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A Few Thoughts: On Scott Layden

Scott Layden has been around the block a time or two in the NBA. Was his hiring a good one for the Wolves?

On April 20, the Minnesota Timberwolves announced the hiring of new head coach and president of basketball operations, Tom Thibodeau, as well as general manager Scott Layden. The move to sign Thibodeau, who is widely recognized as the former head coach of the Chicago Bulls and the man who revolutionized the way defense is carried out in the NBA, was met with critical acclaim. The hiring of Layden, however, was met by many with indifference.

Layden is the son of former Utah Jazz coach Frank Layden, who led the team from 1981-1989. Scott's career began in 1981 in Utah under his father; he held various positions within the organization including being an assistant coach from 1982-1989. Layden worked his way up the power structure, eventually being named the team's Director of Basketball Operations before the 1992 season.

Layden saw great success at the helm in Salt Lake City. He finished second in The Sporting News Executive of the Year voting in 1995, behind Los Angeles Lakers legend Jerry West, and helped build the team that made it to back-to-back NBA Finals from 1996-1998. Layden has also been given a vast amount of credit for the drafting and development of Utah Jazz legends and Hall of Famers Karl Malone and John Stockton (though both of those acquisitions occurred when he was an assistant coach).

Prior to the 1999-2000 season, he was hired to serve as the general manager of the New York Knicks. For as successful as his run in Utah was, in many ways, it was exactly the opposite in New York. Layden's tenure was relatively short lived -€” he only lasted until 2003 -€” and was lowlighted by a handful of ill-fated trades. These are highlighted below (via Basketball Reference):

  • In the fall of 2000, Layden traded Hall of Famer and fan favorite Patrick Ewing to the then Seattle SuperSonics in a four-team deal that ultimately netted the Knicks Travis Knight, Glen Rice, Luc Longley, Lazaro Borrell, Vernon Maxwell, Vladimir Stepania, two first round picks and two second round picks. Travis Knight, Glen Rice, and Luc Longley all played three years or less in New York and never made a real impact for the Knicks, while literally everyone else involved in the trade (including the two first-rounders, who became Jamaal Tinsley and Kareem Rush) never suited up for the Knicks. Basically, Ewing was traded for nothing in return.
  • In the summer of 2002, Layden dealt Marcus Camby, Nene Hilario, and Mark Jackson to the Denver Nuggets for Antonio McDyess, Frank Williams, and a second round draft pick. Camby was a defensive force, never posting a defensive rating higher than 100 during his four seasons in New York (including a league leading 91 during the 2000-2001 season), and was a shot-blocking machine. Jackson was an All Star during the 1988-1989 season and was a solid starting point guard. McDyess was an All Star for the Nuggets during the 2000-2001 season, but a severe knee injury derailed his once promising career; he only saw action in 18 games for the Knicks. Frank Williams only played two seasons in the Big Apple and was out of the league after his third season.
  • In the summer of 2003, the Knicks traded Latrell Sprewell to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a four-team swap that netted the Knicks Keith Van Horn. Wolves' fans are well versed in how this trade ended up for Minnesota. Van Horn appeared in 47 games for the Knicks and averaged 16.4 ppg, before being traded to the Milwaukee Bucks later that season.

So, to recap, Layden traded Patrick Ewing, Marcus Camby, Mark Jackson, and Latrell Sprewell and only received an endless loop track of Simon and Garfunkel singing the opening verse to The Sound of Silence in return.

Like his overall career in the front office, Layden's track record with the draft is also pretty inconsistent, though admittedly the draft is much more of a crap shoot. Andrei Kirilenko was the only All-Star he selected during his years in Utah and New York; however, Layden did select 10 other players who played at least eight seasons in the NBA, three of which were second round picks. They were (season totals in parentheses):

  • First Round Picks: Blue Edwards (10), Eric Murdock (9), Greg Ostertag (11), Jacque Vaughn (12), Nazr Mohammed (18!), Scott Padgett (8), and Nene Hilario (14)
  • Second Round Picks: Isaac Austin (9), Bryon Russell (13), and Shandon Anderson (10)

However, he also selected five players in the first round that lasted five seasons or less in the NBA. They were:

  • First Round Picks: Luther Wright Jr. (1), Martin Muursepp (2), Quincy Lewis (4), Donnell Harvey (5), and Mike Sweetney (4)

For the last four seasons, Layden has served as the assistant general manager in San Antonio, a position that doesn't provide for much public knowledge of his performance.

* * *

This begs the question: Was Scott Layden a good hire for the Minnesota Timberwolves?The answer will ultimately be determined by a few factors.

The first is centered around how much clout Layden will have as the GM in Minnesota. Similar to the case of former general manager Milt Newton, this may never be known. As stated in the team's official announcement of the hiring it is said that Layden will "assist...Tom Thibodeau in the evaluation and acquisition of players and in the overall management of all basketball operations for the Wolves."

That is pretty nebulous phraseology; it doesn't shed any light onto how involved Layden will be. Will he have the power to seek and make significant trades and signings, or will that be left to Thibodeau while Layden sticks to the day-to-day minutiae and makes acquisitions that don't register on the Richter scale? Thibodeau will undoubtedly want final say in how the roster is constructed -€” this was a major cause of friction while he was in Chicago, after all -€” so knowing if an acquisition was choreographed by him or Layden may be, well, unknowable.

The second depends on how much Layden learned during his time with the Spurs. Head coach Gregg Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford run what is considered one of the best front offices in the NBA and are highly esteemed for the culture they have built in San Antonio, both on and off the court. Many who have once served under the tutelage of Popovich and Buford have gone on to find great success in the league, most notably Sam Presti of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Kevin Pritchard of the Indiana Pacers. How much knowledge and Spursian attitude Layden brings with him north to the Land of 10,000 Lakes will be a major determinant of how successful his run in Minnesota will be interpreted.

In the end, what matters most about the hiring of Scott Layden is his work relationship with Tom Thibodeau. In their introductory press conference, Thibodeau stated that Layden was "the person he really wanted" and that their relationship won't be "...about power or any of that stuff." About their working relationship, Layden stated, "We have this saying: When you go in a room, you debate, you disagree, but the most important thing is coming out of the room committed, and we will be committed. I certainly have known [Thibodeau] a long time. It is about the relationship; it is about doing this together."

So, the greatest factor in how much success the pair will have with the Wolves will be whether or not the two hold to their words and work to function rather than two individual parts. And If the signing of Layden was paramount for the development of a well-trusted working relationship and ultimately getting Thibodeau to sign the dotted line in Minnesota, then the hiring of Layden should be looked upon as a solid move, regardless of his checkered past.