A Look at Struggling NBA Franchises (Part 1)


Pistons GM Joe Dumars might want to start thinking about the future of his club and plan accordingly.Not every team has the ability to land a superstar, spend tons of money, or sit in a prime location that would attract free agents.

For this reason, certain clubs are forced to make decisions carefully and with great attention to purpose. These teams need a clear direction and to make moves that advance the franchise in that direction if they would like to be competitive on a regular basis. Some clubs have made headway with this task (Milwaukee has built a team-first offense and committed defense under Scott Skiles’ direction.

The Spurs continue to build inside-out with smart ball players, with a heavy emphasis on scouting and signing overseas talent.).

The following teams have not done this and are floating in the gray, shapeless purgatory of NBA non-factor-hood. What sort of mess have they gotten themselves into? What can be done? Read on to find out.

Detroit Pistons

Major Players: Joe Dumars (GM since 2000)

The Theory: Hang onto pieces of yesteryear’s success (Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, and Ben Wallace), who should keep them competitive, while adding pieces around them. You almost get the impression Dumars thinks he’s running the show in a similar fashion to the Spurs.

The Mess: As has been mentioned several times this summer, the team has way too many guys who play on the wing and need the ball in their hands to be effective on offense: Hamilton, Prince, Ben Gordon (terrible 5-year, $55 million signing last year), Will Bynum, Rodney Stuckey, and new signee Tracy McGrady. They terribly need a big who can score, which this summer’s drafting of Greg Monroe in no way addressed (even though what they needed didn’t really exist at that point in the first round, they should have at least picked up Derrick Caracter or Luke Harangody in the second), and second round pick-up Terrico White is a me-first SG who doesn’t pass. Last year’s addition of Charlie Villanueva (5-year, $35 million) looked like a bad contract from the start and even worse now that he’s played for a year of it. And their defense is terrible, particularly since they don’t have a true center who is willing to hustle and bang inside on that end of the floor.

Solution?: Thanks for your service Dumars, but you’ve gotta go. Detroit had that star-less team working in the mid-90’s, but they’re so nearly impossible to make work at that level, he won’t be able to do it again no matter how hard he tries. So the new GM needs to identify which young talent is worth using as future building blocks and start from there (notice I said building blocks, not centerpieces or untouchables). I’m looking at PF Jonas Jerebko, G Rodney Stuckey, PG Will Bynum, and F Jason Maxiell. Unfortunately the club is kinda stuck with big, bad contracts for a few years, but they should be able to trade Prince’s expiring contract for a true big who can play defense. The Pistons have to focus their next few drafts on players who clearly can bring it on the offensive or defensive side without being a giant slacker on the other (Greg Monroe was a bad pick at #7 for this club; he’s so-so on both offense and defense, and his big skill is passing out of the post…hmmm, not the pick you make for a rebuilding team). What type of players would I have targeted at that spot? Cole Aldrich (defensive center with offensive efficiency), Xavier Henry (3-point machine with great work ethic and attitude), or Patrick Patterson (PF who is much more ready at both ends than Monroe yet is equally unselfish). I’m also telling coach John Kuester that the future starts now, so the minutes for almost everyone else need to drop, although I’m pretty cool with Hamilton, Prince (until he’s traded), and Wallace being used as the wise leaders who show the young guys I want to build with how it’s done.

Golden State Warriors

Major Players: Don Nelson (coach since 2006), Larry Riley (GM since 2009), Chris Mullins (GM from 2004-2009)

The Theory: Golden State is doing some combination of building around young talent and for the run-and-gun. Supposedly their centerpiece is Monta Ellis. Or maybe Stephen Curry. Or is it both? David Lee is meant to bring stability to the inside.

The Mess: Nelson is terrible at developing young talent, yet they continue to stockpile youngsters and employ Nelson. Ellis demands the ball and is a nut, so he takes away valuable touches and leadership opportunities from Curry, who does everything the right way and clearly has the higher ceiling. They lost four of their top young talents this off-season by trading SF/PF Anthony Randolph and SG Kelenna Azubuike, and letting PF Anthony Tolliver and SG/SF Anthony Morrow sign elsewhere for a combined $6 million per year. Those four plus Curry plus C.J. Watson (signed to a 3-year, $10 million deal and traded to the Bulls for a second round pick) would have been a nice little nucleus of enjoyable youngsters that would have cost almost nothing.

