It has often been said that hindsight is 50-50. I’m not sure that quote means anything, but in any case, we have the luxury of looking back on the past achievements of others (or ourselves) and pronouncing judgement on their successes and failures. This is not the first post that has attempted to assess the accomplishments of the venerated Kings President of Basketball Operations---all hail Geoff Petrie.
It would be easy enough to criticize President Geoff based on the fact that the Kings just finished with the worst record in the NBA and the worst in franchise history. Somewhere along the way, something went terribly wrong. But what and when? How did a two-time Executive of the Year oversee such an epic decline from two consecutive seasons averaging 60 wins to a 17-65 season, all in the span of six years? What might we learn "moving forward"?
First, let me say that I am not offering any new information in this post. I am simply organizing and analyzing existing information in a way that seems logical to me. In so doing, I may end up stating what is already obvious, or I may badly misinterpret the data. My goal is to start an interesting discussion and maybe to learn something along the way, not to claim knowledge that others lack. As to whether I am successful, you are free to judge me just as I presume to judge our President of Basketball Operations.
In assessing the performance of Geoff Petrie (or any other GM), one can look at his body of work and break all of his decisions down into the following categories:
· Draft picks
· Free agent signings
· Contracts for existing Kings players
· Staff decisions
· Player releases
The first five categories clearly can involve major, team-altering decisions, and I will attempt to examine them one at a time. The last category, which consists of waiving/releasing players and renouncing claims, is rarely consequential. The lone exception that I am aware of is when the Kings renounced any claim on Gerald Wallace, which in hindsight was probably a major mistake. It should be noted that at the time, the Kings had a logjam at small forward, and they did G-Dub a favor by cutting him loose. But still…
Incidentally, with the exception of draft history, I am going to limit myself to decisions and transactions dating from the beginning of the Adelman/Webber/Divac years, mainly because I was not paying the least bit of attention to the team before that. Also, my information on Petrie transactions comes primarily from HoopsHype, so I hope Pookey will forgive me for that.
I do not need to say much about this category because so much has already been said. I do think it is fair to say that the consensus among StR readers (excluding badly-informed newbies) is that Geoff Petrie’s draft record is somewhere between good and excellent. The standard I like to use is "If a past draft were held today with perfect hindsight, where would the Kings pick be chosen." The benchmark is NOT "What good players did we miss," because every team in the league is a failure when held to that standard. So using my preferred approach, all but three of the Kings first-round picks would probably go as high or higher (i.e., earlier) than they were actually chosen.
In my opinion, the biggest successes are Kevin Martin (2004), Hedo Turkoglu (2000), and Gerald Wallace (2001), all of whom were late first-round picks that would be among the first ones chosen if the same draft were held today with perfect hindsight. In addition, Brian Grant (1994), Corliss Williamson (1995), Peja Stojakovic (1996), Jason Williams (1998), and Francisco Garcia (2005) were all solid picks that would go roughly where they were picked and possibly slightly higher. I put Spencer Hawes, Jason Thompson, Tyreke Evans, and Omri Casspi in the too-early-to-tell category, but with extremely good early indications from Shock and Hawes. The only busts were Tariq Abdul-Wahad (1997), Dan Dickau (2002), and Quincy Douby (2006). The Dickau pick proved inconsequential because the Kings sent him to Atlanta in a draft day trade that was ultimately used to offset the first-round pick owed to the Pistons in the Jon Barry for Mateen Cleaves deal (I believe).
With the exceptions of Lawrence Funderburke and Anthony Johnson, Petrie has not had much luck in the second round. But for the most part, that is because there were no good players left (I’m excluding undrafted players) when the Kings made their selection. The only notable exception is Manu Ginobili in 1999, but the entire league whiffed on that one, as they did with various undrafted players over the years who went on to successful careers. So Petrie cannot really be faulted for his limited success in the second round.
