Nellie Revisited

It’s only been about two months since Don Nelson stepped down as Maverick coach and retired.  At the time, I had wanted to go through his long and interesting career.  The hassles of everyday life prevented me from really going through Nellie’s career at the time but I have regrouped am ready to go.  It isn’t necessarily timely to be doing this now, with the playoffs raging and Nellie already fading into the background but a career as interesting as Nelson’s is really something worth examining at any time.  With that said, let’s review Nelson’s coaching/GM career:

Nelson Was a Player?

If you don’t know too much about the NBA of the 1960s and 1970s, it might surprise you to know that Nelson wasn’t always this guy with the big gut you see today.   He was not only a pro player but a had a long and solid career.  But Nellie’s pro career wasn’t one of those foregone conclusions either.  Nelson had a nice career at college for Iowa but then found himself coming out of college in 1962 with little chance of continuing his pro career. 

Nelson was able to make the Chicago Zephyrs in 1962-63, an one-year old expansion team, a terrible team that featured Walt BellamyTerry Dischinger, and little else.  Nelson actually played okay for the Zephyrs (6.8 ppg and 4.5 rpg) but was let go at the end of the year.  Nelson hooked up with the Lakers for the next two seasons.  Nellie’s first year in L.A. was also solid (5.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg in 17 mpg) but his minutes plummeted in 1964-65 (238 minutes in only 39 games).  Nelson was then cut by the Lakers in training camp in 1965.  While some will say that Nellie had shown little before leaving the Lakers, Elgin Baylor claimed otherwise.  In “Dynasty’s End,” by Thomas Whalen, Laker star Elgin Baylor was quoted as saying: “I never could understand why we let Don go.  We used to play a lot of one-on-one basketball in practice and Nelson always gave me as much trouble as anybody.  I know this: he never had a full opportunity with the Lakers.  There were always two or three forwards ahead of him with more experience.”

This seemed like it could be the end of Nellie’s career but Red Auerbach snatched him up for the world champ Celtics and Nelson immediately became a contributor.  From 1965-66 through 1975-76, Nelson was either a starter or a key bench member of the Celts.  In those years, Nellie averaged over 11 ppg and 6 rpg, maxing out at 15.4 ppg and 7.3 rpg in 1969-70.  He also helped bridge the Bill Russell champs of the 1960s with the Dave Cownes’ champs of the 1970s.  His most memorable playing moment occurred in the final moments of Game 7 of the 1968-69 Finals, when his jump shot hit the back of the rim, bounced straight up in the air about 10-15 feet and fell straight through to help the Celts clinch the title and beat the Lakers for Russell’s final title.  In 1975-76 at age 35,Nellie’s numbers fell to 6.4 ppg and 2.4 rpg and he retired.

Nellie’s First Stop: Milwaukee 1976-87: (540-344, .611%)

With his playing career winding down, Nelson landed on his feet in the Bucks organization as an assistant coach in 1976-77.  He was brought in by his ex-Celtic teammate and then Bucks GM, Wayne Embry.  The Bucks were in flux at that time.  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had forced a trade in 1975 and the team had a little talent but the team was struggling.  Incumbent coach Larry Costello was axed when the Bucks started the year 3-15 and Nelson was made head coach, despite only having two months of training.  The team improved a bit under Nellie, going 27-37 and the Bucks slowly built up from there with the draft. 

After the season, the Bucks had the first, third, and eleventh picks overall in the draft.  The Bucks didn’t exactly hit on the picks: they took Kent Benson first, Marques Johnson third, and Ernie Grunfeld eleventh.   Benson and Grunfeld were solid pro regulars but had no star potential.  Johnson ended up being quite good (though the Bucks passed on Bernard King, Jack Sikma, and Walter Davis to get him).  And in 1979, the Bucks nabbed Sidney Moncrief with the fourth pick overall.  Thanks to Johnson and a couple of incumbent vets (Junior Bridgeman and Brian Winters who were obtained for Kareem), the Bucks went from a .500 to a 49-win team by 1979-80. 

In mid 1979-80, the Bucks went for the brass ring and obtained Bob Lanier, who was aging but still pretty good.  The Bucks played well but lost a tough seven-game series to the defending champ Sonics.  In 1980-81, the Bucks were starting to hit on all cylinders.  Moncrief was starting to play well and Lanier, Johnson, and Bridgeman were all good.  The Bucks won 60 games and won the Central Divsion.  But 60 wins wasn’t enough to earn homecourt.  This indirectly reveals the biggest problems that the Bucks had–the Sixers and the Celtics.  The Bucks were very good but never enough to beat both these teams in the same year.  Take a look at the Nellie’s Bucks from the 1980s and their playoff runs:

Year         W-L   Playoff Results

1980-81    60-22     Lost to Philly 4-3 in the second round

1981-82    55-27     Lost to Philly 4-2 in the second round

1982-83    51-31     Lost to Philly 4-1 in the Conference Finals 

1983-84    50-32     Lost to Boston 4-1 in the second round

1984-85    59-23     Lost to Philly 4-0 in the second round

1985-86    57-25     Lost to Boston 4-0 in the Conference Finals 

1986-87    50-32     Lost to Boston 4-3 in the second round

After losing to the Julius Erving Sixers for three straight years, the Bucks then ran into the problem that Larry Bird and the Celts were starting to peak.  The Bucks were good but they just couldn’t match up with these two All-Time teams.  By the time the Celts were losing a little steam, the Bucks were also aging and the Pistons would also pop up.  Thus despite the fact that the Bucks were winning about 55 games a year they got as far as the Conference Finals only twice and they won a total of one game in those two series.

How Good Were the Nellie Bucks?

It’s pretty clear that the Bucks, for all their wins, were not in the class of the Celts or Sixers.  Let’s take a look at the key players from each team (starting lineups chosen from the each team’s best season):

 CelticsSixersBucks
PG:Dennis JohnsonMaurice CheeksCraig Hodges
SG:Danny AingeAndrew ToneySidney Moncrief
SF:Larry BirdJulius ErvingPaul Pressey
PF:Kevin McHaleBobby JonesTerry Cummings
C:Robert ParishMoses MaloneAlton Lister

Forget any other indicator but the Sixers have two clear Hall of Famers, the Celtics have three, and the Bucks have maybe one (Moncrief or Cummings).  When you combine that with the fact that the Bucks routinely had holes at the point and center, it makes you think that the Bucks could be beatable.  But what about the other also-rans, the good teams that couldn’t get over the championship hump?  The truth is there aren’t many other teams in the 1980s that were winning 50 games over even a three-year period and also not winning championships.  A couple of teams had nice two or three year stretches (San Antonio and Phoenix in the early 1980s).  The only team that falls in that category are the late 1980s Hawks, who won fifty games four years in row with Mike Fratello, but they never even made the Conference Finals. 

Since no one in the 1980s quite fits as a comp to the Bucks, let’s take any franchise with a nice three to five-year run over the last 25 years and see how this group stacks up.  In choosing these squads, we look for a run of at least three 50-win seasons and at least two Conference Finals appearances (but no titles).  Here are the teams I came up with:

New York Knicks 1991-1997

Indiana Pacers 1993-2000

Utah Jazz 1991-1998

Phoenix Suns 1989-1995

Portland Trailblazers 1989-1992

Portland Trailblazers 1998-2001

Seattle SuperSonics 1992-1998

First off, this definition surely excludes a few teams that are very good and arguably better than these squads (Kings 2000-2004, Heat 1996-2000, Magic 1994-1996).  But in an effort to compare the Bucks with teams of similar accomplishments, we’ll stick with the above-mentioned criteria.  I see the Bucks as worse than most, if not all of these teams.  Each of these teams were tougher in the front court (with the possible exception of the early 1990s Blazers) and all these teams have at least one Hall of Famer.  The Bucks are not much worse but they are at the bottom of this list.

Nellie v. Embry

The juiciest thing to come out of Milwaukee was that Nelson and Embry, the friend who brought him into the Bucks, are now estranged.  In fact, Embry wrote in his autobiography, “The Inside Game” that Nelson was a racist and that he forced Embry out of Milwaukee.  Nelson denied both of these charges and stated that Embry was upset that Nelson didn’t offer him a job after Embry was let go by the Cavs in the late 1990s.  Specifically, Embry stated that their relationship became strained over whether to sign Dave Cowens in 1982.  Embry also said by 1984 Nelson had usurped total control of personnel decisions when he overruled Emby to draft Kenny Fields.  Finally, Embry stated that Nelson fabricated stories that Embry was abusing expense accounts. 

I don’t what’s true on this subject but it does raise an interesting question of which of these men deserves credit for building the Bucks of the 1980s.  In his book, Embry takes credit for most of the smart moves and implies that Nelson didn’t quite know what was going on some of the moves.  In assessing this point, it’s tough because both Embry and Nelson have nice track records outside of Milwaukee.  All we learn from this is that time can strain even the best of relationships.

Nellie’s Second Stop: Golden State 1988-1995 (277-260, .516%)

After the 1986-87 season, Nellie left Milwaukee to become the GM of the previously mediocre-to-bad Golden State Warriors.  After one season as GM, Nelson jumped back into coaching to start the 1988-89 season.  The Warriors jumped from 20-62 to 43-39 in that season.  Nelson was helped by the emergence of Chris Mullin, who went from good player to great player that year (26.5 ppg), and rookie of the year Mitch Richmond.  The Warriors even upset the Jazz in the first-round of the playoffs.  The seven seed Warriors began to amass a bunch of talented offensive players over the next few years (Sarunas Marciulionis, Tim Hardaway, Chris Gatling).  In 1990-91, the Warriors again scored an upset as a seven seed, beating the David Robinson-led Spurs with their high scoring guard-oriented offense, nicknamed Run TMC (referring to Tim Hardaway (22.9 ppg), Mitch Richmond (23.9 ppg), and Chris Mullin (25.7 ppg)). 

