerbach should get for many of his moves but it is indisputable that Auerbach is greatest GM in the history of the game, a great coach, and a true innovator.  Rather then sum up with a corny ending that Auerbach, himself, wouldn’t want to hear, I thought we’d instead review Auerbach’s final legacy: his players.

Here is a list of the the Hall of Famers drafted Auerbach:

-Bill Russell

-Larry Bird

-John Havlicek

-Dave Cowens

-Kevin McHale

-Sam Jones

Here is my All-Auerbach team:

PG: Bob Cousy, 1958-59, 20.0 ppg, .384 FG%, 5.5 rpg, 8.6 apg

SG: John Havlicek, 1970-71, 28.9 ppg, .450 FG%, 9.0 rpg, 7.5 apg

SF:  Larry Bird, 1984-85, 28.7 ppg, .522 FG%, 10.5 rpg, 6.6 apg

PF:  Kevin McHale, 1986-87, 26.1 ppg, .604 FG%, 9.9 apg, 2.6 apg

C:    Bill Russell, 1961-62, 18.9 ppg, .457 FG%, 23.6 rpg, 4.5 apg