07 April 2016

Owner-Management Issues in the NBA

Guest Post by Kyle Artus

As NBA teams become more and more profitable, owners are wanting to have more and more control over the players they are putting out on the court. I can’t necessarily blame them, it is their money that is paying the players after all. However, more and more owners are stepping in player personnel decision that should probably be left up to the GM and the rest of the front office. Owners try to make their own decisions on who to draft, sign, or trade, hire a coach and then completely disagree with him on every major issue, and try to stop General Managers from doing their job.

James Dolan, the owner of the New York Knicks, has historically been an owner who wants to get involved in every facet of the team. Two summers ago, he hired Phil Jackson to be the President of Basketball Operations. Phil Jackson has won 11 championships as a coach in the NBA and is widely considered as one of the greatest basketball minds of all time. When Jackson was hired, he was given responsibility over staff hirings/firings, free agent signings, trading players, and drafting players. One month after he was hired, Dolan had already tried to stop him from doing his job. According to the NY Daily News, Jackson had wanted to make some changes to the staff and was planning on firing some of the current members. Dolan came in and put a stop to that.[1] Dolan has a history of doing things like this. He did the same thing to the former GM Donnie Walsh when he was trying to trade for Carmelo Anthony. Walsh had every intention of pursuing a trade for Anthony, but Dolan came in, took over the negotiations, and traded for Anthony right away instead of waiting for a better deal as Walsh had suggested.[2] It is difficult for anyone in management, who are supposed to be the ones skilled in dealing with basketball transactions, to do their job the right way with an owner like that constantly interfering.

A similar story is transpiring in Sacramento with their new owner Vivek Ranadivé. Ranadivé’s came in as owner after an ownership family named the Maloofs sold the team. The Maloofs were generally disinterested in basketball and making the Kings a successful team. So all Ranadivé really had to do was try and he would look better. And he has. But perhaps too much. So far, he has hired Vlade Divac to perform the basketball operations of the team. Together, they hired George Karl to be the head coach. Since then, everything that has come out of Karl’s mouth seems to be the opposite of what comes from Divac’s and Ranadivé’s. Karl has been very verbal about the need to trade star player Demarcus Cousins. He has many times said that they have been looking to trade Cousins. Ranadivé has many times stepped in and said a complete different thing.[4] Reports surfaced that Ranadivé wanted to fire Karl merely four months after hiring him because they thought to have agreed that Karl would not be involved in personnel decisions.[3] Frankly, the personnel decisions should be left up to Vlade Divac since it is job, and both Ranadivé and Karl should stay out of it. However, overactive owners and coaches will always think that they know what is best for the team.

It is no coincidence that both the Knicks and the Kings are two of the teams with the bleakest outlook in the NBA. The Knicks have one aging superstar in Carmelo Anthony and a promising rookie with Kristaps Porzingis, but they also don’t have a draft pick this year and have no other real promising players. The Kings have a superstar in the midst of his prime in Demarcus Cousins, but have consistently failed to build around him. They tried this year by bringing pass-happy Rajon Rondo and sharpshooter Marco Belinelli, but they are still on the outside looking in when it comes to the postseason.

Owners need to recognize that just because they are the ones with the money to pay the players and the staff, they are not the ones who know how to best run a basketball team. They need to let the people in charge of making personnel decisions actually make the personnel decisions. By having a little bit of trust in the people they hired to run the team, these teams could actually turn it around. The best owners are the ones who are willing to pay what is necessary and who stay out of the GM and the coaches’ way.

1 http://m.nydailynews.com/sports/basketball/knicks/source-dolan-stop-jackson-knick-staff-firings-article-1.1765645
2 http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2025630-report-james-dolan-stopped-steve-mills-from-firing-mike-woodson
3 https://mobile.twitter.com/SportsCenter/status/614167723929673728
4 http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nba/kings/2015/06/22/sacramento-kings-owner-vivek-ranadive-demarcus-cousins-trade/29143601/

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