Money Talks with shrink
As Wolves fans cringe through losses like last night, they try to focus on the future, hoping the team is emulating the successful Blazer turn-around under Kevin Pritchard. Can they? A brief examination of the Trailblazers recent history is in order.
Just five years ago, the once proud tradition of the Trailblazers was a mess, with a financial situation that was worse than the Timberwolves ever were. In 2004-05, they had the third highest payroll in the NBA, with four players (Theo Ratliff, Damon Stoudamire, Nick Van Exel, and Shareef Abdur-Rahim) all making over $10 mil a year, and a new contract headed to Zach Randolph for $10+ as well. Their record? 27-55.
The Blazers brought in Kevin Pritchard in 2004 to be Director of Player Personnel, but under GM John Nash, the Trailblazers got worse. By 2006, the Blazers had the worst record in the NBA (21-61), Nash was fired, and Pritchard was given the GM job. While Nash was more of a traditional GM, Pritchard was new school. He worked heavily with scouting and player development, and relied deeply on statistical analysis. Pritchard quickly made several draft picks and trades to acquire top young talent that has now positioned the Trailblazers as a young contender that may be destined for great things.
Can the Wolves emulate this?
Well, let's start at the top. While Portland owner, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is on a different financial stratosphere, Glen Taylor is still one of the wealthiest owners in the NBA. Both have demonstrated a willingness to spend money when they believed they could acquire a key player to be a contender. Neither Portland nor Minnesota are major media markets, and they face similar competition. While its impossible to compare anyone with Pritchard's success, David Kahn could be a likely heir. Both are heavily focused on development, hard workers, and willing to make trades to acquire young talent that they believe in.
However, the next step is talent. The NBA is a superstar league, and in most cases, the potential to be a superstar that wins multiple championships (a Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal or Tim Duncan) come from a Top 3 pick That now means not just picking well, but winning a lottery, and unfortunately, teams can't control lottery balls. The more unlikely way is to trade for a true superstar. Teams rarely trade a player of this level in his prime, so like drafting, a GM needs to predict who has the potential to become a superstar. Pritchard made an excellent trade to acquire Brandon Roy, though we don't know yet if he can reach the championship success of the Jordan-level superstar. Good scouting can improve a team's odds, but there is obviously a measure of luck involved here as well.
So if the Wolves follow the Trailblazers approach, in two years will they become the exciting young franchise that Portland is today? Possibly, but they'd need to make good decisions and also be lucky. Wolves fans can be optimistic though that the team is positioned to succeed. They have the ownership, the GM, and are making the big bets (like Ricky Rubio) to try to find that star. They've shed their financial burdens and added assets, so they are open to more opportunities in free agency or through trade.
There's no way to control the lottery balls or have perfect knowledge of the future through immaculate scouting. However, while Wolves fans endure losses like last night, they can take heart when they look at Kevin Pritchard and the Trailblazers that it can be done. The Blazers were in worse shape than we are.