So entering 1991-92, the Nellie Warriors had been a team with some scoring talent that had tepid regular seasons but two nice upsets.  This time, the Warrior fans expected the team to put it all together if they could get some front court help.  Nelson then made one of the more controversial moves of his career trading Richmond for rookie forward Billy Owens.  Nellie’s rationale was that the team had a glut of two guards (Marciulionis and Mario Elie) so losing Richmond would be okay if the forward was worth it.  In fact, Marciulonis played very well (18.9 ppg and .538%) while Owens was solid (14.3 ppg and 8.0 rpg).  The Warriors went 55-27 and had the second best record in the west behind the Blazers.  As luck would have at, the Warriors great regular season was coupled with a playoff fizzle and the Warriors lost 3-1 to the Sonics in the first-round.  It wasn’t quite the upset it seemed because the Sonics did have Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp but it was clearly a bitter end for the Warriors most winning season since 1975-76.

After 1991-92, things gut funky for Nellie.  The Warriors crashed to 34-48 in 1992-93 as Mullin, Marciulionis, and Owens all missed over half the season with injuries.  The Warriors were able to parlay this bad season into a nice draft pick of Chris Webber in the 1993 Draft.  So coming into the 1993-94 season, the Warriors had an exciting potential lineup with young athletic players like Hardaway, Latrell Sprewell, Mullin, Owens, and Webber.  Unfortunately, the Warriors never quite got to see the whole lineup together because Hardaway blew out his knee.  The rest of the squad went ahead and won 50 games with Webber winning Rookie of the Year but were swept out of the playoffs by the Suns.

And then things fell apart for Nellie and the Warriors in Shakespearean fashion.  The source of the problem was Nelson’s relationship with Webber.  Apparently Webber had been Nelson’s whipping boy for the 1993-94 season and Webber didn’t appreciate it.  Webber probably wasn’t the only rookie to get the rough treatment from and Old School coach but Webber had some unusual leverage.  Prior to 1995, there was no rookie wage scale.  Thus, a draft pick could get pretty much any contract he could negotiate.  Webber’s deal was a bit unusual as it allowed him to be a restricted free agent after only one season.  Webber decided to use his free agent status to demand either a trade or Nelson’s firing.

The situation became a real soap opera where people debated whether Nelson was out of touch with the younger players and whether Webber was being petulant or reasonable in his tactics.  Nelson had earned high status to Warrior fans so he was able to win the short-term battle and ownership sided with him.  Webber was traded to the Bullets for Tom Gugliotta.  But the controversy wasn’t over.  The Warriors got off to a hot start (7-1) but then problems emerged.  Some players, notably Sprewell, rebelled and it appeared that the team wasn’t even trying and collapsed to 19-55.  Nellie did not survive the collapse, he was fired after the team fell to 14-31.  Thus, ended the Nellie Era in Golden State.

A Closer Look at the Richmond Trade

Trading Richmond was one of the more controversial moves of Nellie’s career.  Richmond was a young player at his peak and he was devastated about the deal.  The trade for Owens, however, was questioned because Owens ended up having quite a mediocre career and Richmond would be an All-Star for about seven or eight more years.  As mentioned above, the Warriors were loaded with guards (Marciulionis, Elie, and Sprewell).  So, trading Richmond made some sense but the problem was the booty gotten in return.  But trading for Owens was a flawed plan.  This isn’t a second-guess on Owens in particular (he had a decent career) as much as it is a recognition that another small forward was not what the Warriors needed.  Ironically, the player drafted one pick after Owens was exactly what the defensively challenged Warriors need—Dikembe Mutombo.

Some Reflection on Webber and Nelson

Nellie’s tenure in Golden State was ultimately knocked off by his conflict with Webber.  As much as Webber came off as a immature jerk in that scenario, it’s clear that it was handled wrong.  Webber was a talent that shouldn’t be given up on unless you can get value in return.  Gugs was a good player but not quite in Webber’s league.  Moral of the story, keep your superstars if you can.

Nellie’s Brief Stop in the Big Apple: New York 1995-96 (34-25, .576%)

Nelson next ended up in New York and this just didn’t work.  The Knicks were a bruising half court team, programmed with a tough mentality by Pat Riley.  Nelson sought to rewire the Knicks into his image of a more offensively varied team.  It was a decent idea in theory but the player’s weren’t having any of this.  In particular, Nelson’s idea was to take touches away from Patrick Ewing and put the ball in Anthony Mason’s hands (Mason was a good passer in the post).  He also benched popular John Starks for Hubert Davis (and even tried to trade Starks for Vinny Del Negro).  Finally, Nelson kept playing Charlie Ward in the low block because he was convinced that Ward was a good rebounder for a guard.

This radical change did not go over well with the players.  The Knicks started 17-6 but then slumped to 17-19 over the next games.  At this time the Knicks defense eroded, highlighted by a 17-point home loss to the lowly Clippers.  The team completely quit on Nelson and he was fired a few days later (even though his last game as Knicks coach was a win at Toronto). 

I have no doubt that Nelson could’ve have eventually turned the Knicks into one of his “teams.”  But the problem was the Knicks were still a pretty good team with some good vet players.  The more prudent idea would’ve been to try to win with Ewing as centerpiece until the time when Ewing was no longer a Hall of Fame-type player (that would happen in about two years).  The stay revealed Nelson’s worst side, his need to win his own way.  Some more adaptive coaches would’ve maintained the status quo until it was untenable.  Instead, Nellie tried to radically reshape the Knicks to quickly.  Granted, the Knicks were resistant to his changes but with a little flexibility in tact, New York could’ve been a much better experience for Nelson.

Nellie’s Fourth Stop: Dallas 1997-2005 (297-229, .565%)*

Nelson came to Dallas at the nadir of his career.  The quick and successive failures of the Webber Affair and then in New York had forced him into declaring retirement (on the Knicks’ dime).  But Nelson would get some luck.  The Mavericks had been slowly stinking for about six years when new owner Ross Perot, Jr. hired Nelson as GM.  At that time the Mavs had been trying to rebuild around a young perimeter-oriented team of Jason Kidd, Jimmy Jackson, and Jamal Mashburn.  This didn’t work to well because the frontline was abysmal (Lorenzo Williams, Loren Meyer, and Cherokee Parks) and the “Three Js” had been fighting over shots and had health issues.  Kidd had broken ribs in a car accident, Jackson had ankle issues, and Mashburn had knee problems. 

Nelson came in a decided to dump them and start over.  One common misconception was that Nelson traded Kidd to Phoenix (for Michael Finley, A.C. Green, and Sam Cassell).  In fact, the incumbent coach Jim Cleamons had authorized that maneuver.  Nelson came in in mid 1996-97 and immediately dumped Mashburn (for Kurt Thomas and Sasha Danilovic) and Jackson (as part of a big deal with Cassell and Gatling for Shawn Bradley and Robert Pack).  Neither traded turned out very well and, in fact, some speculated that Nelson had made the deals to ensure that Cleamons’ squad so that  Nelson could fire him and take over as coach too.  In fact that is exactly what happened.  Nelson took command of the team.  His reputation was now even lower in the gutter too because both Mashburn and Jackson deals looked bad and I recall Sport Illustrated writing an article likening Nelson to a mad scientist. 

Unsurprisingly then, the Mavs struggled in Nellie’s first few years.  In 1996-97, the Mavs went 24-58 with Cleamons as coach.  Nelson took over and went 20-62 the next year.  But 1998-99 would mark a turning point.  Prior to that season, Nelson drafted Dirk Nowtizki and traded for Steve Nash, two moves that paid huge dividends.  The Mavs slowly improved the next two years until 2000-01 when they broke through and won 53 games and upset the Utah Jazz in the playoffs.  Since then the Mavs have been on the fringes of championship contention, a very good team but not quite championship level.  Finally in late 2004-05, Nelson retired as coach and that leaves us where we are today.

The Nash/ Nowitzki Gambits

As good as the acquisition of Nash and Nowitzki moves looks now, back in 1998-99 they were not as well-received.  Nash was a backup guard for the Suns (behind Kidd and Kevin Johnson) and though the Suns thought he’d be good he had not definitively shown that he was starter material.  Despite this, Nelson gave up a high draft pick for Nash (the pick ended up being Shawn Marion) and immediately gave Nash a six-year, $36 million contract extension.  This was not a great idea given that Nah had a lot to prove.  In fact, Nash’s first two years in Dallas were not great:

Year        MPG    PPG    APG

1998-99    31.7      7.9       5.5

1999-00    27.4      8.6       4.9

Everyone had inkling that Nash was a good player but he didn’t hit an All-Star level until 2000-01 and people were actually starting to run out of patience with him that he put up 15.6 ppg, 7.3 apg, and shot .487%.  Nash was a four-year college grad and it still took him four more years to merit a starting job.  Just goes to show you that every player develops differently and the notion that college or pro experience work differently with each individual player.

As for Nowitzki, I don’t think people quite remember the controversy surrounding his drafting.  At the 1998 draft, Nowitzki was a wild card from Germany.  His entire reputation was based upon one game where he dominated a group an 18-year old American team and there was only a few snippets of grainy film available to watch of him.  Nelson nabbed Dirk with the ninth overall pick and it only took him a year to develop into a good pro and the rest is history, averaging 17.5 ppg in his second season at age 21. 

Finally, there is also a misconception that the Mav ripped off the Bucks because technically the Mavs traded their sixth overall pick (Robert Traylor) to Milwaukee, who drafted Dirk Nowitzki for the ninth pick.  But this wasn’t a bona fide trade.  The Mavs purposely let Dirk slip to ninth and then made a pre-arranged trade with the Bucks to draft him at cheaper salary slot.  So, the Bucks had no real shot to draft Dirk and it can’t be characterized as a true blunder.

*excludes Nelson’s 2004-05 record because it isn’t clear which games are credited to Nelson or Avery Johnson

Nelson And Projected Won-Loss

Nelson has been a very good coach and, with the exception of New York, he has rebuilt teams into competitive franchises and he has found good talents in all these places that others could not.  Interestingly, Nelson’s teams have underperformed their projected won-loss record:

On Milwaukee

YearActualProjectedDifference
1977-7830-5231-52-1
1978-7944-3839-435
1978-7938-4447-35-9
1979-8049-3352-30-3
1980-8160-2261-21-1
1981-8255-2757-25-2
1982-8351-3154-28-3
1983-8450-3254-28-4
1984-8559-2360-22-1
1985-8657-2565-17-8
1986-8750-3252-30-2

On Golden State

YearActualProjectedDifference
1988-8943-3940-423
1989-9037-4532-505
1990-9144-3845-37-1
1991-9255-2752-303
1992-9334-4837-45-3
1993-9450-3246-364
1994-9526-5624-582

On New York

YearActualProjectedDifference
1995-9647-3549-33-2

On Dallas

YearActualProjectedDifference
1997-9820-6220-620
1998-9919-3119-310
1999-0040-4239-431
2000-0153-2955-27-2
2001-0257-2554-283
2002-0360-2264-18-4
2003-0452-3054-28-2
2004-0558-2459-23-1

Over the course of his career, Nelson’s teams have played 23 games worse than their projected record, including 1985-86 when the Bucks went 57-25 but based upon the points for/against the Bucks were projected to have a 65-17 record.  I don’t know if this is a fluke or not but it is interesting to see that Nelson underperformed the projections.  I suspect it may be a fluke because after leaving Milwaukee, the differential between actual and projected wins narrowed greatly.

