Posts Tagged ‘Rod Higgins’

Executive of the Year: Ryan McDonough

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: McDonough answers questions from fans

Architects and general contractors hear all the oohs and aahs. Demolition crews just try to get in and get out, completing their gnarly but necessary work without soiling the carpet.

Phoenix’s Ryan McDonough figured to be one of the latter, doing a lot more tear-down than build-up in his first full year as the Suns’ general manager. Only he axed and crowbarred his way to something pretty impressive, winding up as the choice here at Hang Time HQ as the NBA’s 2013-14 Executive of the Year.

Technically, none of us in the media votes for the EOY — that’s done by executives from the 30 teams. But McDonough would get points from anywhere for helping turn the Suns into one of the league’s happiest stories from start nearly to end. Don’t put too much stock in that flameout in the final week. The Suns nearly doubled last season’s victory total (they won only 25 then) and became only the second team to win 48 and miss the postseason since the NBA went to its 16-team format. Their record would have tied for third in the East.

This is a tale of the Suns rising in the West and the role McDonough played. In this year of (cough) “tanking” — more accurately described as avowed rebuilding — Phoenix was supposed to be bottom and center. McDonough made moves to clear the roster, open up salary-cap space and stockpile draft picks, rounding up a coaching staff fresh and upbeat enough to endure the losing without fraying.

Double their victories? Bah. Las Vegas oddsmakers pegged the Suns’ over/under at 21.5, a swoon from last season.

It didn’t take long for Phoenix to make the experts look silly. They won five of their first seven and were 17-10 by Christmas. They topped last year’s victory total before the end of January and were in sixth place a day after the All-Star break.

How did this all come together? Let us count the ways in which McDonough transformed-not-tanked:

  • He hired Jeff Hornacek as a rookie head coach, getting someone who, true, faced no pressure to win and brought a temperament suited to taking the expected lumps. But the former NBA shooting guard had played for and learned from some of the game’s most-innovative coaches – Jerry Sloan in Utah, John MacLeod and Cotton Fitzsimmons in Phoenix, Doug Moe in Philadelphia — synthesizing a strategy from them. Hornacek didn’t need to hitch himself to a franchise/superstar player, getting plenty of whole from the sum of Suns parts. His players feel ownership in the surprising results, while he hasn’t had to wrangle any massive egos.
  • Trading for Eric Bledsoe, though, was a big-time move, worthy of the most ambitious contender. McDonough liked Bledsoe’s rookie contract, sure, but he also liked the prospect of sticking him alongside Goran Dragic in the backcourt. That gave Phoenix maximum playmaking options and the tandem clicked — the Suns were 23-11 when the two started together.
  • Acquiring Bledsoe brought along veteran forward Caron Butler, who was so leery of suffering through a dreary season that he lobbied for and got a trade to … Milwaukee? Worked out OK for Butler eventually (he ended up in Oklahoma City), worked out better for the Suns, who got back backup guard Ish Smith. Smith has been a valuable and speedy reserve.
  • Let’s not forget the future first-round draft pick McDonough got for veteran Luis Scola, another fellow who preferred a backup role on a good team to a starting job with a projected loser. But wait, there was more: the Pacers also sent Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee to Phoenix. Plumlee has been a helpful big, but Green has been reborn — or sold his soul to ol’ Lucifer. The much-traveled wing with the rarely harnessed skills is a top contender to be voted 2013-14′s Most Improved Player.
  • Gifting center Marcin Gortat to Washington, along with Kendall Marshall, Shannon Brown and Malcolm Lee for injured Wizards big man Emeka Okafor and a future first-rounder. Everyone knew the prognosis for Okafor — out all season with a herniated disc in his neck — so nothing screamed “tank!” more than McDonough swapping healthy for hurt a few days before Opening Night. Washington has been thrilled with Gortat but you’d have to say he’s been valued there more than he’s been missed in Phoenix. Plumlee has plugged in fine and Gortat’s erasure — along with Jared Dudley‘s, a disappointment with the Clippers — has enabled the Suns to play faster.

