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Building a Winner Update, pt. i: the new head of Basketball Operations

Since we are no longer in the mood to speculate about the goings on in the GM/Basketball Operations search over at 600 First Avenue, I thought it would be a good time to update our Building a Winner post as well as kick off a few ideas concerning our idea for a fan-based approach for the personnel management of the ball club. 

For those of you who are new to the site, you can read the first Building a Winner post by clicking here.  It was written back in early January and it is in need of a solid update.  In that post we talked about the team's needs in the Basketball Operations department, draft, and free agency.  We will do the same this time around with a series of three posts.  Let's start with Basketball Operations.

Here is what we asked way back at the beginning of the year:

The most pressing issue facing the squad is the coach and front office.  Will Kevin McHale be at the end of the bench at the opening tip of the 2009/10 season?  Will Toronto Ron, Jesus Jim, and Freddie Iowa run the front office in Triangle of Accountability fashion?  Will Papa Glen bring in an honest-to-Pete professional GM to run the ship? 

Amazingly, those questions--ones that should have been obvious to anyone with a pulse at the second Kevin McHale was relieved of his Basketball Operations duties back in December--have yet to be substantially addressed by the team. 

As if the Basketball Operations situation wasn't a pressing need way back when, it is really an issue now--a month before the 2009 Draft.  According to a few sources, we are under the impression that the trio of Toronto Ron, Jesus Jim, and Freddie Iowa are preparing for the off-season and draft just as they were last year at this time.  As we said back in January, like it or not, this is probably the trio that decides what to do with all of this year's draft picks.  Each and every day this team continues to operate without a new head of Basketball Operations, the writing on the wall becomes clearer and clearer that one (or all) of this group will head up the player evaluation component of the franchise.

What was really interesting about the Tom Penn loss (aside from being left at the altar) was that his selection marked an important operational development from Papa Glen: He clearly recognized that his team was in need of a man who could deal with the single biggest front office deficiency that has plagued his franchise since the day he took over--the proper management of assets under the CBA.

Say what you will about McHale's draft decisions, but the thing that really strapped this franchise--the thing that really killed all hopes of building a contender around Kevin Garnett (and made even more important since his departure)--is his complete lack of creativity with things like cap space and general asset management.  From the Wally contract to throwing in 1st rounders for guys like Marko Jaric and Marcus Banks, to matching the Trenton Hassell offer from Portland, McHale was a master of diminishing results.  Granted, Garnett's obscene contract was at the heart of some of these problems (and at the heart of some of the league-wide CBA changes), but the simple fact remains that this team lacked anything approaching creativity when it came to using exceptions, cap holds, and other tools of the trade that a guy like Penn put to great use during his time in Portland.  If Wolves fans are to take any positive out of this current GM search, it is that most of the candidates Papa Glen is looking at fit this important bill. 

What is not to Papa Glen's credit is that the Wolves are hopelessly behind the curve in terms of giving fans a sense that this job search (which should have started immediately after McHale was relieved of his duties in December) has a coherent purpose.  Most fans I hear from are convinced that this thing will end up with a large chunk of the status quo remaining in place.  Instead of getting out ahead of this story and creating useful themes that could give fans some direction and hope, the team has gone to radio silence.  The only things we hear and know are that each new week brings us yet another qualified candidate who turns the team down. 

In fairness to the club, they haven't had to make a decision like this before.  When Taylor bought the team, there was an untraditional transition between Trader Jack and Kevin McHale.  In general, the selection of a new GM isn't something that you want to do on a regular basis and there is definitely something to be said about making the right decision instead of a quick one.  That being said, the clock is ticking and with Fred, Ron, and Jim acting like business as usual in the realm of player evaluation and the draft, each passing day makes for a harder pitch to any young up-and-coming GM in terms of giving him the autonomy that would make a destination like Minny a palatable, or better yet, a preferable one. 

Hoopus Prediction:

The Wolves will maintain their current front office structure while promoting Fred Hoiberg to GM.  They will eventually bring in a business-oriented candidate for the head of Basketball Operations but this person will likely be a candidate who has been out of the league and wants back in, a'la Randy Pfund or David Kahn.  For reasons that may never be known to fans, Glen Taylor seems to have his sights set on a collaborative culture and we think that this, rather than issues relating to Kevin McHale, is the main reason why they are having such a hard time bringing in a new head of Basketball Ops.  In many ways, a collaborative pitch with a clock ticking towards the draft and important free agency deadlines is a pretty hard thing to sell.  From a logistical stand point, there may be a date of no return for many potential candidates who seek to bring in a new way of doing things.  One of the biggest selling points the team has is its wealth of future assets.  Unfortunately, many of these assets will have to be deployed on or shortly after draft day. 

Hoopus Prescription:

Glen Taylor needs to make a public announcement about the type of candidate he is seeking.  He doesn't need to tip his hand (as if word hasn't already made its way around the league) or give away sensitive information.  What he does need to do is let fans know that there is a process here and that the team is preparing for all sorts of contingencies and outcomes.  He should announce that Fred Hoiberg will be retained in the Basketball Operations department in some secondary capacity but that everything else is up to the new hire.  The reason for this is so that the team can continue to prepare for the upcoming off season and maintain the readiness of its assets so that the new head of Basketball Ops can hit the ground running.  This is a practical matter of moving forward, not maintaining the status quo.  He could dress up this announcement in the language of business (even organizations that are taken over require some form of transition) or politics (see the current Al Franken situation where he is in a holding pattern before receiving his certificate for the Senate).  He also needs to make clear to fans that the retention of Kevin McHale as coach is a decision that will be made by the new hire.  This is one area where fans need to have as much clarity as any potential hire.  Glen needs to explain to fans that he understands that any new hire will want to bring in his own people and that this includes replacing (or keeping) the man who used to hold the job he is trying to fill.

Taylor should then continue to press for candidates like David Lindsey and Tom Penn. Houston's Sam Hinkie is a name that we here at Hoopus have advocated for for a long time.  Short of an existing name from a winning franchise, Taylor should consult with organizers of MIT's Sloan Sports Analytics Conference to find a young candidate that could be brought aboard in an assistant title and groomed, along with Fred Hoiberg, to hopefully become the Wolves' own Tom Penn, David Lindsey, or Sam Hinkie.  Granted, part of the reason why candidates like Penn and Lindsey are attractive is that they have put time in with other organizations but Hinkie was plucked out of the Stanford MBA program.  Sometimes informed luck matters and if Taylor wants to have continuity of assets and a collaborative approach, perhaps he needs to concentrate more on creating his own cap guru rather than offering potential up-and-coming candidates a job that becomes less attractive with each passing day towards the draft, free agency, and contract reset date.  Again, a forward thinking public relations approach would go a long way towards making this sort of thing an attractive option to the players and fans alike.  There is nothing wrong with D.I.Y., even for a team with as long of a dysfunctional history as the Wolves. Creativity and results are eventually what will matter.

In the next part of our Building a Winner post we will talk about personnel issues: the draft, free agency, and trades. 

Until later.