Nellie’s Best Team?

This is an interesting question and it really comes down to two or three teams.  Nellie has won 60 games twice, once with the 1980-81 Bucks and again 20 years later with the 2002-03 Mavs.  We can also throw in the 1985-86 Bucks who won 57 games but actually were projected to win 65 and the 59-win 1984-85 Bucksa.  Let’s again look at the line ups and see the squads:

1980-81 Bucks

PG:   Quinn Buckner (13.3 ppg, 4.7 apg)

SG:   Sidney Moncrief (14.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg)

SF:    Junior Bridgeman (16.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.0 apg)

PF:    Marques Johnson (20.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 4.6 apg)

C:      Bob Lanier (14.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg)

1984-85 Bucks

PG:    Craig Hodges (10.6 ppg, 4.3 apg)

SG:    Sidney Moncrief (21.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 5.2 apg)

SG:    Paul Pressey (16.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 6.8 apg)

PF:    Terry Cummings (23.6 ppg, 9.1 rpg)

C:      Alton Lister (9.9 ppg, 8.0 rpg)

1985-86 Bucks

PG:    Craig Hodges (10.8 ppg, 3.5 apg)

SG:    Sidney Moncrief (20.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.9 apg)

SG:    Paul Pressey (14.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 7.8 apg)

PF:    Terry Cummings (19.8 pph, 8.5 rpg)

C:      Alton Lister (9.8 pg, 7.3 rpg)

2002-03 Mavericks

PG:   Steve Nash (17.7 ppg, 7.3 apg, .465%)

SG:   Nick Van Exel (12.5 ppg, 4.3 apg)

SF:    Michael Finley (19.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.0 apg)     

PF:`   Dirk Nowitzki (25.1 ppg, 9.9 rpg, .463%)

C:      Raef LaFrentz (9.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg)/Shawn Bradley (6.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg)

Let’s first deal with the Bucks teams.  I tend to think that the latter two Bucks teams are superior to the 1980-81 model.  The 1980-81 was very well-balanced really didn’t have a power forward (Johnson was a small forward) and Moncrief wasn’t at his peak yet.  The 1984-85 team has Cummings and Moncrief’s peak but playoff-wise they weren’t great (swept out of the second-round).  The 1985-86 team made the furthest but they were also swept out of the playoffs.  Given all this information, there really isn’t a satisfying answer to the best Buck team of the three.  My preference is the 1985-86 team because they won a lot, had a true power forward, a peaking Moncrief, AND had the furthest playoff run but I recognize that the difference in the three is academic.  In fact, I think all three teams are probably slightly worse than the 2002-03 Mavs who featured Nowitzki (the best player Nellie ever coached) and Nash.

The All-Nellie Team

Nelson has coached a ton of All-Star talent so finding an “All-Nelson” Team is quite a challenge.  Let’s see what we have:

PG:    Tim Hardaway:    Right off the bat we have a really tough decision. Nelson couldn’t find a good classic point guard on Milwaukee but he made up for that with Steve Nash and Tim Hardaway.  Each player had about four All-Star years playing with Nelson but had different strengths.  Let’s take a look at their seasons under Nellie:

Nash        PPG    FG%    APG    Eff.

1998-99      7.9    .363        5.5     9.90

1999-00      8.6    .477        4.9    10.93

2000-01    15.6    .487        7.3    18.04   

2001-02    17.9    .483        7.7    19.34

2002-03    14.5    .465        7.3    19.01

2003-04    14.5    .470        8.8    18.51

Hardaway    PPG    FG%    APG    EFF.

1989-90        14.7    .471        8.7     18.89

1990-91        22.9    .476        9.7     25.30

1991-92        23.4    .461      10.0     24.33

1992-93        21.5    .447      10.6     23.47

1993-94                INJURED-DNP

1994-95        20.1    .427       9.3      20.24

Both were great players for Nelson but Hardaway seems to be the superior player.  He scored more and passed more (though he did play in a more up tempo offense).  In addition, T-Hard was actually a better defender. 

SG:    Sidney Moncrief:    This is a three-horse race between Moncrief, Michael Finley, and Mitch Richmond.  In addition, their numbers are all basically identical.  All three were great all-around guards.  So how do we differentiate them?  I think we can eliminate Richmond because he played the fewest seasons with Nellie (three seasons) while Moncrief (eight seasons) and Finley (eight seasons) both played with Nelson a long time.  Now things get dicey.  Their stats are very similar and both were great players.  I’ll give a slight edge to Moncrief if only because there were points when he was arguably the best player on a very good team while Finley was complementary to Nash and Nowitzki.

SF:    Chris Mullin:    As much as I liked Paul Pressey as a player who could do everything on the court, Mullin is clearly a better player.  Marques Johnson was also quite good but but Mullin scored over 25 ppg in five straight years and was a very good all around player (better than people remember). 

PF:    Terry Cummings: See below.

C:      Dirk Nowitzki:    Dirk is a power forward and he’s the best player that Nelson has ever had.  We place him at center because in true Nelly fashion, he would’ve surrendered a pivot man for the ability to go small with Cummings and Nowitzki starting together.  Finally we note that Patrick Ewing and Chris Webber each might be the true best player Nelson ever coached but their brief time with Nelson and the fact that Nellie didn’t really like themmust cause us to disqualify both of them from the Nellie Team.

Q&A: Robert Cherry on Wilt

Robert Cherry is a writer, journalist, and businessman whose work has appeared in The Arizona Republic, The New York Times, and The Jerusalem Post.  After selling his food manufacturing business, Robert published his first book which is a about Wilt Chamberlain, a fellow Philadelphian, and one of  the compelling figures of the 20th Century.   Robert’s definitive biography: “Wilt: Larger Than Life” (Triumph Books) has deconstructed Chamberlain’s life on and off the basketball court and provided new insight into the life that few have been able to fully grapple with.  Robert was kind enough to talk with us.

Question:    What interested you in writing a sports-related book?

Robert Cherry:    I became interested in journalism through Red Smith, the syndicated sports columnist whom I read in the Philadelphia Inquirer in the 1960s.   Enjoying him, I began to read books by and about the other great sportswriter from the 1920s and 30s and 40s, a golden age of sports writing—people like Paul Gallico, Grantland Rice, Wesbrook Pegler and John Kiernan.  But my favorite was always Red Smith, a great reporter and superb writer.  But as much as I loved Red Smith, I never worked as a sportswriter.   I was a general assignment reporter and feature writer and, on one paper, a columnist.  Column writing—“flapping your wings in public,” as H. L. Mencken called it, was my favorite kind of newspaper writing.  I like to express my opinion and that is what columnists get paid to do.

Q:    How did your life journey lead to writing the book about Wilt?

RC:    I was born and raised in Philadelphia and went to the same high school [Overbrook] as Wilt, though six years after him.  When Wilt died in October of 1999, I listened to the tributes to him on WIP [Philadelphia’s local sports radio station] and I was struck by the heart-warming and interesting stories that so many callers offered.  Then the [Philadelphia] Daily News wrote about how Wilt befriended [former teammate] Paul Arizin’s granddaughter, who had a terminal illness.  I was moved to tears when I read the article.  These stories revealed a side of Wilt that I was unaware of.  I thought if I didn’t know about this side of Wilt, the average sports fan probably didn’t, either, and that this would be an opportunity to gather the stories and write a book about Wilt.  And here we are, five and a half years later.

Q:     What was the most surprising thing you learned about Wilt in writing the book?

RC:    I didn’t really find one great surprise.   I set myself the task of writing the most comprehensive book about Wilt’s life on and off the basketball court.  I wanted to answer the question, to my satisfaction if no one else’s, why Wilt’s teams didn’t win more championships.  I must have read 3,000 to 5,000 newspaper stores about Wilt and interviewed his teammates and the opposing players at every level—high school, college and the professional years.  Looking over the box scores and newspaper accounts, I found—and think I document the case—that Wilt was not the reason his teams failed to win more championships.  Even when his teams lost, Wilt’s stats and contributions were tremendous.  He almost always delivered for his team. As for Wilt off the court, I uncovered no great revelations but all the details about his life evoke a clear picture of this unique man.  I was impressed by the affection that Wilt’s friends and associates still hold toward him.  Wilt could be high maintenance—moody and unpleasant at times.  After his death, Wilt’s friends and associates could have complained about that aspect of his personality to me—or others.   But none of them did so.  I was also struck by how even to his friends and teammates Wilt was—and remains—larger than life.  They all had Wilt stories, which made them laugh, and in some cases, tear up, as they recalled their enigmatic, compelling friend or teammate.

Q:    Wilt, the player, was well before my time, but when he died I remember being in shock.  Even to the younger fans, Wilt was superhuman and not subject to laws nature that everyone else was.

RC:      That was my reaction, too.  And he wasn’t before my time.  Everyone considered him “Superman,” and in some respects, he was; but in others, of course, he was all-too-mortal, and died all-too-young at 63.  That said, I never realized how extraordinary Wilt’s constitution was until I began my research.  In running drills, he lapped teammates and he was always the fastest man on the team, including the guards.  One teammate told me that he never saw Wilt tired.  Wilt drank gallons of water and 7 Up and ran six miles a day until he had hip problems in the 1990s.  And he was incredibly strong.  Everyone marveled at, and told me stories about, his amazing strength.  When he was in his 50s, one friend related how he would curl 110-pound dumbbells as easy as most people life a telephone receiver.

Q:  What killed Wilt?