McDonough didn’t have his fingerprints on all Phoenix improvements. Dragic is getting all-NBA attention, Markieff Morris earned himself a bunch of Sixth Man votes and Channing Frye might be Comeback Player of the Year if the league hadn’t replaced that with the MIP. All preceded McDonough in Phoenix.

But McDonough has served competing masters, positioning Phoenix well with picks and with money to woo free agents. Shouldn’t be long before our Exec of the Year puts down his crowbar and picks up a scalpel to tweak a team well past the tear-down stage.

The contenders:

Daryl Morey, Houston. Landing Dwight Howard, despite the once-glamorous Lakers’ advantages, was a biggie unto itself. But this darling of the analytics crowd has been wheeling and dealing creatively all along. The Rockets are a playoff handful for any opponent, any round, and might be set up best to take a real run at Carmelo Anthony should the Knicks scorer actually consider leaving New York.

Rod Higgins, Charlotte. Hiring Steve Clifford, another COY contender, was a move that smacked of the Bulls tapping Tom Thibodeau in 2010. Signing Al Jefferson proved to be a bigger win-win, dropping Big Al into the Bobcats’ culture to be a leader and an anchor, while eliciting the best performance of his career.

Neil Olshey, Portland. Did you know that Robin Lopez was going to have a breakthrough season? Or that Mo Williams would prove so effective off the bench behind Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews? The biggest benefit of those Olshey moves was calming LaMarcus Aldridge, the All-Star power forward who no longer makes noise about exiting.

Danny Ferry, Atlanta. Letting Josh Smith walk while opting instead for Paul Millsap, at a much better value (two years, $19 million vs. Smith’s four years, $54 million), was a heist for Ferry. So was the easy decision to match Jeff Teague‘s offer sheet from Milwaukee at a reasonable price — four years, $32 million — for a full-service point guard without most of Brandon Jennings‘ (three years, $24 million) flaws. Ferry also hired Mike Budenholzer, Gregg Popovich’s former right-hand man with the Spurs.

Masai Ujiri, Toronto. Sometimes it’s addition by subtraction, moving Rudy Gay to Sacramento to get the bump every team apparently does when unloading the skilled forward. And sometimes it’s the move you don’t make at all: Dwane Casey had one of those “expiring contracts” that don’t have much allure among coaches, and the guy who hired him (Bryan Colangelo) got deleted last summer. But Casey’s defensive bent and calm, mature approach were given enough time to pay off in the Atlantic Division crown.

 

Embry Honored 40 Years After GM Gig

This post might pack a little extra meaning for NBA GMs Masai Ujiri, Joe Dumars, Rod Higgins, Billy King and Dell Demps.

Forty years ago, the Milwaukee Bucks made Wayne Embry the first black general manager in NBA history. In fact, they made him the first black GM in U.S. pro sports.

That’s one of the reasons Embry will be honored Aug. 17 with the Legends Award at the annual Fellowship Open golf tournament in Milwaukee. That award goes to citizens who have demonstrated a personal commitment to helping others. Previous recipients have included baseball’s Hank Aaron, football’s Willie Davis and former Bucks player-turned-fast food entrepreneur Junior Bridgeman.

Embry, 75, a Naismith Hall of Famer, has been in and around the NBA for more than a half century, beginning in 1958 — 11 seasons as a player with Cincinnati, Boston and Milwaukee, and almost without interruption since in front-office roles with the Bucks, the Cavaliers and the Raptors. In Cleveland in 1994, Embry became the first African-American president of a sports team and twice was honored as NBA Executive of the Year. He is in his ninth year in Toronto as a senior advisor.

“Wayne’s legacy is best defined by his leadership and the example he sets for others,” NBA commissioner David Stern wrote in a letter to Fellowship Open board chairman John Daniels. “In addition to acknowledging his position as a role model whose career is an inspiration to younger generations, Wayne recognizes the importance of giving back to the game and to the community. He has taught players to use the values they have learned while competing to make a positive impact on society. The NBA has benefited greatly from Wayne Embry’s commitment to the game of basketball. I am honored to join with you to celebrate his career and to thank him for all he has given us. He is a true pioneer.” (more…)

Draft Day: The Moving Parts Festival

NEW YORK — Monta Ellis deserves credit for being the man to get this all started a few weeks ago. And sooner or later someone’s going to give the wacky days of trade chatter and pure speculation leading up to the NBA Draft a name.

