Saturday, May 16, 2009

General Managing for Dummies

There's some fantastic reading over at the (Current) Sports Guy lately. And (Current) Sports Guy-related readings elsewhere.

Bill Simmons is making a push to be hired at the general manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves. He lobbied unsuccessfully a year or two ago for the open position with the Milwaukee Bucks. One of these years, an NBA team is going to take a chance with the guy. Well, probably not, knowing the NBA. But I'm all for it.

Simmons may be an outsider, but he knows his hoops. Sure, he never played the game, but did Bryan Colangelo or his dad? (I actually don't know the answer, but for now let's go with no.) So we can throw that qualification out the window. Did Rob Babcock? You don't have to have played the game to be a good or decent GM.

But the real question here isn't would he be among the best. It's would he be the worst? It's doubtful. Could he be worse than Chris Wallace in Memphis, Mike Dunleavy in Los Angeles, or Babcock when he was in Toronto? Again, doubtful.

Are all former players who have risen to the ranks of GM better than those that haven't? Isiah Thomas, Dunleavy, Chris Mullin, Wally Walker, etc. answer that one for you.

In a Q&A with Star-Tribune writer Michael Rand, Simmons gives a number of great reasons why he's be an ideal candidate. He rails against the old boy's network that continually rehires basketball retreads who have failed elsewhere, he's thought long and hard about both the position and basketball in general (having just written a 700-page tome on the NBA), which I can't wait to read), and Minnesota fans would be rejuvenated by the gimmicky hiring.

He makes a compelling argument and I honestly can't think why a team – especially a sinkhole of a team – wouldn't take the chance. In a fascinating New Yorker piece, Canadian author Malcolm Gladwell just made the case that underdogs, be it in sports or war, needing to take different approaches in order to stand a chance at winning. If the T-Wolves aren't attracting the creme de la creme of GM candidates, they should roll the dice on someone whose outside-the-box thinking might give them an edge. What have they got to lose? Their fan base? Their credibility? You can't lose what you don't have.

The Case Against:
Simmons doesn't help his cause much, though. The NBA is an old-boy's network. This much he acknowledges. So why does he say things like this?:

RandBall: Which three current GMs would you immediately try to fleece in a trade if given an actual GM job, and why?

Bill Simmons: First, Chris Wallace. It’s like becoming a star actor or singer and having sex with Lindsay Lohan — you just have to do it so you can say you did it, and it’s so easy, why wouldn’t you do it? Second, Ernie Grunfeld. He’s panicking and that whole franchise is panicking, they are a dumb blockbuster trade waiting to happen. Third, and most obviously, Mike Dunleavy. You cannot go wrong making a trade with Mike Dunleavy. You just can’t. He’s the perfect storm of fleeceable — bad at his job, unaware of the salary cap, ignorant of character issues with players, desperate to keep his job. What’s better? It’s like being served a good trade platter. “I’ll be your maitre’d, Mike Dunleavy, can I offer you an Eric Gordon to start?”

I doubt Wallace, Dunleavy or Grunfeld would have much, if anything, to do with a fellow GM who denegrates them in public like that. And if they have friends around the league, they might conspire to shut out the outsider. That doesn't help the Wolves.

And then there's the issue of Simmons' Celtics lust. A GM, like a politician, should be clear not only of conflict of interest, but the appearance of conflict of interest. Even when being interviewed by a reporter in the city he hopes to represent, Simmons can't leave the Celts out of the discussion. On the subject of the Wolves' Al Jefferson (a former Celtic), he says:
It’s no secret, we’ve had a one-sided bromance for years now and he’s my single favorite non-Celtic.
Simmons also offers to work for free in the first year of a 3-year contract so long as he's permitted to write a book about Season 1. While such a book would be a must-read, from what I gather, being a GM is full-time work. Even more than full-time. At the first whiff of failure, the grumblings would be out there that he's more interested in collecting material for his book than in bettering his second-favourite team. Confidence would be shattered.

All that being said, I'm still hoping for it. He couldn't do any worse than Stu Jackson.


Speaking of Gladwell, that brings me to the next bit of required reading from the (Current) Sports Guy. The author of Blink, Tipping Point and Outliers is not just a egghead with a bad 'fro; he's an egghead with a bad 'fro who knows his sports. He and Simmons exchanged e-mails over the course of a few days and the results is interesting, thought-provoking and funny. It's in three parts so you'll have to navigate your own way past page one. Do it. It's worth it.

And if all that reading has gotten to you, check out Gladwell's own blog where he answers critics about his story on underdogs. And unlike most sites, the comments are worth reading, too.


I've got no scribblings from the (Old) Sports Guy today as we're on holidays and I don't have them with me. Just as well. I can't compete with what I've linked to, anyway.


  1. In Gladwell's recent book 'Outliers', he has a whole chapter on NHL players, many who were born in the early part of any given year implying that it gave them a HUGE advantage in hockey during their formative years, as they were bigger and older than their peers born near the end of the year. (Maybe he wrote about the same thing in his New Yorker article). An eye-opener!

  2. Yeah, it's a terrific read. He also has a whole chapter on why Asians are better at math than Europeans, and it involves (a)their numbers system (b) rice.

    Thanks for the links to Gladwell's latest article and blog, Guy. I'm a big fan of bad 'fros (for obvious reasons) and good writing.

  3. Oh, and as for Gladwell's interest in sports, it has been a lifelong passion. He was a nationally long distance ranked runner in his youth.

  4. Being married to a pretty good runner, I've known he was a runner for years. I also know that being a runner doesn't mean you have an interest in real sports. It usually just means you're consumed with all things track related.