.,    Wilt died of heart disease.  Except for close friend, few people knew how sick he was the last couple of years of his life.  When he returned to Kansas to have his jersey retired [in January1998], he looked horrible—ashen skin, hollow eyes, excessive sweating.  I give the first detailed account of his last years and months, sad though they are.

Q:    Let’s go back to Wilt’s early years.  It struck me while Wilt was the epitome of cool later in life, his high school years were quite the opposite.

RC:    Theteenage years are awkward and insecure for everybody.  Wilt had all that and he was a foot taller than everyone else.   Wilt got better looking as got older—his head seemed to fit his body better.  At 17, Wilt’s head didn’t fit his body and his ears stuck out.  He was skinny—not the sculpted physique of his latter years.  You don’t have to dig to deep to realize that Wilt was very self conscious at that age and that he wasn’t the flamboyant, confident Wilt of his adult years.

Q:    Why did Wilt leave Kansas early?

RC:     His game wasn’t developing in college.  Opponents held the ball [there was no shot clock in the NCAA until the 1980s] and grabbed Wilt.   He wanted to earn money for himself and his family.  One of the first things he did when he turned professional was to buy a home for his parents.  Between these two factors it was a pretty clear cut decision to go pro.

Q:    Was it true that Wilt was hard to deal with personally?

RC:    Yes and no.  Wilt could be difficult, at times, especially when he didn’t respect a coach.    He liked playing for Frank McGuire, Alex Hannum and Bill Sharman, the last two of whom he played on championship teams with.  But even then, in the case of Hannum, there was tension and the success was short-lived.  Ironically, while they often argued, Alex Hannum and Wilt became very close after their basketball days ended; they both loved going to the track and betting on horses.

Q:    One of the more controversial portions of Wilt’s career was his exit from 76ers after the 1967-68 season.  Apparently, Wilt took the position that he deserved a part of the team and would not move from this point.  What exactly happened?

RC:       In mid-1964-65, the San Francisco Warriors traded Wilt back to Philly to the Sixers.  But Wilt didn’t want to go back to Philly and he threatened to retire at the end of the year.  The Sixers were owned by Ike Richman, who was Wilt’s lawyer and good friend, and Irv Kosloff.  Ike traded for Wilt despite the retirement threats.  Wilt said that Ike promised him, Wilt, 25% of the team.  Wilt and Ike had a father-son relationship.  Stan Lorber, who was both Ike and Wilt’s doctor, believes it likely that Ike promised Wilt part of the team. After all, Wilt was the best player in the NBA and Ike was wealthy so it isn’t unreasonable to believe that they had this understanding.  But Richman died suddenly and his partner Kosloff didn’t feel bound by what Wilt claimed was an oral agreement.  This dispute poisoned the relationship between Wilt and Kosloff.

Q:    It seemed the Wilt had a scorched earth policy in relationships with the teams he played.  Why do you think that is?

RC:    I agree with your observation.  As for why it happened—when it happened—it was part of Wilt’s personality.  There was some element of it in Wilt’s departure from Philadelphia in 1968, but life is complicated.  Wilt had other reasons to want to leave Philly for California in 1968.   His parents, with whom he was close, lived in California.  He owned an apartment house there.  And in California, it was easier for Wilt to date white women.  Remember, we’re talking about 1968—when it was not so acceptable for a black man to date white women as nowadays, when it is a non-issue.  Finally, Wilt was a huge star in Philadelphia—actually too big for the city of his and my birth—but in Los Angeles he was one of many celebrities, albeit always the most visible, and so had more privacy—though, in his case, privacy is a relative term. 

Q:    How much did you intend to write about Wilt and his relationship with Bill Russell and what did you learn about this relationship?

RC:    I intended to write a lot about it and I did.  I was pleased to see that, with one exception, Wilt and Russell were very magnanimous and always respectful toward each other.  The one exception was Russell’s criticism of Wilt after the 1968-69 Finals, as a result of which they didn’t speak for 20 years.  I tried to talk with Russell but I couldn’t get him to do an interview.

Q:    Through your research did you come to a conclusion about the debate over who was the better player?

RC:    It’s one of those great unanswerable sports debates.  If Russell and Wilt had reversed teams would Wilt have won as often as Russell did with the Celtics?  I can’t and don’t know the answer to this question but I think it’s pretty clear that Wilt would’ve won more than the two championships had he had Russell’s supporting cast.  In any case, my opinion is that Wilt was the greater center of the two.

Q:    I know that the Celtics, and Red Auerbach and Bob Cousy in particular, liked to tweak Wilt with comments about how Wilt couldn’t win the big one.  Was there any merit to this?  Did Russell have something that Wilt didn’t?

RC:    Yes, Russell played with 8 future hall of famers, 9 if you count Red Auerbach. Cousy said that Wilt didn’t elevate his teammates like Russell did.   But Wilt had to score for his teams to be competitive.  In the early years, Wilt scored more than 30% of his team’s points while Russell only had 12-15%.   Wilt blocked more shots than Russell.   Still, there is some merit to the observation that Russell had an intensity that Wilt, at times, lacked—or to the observer, seemed to lack.

Q:    You were able to get Butch van Breda Kolff to talk to you about Wilt? [Editor’s note: van Breda Kolff was Wilt’s coach on the 1968-69 Lakers.  They got along very poorly and clashed all year.  This feud culminated in the middle of the fourth quarter of game 7 of the 1968-69 Finals.  Wilt hurt his knee and had to leave the game at about the five minute mark of a tight game.  Van Breda Kolff refused to reinsert Wilt into the game, despite Wilt’s protest that he was ready to play a minute or so later.  The Lakers went on to lose the game and the series and Van Breda Kolff was fired]. Could van Breda Kolff explain why he chose to have Mel Counts remain in the game when Wilt was ready to return?

RC:    Wilt had hurt his knee, the same knee, incidentally, he would tear up the next year, so he was clearly hurting and had to leave the game.  Let me emphasize the point, since even the authors of sports books—I won’t name names—get it wrong: Wilt had to leave the game.  He could barely walk, much less run.  Russell’s statement that Wilt “copped out” of the game was dead wrong.  Even van Breda Kolff, no fan of Wilt, defends Wilt on this point   When Wilt said “I’m ready” a minute or so later, van Breda Kolff says he thought that Counts was doing better.  Counts did hit a couple of shots but he had started missing shots and Wilt could jump about two feet higher than Counts.  Who would you want playing at the end of the championship game—Wilt Chamberlain or Mel Counts?   I think van Breda Kolff wanted to show Wilt (and the world) that the Lakers could win without him.  But benching Wilt cost van Breda Kolff his professional coaching career. 

Q:    Did you interview [then 76ers GM] Jack Ramsay about Wilt?  I remember in “Season of the 76ers” Ramsay was critical of Wilt.

RC:    Yes,I interviewed Ramsay.  Much as I admire Jack Ramsay, I’m also aware that Wilt had criticized Ramsay in a book and human nature being what it is, Ramsay is not a huge Wilt fan.  Jack said that he thought Wilt was insecure and always felt unappreciated, with which I agree.  Given the choice between Wilt and Russell, Ramsay chooses Russell.  I factor in Wilt’s criticism of Jack Ramsay when I consider Ramsay’s choice.

Q:    What about Wilt’s relationship with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?

RC:    They didn’t like each other, though when Jabbar was young they had a teacher-student relationship.  I think the problem stemmed from competition about who was king.  Both had hang ups, as who does not.  They were abnormally tall, also famous, and black and that takes a toll.  The same was true to some extent with Russell and Wilt.

Q:    How would you compare Russell and Wilt as people?  Do you think their rivalry was personal too?

RC:    Everyone I spoke to said Russell was difficult to deal with and that Wilt was charming and fun to be around but high maintenance.  It’s reasonable to say that Russell envied Wilt’s his acclaim and flamboyant lifestyle and Wilt envied Russell’s all those championship rings.

Q:     Let’s talk a bit more about the criticism of Wilt’s inability to beat the Celtics.  From my readings, it seems that the Celtics generally had the better team.  But there were clearly a few times when Wilt had a least as good a team as Russell, most notably with some of the mid-1960s Sixers teams.  Do you think the criticism of Wilt for losing with respect to those teams was fair?

RC:    No, except in 1968, when I think, and write, that Wilt and his teammates blew it—there is no way the Celtics ought to have beaten the Sixers in the 1968 Eastern Finals.  The Sixers went up 3-1 in the series that year only to lose three straight games, two of which were home games.  In game seven, Wilt did not score much, though, as usual, he led everyone in rebounds gathered.  I examined this game very carefully.  That year, Wilt average 10-15 touches per quarter.  In the fourth quarter of game 7, Wilt had only two touches, and those were off of rebounds.  Even Wilt can’t score without the ball.   I blame all the Sixers for failing to get Wilt the ball—including Wilt who should have demanded the ball and not excluding the coach, Alex Hannum, who should have told his players to get the ball into Wilt.  They’re all to blame for the debacle in 1969, and I do so in the book.

Q:    What about 1968-69?  The Lakers had Wilt, Elgin Baylor, and Jerry West and the Celtics were aging and decaying as a team?  It seemed to me that the Lakers were much better.

RC:    The 1968-69 Lakers just didn’t mesh.  The whole of the team was less than the sum of the parts.  Wilt and Baylor had problems about who would be “top dog” and Wilt and Van Breda Kolff hated each other.  No one says that West and Baylor were losers for being unable to beat Russell and the Celtics.  The fact is that the Lakers didn’t play well, and Boston was phenomenal.  They also had the luck of the Irish.  Sam Jones, falling down, hit a desperation shot to win one game in the series and Don Nelson hit that high bouncer in game 7.  Wilt played well in the series as a whole.  But in game 6, with the Lakers having a chance to clinch the series, Wilt came up short by my reckoning.  He had only 8 points.  Had Wilt had one of his vintage 30-point nights, there never even would’ve been a game 7 and the Mel Counts incident.  Game 6 was the most egregious example, in all my research, of Wilt not rising to the occasion in a big game and for which I criticize him.    I asked Jerry West about this and he said “sometimes it flows and sometimes it doesn’t.”  But I think this game is the one example of Wilt not quite having the intensity or killer instinct that Cousy alluded to.    I couldn’t imagine Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan failing to rise to the occasion in similar circumstances.

Q:    Who are your top five centers of All-Time?