Trade-rumors-a-palooza?

The Great Speculations?

Basketball’s International Moving Parts Festival?

We’ll keep working on that. In the meantime, it’s time to dive in and sort through the all the mess just hours away from the 2011 Draft and see if we can’t make a little sense of all these rumors:

Ellis Might Not Get Moved

For all the drama surrounding Ellis in recent weeks, he might not go anywhere. Both Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News and Ken Berger of CBSSports.com have confirmed the same things regarding Ellis:

According to an NBA source, new Warriors coach Mark Jackson has made at least two phone calls to Monta Ellis to tell Ellis how much he would love to coach him.

Here’s a full report and breakdown of the latest Ellis info by CBSsports.com’s Ken Berger, who has been all over this situation and everything I’ve heard is totally consistent with this.

It’s an open secret around the league that Ellis and his representatives are starting to believe that this might be the right time to move him to a title contender.

Ellis is in his prime, has put in many years with the Warriors, and two sources indicate that there has been some frank general discussion between GSW management and Ellis’ camp about his future, the team’s future, and whether the two should remain entwined.

Big point: Ellis loves playing at Oracle Arena. He apparently also appreciates what Jackson has been telling him.

But he’s wondering the same thing many execs around the league are wondering: How else could the Warriors get a necessary bigger player if they don’t trade Ellis?

Iguodala Stays Put As Well

Andre Iguodala‘s name has been linked to as much trade bluster as anyone in recent weeks, including Ellis. And yet there seems to be nothing solid in place heading into tonight’s festivities, as Kate Fagan of the Philadelphia Inquirer explains:

In recent weeks, the Sixers have discussed trades involving swingman Andre Iguodala with both the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers, along with various other teams, but have yet to find a deal they deem worthy of execution.

Two factors seem to be slowing the Sixers’ willingness to deal Iguodala: the impending change in ownership and the impending lockout.

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Cho The Right Step For Bobcats

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Michael Jordan gave up his dream of playing baseball after one year and gave up his fantasy comeback with the Wizards after two seasons.

So now is the great one now permanently giving up his role as talent evaluator to focus on the larger role as NBA owner of the foundering Charlotte franchise?

The Bobcats have taken a significant step forward with the hiring of Rich Cho to be the club’s new general manager. In an interview with Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer, Rod Higgins said the decision to hire his replacement as G.M. was a simple one:
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Wallace Still Sore About Trade

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We suspect the standing ovation Gerald Wallace will receive at Time Warner Arena tonight in Charlotte will be as long and thunderous as any heard in Bobcats’ history.

After all, it’s not every day that the very first face of the franchise walks through the door with an opposing team. Yet that’s exactly what Wallace and his new team, the Portland Trail Blazers, will do this evening.

And it’s far from the happy homecoming you might have imagined. Wallace is more than happy to be toiling on a Blazers team steaming toward the playoffs with a renewed energy, due in large part to their last-minute acquisition of Wallace at the Feb. 24 trade deadline. And few players have exhibited the sort of no-nonsense approach to their work that Wallace does on a daily basis.

His description of the way he was shipped out of Charlotte, though, doesn’t sound like the sort of treatment the only All-Star in Bobcats history deserved. Wallace used phrases like “stab in the back” and “slap in the face” to capture his feelings about the trade, a move he insists Bobcats coach Paul Silas told him would not happen just hours before it did.

“Basically, he told me before the practice that I was good, that no trades were going to go down and I was OK and I didn’t have anything to worry about,” Wallace told reporters in Charlotte Thursday, his first day back in town since the trade. “Then I get home and bam, I’m traded.”

In this era of players dictating the terms of their own careers, the one that has some people crowing about a ruinous takeover of the league by star players demanding to play with their All-Star friends, Wallace is a victim of the age-old flip side practice of teams making moves in their own financial best interest with little regard to what that means to the player or players involved.

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