Two weeks ago when the Los Angeles Clippers announced that they had promoted Gary Sacks to be their VP of Basketball Operations, finally replacing Neil Olshey as the team's general manager, I was less than kind in my critique of the hire. Sacks is by all accounts a solid basketball executive and a really good guy, he was a big part of an aggressive and promising off-season for the front office in the wake of Olshey's departure, and he has the endorsement of Blake Griffin and the players, so there are many factors in his favor.
My biggest problem with it really was that it seemed very much as if the Clippers were hollowing out their front office team. Going back to 2008, the Clippers had gone from Elgin Baylor, Olshey, Sacks working in basketball ops to just Sacks, with no equivalent outside hires to replace the promoted-from-within Olshey and Sacks.
Well if that was my main criticism, then I have to give the organization its due today as they have now hired Gerald Madkins to be the Director of Basketball Ops, filling Sacks' old job.
Madkins has spent the past two seasons with the New Orleans Hornets as the director of player personnel. Before that he had worked for the Rockets, Sonics and Knicks and has a total of 10 years in NBA front office positions mostly on the scouting front. And yes, if Madkins was with the Hornets the last two seasons that means he overlapped with Chris Paul there for a year, which may have been a factor in this hire.
If the name is familiar, Madkins is a former UCLA Bruin who played in the late 80s and early 90s on some of Jim Harrick's first UCLA teams. He was a teammate of Don MacLean, who currently works as an analyst for Fox Sports on Clippers games. Madkins had a cup of coffee in the NBA, appearing in 48 games with the Cavs and the Warriors before switching to coaching (he was an assistant at UCLA) and NBA front office work.
So while I may still be somewhat underwhelmed by the Sacks hiring, I can certainly admit that he's earned a shot, and I'll be willing to judge him on his performance in the role -- a performance that is off to a good start based on the team's offseason. And now that Madkins has been brought in to shore up basketball ops, the team has addressed one of my main concerns at the time of the hire.
It's worth noting that the front office will have its work cut out for it over the next few seasons. I view the next two off-seasons, 2013 and 2014, as crucial. Obviously there's the question of re-signing Paul, which I would describe as relatively easy in the sense that everyone knows what needs to be done, and I believe it will get done. But if you look at the current roster, I would submit that there are really only three "keepers" moving forward -- Griffin, Paul and Eric Bledsoe. DeAndre Jordan is the only other player who has a fully guaranteed contract past 2014, and there's a pretty good chance that he'll be viewed as significantly overpaid by then. The excellent depth that the team has accumulated this season has a huge problem -- these guys are old, and it's hard to envision any of them (with the possible exception of Jamal Crawford) on the roster two years from now. (Crawford's deal will be unguaranteed at that time and I am dubious that he'll be worth $5.4M at age 34 but we'll have to wait and see on that.)
Sacks and Madkins will have the very difficult task of putting essentially an entirely new team in place around Griffin, Paul and Bledsoe over the next few years, and doing so with very little room to work above the 60 percent of the salary cap that will likely be going to Griffin and Paul alone. Let's hope they are up to the task.