One would be hard-pressed to find a superior draft record to Petrie’s among active executives. Pritchard (POR) and Presti (OKC) are often cited as successes, but neither of them has been at it for nearly as long as Petrie, and both of them have benefited from extremely fortuitous lottery positioning.
The conclusion here is that the draft is a strong point for Petrie. The decline of the Kings is clearly not due to his performance in that area.
Looking back over past trades, it is reasonable to subdivide them into two major categories: talent acquisition trades and salary dumps. Admittedly, some trades involve elements of both, but most can pretty clearly be shown to be one or the other.
With this distinction in mind, I conclude that 6 of the last 9 (and 9 of the last 15) Kings trades belong in the salary dump category. Several of these moves were total head-scratchers for anyone lacking a good understanding of NBA salary cap/luxury tax minutiae. The most notable Petrie trades in this category are as follows:
· Keon Clark and two future second-round picks to the Utah Jazz for a future second-round draft pick
· Jon Barry and a future first-round pick to the Detroit Pistons for Mateen Cleaves
Petrie cannot be given high marks for these deals, but he was dealing from a position of weakness in every case. Could he have gotten superior talent back in return for the big name players sent packing? Maybe. But his goal and his mandate were clearly to rid the organization of burdensome salaries. And no transaction exemplifies that better than the trade to unload the budget-crushing wreckage that C-Webb had become. Can you say albatross? ("It’s a bird, isn’t it? Course you don’t get f***ing wafers with it..")
Now let’s return to talent-based trades, which have been few and far between in recent years. The most notable trades in this category are as follows:
· Peja Stojakovic to the Indiana Pacers for Ron Artest
· Second-round draft picks in 2003 and 2005 for the draft rights to Darius Songaila
· Jason Williams and Nick Anderson to the Memphis Grizzlies for Mike Bibby and Brent Price
· Corliss Williamson to the Toronto Raptors for Doug Christie
· Tariq Abdul-Wahad and a future first-round pick to the Orlando Magic for Nick Anderson
· Mitch Richmond, Otis Thorpe, and a future first-round pick to the Washington Wizards for Chris Webber
The conclusion from reading this list seems to me to be that Geoff Petrie has had very good success on talent-based trades. The first Webber trade is generally considered to be the best one Petrie ever made. But the J-Will for Bibby trade and the Corliss for Christie trade also rank very highly. The only real bust in this list is the Tariq Abdul-Wahad and a first-round pick for Nick Anderson trade, clearly the worst one Petrie ever made, mainly because the Kings gave up a first-round pick for an overpaid, shot-happy, out-of-shape, ex-impact player way past his prime.
The only other comment to be made here (and one which bears repeating) is that the Kings have barely made any talent-based trades in the past 3½ years. Apart from the recent draft day deal for Sergio Rodriquez (which may yet prove inconsequential), the only significant talent-based transaction since the Peja for Ron-Ron trade was the second Artest trade that brought in B-Jax, Donté, and the first round pick that became Omri Casspi. (BTW, I still prefer "The Playa from Judea." But I digress.) Either Petrie has lost his touch on talent-based trades, or the Kings have had no expendable players that anyone has wanted---probably the latter.
In conclusion, salary dump trades have been necessary if totally unsatisfying, while Petrie’s record on talent-based trades remains strong, even if it has become scant in recent years. So let’s move on.
Free Agent Signings
Now we start to get into shakier ground in terms of Petrie’s performance. But let’s break this down and see if we learn anything.
