Three GMs have more riding on the 2011 NBA Draft than the others. Posted by Ben Golliver.
In all the NBA Draft over-analysis, mock drafting and trade rumors, it’s easy to lose track of a big picture, fundamental truth about this time of year: Thursday night means vastly different things to different teams.
For the league’s poorest sisters, it represents hope; for the middle of the road teams, it’s a bit of a crapshoot; for true contenders, it can become almost an afterthought. For rebuilding teams, it’s the center of years of planning; for veteran teams, it can be almost irrelevant. For small market teams, the draft is the best – if not only -- chance they’ll get to land a superstar; for the successful larger markets, it can be just another day on the calendar.
The 2011 NBA Draft carries added importance for three franchises. Whether because of poor on-court performance, endless stagnation, financial implications or potential relocation, the stakes are highest for three teams and their executives. With so much riding on the draft this year, a swing and a miss could prove fatal for these three chief basketball decision-makers.
Minnesota Timberwolves – David Kahn
Let’s start with the Minnesota Timberwolves because articles about GMs potentially getting fired always start with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
President David Kahn has been the laughingstock of the NBA for a few years now, but he recently got in a few chuckles of his own when Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio finally decided to take his talentos to the Great White North. Rubio’s presence addresses Minnesota’s two biggest problems. They lacked a franchise-type point guard and desperately needed a hype factor to get fans in the seats following two seasons that produced a combined 32 wins.
There is a catch: Rubio might not actually be that good and it’s an open question whether Minnesota has the support system and personnel around him to ensure that he succeeds in the short-term.
The Timberwolves hold the No. 2 pick and have question marks up and down the roster. They’ll need to turn that pick and other fringe assets into multiple rotation players to ensure a smooth transition for Rubio and to keep Kevin Love from grumbling about his lot in life again.
Kahn has essentially staked his job on Rubio’s success as a pro. If the Timberwolves aren’t able to make significant forward progress in the 2011-2012 season, it’s difficult to envision their way too patient owner Glen Taylor letting Kahn have another go-round.
Houston Rockets – Daryl Morey
We’ve reached the point where the theoretical idea of Daryl Morey is far better than the actual Daryl Morey. The Rockets’ famed “Moneyball” style architect has gone years without drafting an impact player in the first round. Try as he might via the trade route, he hasn’t been able to locate a core building block to replace chronically injured center Yao Ming, so the franchise has spun its wheels, missing the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. The Rockets admitted to themselves that a rebuild was in order this summer, an idea that former coach Rick Adelman apparently didn’t take kindly to. Enter new coach Kevin McHale.
Focusing relentlessly on market inefficiencies can sometimes cloud the bigger picture. Star types win in the NBA, and the Rockets don’t have any. Kevin Martin and Luis Scola both exist one tier below where they need to be to truly build around long-term. The issues facing Houston next season, then, are two-fold: No one is going to get that roster to play harder and produce more than Adelman did, and the No. 14 spot on Thursday will not yield a franchise difference-maker.
To give the franchise some direction, Morey will need to get creative by packaging assets to get a true top end talent. There’s no better time to do that than draft week. Another NBA Draft week with a zero on the board, you would think, would force Rockets owner Les Alexander to change his thinking from “What have you done for me lately?” to “no, really, what have you actually done?”
Sacramento Kings – Geoff Petrie
The Maloof Family is a mess. The Kings’ ownership group is bleeding money, selling off assets, skimping on payroll and hinting that they will try to leave Sacramento again after next season. The NBA had to step in this summer to help conduct the team’s basic business affairs. Sad stuff.
Kings president Geoff Petrie, despite solid picks in each of the last two drafts, has found himself in chopping block rumors for most of the last year. That’s what happens when your team misses the playoffs – and misses out on playoff revenue – for five straight seasons, winning just 66 combined in the last three years.
Sacramento is picking at No. 7 this year but has an ultimate trump card in the form of tons and tons of available cap space to facilitate trades. Of any team with just one first round pick, the Kings have the most flexibility and widest variety of options this week. With Evans and Cousins in place as core blocks, the mandate is clear: put pieces around them that will turn this into a fringe playoff contender.
Petrie isn’t simply drafting to keep his job. His decisions this week could ultimately impact whether the Kings win enough next season to keep the team in Sacramento. Given the shaky state of the Maloof family, the implications of the moves made this week could even extend to the ownership level. How many years of also-ran existence can the Maloof Family sustain before the coffers dry up? The Maloofs have steadfastly denied that they would ever sell the team but there could come a time when they don’t have a choice.
You want to talk about pressure? That’s pressure.