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Struggling NBA Franchises (Part 2)

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Clippers owner Donald Sterling couldn't field a winning team if he bought the Harlem Globetrotters.This is the second-part of a two-part series examining clubs that are going nowhere. Here are three more teams with no discernible plan, plus my ideas for a basic plan for each to get things going right now. Here is Part One.

Los Angeles Clippers

Major Players: Mike Dunleavy (GM from 2008 to 2010, coach from 2003 to 2010), Neil Olshey (GM since March), Donald Sterling (owner since 1981)

The Theoretical Plan: Build around Blake Griffin. Accrue players who sound good on paper and/or would play well in video games where their passing, hoops IQ, and lack of teamwork aren’t real issues.

The Mess: Sterling is a jerk who makes terrible decisions. He in no way is committed to making the Clippers work, as evidenced by their 4 playoff appearances in 30 years. Dunleavy, who was making decisions for the organization before officially becoming the GM in 2008, messed things up pretty bad recently, and Olshey (who was once a soap opera actor) picked up where Dunleavy Sr. left off with a terrible draft this past year. PG Baron Davis is slowing down, inconsistent, often misses 10-20 games due to injuries, and can’t shoot, and he’s got three more years at $42 million. You’ve heard of a lot of their players, but most of them aren’t real tuned in when the ball isn’t in their hands. Griffin is rightfully the centerpiece of the future, but you have to wonder about a 21-year-old who already missed an entire season due to knee trouble.

Solution?: Stop signing players who think it’s all about them or whose games are straight-up questionable. I’d do damn near anything to trade the entire backcourt (Davis, Eric Gordon, Randy Foye, Eric Bledsoe, Willie Warren, Mardy Collins) in one fell swoop. Yes, I would get rid of Gordon in a second; he forces the action, isn’t real careful with the ball, is not a good defender, and missed 20 games last year over five different absences (8 in Nov., 1 in Dec., 3 in Jan., 5 in March, and 3 in April). I’m OK with the frontline for right now (Griffin, Chris Kaman, Ryan Gomes, Craig Smith, and DeAndre Jordan), and the coach needs to know that the offense must run from the inside-out; get the big men touches. I’ll pick up any guards who rely on know-how and hustle over athleticism because this collection of 1-on-1 artists isn’t working. The Clippers have some money sitting around next summer (especially if they don’t re-sign Gordon), so I’m going after guards who are smart and will try hard, and I’m definitely not chasing any big-name scorers with all my cap space.

Toronto Raptors

Major Players: Bryan Colangelo (GM since 2006)

The Theoretical Plan: Lock in former #1 pick Andrea Bargnani forever and hope he gets good. Pray that second-year SF/SG DeMar DeRozan becomes an All-Star.

The Mess: When the theory behind the team’s plan isn’t any good, you can imagine the reality. Colangelo has proven over the years that he will sign (and overpay) anyone to a long-term contract no matter how glaring their weaknesses. There is no cohesion to this club whatsoever, and no one can figure out what the Raptors are going to do with PG Jose Calderon, who is currently the team’s highest paid player at $9 million. Good luck guessing what sort of system they’ll run this year, how they’re supposed to play, their identity, any of that. Their defense is horrendous (at least they drafted Ed Davis), and a cursory look at their roster doesn’t turn up enough scoring to counter that defense.

Solution?: Thankfully they have some money next year, but not too much. They need to re-identify who they’re building around because Bargnani isn’t it. If they could get a smart PG who can play some defense, that would be a start (Calderon can’t defend, Jarrett Jack is often out of control). Right now I look at this squad and think they should be a fast break group. The defense isn’t there and DeRozan and Leandro Barbosa would be decent running mates, plus Bargnani could spot up for transition 3’s since no team in their right mind would ever trade for his contract and he doesn’t want to rebound anyway. They need to identify some sort of plan from this point forward because I can’t figure out what the hell is supposed to be going on with this roster. In theory they got something with their young interior (Davis, Soloman Alabi, Joey Dorsey, Amir Johnson, Reggie Evans, Dwayne Jones – many of whom are better than you think); if they could try to out-physical clubs inside with whoever works out from that batch (Bargnani is far too weak in a finesse sort of way to fit this plan, btw) and then try to pick up a decent guard or two who are passable on defense, they’d have a start.

Charlotte Bobcats

Major Players: Michael Jordan (minority owner from 2006 to 2010, majority owner since March), Rod Higgins (GM since 2007, but he is/was (?) just an advisor to Jordan)

The Theoretical Plan: Build any sort of local support they can at this time and hope for that to result in something that can work in the long-term.

The Mess: It’s become quite clear over the years that Jordan does not know how to run a franchise, how to evaluate talent, or how to treat people like normal human beings. He wants to be more hands-on with Charolotte now that he’s the majority owner, and that spells doom. There’s noticeably no plan in place for making this franchise better over the long-run, and they’re so far in debt in a city that already lost one franchise recently and with a fanbase that barely showed up for games last year during a trip to the playoffs, it’s tough to imagine this train going anywhere good. The only person holding things together right now is coach Larry Brown, but he’ll likely be gone after this season. The club just lost starting PG Raymond Felton to free agency and will now depend on D.J. Augustine (regressed as a second-year player) and most-injured-player-ever Shaun Livingston to run this team.

Solution?: For starters, anyone on earth other than Jordan should be making draft picks. Augustin was drafted at #9 in 2008 when you absolutely had to take C Brook Lopez that late into the draft. In 2009 they picked up Gerald Henderson at #12 when tons of good PG’s were available (Darren Collison, Ty Lawson, Eric Maynor, Rodrique Beaubois). They somehow had no picks at all this summer. Next, do what it takes to hire a coach (after Brown leaves) who has had some success in the past making something out of nothing, like Brown did with the club last year. I’d spend whatever the hell it takes to part Lionel Hollins from Memphis, and even if that’s not possible, a good coach who emphasizes defense is an absolute must for a team this desperate for revenue from home playoff games. From there, keep Jordan away from making trades, or he’ll end up giving away players like Shannon Brown and Jared Dudley again. And no more signing guys like Tyrus Thomas to 5-year deals. I’m OK building around Gerald Wallace, Stephen Jackson, and Boris Diaw right now, but you need to pick up more players who bust their butts on D and can play efficiently and unselfishly on O - guys like Dudley. They basically have to try to build themselves like a poor man’s San Antonio and hope they stumble upon an awesome draft pick at some point (Lopez sure would have helped).

Quick Note About The Memphis Grizzlies

Owner Michael Heisley is well known for being cheap, and Chris Wallace is the only GM whose decisions I trust less than Minnesota’s David Kahn. This combination is absolutely devastating, and I’ve written about them more than a few times, so I figured I’d lay off on this occasion. It needs to be said, though, that any team that signs Rudy Gay to a max contract and also picks up Zach Randolph and Allen Iverson all within 12 months are not serious about being a good club.

I wrote about their hypothetical roster over a year ago, but I’ll repeat it with some updates. By simply not making a few dumb trades and changing some draft picks over the past few years (all of these decisions seemed bad at the time, so there’s no revisionist history going on here), the Grizzlies’ roster right now could be: Pau Gasol, Kevin Love, Rudy Gay (who would have signed for $5-7 million less per season), Hakim Warrick, Mike Conley, Tyreke Evans/Stephen Curry, Sam Young/DeJuan Blair, probably could have re-signed Mike Miller and/or Kyle Lowry, rookie SF Xavier Henry (who still isn’t signed because Wallace is playing games with his salary), and rookie SG Dominique Jones (who they sold to Dallas). All of this, and they’d still have tons of cash sitting around. Just saying.


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