Monday, January 7, 2008

Chemacterility???

...San Antonio's organization, to its never-ending credit, values chemistry and goodguymanship (I just made that word up) over everything else.

Here's the defining why-the-Spurs-win-and-keep-winning story: They gave away Luis Scola this summer not just for luxury tax reasons, but because they were afraid that Scola, a No. 1 scoring option for Argentina's national team as well as the Euro leagues, wouldn't be able to adjust to playing 20-25 minutes a game as a supporting guy on a great team. They didn't even want to take the chance that he'd mess them up. So they shipped him out. What's even more fascinating is the Spurs have won four titles (and counting) with a specific strategy that nobody else emulated until Boston voyaged down the same defense-character-chemistry path this season. And the Celtics are 20-2 right now. Hmmmm.

When I initially read this little diddy from ESPN's Bill Simmons' NBA Player Valuation article, it stuck with me. It is not that Spurs and Celtics are the only teams that are dedicated to this mantra. It is what the Pistons have used and are using right now. It is what Portland is building with Brandon Roy and Greg Oden.

It seems that having some great basketball in Boston for a change has enlightened Simmons because he started off the New Year with an entire article on this same subject while also coining a new word...Chemacterility.

Here's the new mantra for savvy NBA teams: "Chemacterility." Why haven't you heard the term before? Because I just made it up. But it's an amalgam of three concepts that have formed the foundation of the Duncan era in San Antonio: chemistry, character and (cap) flexibility. As soon as Duncan arrived, in 1997, Popovich and Buford began to avoid bad guys and bad contracts, preferring role players, quality guys and short-term deals. They're so fanatic about chemistry that when Luis Scola jumped to the NBA this summer, they traded his rights, partly because they weren't sure he could adjust from being a star in Spain to being a supporting player here. They didn't even want to take the chance he'd screw them up!

Just like Simmons, some things should be obvious for an NBA GM getting a million dollar plus salary to try and build a champion. Either NBA owners are not fans of the game or they just real stupid. If every media outlet, blog and fan message board are screaming that a draft pick or contract is horrible the second it scrolls across ESPN then what is the point of being a 'former player' or having a scouting department?

There are four assets available to NBA GMs in building a roster: draft picks, salary exceptions, cap space, and roster slots. Every NBA team has equal access to all four assets and NBA GMs that mismanage even one of the four usually send their teams into a tailspin eventually. Now this usually leads to the GM being fired but unfortunately, the problems the fired GM created remain after he is long gone (and working in the league office...Stu Jackson). This is what Memphis Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace is about to have to deal with in the 2008 trade deadline and offseason.

The first thing a new GM needs to do is reset the four assets back to neutrality or as close to possible. Unfortunately, sometimes this requires making some hard decisions. This is why I liked the Darko Milicic signing. It followed one of my NBA GM RULES: Never sign a marginal talent to a contract for more than three years. So regardless of if Darko develops or not, the Grizzlies are not saddled down with an untradeable player which hampers you in any and all trade discussions by limiting your options.

The mismanagement of the four assets is what turned the Grizzlies from an up and coming playoff team, back into a bottom of the barrel lottery team. Draft picks were wasted, salary cap exemptions were given to bad players, and roster slots were filled with players that couldn't contribute in the present or the future. Mismanagement of the four assets is the first sign that the walls are coming down. It is what is happening in Phoenix right now but is masked because the have so much talent at the top of that roster. However, the Suns will be a lottery team by the 2011 draft. They have wasted draft picks, given out bad contracts and they lack salary cap flexibility. The smart move for them is to start the rebuilding process this summer especially if Shawn Marion is foolish enough to opt out of his contract.

Back to the Grizzlies...

What will Chris Wallace do? Regardless of what we want to say to fool ourselves, the Grizzlies are a bad team with a poor roster makeup. We lack defensive minded players, we have a lot of money tied into players in suits (your inactive list shouldn't equate to a near MAX contract), and our two highest paid players are Pau Gasol and Mike Miller. If his response is to wait three years until all those contracts roll of the cap, he will spend a lot of time in the forum alone. It is not possible to build a contender with the Grizzlies roster and salary structure unless Rudy Gay and Michael Conley become All NBA level players on their rookie contracts. Possible but not bloody likely.

I know most will counter with the fact that in Portland; Steve Francis, Raef LaFrentz, Darius Miles and Joe Przyzbilla are their four highest paid players. However, Portland GM Kevin Pritchard (former San Antonio Spurs scout) took over prior to the 2006 draft (plus LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy minus Sebastian Telfair). The cost for turning Telfair into Brandon Roy was taking on Raef LaFrentz's contract. Steve Francis is a result of sending Zach Randolph to purgatory and due to injuries Miles and Przyzbilla remain on the pay roll. After next season, I am betting that all four well be gone even if it does mean buying out Miles.


If Wallace truly is interested in bringing a parade to Beale Street then some tough decisions have to be made that go beyond talent. The Grizzlies have to get back to a state in which they are maximizing all four of their assets. Until then, we will continue our annual trip through mediocrity...or worse.

4 comments:

GrizzGM said...

very nice entry! loved it!


are you gunning for tillery's job?

ChipC3 said...

I have to disagree with some premises here. First, San Antonio may be built on charecter but winning the lottery both times they were in it didn't hurt either. If San Antonio hadn't gotten David Robinson and Tim Duncan would people be saying San Antonio was so brilliant?

