Monday, April 23, 2007

Evil Robot Army Suffers Defeat

As a Timberwolves fan, I've gotten through this season by focusing my attention elsewhere. There's only so many times you can read about your team getting pantsed before it starts to wear on you. So, instead of soaking in contradictory statements like "We're rebuilding the team" and "We're not trading KG", I get good basketball where ever I can find it. One of the objects of my affection has been the Denver Nuggets. As I have said, I think the trade for Allen Iverson was a wonderful thing for both parties. The results didn't pay out immediately. Denver struggled at times to establish an identity and mesh as a unit. But, things came together at the right time, and the Nuggets hit a good rhythm to finish the year.

However, their match-up with the San Antonio Spurs in the first round had a lot of people talking about next year prematurely. I suppose you can't blame fans for assuming this would be a lopsided series. After all, the Spurs have been there. They're tough to beat, they defend well, and their stars play ugly yet effective basketball. Still, I picked the Nuggets. Why? Idealism, I guess. I don't want to believe that what San Antonio does is inevitable. I'd rather not accept that Manu Ginobli's flailing and flopping is the class of the NBA. I can't resign myself to thinking Bruce Bowen's constant karate chops to the head is beautiful basketball. The part of me that really loves the game wants to see A.I. and Melo still playing in June, not San Antonio's robot army.

So, today, I awake refreshed. For today, at least, idealism has won out. The Nuggets played good enough to win, and did it while having one of their least effective offensive games. Shockingly, they stayed in this one by playing merciless team defense for four quarters. And, when the Spurs made their runs, Denver did not panic. Iverson put them on his back in rough patches, heating up as the game went on. Carmelo had an incredible killer instinct and kept his temper despite the constant Bruce Bowen slaps to the face. Nene and Camby welcomed contact and made San Antonio look disorganized in the post, if not soft. It was an exciting game, and it only left me wanting more.

I don't assume this means the Nuggets have this locked up. The Spurs know what they're doing and will likely reach deep in their bag of dirty tricks for Game 2 and beyond. But, if anything, Denver has established they're not to be underestimated. Hopefully that means we'll be seeing them in the second round.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Carroll Dawson is Retiring

I have no comment that can improve upon this photo.

When it comes to professional sports, the job that any average jerk will tell you that he could do better is general manager. This is a natural thing to do. As fans we want to believe that we're the final piece that could make a difference for our teams. But, players and coaches tend to have an actual background in sports. People like us, we don't have a background in sports. We have a background in eating and watching sports on TV. So, being a GM becomes the daydream. What does the boom in fantasy sports leagues represent, other than a desire to call the shots?

But, a look around any professional sports league demonstrates that not very many people are good at managing a team. And, as easy as pointing and clicking players around seems, being a real GM involves so much more. You have to have an incredibly perceptive eye for pro talent. You need a shrewd sense of finance and long term budgeting. You must differentiate between a time to be patient and a time to demand results. You're forced to manage some of the largest egos in the world. And this just scratches the surface. We think of the rare few in this profession that do it well as geniuses. Well, right along with the Theo Epsteins and the Bill Bellichicks of the world, I believe there's another name to consider: Carroll Dawson.

You probably have no idea who he is. But, he's been leading the Houston Rockets for 26 years. When he steps down after this season, he'll have 4 division titles, 4 conference titles, and two championships to his credit. More importantly for the fans of Houston, he'll leave his team healthy and with a powerful and well balanced roster. Dawson has had an incredible track record when it comes to recognizing talent and taking risks: Hakeem Olajuwon, Sam Cassell, and Yao Ming are demonstrations of this. He has also been skilled at efficiently fixing mistakes and moving the team in the right direction. And, if you dispute this one, I have two words for you: Steve Francis. But, perhaps most importantly, Carroll Dawson knows how to spend money.

The quickest way to hurt your team long term is to spend their money foolishly. The best player available is not necessarily the best player for your team. High performing squads are rife with guys that aren't dominant. They simply do a few things very well, and have a coach that puts them in the position to do them. A good GM looks for players like that. Bad GMs treat their jobs like fantasy sports and look for the biggest names and highest risk. Here's an example: the Houston Rockets currently pay four players more than $5 million a year. The New York Knicks? Eight players. Unless there's some new kind of eight on eight basketball that I'm not aware of, that's a whole lot of money for splinter duty. In fact, he's paying over $7 million for Malik Rose. Malik Rose! That's not even beginning to consider the people who don't play for the Knicks that Isiah Thomas cuts checks to every month.

Truly, there's no better point of contrast to emphasize Carroll Dawson's superb record than Isiah Thomas. It only took Isiah a couple years to run the CBA straight out of existence, and a couple more to turn the New York Knicks into a flaming car crash. Dawson has been in Houston for two and a half decades and things are still humming along nicely. So, when he steps down after this year, be grateful, Rockets fans. The next Thomas or McHale may be waiting for you around the corner. Let's hope not.