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The Clippers Search for a GM

The latest rumors swirling around the Clippers general manager job are interesting to say the least.  I haven't said a whole lot about them up to this point for a simple reason - I didn't have a lot to add.  I don't have any sources.   I don't know what's going to happen.  But I pretty much always have an opinion.

Let's backtrack a bit through what we know.  We have a first hand account from the season ticket holder meeting in which the bulk of the anger was aimed directly at MDsr.  And according to that account, club president Andy Roeser was far from supportive of the current coach/GM - admitting that the 2006 contract extension was a mistake, and strongly implying that they would make a change if the team didn't improve quickly, specifically saying that MDsr would be evaluated when the team was healthy.

Since that particular meeting which occurred on Feb 23, the team is 4 and 13; 2 and 13 in the last 15.  So suffice it to say that the team has remained terrible, despite the relative roster health in March.

Last week, Marc Spears of the Boston Globe referenced NBA sources saying that the Clippers were looking for a new general manager.  He had the Clippers reaching out to NBA legend Jerry West and former Heat GM Randy Pfund.  A report from KNBC in LA validated that the Clippers had contacted West - and reported that the logo had turned them down

[A quick aside on West.  He's 70 years old; I don't see any reason he would want this job, and apparently he doesn't.  He tried the miracle-worker gig in Memphis, and pulled off one great trade (Pau Gasol for Shareef Abdur-Rahim) and a bunch of misses that resulted in three playoff appearances, an 0-12 playoff record, and another re-building project after he left.  He would have been a high profile choice for sure, but likely not the right choice.  And talk about chutzpah - did the Clippers really just call Jerry West, Elgin Baylor's teammate for 12 years, and offer him the job over which Elgin is suing them?]

So the report that the Clippers are actively looking for a GM is credible.  Multiple sources have confirmed that they have at least contacted Jerry West.  But what are we to conclude from that?

Spears says "If a new GM is brought in, Dunleavy would be expected to remain as coach in large part because he is under contract until 2011."  Sure, the contract.  We know about that.  And the replacement cost for a GM salary is definitely less than that for a coach.

But does it make sense?  Does it really address any of the issues? 

Let's also quickly recap the general futility of the team this season.  Yes, they've lost almost 200 player games to injury, second most in the league, and a very, very large number at any rate.  But for anyone trying to build the case that the team would be good if it were healthy, there just isn't much supporting evidence.  There was a time when the record was pretty good with Zach Randolph in the lineup - but not lately.  And a 2-6 record since the return of Chris Kaman (one of the wins coming without Randolph, most of the games with a close to full strength roster, and bad losses to some terrible opponents) certainly isn't building momentum for the future.  The Clippers point differential of -8.6 recently passed that of the Kings for worst in the NBA.  And that's the real measure folks - 17 wins is bad enough, and pegs the team at tied for the 4th fewest.  But the worst point differential means one thing - the Clippers are the worst team.  Period. 

Yet everyone agrees that the roster has talent.  Eric Gordon has been as good as any rookie in the league.  Marcus Camby has been better than any 34 year old has any right to be.  Baron Davis has certainly underacheived, but he's still Baron Davis.  Even John Hollinger thinks the Clippers have talent.  So why isn't that translating into wins?

If the intent is to bring in a new GM and allow MDsr to remain as coach next season as Spears implies, the logic would seem flawed at best.  Isn't the conventional wisdom that MDsr's hyper-controlling coaching style is stifling Baron Davis' creativity?  So, if the GM role is spreading him too thin, freeing up more time is only going to enable him to look for more ways to control the offense, right?  I mean, in theory, less is more with MDsr as regards the team.  So giving him more time to be the head coach is hardly a solution by that reasoning. 

Then there is the question of the potential power struggle.  Randy Pfund was MDsr's assistant coach on the Lakers for two seasons in the early 90s.  Does that indicate that they have a strong working relationship?  I suppose it's possible.  But MDsr inherited Pfund from Riley's staff, and Pfund succeeded MDsr as the Lakers head coach, before following Riley to Miami.  So Pfund would seem much more of a Riley guy.  At any rate, imagine being hired for a new job - and having your former boss be the guy you are replacing - and having him retain a job that has a direct impact on your potential success.  Awkward.

The most obvious problem is that the team shows every indication of having quit on MDsr the coach.  If the consensus is that the existing roster is significantly better than the results that are being produced, then changing the GM that put together the roster is the least appropriate response.  Changing coaches is often a knee jerk response; but in this case, it also happens to be the correct one.  Some of you Citizens have heard that MDsr was asked to take the GM-only role and he refused.  Maybe that's true.  But if so, the next step is to simply get rid of him (come to think of it, that was probably the first step all along).

Several commenters here have suggested that first hiring the GM, who can then hire the new coach, is the proper way to proceed.  And perhaps that is indeed the strategy being employed.  But in that case, it seems pretty clear that MDsr needs to be relieved of his bench duties on April 16th (the day after the season ends) at the latest.  Why keep him around beyond that, especially if this is perceived as a message to season ticket holders that things are going to be different?  If the venom in that meeting was any indication, I don't think that Roeser is going to be able to sell this half-measure as adequate - "See, told you we were going to make changes - we brought in Dunleavy's former assistant coach to be the GM, and Dunleavy will 'only' be the coach."  Given that the day-to-day frustration is targeting Dunleavy the coach, it's just not going to fly.

Would it nonetheless be a step in the right direction?  Sure - a baby step.  We've pointed out all season that one of the biggest problems the Clippers created for themselves here is having Dunleavy as the ONLY basketball guy in the hierarchy.  The task of replacing him falls to Roeser, who has no NBA background.  So getting another basketball person in the door, one who does not report to Dunleavy, is a start.  But going into training camp with the same coach has the potential to ruin yet another season.  If the new GM's purview is to evaluate the coach's performance and hire a new one if appropriate, how many games of the 09-10 season does that take?  And what coaches are available when the decision is made?  And how much of a setback is it for that coach to miss out on a training camp with his team?  And what personnel changes will the new coach want to make?  So, relieving MDsr of his GM duties at this time is something - I'll grant you that.  But unless you believe he's the right coach for the team and that they will turn it around under him, delaying his departure one day into the off-season has the potential to scuttle next season.  Rip the band aid off all at once.

We still have 11 games left in the regular season.  Tonight's game in New York would appear to be the last remotely winnable road game.  After that, the opponents are seven Western Conference playoff teams battling for seeds, and three home games against some the worst teams in the NBA.  Beating the bad teams is meaningless - beating the good teams is unimaginable.  The season is already over. 

But if Dunleavy is still the coach, next season is already over as well.