Solution?: For starters, get rid of Nelson; he’s far past his expiration date. Next, get rid of Ellis because he will never be the leader or best player on a good team, which he doesn’t realize. That means he’s in the way: commit to trading him for anything that understands team basketball - anything. They have a little bit of money sitting around after this year, so the Warriors need to a) establish that Curry is who they’re hitching their wagon to, b) get a coach with a successful track record of turning a random collection of players into either a decent offense or defense, and c) decide on your starters and play them as such (Golden State had only three players last year play in 25 or more games and start more than 70% of them: Curry, Ellis, and Andris Biedrins). Once it’s time to look for free agents next summer, they should be looking at players who are relatively inexpensive and who compliment Curry and Lee and who know how to play to their strengths and not force the action. Putting smart role players around these two, plus something resembling a normal amount of injuries in a season, Golden State could actually be a playoff contender by 2012.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Major Players: David Kahn (GM since 2009), Kevin McHale (GM from 1995 to 2009), Kurt Rambis (coach since 2009), Glen Taylor (owner since 1994)

The Theory: Build up enough young talent that Ricky Rubio will eventually want to leave Spain and come to the U.S. to sign with the NBA team that drafted him.

The Mess: I know talking crap on Kahn and the Wolves is low-hanging fruit, but it’s impossible to discuss poorly run franchises and not bring them up as Exhibit A. Basically it comes down to Kahn not getting it. He goes overboard on one thing at a time; last year it was point guards (drafted four and signed another) and this year it’s power forward/centers. In theory they’re a running team that Rubio will complete next year, but Rubio does not want to play here. On top of that, Rambis is cramming the triangle offense (which basically uses PG’s as spot-up 3-point shooters: think Derek Fisher or Steve Kerr) down the throats of a club that’s supposed to be turned over someday soon to an attacking PG. Kahn recently called the signing of Darko Milicic “manna from heaven.” Don’t forget that this club made Kevin Love a reserve last year, backing up Ryan Gomes and Milicic. Love averaged 11 rpg in 29 minutes, plus he’s actually willing to make contact with other players (Gomes and Milicic combined to average 2.9 free throw attempts in 55 minutes per game). Taylor is an idiot who adds his two cents only when it’s guaranteed to be something truly stupid, like saying most-competitive-man-ever and all-time fan favorite KG tanked it during the 2007 season. And by not firing Kahn yesterday.

Solution?: Taylor is one of the two or three biggest roadblock owners in the league. He doesn’t know basketball and he’ll stand behind front office guys who make bad decision after bad decision, so whatever good changes could happen would probably be stopped by him or someone he would hire. That being said, the T-Wolves have to trade Rubio. He doesn’t want to play in Minnesota and he’s a big bargaining chip. Trade him to the Knicks or whoever will give up some skill or talent in return. From there…wow, they’re such a jumbled mess it’s tough to figure out what to do with what they have. The only moving-forward talent on the roster is Love, rookie SF Wesley Johnson, SF Corey Brewer, and PF Anthony Tolliver. The franchise has plenty of cap space, so they need to find a way to get players who actually possess a few specific skills, not low-end all-around sort of players (all but worthless to teams starting from scratch). Same thing in the draft. You know what would have been a better draft day than whatever it was they traded for that no one cares about already? Keeping first rounders Luke Babbit (lights out shooter) and Trevor Booker (athletic, hard working forward). They need guys with very clear skill sets and then a coach who can implement a system that plays to their strengths. Rambis and his triangle have to go since that offense has only ever worked with teams that already have established stars. I’d start by finding a heady, young PG who’s more know-how than flash – someone like Ramon Sessions who they just traded away for the right to waive Delonte West.

Look for the breakdown of three more teams lacking direction in Part 2 on Tuesday.


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