RC:    My top five are:

1.    Wilt

2.    Shaquille O’Neal

3.    Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

4.    Bill Russell

5.    Hakeem Olajuwon

I give Wilt a slight edge over Shaq.  I would’ve loved to see them play against one another.  The reason I give Wilt the edge is that Wilt had more stamina and Wilt was faster and would beat Shaq down the court, especially late in the game; and, without doubt, Wilt could jump higher than Shaq—so I give him the edge in rebounding and defense.  Both would score lots of points, but overall I lean towards Wilt.

Q:    Who’s the best basketball player of All-Time?

RC:    Given Michael Jordan’s intensity, his will to win, and his record, you have to say that he is the greatest player of All-Time.  Yet, if I were starting a team I’d pick Wilt first.   That may sound or read as inconsistent but that is what I’d do.  When he wanted to, no one could dominate a basketball game like Wilt Chamberlain, including Michael Jordan.

Q:    Robert, thank you very much for your time.

RC:    My pleasure.

“Wilt: Larger Than Life” is published by Triumph Books.  It can be ordered online at WebOrders@triumphbooks.com or by calling 1-800-335-5323.

The Stockton-Malone FAQ

Well, it’s official.  As of yesterday, the second half of the John Stockton-Karl Malone duo has called it quits.  Malone’s departure was not quite the natural process as he vacillated and left everyone guessing for a while.  But now that both Stockton and Malone are gone, this is a good time to look back at their intertwined careers and see if a review teaches anything new or even reminds of some of the old stories we’ve forgotten. 

Expansion Drafts Revisited

With Charlotte Bobcat’s expansion draft coming in the near future, it’s a fair to pose the question: what is the expansion draft worth in the larger scheme of things?  Well, it does not really seem to be too much.  The expansion team is seeking warm bodies and/or unproven players with theoretical upside.  In a perfect world, the expansion drafter would poach a bunch of talented young guys who haven’t really gotten the chance to play.  In reality, most guys taken in the expansion draft are quickly cast aside.  This is all an exercise in amassing enough players on its roster to get the franchise going for its inaugural beating.  Of course, in the new world with the expanding overseas talent pool, we may see the Bobcats take chances on foreign players and other creative things like that.

The Bobcats are the first expansion team to enter the NBA without a twin since the Dallas Mavericks in 1980.  In total, the NBA has had nine prior expansions (not including the 1976 absorption of four ABA teams):

1966    Chicago Bulls

1967    San Diego Rockets, Seattle SuperSonics

1968    Milwaukee Bucks, Phoenix Suns

1970    Buffalo Braves, Cleveland Cavaliers, Portland Trailblazers

1974    New Orleans Jazz

1976    NBA absorbs New Jersey Nets, Indiana Pacers, San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets

1980    Dallas Mavericks

1988    Miami Heat, Charlotte Hornets

1989    Minnesota Timberwolves, Orlando Magic

1995    Toronto Raptors, Vancouver Grizzlies

I thought it would be instructive to look at the past three expansion drafts (1) the 1988 Draft for Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets, (2) the 1989 Draft for Orlando Magic and Minnesota Timberwolves, and (3) the 1995 draft for Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies to see what we can learn that might help the Bobcats this week.  Without further ado, let’s look at the three most recent drafts:

1988 Expansion Draft

This was the first major NBA expansion since 1970 (ABA excluded) and no one was really sure how it would turn out.  The Heat were apparently going the strict youth route while the Hornets were a bit more quizzical.  They wore pleated gym shorts and didn’t really have a stated plan.  Still, it seems that in retrospect the Hornets did a little better with this draft.

MIAMI
1. Arvid Kramer, Dallas; Who?  Kramer was a 6’9 center out of Augustana college in 1979.  He played 8 games with the Nuggets in 1979-80 before being selected by the Mavs in the 1980 expansion draft.  He never played another NBA because he apparently went over to Germany and starred there.  He is still working with a European team to this day.  The question is why the Heat drafted him with their pick.  I see no apparent reason for this and he didn’t seem to even make the team.  I guess the Heat either had a vision that is not apparent now or a nice sense of humor about past expansion picks.  The answer is likely the former but still it obviously didn’t work out. 

3. Billy Thompson, L.A. Lakers; Thompson was a little easier to understand.  He was a “jump out the gym” young Laker who couldn’t do much else and he had James Worthy in front of him.  Kind of like Gerald Wallace today.  Thompson had a couple of solid 10 ppg, 7 rpg seasons before fading out to Europe by 1992.  He had a good career abroad in Israel and Turkey.

5. Fred Roberts, Boston; The ultimate roster filler/mediocre forward was taken from the Celts.  He was quickly dealt to Milwaukee where he was part of the the late 1980s-early 1990s white boy front line (Robert, Frank Brickowski, Danny Schayes, Brad Lohaus, Larry Krystkowiak).  Roberts was actually the perfect player for an expansion team.  He hung around until 1996-97 and even had a couple of 10 ppg seasons after 1988.

7. Scott Hastings, Atlanta; A funny guy but not a good player.  Let go by the Hawks because the position of designated fouler was already taken by Jon Koncak, Hastings came to the Heat.  Reportedly after his first Heat practice, Hastings called his old coach Mike Fratello and said “I’m worried.  I’m the best guy here!”  Hastings wasn’t good on the Heat but he did score his career high for them, a whopping 5.1 ppg.

9. Jon Sundvold, San Antonio; Though gun shy by today’s standards, Sundvold was known as a three-point specialist.  He made good on the Heat where he led the NBA in 3-point accuracy at .522% (he shot 48 for 92 for the season).  Sundvold spent the rest of his career with the Heat (until 1991-92) and played as John Paxson/Steve Kerr-type.

11. Kevin Williams, Seattle; Vet forward out of St. John’s was cut by Miami and played only one more year in the NBA.

13. Hansi Gnad, Philadelphia; Like Kramer, he was apparently NBA property who never actually played in the NBA.  He starred in Germany and is currently a coach for Leverusken.

15. Darnell Valentine, L.A. Clippers; Mediocre vet point guard was immediately dealt over Cleveland where he continued to be a useful backup point guard.

17. Dwayne Washington, New Jersey; Do you remember him?  This is “Pearl” Washington of Syracuse fame.  He washed out in Jersey and played one similar season for the inaugural Heat before falling out of the NBA.

19. Andre Turner, Houston; Fringe point guard out of Memphis was traded to Milwaukee before the season started. 

21. Conner Henry, Sacramento;  Young player out of Houston, after the expansion draft he was let go and never again played in the NBA.

23. John Stroeder, Milwaukee; CBA player who was drafted as an afterthought.  He didn’t really play in the NBA again after the expansion draft.
 

CHARLOTTE
2. Dell Curry, Cleveland; The Hornets really hit it big with Del.  He spent 10 years as Mr. Hornet, a lethal shooter off the bench.  A great pick who turned out shall we say slightly better than Arvid Kramer.

4. Dave Hoppen, Golden State; Big bruiser out of Nebraska.  After one year with the Warriors, Hoppen was taken by Charlotte and put up 6.5 ppg and 5.0 rpg.  He faded after that and bounced around as roster filler.  He is best remembered for being criticized by Charles Barkley for being the token white guy on Philly’s bench.

6. Tyrone Bogues, Washington; Another very good pick.  Muggsy was considered a circus oddity with Washington but he had nine very good years in Carolina.  The Hornets were constantly trying to replace Bogues but his stats were actually very impressive. 

8. Mike Brown, Chicago; Big man was immediately traded for Kelly Tripucka, who filled the role of leading scorer on the ugly early Charlotte teams.

10. Rickey Green, Utah; 34-year old vet point backed up Muggsy for 1988-89 before moving on.  He had lost his starting job in Utah to some kid named Stockton.  An interesting side note on Green is that two years later, in 1990-91, Green stepped into a starting role to replace an injured Johnny Dawkins and put up decent numbers (10 ppg, 5.2 apg) at age 36. 

12. Michael Holton, Portland; A decent young guard out of UCLA, Holton put up 8.3 ppg and 6.3 apg in 1988-89.  Surprisingly, Holton only lasted 16 more NBA games after that season.

14. Michael Brooks, Denver; Hornets cut him in before the season, didn’t play in the NBA again.

16. Bernard Thompson, Phoenix; Sent over to Houston before the season where he sat the bench before falling out of the NBA.

18. Ralph Lewis, Detroit; Bench player for the Bad Boys as a rookie in 1987-88.  Played one year with Charlotte and missed the Pistons first Bad Boy championship.  Not to worry, Lewis re-signed with the Pistons for the 1989-90 championship, after which he never again played in the NBA.

20. Clinton Wheeler, Indiana; Never played with Charlotte, he was sent over to Portland as a 12th man.

22. Sedric Toney, New York; Also never played with Charlotte but was actually able to stick in the NBA for a few years as a third point guard.

Everyone Loved Muggsy Bogues

Unlike the Heat or even the Hornets, the next wave of expansioneers were mainly concerned with finding instant respectability.  There were few young players with upside.  Just mostly vets who could fill a role for a year two.  As a result, both teams struggled for a while before they hit lottery gold in the 1990s.

1989 Expansion Draft

ORLANDO
1. Sidney Green, New York; Veteran bench power forward for the Knicks was not the type of guy a young team needs but he tried.  He put up on year of 10 ppg and 8 rpg before moving back to the bench role for the Spurs.

3. Reggie Theus, Atlanta; Very similar to the Tripucka-Hornet pick.  An aging no-defense player with a bad perm who can score.  Both were brought in to generate a modicum of excitement for a team destined to be bad.  Theus was actually a better player than Tripucka and a better player than people gave him credit for.  He put up 19 ppg and 5.4 apg for the Magic and was almost as good for the Nets they year after, his final in the NBA.  Probably could’ve played longer if he had wanted to.

5. Terry Catledge, Washington; Cadillac was the first “star” for the Magic.  He scored 19.4 ppg and 7.2 rpg his first year in Orlando and around 15 ppg for another two years.  He quickly disappeared when Shaq came to town. 

7. Sam Vincent, Chicago; Vincent was one of the few young upside players taken by the Magic.  Drafted off of the Bulls roster because it was clear a true point guard couldn’t mesh with Jordan.  Vincent was decent on Magic before jumping over to Europe in 1992.

