HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Under the new collective bargaining agreement, screw-ups drafting, trading and signing free agents carry greater consequence than ever before. Teams can no longer simply spend their way out of mistakes. A more severe luxury tax, a crushing repeater tax and annual restrictions on exceptions, plus other roster-building limitations are changing the way front offices think — and hire.
More organizations are looking out of the box to find new minds with new ideas from differing backgrounds to better evaluate talent. The Memphis Grizzlies last year hired then-ESPN.com columnist John Hollinger as vice president of basketball operations, a move straight out of baseball’s “Moneyball.”
Hollinger is a leader in the advanced statistical analysis movement increasingly carving out significant space in nearly every NBA front office. For all teams, and especially tight-fisted small market franchises like Memphis, determining the subtleties and nuances of a player’s game and how that player benefits the team structure, at what position, for how long and for how much is paramount to sustainability.
“With the rules set up the way they are, there’s minimal room for error,” Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien said during the playoffs. “You’ve got to be very thoughtful in your approach to how you build your team.”
Last week, Yahoo! Sports reported that the San Antonio Spurs, one of the league’s legendary talent evaluating organizations, particularly internationally, dipped into the ESPN work force after hiring respected recruiting analyst Dave Telep. He worked as a senior analyst for the network and owns and operates Dave Telep Scouting Services. As a recruiting analyst, Telep watches more high school and college basketball in a year than most people will in three lifetimes.
He can provide the Spurs reams of information on the character and talent development of players across the United States from a young age, theoretically giving San Antonio an edge in future drafts. Think of the coming day when the Spurs’ Big Three really will ride off into the sunset and the organization will once again — gasp! — draft in the top 20 or even 15 and will be seeking a franchise-type player to remain relevant.
The longtime Mark Cuban–Donnie Nelson-led Dallas Mavericks didn’t raid ESPN this summer, but they did make a significant hire that underscores the critical nature of talent evaluation in today’s practically hard-capped NBA. Gersson Rosas was lured away from the Houston Rockets to take over as the Mavs’ general manager, a title vacated in 2005 by Don Nelson when he stepped aside as GM/coach.
“I think I bring a strong basketball evaluation perspective, a strong process-oriented focus,” Rosas said. “The responsibility that Mark’s given me is to support the positive things that are going here, evaluate the areas that we need to improve on and continue the efforts of the staff to improve that.”
Unlike Hollinger and Telep, Rosas, 35, did rise through an NBA front office — from video coordinator and scout with the Rockets to becoming the GM of the Rio Grande Vipers, Houston’s NBA D-League team that won two titles under his control. Like Hollinger, Rosas is a proponent of cutting-edge analytics and technology as key player-evaluation tools. And like both men, Rosas was hired to implement his areas of expertise to strengthen Dallas’ talent evaluation processes.
In consecutive summers, Dallas did not land its top free-agent targets. They also don’t possess a base of young talent, leaving them a franchise in flux since shifting roster-building strategies following the 2011 championship and ratification of the new CBA. In chasing titles throughout the 2000s, Dallas often overspent to get players it wanted and used first-round picks as trade chips. Still, they’ve also missed badly on first-round selections such as Mo Ager (2006), Rodrigue Beaubois (2009), Dominique Jones (2010) and Jared Cunningham (2012).
With Dallas now looking up in the Western Conference, drafting well and finding the best-suited, most cost-effective free agents are imperative to building a sustainable roster. That was implied in the Mavs’ surprising hire of a rising, young executive to be their GM
“Where this team is, the focus on the draft, on trades and free agency is paramount, and we’ve got to make sure that our processes are thorough, that they’re very detailed and that we can make the best, educated decision that you can make,” Rosas said. “This isn’t the type of business where you bat a thousand. You want to make the right decisions for the right reasons. Sometimes, unfortunately, they won’t go your way, but we want to be prepared when all those opportunities present themselves.”