Likewise, how can anyone equate Boston acquiring Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett as trying to re-create San Antonio's system? San Antonio drafted their best three players. They didn't empty their bench and their draft pick bank for a short term shot at success.

Likewise, Memphis ridding themselves of two players under 30 years old for nothing (or at least nothing mentioned in this blog) doesn't seem to be the answer. If Memphis wins the lottery next summer then was Wallace smart or dumb for not ridding the team of established players? If Memphis jettisons Gasol and Miller for draft picks and ends up with two non-lottery picks and doesn't do better than 5th in the lottery was Wallace smart?

The team has played about 30 games at most together with their starting lineup together. Not one of these players will be 30 next season. Three of them will be under 25. Throw in the maturation of Navarro to the NBA game and some cap space from the movement of one of the suits referred and a promising future is ahead.

With at least another year to add in a lottery pick it is not the time to panic and make long-term decisions that would doom the franchise to non-contention for 3-5 more years. Consider how long it will take Minnesota to recover and they were rebuilding before trading Garnett who is older than any starter on the Grizzlies team.

Even Blazer's Edge (http://www.blazersedge.com/main/4) under their Pick 6 blog has recognized that the 8 man rotation Portland currently has won't last three years together. Roy and Aldridge are their cornerstones but after that how many of their players will hang around playing 20 minutes a night.

The bottom line is before trashing what you have it is best to have a plan on where you want to be and work toward that goal. Saying to throw out the baby with the bathwater may seem pleasing but if you don't have an idea of how it will leave you in pursuit of your goal it makes less sense than doing nothing.

Gasol, Miller and Gay are producing together for the first time this season, Conley is developing but will struggle going forward as teams begin to scout out his game and Darko is finally developing his game. Patience during this time of adjustment is called for not panic.

The one intelligent comment made is that some tough decisions need to be made. Wallace is smart to take his time and make sure the decisions are the correct ones and not rush into a deal just to appear to be doing something.

Anonymous said...

Nothing to add to Chip's remarks, really. But I like to write, so . . .

The other thing that's been left out of these entries is the factor of just plain old, straight up LUCK.

Sometimes, the #1 pick pans out (Duncan, Shaq, Dwight Howard, LeBron, Yao), sometimes they don't (Kwame Brown, Joe Smith).

Sometimes, you find a steal late in the draft (Ginobli, Parker, Arenas) sometimes you don't (Troy Bell, Antonio Burks, Dahntay Jones).

And sometimes, a bad deal gets made worse. I mean, really. Was ANYBODY paying attention to LeBron when the Otis Thorpe deal was made? NOPE. Enter luck:

We get REAL lucky in 2003, and LeBron's in Beale St. Blue with Pau, and we're likely a serious threat for the WCF every year.

We get plain old lucky, and that Thorpe deal never would have been made, and we'd have Melo, Wade or Bosh here.

Or, we could have been UNlucky, gotten any of those guys here and had them suffer a career-threatening/ending injury. And we're back in the lottery.

San Antonio certainly has a recipe for success: stability in front office, stability in coaching, coach and star player on same page, role players knowing their roles, etc.

But they've gotten lucky, too.
Lucky that Duncan, Ginobli and Parker have not had season-ending injuries. Lucky that Ginobli and Parker were available that late in those drafts. Lucky that all of it was able to mesh so well. Lucky to pick up Robert Horry and Michael Finley and Brent Barry. And finally, lucky rebounds, steals, buzzer beaters.

So for the Grizz, I think we're on the right track. I hope Iavaroni stays for at least 5-6 years (an eternity in coaching). Ditto Wallace. Right now, we essentially have DUAL CORES (Rudy, Pau, Mike) or (Rudy, Conley, Navarro, Kyle, Darko, Hak) to build around.

And most of these young players have lots of growing (and growing together) to do. This team is starting to gel. Watch.

L3E

MemphisX said...

First let me address Chip...

You are mistaken. San Antonio was a good organization BEFORE Tim Duncan arrived. They just hadn't won a championship. We have yet to reach the level of San Antonio pre-Tim Duncan. So yes, Robinson made them a winner and Duncan brought titles but if you think it is simply a matter of winning the right lottery than you really underestimate the power of a good organization. Orlando has had all the luck of San Antonio but the organization is one of the worse in the NBA and despite having all the luck in the world, they continually squander hall of fame level talent.

Although, Boston did not acquire their players in the same manner, the underlying theme is similar. Nothing is going to ever be 100% identical.

If Memphis wins the lottery this summer, it actually makes the Grizzlies management dumber. If you are building around Conley, Gay, and the 2008 lottery pick then why the heck are you not using Gasol and Miller to clean out the Swifts, Damons, and Cardinals? Why are you paying $30 million dollars for players that are really not part of your core (and how can they be if they are6-7 years older than Gay and Conley)? The best players coming out are 19-21 years old. How long until they are ready to contribute to a upper level NBA team?

I know the foundation of Portland is Roy, Oden, and Aldridge. That is why it didn't matter what they got for Zach Randolph, his presence was not doing anything for the Blazers future except reducing attendance.

Maybe you are giddy over the last three games but IMO, they are not producing wins and "turning it up" during meaningless games is the specialty for Gasol and Miller. This season is over. So there is no performance pressure on Miller and Gasol to contend for a playoff spot. If you think players prove their worth on teams with garbage records then your valuation methods are different than mine.

Nobody who has paid any lick of attentin to the last 5 years of the NBA is taking Gasol/Miller seriously. Come on Chip, you can't be drinking the kool aid again? They are not ready for prime time. The last three games are no different than the first three.