9. Otis Smith, Golden State; Smith was one of those “little warrior” types,  A 6’5 forward who liked to bang.  He was a useful bench player for Oralndo gor three years, maxing out at 13.9 ppg and 5.2 rpg.  Like Catledge, he was considered obsolete after Shaq’s arrival.

11. Scott Skiles, Indiana; For some reason, between Vincent and Skiles, the Magic did well in drafting point guards.  Skiles was a very good player (though he aged very poorly as he was bounced from the NBA by age 31).  He scored 17.2 ppg and 8.4 apg once he got the starting job.  In addition, Skiles set the NBA record for assists in a game with Orlando (30) against the Nuggets in 1990-91.

13. Jerry Reynolds, Seattle; Mediocre shooter, nicknamed “Ice,” who put up 12 ppg over three seasons in Orlando.

15. Mark Acres, Boston; Backed up Greg Kite at center for three years.

17. Morlon Wiley, Dallas; Played as third point behind Skiles and Vincent.  Journeyman for miserable Dallas teams of the early 1990s after leaving Orlando.

19. Jim Farmer, Utah; Sent over to Seattle before the start of the Magic’s first year.

21. Keith Lee, New Jersey; This Lee was the big bust draft pick out of Memphis who was traded for Charles Oakley.  His knees were already shot by 1989 and he didn’t even make the Magic roster.

23. Frank Johnson, Houston; Another vet point guard.  He was decent previously in Washington but couldn’t make the Magic roster.  He actually was out of the NBA for two years after this draft before Phoenix gave him a shot for the 1992-93 season. 

MINNESOTA
2. Rick Mahorn, Detroit; I can remember the images.  The Pistons had just won the championships and Mahorn just found out that he had been drafted form the Champs to the chump Wolves.  Mahorn was 31 and wanted no part of an ugly rebuilding scenario.  He refused to report and was traded over to Philly where he and Barkley put together a mediocre but highly entertaining team.

4. Tyrone Corbin, Phoenix; The vet played quite well as a hybrid forward in his two years in Minny.  The second year he put up a nice 18 ppg and 7.2 rpg, before the he was traded for Thurl Bailey.  Corbin went on to a have nice career as a forward off the bench in Utah, Atlanta, and a bunch of other places.

6. Steve Johnson, Portland; I always like Johnson on Portland.  He was a good percentage scorer (.572 for his career) and a good border.  Portland didn’t need him anymore with their emerging young talent, so Minny grabbed him.  But Johnson was pretty much done and he was sent out to Seattle where his career faded quickly.

8. Brad Lohaus, Sacramento; Like Fred Roberts before him, Lohaus was dealt from an expansion team to Milwaukee to make their all-Caucasian front line.

10. David Rivers, L.A. Lakers; Rivers was a great college point at Notre Dame.  He got little burn behind Magic Johnson and was exposed in the expansion draft.  Minny didn’t end up needing him because they drafted Pooh Richardson, so the team sent him to the Clipps.  Rivers didn’t stick on the Clipps either.  He ended up having a good and long career in Europe.

12. Mark Davis, Milwaukee; After being a rookie on Milwuakke, Davis didn’t make the T’Wolves.

14. Scott Roth, San Antonio; Decent shooting forward spent a year on the bench with Minny before falling out of the NBA.

16. Shelton Jones, Philadelphia; Like Mark Davis, a rookie who couldn’t make it with the T’Wolves for the second year.

18. Eric White, L.A. Clippers; Ditto.

20. Maurice Martin, Denver; Ditto.

22. Gunther Behnke, Cleveland; A German center who never played in the NBA. 

The 1995 expansion draft had two distinct figures, mad scientist Isiah Thomas of Toronto and Stu Jackson of the Grizz, who didn’t even qualify for his mad scientist license.  Just like now with Knicks, Thomas was always willing to try any venue to find talent, high school (Tracy McGrady), abroad (Andres Guibert), college (Damon Stoudamire), and the state pen (Alvin Robertson).  The Grizz were less focused, as they drafted an alarming number of older retreads. 

1995 Expansion Draft

TORONTO
1. B.J. Armstrong, Chicago; Armstrong was only one year removed from an All Star appearance (albeit undeserving).  The story goes that the Bulls couldn’t trade Armstrong because Jerry Krause was so difficult to deal with they couldn’t get fair value.  As such, Thomas snapped up B.J. and immediately flipped him to the Warriors for youngster Carlos Rogers.  Rogers never turned out to be that good but it was the type of trade with upside that a forward looking GM would make.

3. Tony Massenburg, L.A. Clippers; Mr. Journeyman, he was and is useful as a banger.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in Charlotte this year.

5. Andres Guibert, Minnesota; Guibert was a Cuban defector, who went to the Wolves for 1993-94 and 1994-95.  He was cut from the Raptors and is playing in Europe.

7. Keith Jennings, Golden State; Mr. Jennings, the 5’7 shooter from Golden State, was one of my favorite college players at East Tennessee State.  When Thomas drafted Damon Stoudamire, Jennings decided to bolt to Europe for more playing time.

9. Dontonio Wingfield, Seattle; He came out of Cincinnati after a promising freshman and struggled with Seattle.  The Raptors cut him after the draft and he went to the Blazers, where he was one of the original malcontents.  Injuries and immaturity bounced him out of the NBA by 1998.

11. Doug Smith, Dallas; A great power forward for Missouri was a bust for the Mavs.  The Raptors sent him to Boston where he played 17 more games before being sent to Europe to play.

13. Jerome Kersey, Portland; The strong Portland forward was starting to wind down when Toronto drafted him.  He was traded with Armstrong to Golden State.  From there Kersey spent another six years as a useful bench player.

15. Zan Tabak, Houston; Croatian big man was a mediocre center for Toronto.  He spent three years there as a sometimes big man.  Not very good but serviceable.  He went back to Europe after 2001.

17. Willie Anderson, San Antonio; A very good scorer for the Spurs in the late 1980s.  Leg injuries had sapped Anderson of most of his ability by 1995 but he actually was able to average double figures for Toronto before they traded him for Doug Christie in a very good trade.

19. Ed Pinckney, Milwaukee; Like Anderson, Pinckney was also near the end at that point.  He played some center but was traded over to Philly mid-way through 1995-96.

21. Acie Earl, Boston; Earl was a bust center out of Iowa who played two years in Toronto.  He wasn’t very good but oddly put up 40 points in a game for Toronto. 

23. B.J. Tyler, Philadelphia; Small slashing T.J. Ford-type guard.  According to “Drive,” by Chris Young,: “[Tyler] would suffer a career-ending injury before he had ever played a game, falling asleep with an ice pack on his leg and suffering ‘nerve damage.'”

25. John Salley, Miami; Another aging big guy was let go to the Bulls where he was able to pick up a ring sitting the bench on a 72-win Bull team.

27. Oliver Miller, Detroit; The troubled man.  He had a nice first year in Toronto (12.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg) but then put on much too much weight and struggled.  He had been out of the NBA for three year before the T’Wolves gave him a chance in 2003-04.

VANCOUVER
2. Greg Anthony, New York; 
After being on the fringe of a starting job for years in New York, Anthony was finally let go by the Knicks in the expansion draft (they felt that Charlie Ward was better).  In the Grizz’ first year, Anthony enjoyed by far his best season (14.0 ppg, 6.9 apg).  Anthony second year in Vancouver, 1996-97, was not nearly as successful and he was let go thereafter.  Anthony spent five more years as a useful backup before retiring prematurely after 2001-02, to be an analyst for ESPN.  

4. Rodney Dent, Orlando; Dent was an odd choice.  He was a decent player for Rick Pitino and Kentucky.  He spent his entire rookie year, 1994-95, on the injured list because of a knee injury he suffered at Kentucky.  The Grizz cut Dent and he never played in the NBA. 

6. Antonio Harvey, L.A. Lakers; Quasiuseful backup forward in the Jelani McCoy mold.  He was let go to the Clipps shortly after the expansion draft.  Harvey has been in and out of the NBA ever since.

8. Reggie Slater, Denver; Led the NCAA in rebounding in college, Slater was only 6’7 but he could bang.  The Grizz let Slater return back to Denver before the start of the season.  Like Harvey, he has bounced around the NBA for cameos and is occasionally useful.

10. Trevor Ruffin, Phoenix; I always liked this chucker out of Hawaii.  Ruffin played like Eddie House, he just shot the ball every time he touched it, and he even made a few.  The Grizz cut him before the season and he signed with Philly and was decent (12.8 ppg and 4.4 apg in 25 mpg).  After the season, Ruffin bolted to Europe where he has been a hired gun ever since.

12. Derrick Phelps, Sacramento; UNC guard played only three games with Sacramento in 1994-95 (his rookie year).   The Grizz drafted him and immediately cut him for no apparent reason.  He never played in the NBA again.

14. Larry Stewart, Washington; Hustling but unskilled forward made a name for himself on the Bullets as a rookie back in 1991-92 (10.4 ppg, 5.9)  By 1994-95, Stewart was a fringe guy who was oft injured and barely playing.  The Grizz cut him almost immediately and Stewart was out of the NBA for the 1995-96 season.

16. Kenny Gattison, Charlotte; Gattison’s career came full circle.  As a younger player, Gattison played center for the early Hornets’ teams.  By 1994-95, the Hornets had turned into a real team that didn’t need an aging, undersized center.  But Gatt was needed to play his familiar role with the Grizz at center.  He played okay too (9.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg) before back injuries forced him into to retirement midway through the season.

18. Byron Scott, Indiana; This was an interesting story.  By 1995, Scott was a solid bench player who was looking for a fun winning situation to wind down his career.  Scott thought he had found that with the emerging Pacers (a young Reggie Miller and Rik Smits).  Indeed, Scott had average about 10 ppg in about 18 mpg for Indiana in 1993-94 and 1994-95.  Still, the Pacers didn’t protect him because they had a deep team and they though the Grizz wouldn’t waste their time drafting an aging 34-year old guard.  Wrong.  The Grizz, in their infinite wisdom, took him–disappointing Scott and the Pacers.  Scott spent one year in Vancouver scoring 10 ppg (again) and being miserable.  He then went to the Lakers in 1996-97 to mentor a young rookie named Kobe Bryant for Byron’s final year.

