Thursday, May 24, 2012

Once More, With Feeling: Reviewing Rick Sund's Season

It's difficult to evaluate Rick Sund's tenure as general manager of the Atlanta Hawks because the worst parts of his tenure are essentially conditions of his employment. There are only 30 NBA general manager jobs and who's to say that not having one of those jobs is more satisfying than having one, but on the condition you can't choose the head coach and have to sign Joe Johnson to a franchise-limiting contract. Sund didn't make the Hawks' cap situation any worse this season. A backhanded compliment, but not one that could have been delivered at the end of any of the last three seasons.

Rick Sund is a symptom of organizational dysfunction, not a cause. In fact, in the limited space he had to maneuver, Sund did a fine job filling out the bench with freely available talent. Yes, it's absurd the Hawks went over the luxury tax line by keeping Jerry Stackhouse for a full season and locking in Erick Dampier as the fourth-string center, but those irritating decisions didn't have much of an adverse impact on the court. It probably won't improve the Hawks' future that ASG paid the luxury tax, didn't get the revenue from hosting two second-round playoff games, and, in the end, ludicrously bought out Pape Sy's contract for no reason at all. But, hey, those are costs you can sell draft picks to cover.

And, on the court, the Hawks enjoyed career seasons from Willie Green and Jannero Pargo, paired bargain with pleasure in the form of Ivan Johnson, and weren't seriously hampered by the physical frailty of Tracy McGrady and Vladimir Radmanovic. There were surely more interesting ways to build a bench on the cheap, Sund just built an effective one out of familiar spare parts, players suited to the wide arc of Larry Drew's motion offense. He deserves credit for that.

Nor should it be forgotten that the Hawks survived Al Horford's absence because Rick Sund did not, in the end, trade Zaza Pachulia at the 2010-11 trading deadline just because Larry Drew couldn't identify his third-best big man and because a Rick Sund draft pick, heretofore marginalized by a head coach not of Sund's choosing, turned out to be a perfectly competent NBA point guard when given a reasonable chance to prove himself.

Sund hasn't overcome the curious whims of his employers, but he's done some good work in the margins. In lieu of a sound organizational philosophy, that may be all that's possible of anyone in a simultaneously enviable and unenviable position.


Buddy Grizzard said...

Hear, hear. I could quibble with you by asking you to define "seriously limited" with regards to Radmanovic, but I'll let it go.

jrauch said...

Preach on.

He's a symptom of the disease that comes from up top. Particularly when he's forced to employ a coach who is terrible.

Seriously... we couldn't at least call Jerry Sloan?

Buddy Grizzard said...

jrauch I was ready if the let LD go to jump in with a suggestion that would have made me look like a hypocrite: Brian Shaw. After lambasting the Hawks for picking a coach with no previous experience, I was ready to suggest that they do it again with Shaw.

My reasoning is that I think it's too late in the cycle with these players to try to bring in an older, retread coach to try to instill culture. The only hope for the Hawks at that point would have been to hit a home run with the next coaching hire.

That would have required swinging for the fences, and Shaw is the guy to do that with. Although he has never held a head coaching position, he was groomed to take over the Lakers by the greatest coach of all time, and the greatest master of managing personalities of all time.

That the Lakers hired Mike Brown was less a reflection on Shaw's ability than evidence of a power struggle between Jim and Jeanie Bus. Jim wanted anyone associated with Phil Jackson gone.

I think Shaw could be the next big thing. Personality management is sometimes more important than x's and o's (see Mike Woodson), but Shaw had the chance to learn both from the best. Because he's never held a head coaching position, the Hawks could have hired him relatively cheaply, like the Bulls did Thom Thibodeau. What if?

jrauch said...

I'd settle for anyone who would 1) Design an offense that doesn't involve Josh Smith taking stupid 20 footers and 2) Benching any player who does such stupid things until they've realized the error of their ways.

If Brian Shaw's the guy to do it, so be it. But this is also an ownership group that was too cheap to pay Dwane Casey...

LD is clearly not going to get the team any further than Woodson did.