20. Gerald Wilkins, Cleveland; Like Scott, Gerald was aging and not really useful for a expansion franchise.  In addition, Wilkins was coming off of a torn Achilles that would keep out for much of the 1995-96 season.  The Grizz apparently drafted Gerald to take an expiring contract and not for talent.  Gerald played only 28 games for the Grizz before playing a few more years with the Orlando Magic.

22. Benoit Benjamin, New Jersey; The original underachiever, the Nets practically begged the Grizz to take him.  Benjamin’s number in Jersey weren’t actually as bad as you might think but his aura had clearly worn out his welcome.  The Grizz planned to use him as starting center and nurse along rookie draft pick Bryant Reeves.  But only a few weeks into the 1995-96 season, the Grizz decided that Reeves could play so they traded Benjamin over to Milwaukee for the immortal Eric Mobley.

24. Doug Edwards, Atlanta; A mediocre small forward out of Florida State sat the Hawks’ bench for two years before the Grizz took him.  He played only 31 games for the Grizz before being cut out of the NBA.

26. Theodore Edwards, Utah; He’s not “Theodore,” to me, he’s Blue Edwards–the decent scoring guard for Utah and Milwaukee.  Blue did the same role for the Grizz (12.7 ppg) for three years before going to Europe.  Edwards is currently retired.  (An interesting aside, Blue Edwards is now known for being at the center of one of Canada’s leading child custody cases.  Apparently, Edwards had had a child out of wedlock with a woman in Vancouver.  Edwards and the woman battled for custody of the woman and Edward’s wife also made a claim for custody of the child, despite having no biological tie him.  The case went all the way to Canada’s Supreme Court before being resolved). 
 

Conclusion

It’s clear from a review of the above drafts that expansion drafts do not yield much impact.  Maybe four or five players from the draft end up even playing with the team.  And of the guys who end up playing with the expansion team, there is little chance of finding any sort of All Star.  It does seem, however, that the best strategy is to go with the young players with some track record of ability.  The best picks in these drafts (Dell Curry, Muggsy Bogues, Tyrone Corbin, Scott Skiles) were guys who weren’t starting on good teams.  Obviously, there are only a limited amount of this type of player but it should be noted that pretty much every young unproven player who was drafted in an expansion draft, made no impact for expansion teams. 

GM Report: Elgin Baylor

Overview

 

In April 1986, the Clippers were completing their second season in Los Angeles.  They were 32-50 and going nowhere.  Across town, the Lakers were dominating the headlines.  So, it was natural that the Clippers would try to bask in the Lakers’ reflected glory by tapping one of the Laker greats of the past.  In this case, Donald Sterling decided that Elgin Baylor as GM of the Clippers.  Baylor has sat in that post ever since.  Of course, not much has changed in Clipper Land.  The Clipps are still struggling as a franchise and they still are dwarfed by the Lakers.  Is Baylor to blame?  Well not really.  Technically Elgin Baylor is the GM of the Clippers.  But we all know that evaluating the Clippers’ personnel moves does not lie solely with Baylor.  Sterling calls the shots and Baylor goes to Secaucus, New Jersey each spring.  I don’t mean to understate Baylor’s decision making authority but its clear that the Clippers, for better of for worse, are a Sterling creation.

 

And mostly it’s been for worse.  Since the 1986-87 season (Baylor’s first year) the Clipps have been over .500 once (1991-92)  and even that was a so so 45-37 record.  They have made the playoffs only three times in these 18 years and won four total playoff games.  But there is a rub to this failure.  Many are quick to point out that Sterling, having made his money buying up depressed real estate and selling it for large profits, employs the same risk averse strategies in putting together Clipper teams.  Indeed agent Mark Terimini said in a Los Angeles Magazine article that “[w]hen you’re dealing with the Clippers from a contractual standpoint, you’re dealing with a mind-set that’s not aggressive to paying assets on the talent side, their style has been basically to wait for players to come to them and sign them on their terms, if at all possible.”

 

So what is the worth of a quasi-GM report in this case?  Well, not much.  But by looking at the Clipps’ moves over Baylor’s 18-year tenure, we can at least address the much-debated question of whether Sterling could have or should have better balanced his conservative fiscal bend with the desire to put the best possible team on the court.

 

Coaches

 

The Clippers’ futility is best evidenced by seeing the huge numbers of coaches they have employed since 1986 and the fact that most of them are retreads.  Check out their year-by-year coaches:

 

Year            Coach            W-L

1986-87    Don Chaney    12-70

1987-88    Gene Shue      17-65

1988-89    Gene Shue      10-28

                 Don Casey      11-33

1989-90   Don Casey       30-52

1990-91   Mike Schuler  31-51

1991-92   Mike Schuler  22-25
Larry Brown    23-12*

1992-93   Larry Brown    41-41*

1993-94   Bob Weiss       27-55

1994-95   Bill Fitch          17-65

1995-96   Bill Fitch          29-53

1996-97   Bill Fitch          36-46*

1997-98   Bill Fitch          17-65

1998-99   Chris Ford         9-41

1999-00   Chris Ford       11-34

                Jim Todd           4-33

2000-01   Alvin Gentry   31-51

2001-02   Alvin Gentry   39-43

2002-03   Alvin Gentry   19-39

             Dennis Johnson   8-16

2003-04 Mike Dunleavy 28-54

 

*Denotes playoff appearance

 

Twelve coaches in 18 years.  This is not great continuity.  Of course with the notable exceptions of Larry Brown (who blew town when he saw the team was all leaving as free agents) and Bill Fitch, there are no big names who coached the Clipps and in fact there are a couple of awful names in here too.  Don Casey was not well prepared (remember his time with the Nets too?) and Bob Weiss admitted to mailing in his time with the Clipps.

 

Fitch’s tenure was a bit stormy as he inherited a bare cupboard (Ron Harper, Mark Jackson, and Danny Manning all left town).  In fact, Fitch for his first two games of his Clipper career played the Blazers in Japan and were wiped out both times.  After the two blow outs, Fitch akready joked about leaving his team in Japan.  But Fitch built a decent team eventually (which fell apart when Loy Vaught had career-destroying back problems).

 

In the end when Fitch was fired, Sterling refused to pay Fitch for money due under the contract and they even ended up litigating.  Fitch’s attorney on Sterling: “Donald Sterling just can’t help himself. He is known throughout the basketball community as being extremely reluctant to part with his money. This situation is no different. Sterling just can’t stand paying Fitch for not coaching. He, therefore, sued Fitch, hoping that he would just roll over. Let me assure you, Fitch will not roll over.”  Fitch’s suit is still pending.

In order for a team like the Clipps to be successful, they really need to pay for a coach who will stick around a while.  Other teams that try to keep payroll down, Utah most notably, have kept stability by keeping a coach around with a large stature.  Indeed, going through a rung of coaches combined with constant personnel changes creates instability.  Obviously no coach could make the playoffs with some of the ugly Clipper teams but clearly the team can’t build to something meaningful until the team has a coach that feels like the voice of the franchise.  The good news is that Dunleavy is a good coach.  If he chooses to stay here long enough, the Clipps at least might finally have fighting chance of building a good team.

 

The Draft

 

The Draft.  If you’re a bad team, you really need to hit on some picks to break the cycle of losing.  Well, the Elgin Baylor Clipps certainly have had there fair share of picks.  It should also be noted that drafting seems to be the one area where Sterling has given Baylor and company some autonomy to make picks–mainly because draft picks aren’t usually expensive.  Of course there are some exceptions to this rule.  Remember, when Sterling decided to trade the pick that was Antonio McDyess because he looked like he might be expensive?  In any event, drafting has been Baylor’s main duty.  That and sitting in on the Drat Lottery.  Here’s Baylor’s first round drafting record:

 

Year        Pick

1986      None

1987      Reggie Williams (4th Pick)

              Joe Wolf (14th Pick)

              Ken Norman (19th Pick)

1988      Danny Manning (1st Pick)

              Charles Smith (3rd Pick)

              Gary Grant (15th Pick)

1989      Danny Ferry (2nd Pick)

1990      Bo Kimble (8th Pick)

              Loy Vaught (13th Pick)

1991      LeRon Ellis (22nd Pick)

1992      Randy Woods (16th Pick)

              Elmore Spencer (25th Pick)

1993      Terry Dehere (13th Pick)

1994      Lamond Muuray (7th Pick)

              Eric Piatkowski (15th Pick)

1995      Brent Barry (15th Pick)

1996      Lorenzen Wright (7th Pick)

1997      Maurice Taylor (14th Pick)

1998      Michael Olowokandi (1st Pick)

              Brian Skinner (22nd Pick)

1999      Lamar Odom (4th Pick)

2000      Darius Miles (3rd Pick)

              Keyon Dooling (10th Pick)

              Quentin Richardson (18th Pick)

2001      none (traded Tyson Chandler for Elton Brand)

2002      Chris Wilcox (8th Pick)

              Melvin Ely (12th Pick)

2003      Chris Kaman (6th Pick)

 

The trend in Clipper drafting is pretty clear.  They’ve been relatively successful with their mid-first rounders (Barry, Norman, Grant) but they’ve been absolutely killed with their top picks.  Research has shown that top three picks are where most of the NBA stars are found (and to a lesser extent in the top five).  When you get picks in that range, you must convert on some of them.  Sometimes due to bad luck and sometimes do to bad choices, the Clippers have not done well with their top five picks:

 

– In 1987, they took mediocre shooter Reggie Williams with Hall of Fame talent like Kevin Johnson, Scottie Pippen, and Reggie Miller on the board.  Put this pick in the bad choice category.

-In 1988, the Clipps had the consensus first pick in Danny Manning.  Manning played well as a Clipp but due to knee injuries wasn’t quite the Magic Johnson clone we all thought he’d be.  The Clipps didn’t miss a real Hall of Famer for Manning (arguably Mitch Richmond and Rik Smits) but that Manning didn’t develop as much as he might’ve was some bad luck.   (They also got Charles Smith for Hersey Hawkins which was a fair trade of top draft picks).

-In 1989, the Clipps took bust of busts Danny Ferry second overall.  The Clipps did parlay Ferry into solid guard Ron Harper but a second pick usually yields more value.  This was a weak draft and the Clipps only missed out on Sean Elliott and Glen Rice (good but not great players).

-As we mentioned above, in 1995, the Clipps traded the second pick (Antonio McDyess) for Brent Barry, Rodney Rogers, and Brian Williams (aka Bison Dele).  This was a decent package but McDyess was an All Star talent.  In addition, the Clipps could’ve had Rasheed Wallace (who admittedly could’ve been a problem in this environment) and Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett.  Bad drafting here.

-In 1998, the Clipps again had the first pick.  This time the Clipps shocked everyone by taking project Michael Olowokandi instead of some serious talents like Vince Carter, Paul Pierce, Mike Bibby, and Dirk Nowtizki.  Bad drafting again.

-In 2000, the Clipps took Darius Miles third overall.  Miles wasn’t that type of talent but that draft was so shallow that he was probably the right pick at that time.

-In 2001, the Clipps finally got an All Star with the top pick by trading the second pick (Tyson Chandler) for vet Elton Brand.

 

Seven top five picks over 18 years and the Clipps really blew three or four of them (if you count the Ferry deal).  Had bad luck with Manning’s injuries and the weak talent pool in 2000 and hit it once with Brand.  In all, you have to say Baylor and company have not drafted well.  The Clipps will have the second pick again this year, in what appears to another shallow draft.  In order to really bust out of its rut, the Clipps and Baylor really need to find another star in the draft.

 

Transactions: Trades/Signings

 

One our first articles examined Sterling’s personnel moves at length.  In a nut shell, we have seen that Sterling’s modus operandi is to not pay free agents.  He has a number of young players with potential seeking big deals and with few notable exceptions, Sterling has let the players walk.  As frustrating as that strategy my be to Clippers fans, Sterling has been right in almost all his free agent decisions.  The group of free agents have almost all sucked or, at the very least been overpaid, after leaving L.A..  Here’s the group:

 

Danny Manning: went to Suns in 1994-95 and played well until blowing out his knees in the middle of 1994-95

Ron Harper: in 1994-95 went to the Bulls and was an overpaid role player for five years

Loy Vaught: went to Pistons in 1998-99 and promptly destroyed his back, ending his career

Lamond Murray: went to Cleveland in 1999-00, played solid but his large contract has made him a pariah in Toronto

Brent Barry: traded away because they didn’t want to pay him.  Ended up playing well for Seattle with a fair contract too

Rodney Rogers: signed with the Suns in 1999-00 and was up-and-down, frustrating the Suns and now the Nets

Maurice Taylor: Signed with the Rockets to a ridiculously bad contract in 2000-01, he has been injured and ineffective 

Lorenzen Wright: Signed with Atlanta in 1999-00.  Has been a decent big man since.

Elton Brand: re-signed by Clipps in 2003-04 and has been great

Corey Maggette: re-signed by the Clipps in 2003-04, has been very good

Lamar Odom: Clipps declined to match his offer by Heat in 2003-04, he has played well but remains a risk

Michael Olowokandi: let him sign with Minnesota in 2003-04, where he has been an anchor—in a bad way

 

Sterling’s risk averse strategy clearly worked with free agents.  A cynic might note that the Clipps solid record in not overpaying free agents is partly a result of their failure to find many good players to begin with.  But the bottom line is that Sterling manages his salary cap well.

 

In terms of trades, the Clipps have made remarkably few big trades over Baylor’s tenure.  The notable deals have been mixed: they traded the pick that could’ve been McDyess/Rasheed/Garnett for filler but they also counterbalanced that (almost) by nabbing Brand.  Despite their relatively few major trades over this span, it should be noted that the Clipps have been rumored to be involved in some other big trades.  Sam Smith in the Jordan Rules reported that the Bulls flirted actually flirted with trading Michael Jordan for the Clipps young talent in the late 1980s (Charles Smith, Danny Manning, Ron Harper, and Gary Grant).  In addition, they Clipps pushed hard going after Pippen in 1994-95 when it appeared that Pippen wanted out of Chicago.  Ultimately, Pippen refused to report to the Clipp, quashing any deal.  Overall, however, the Clipps transactions center around the draft and usually letting free agents go.

 

Verdict

 

So, is the Sterling Way worthwhile?  From a profit perspective, it seems pretty good.  Truly, Sterling made a good investment.  In fact, Forbes magazine reported that the Clipps made a $16 million profit in 2003, twice the average franchise profit for that year.  Further, Sterling bought the Clipps for $12 million in 1981 and the franchise is now worth over $200 million.

 

Yeah, Sterling runs his business well from a profit stadnpoint but all this just begs the question whether he could balance the business end with the need to compete.  Insight into Sterling’s managing style was provided by a deposition transcript of Sterling published Houston Chronicle.  This transcript was taken by Fitch’s lawyer in the aforementioned breach of contract action:

— Do you play a role in the final decision to sign a player, re-sign a player, draft a player, not sign a player, anything like that?

Sterling — No.

Q — You don’t play any role in that?

Sterling — No.

Q — Let’s say signing a player.

Sterling — The basketball people do that.

Q — OK. And the basketball people being?

Sterling — Well, there is a personnel director. There is the general manager. There’s — I don’t even know. There’s some other people in that department.

Q — OK. Do you have any input whatsoever in the decision making, or is it just, they just let you know what they’re doing.

Sterling — They let me know what they are doing … I really don’t have the experience.

Q — How about [Clipper coach during 1993-94 season] Bob Weiss? Have you ever known him to lie?

Sterling — I don’t know who he is. [Weiss also sued Sterling for withholding salary after Weiss was fired].

So, Sterling is clearly a cagey guy.  You certainly can’t fault him for running his business well from a profit perspective.  But its clear from reviewing some of the Clipper moves that they are not run at an optimal balance.  There is a possibility to compete here.  Whether Sterling ever seizes is it doubtful.  There have been some rumors that Kobe Bryant could be coming Clipper Way.  I personally don’t ever seen Sterling taking that kind of financial risk for the mere opportunity to win a few more games.  That’s just not the way he is programmed.

Re-Tracing Yinka

I was surprised to read this weekend that former Net and former lottery pick bust, Yinka Dare died of a heart attack at age 32.  The heart attack was apparently due to an arrhythmia that Dare developed in college.  I’m one of the few people who can say that I, as a Nets fan, saw Dare play as a pro on any sort of consistent basis. 

Dare is somewhat of an emblem of the futility of the pre-Jason Kidd Nets.  Dare left George Washington after his sophomore year against the better advice of his coach Mike Jarvis, scouts, and basically the whole world.  The thought was that he needed more time to develop as a player.  In hindsight, the nay sayers were wrong.  Dare didn’t need time to develop, he just wasn’t a good basketball player.  He wasn’t going to develop, he was what he was, which was a poor NBA player, with no skills.  They nay sayers were also wrong about Dare’s decision to leave college early.  He was miraculously drafted by the New Jersey Nets with the fourteenth pick overall (ahead of Eric Piatkowski, Aaron McKie, Wesley Person, and Charlie Ward).

So, Yinka got a big contract (remember there was no rookie wage scale back then).  Back in 1994, the Nets were coming off a semi-successful run with Kenny Anderson and Derrick Coleman blossoming.  All they needed was a shooting guard and a center to balance it out.  The Nets could have taken Person for the shooter but instead gambled on Dare.  This was not a great move.  Dare NBA career was as bad as can be:

In his first year, 1994-95, Dare played in one game for three minutes.  He threw up one shot an air ball, and then had season ending knee surgery.  Dare came back in 1995-96 and the Nets were determined to try to squeeze some value out of their draft pick.  Coach Butch Beard tried to start Dare but he lacked skills on both ends of the court.  In 58 games and 626 minutes, Dare had zero assists, compared to 72 turnovers.  This was such an oddball stat, writers speculated that Dare probably should’ve been able to at least get an assist by accident.  But he couldn’t. 

The worse thing that happenedto Dare, however, was the mid-season trade of Coleman for Shawn Bradley.  Dare lost his starting job to Bradley and became the bench ornament that he was meant to be.  At least in 1996-97, Dare was able to rack up three assists (in 41 games).  Because he had a long term deal, the Nets had to bring back Dare in 1997-98.  Dare played ten games and 60 minutes until he was traded to Orlando as part of a package for Rony Seikaly at the trade deadline.  But Dare was traded as a salary slot and not as a player that Orlando wanted so they immediately cut him and Dare’s  NBA career was over.  He played in 110 career games and 1,002 minutes and ended up with a career total offour assists(!) and 96 turnovers.

So, what happened to Yinka after his being cut?  Well, in the summer of 1998, Dare went to Greece to play with his native Nigeria in the World Championships.  Dare plated three games averaging 8 ppg and 7 rpg on 29% shooting.  After the World Championships, Dare’s career becomes a little hazy.  He bounced around the CBA and the USBL.  In 1999-00, Dare had a brief stint with Fort Wayne of the CBA before being released.  He had the similar appearances with Idaho in 2000-01 and Saskatchewan in 2001-02.  I could find no available stats for those cameos.  Yinka also had a tryout with the NBDL in the last year.  Dare’s last recorded professional appearance was in the USBL in the summer of 2003, playing briefly for Darryl Dawkins and the Pennsylvania Bull Dawgs, who released Dare after five games.  He apparently was still looking to play after that.  Last Saturday, Dare had just finished working out in his home in Northern New Jersey when he died of a heart attack. 

YearLeagueTeamGamesPPGRPGAPGFG%
1994-95NBAN.J.10100
1995-96NBAN.J.582.83.100.438
1996-97NBAN.J.411.42.10.10.352
1997-98NBAN.J.101.21.70.10.222
1997-98Intl. Comp.Nigeria37.18.11.70.294
1999-00CBAFt. Wayne  N/A  
2000-01CBAIdaho  N/A  
2001-02CBASask.  N/A  
2002-03USBLPa.51.26.10.30.143

Dare was never a good player and he was never meant to be either.  He became something of a joke in New Jersey, a testament to Jersey’s bad choices during their lean years.  But he the Nets because he was big and strong.   You would’ve thought if Nets could’ve done a bit more due diligence on Dare it would’ve have been apparent that he couldn’t play in the CBA, let alone the NBA.  Still, their loss was Dare’s gain.  He squeezed four years and a nice contract out of the Nets.  In the end, he had the last laugh.  It would have been nice if had gotten the chance to laugh for a bit longer.