Generally, free agent signings fall into either of two categories: rookie free agents and veteran free agents. The Kings have had no significant rookie free agent signings of note (unless you want to count Bobby Brown), so I will spend no further time on that. The real issue of interest here is veteran free agent signings, of which the most consequential have been as follows:
· John Salmons
· Shareef Abdur-Rahim
· Anthony Peeler
· Jim Jackson
· Keon Clark
· Bobby Jackson
· Tony Delk
· Scot Pollard
· Vlade Divac
· Vernon Maxwell
· Jon Barry
Here again, the record is not bad at all. The only two real disappointments of note were Mikki Moore and Shareef Abdur-Rahim. (Recall that the original acquisition of Beno was a solid pick-up for the Kings.) Mikki really never lived up to Petrie’s expectations (whatever those might have been), and Shareef was a high-mileage acquisition that had already been rejected by the Nets team physicians. But other than that the above list looks pretty impressive. Vlade was Petrie’s finest free agency achievement, while B-Jax, Jim Jackson, Scot Pollard, and Jon Barry also rate very highly.
The flipside of the argument is that none of these acquisitions occurred during the six-year downfall period noted above. So let’s look at all of the veteran free agent transactions during that period:
· Beno Udrih
· Mikki Moore
· John Salmons
· Shareef Abdur-Rahim
· Greg Ostertag
· Rodney Buford
· Anthony Peeler
Here we see the beginnings of an unsettling pattern emerging. John Salmons proved to be a somewhat inspired choice, if ultimately disappointing, while Dahntay Jones and Eddie House went on to be solid role players for playoff teams (fat lot of good that did us). But other than that, this list looks pretty unimpressive. So while Petrie’s overall free agency grade is high, his recent performance shows a major drop-off from the glory years. The only explanation I might offer in his defense is similar to that for the salary dump trades. Financially, the Kings has been operating from a position of financial weakness during that period. They have been unable to make offers to the bigger name players, and have therefore had to settle with second and third tier free agents. Either the pickings have been slim, or Petrie appears to have lost a step. Most likely both.
Contracts for Existing Kings Players
This category can generally broken down into three groups: rookie contracts, exercising of options, and new/extended contracts. The first two options are typically no-brainers; there’s rarely any question about whether or not to do it. But new/extended contracts are another matter altogether. So lets looks at the major contracts that the Kings have handed out to their veteran players:
· Signed Francisco Garcia to a contract extension
· Signed Beno Udrih to a contract extension
· Signed Kevin Martin to a contract extension
· Offered five-year contract to Bonzi Wells
· Re-signed Darius Songaila
· Signed Mike Bibby to a seven-year contract
· Re-signed Chris Webber to a seven-year contract
· Re-signed Doug Christie to a four-year contract
· Re-signed Predrag Stojakovic to a multi-year contract extension
· Re-signed Scot Pollard to a multi-year contract
· Re-signed Corliss Williamson
· Re-signed Lawrence Funderburke
· Re-signed Jon Barry and Scot Pollard to multi-year contracts
· Re-signed Corliss Williamson
Now we’re getting warm. Four of the last seven transactions on this list (Webber, Bibby, Wells, Udrih) proved to be downright onerous. And the really scary part is that Bonzi was dumb enough to turn down a fat 5-year contract for around $7M per year. Had he accepted, he would still have two years left, and the Kings would likely be in even worse financial shape than they currently are. (For those of you who missed it, Bonzi was out of the league last season and his career is apparently done.)
One thing we can say is that the Kings clearly got in over their heads. They bet the farm in the glory years in the hopes of winning it all, and then they tried to patch back together a winning squad when they should have been undertaking a true rebuilding project---and the financial unwinding is still in progress (sort of like the US economy in that respect). Sacramento will never have the financial resources of a New York or LA. The Kings gambled and lost, and a 17-win season is largely the result. But can we learn anything from this financial debacle?
In light of past experience, the Beno deal just seems unconscionable. The guy played decent (on offense only) for most of one season after being in Greg Popovich’s doghouse for the better part of three years;, and Petrie throws a full MLE at him. Similarly, Bonzi---the fitness-challenged chronic malcontent---lights it up in a losing playoff effort after a relatively solid season, and GP bets the MLE house on him too.
The Bibby and Webber contracts are a little harder to criticize. In some ways, the Maloofs boxed themselves in on the Webber deal with their Stay-With-Us-We’ll-Even-Mow-Your-Lawn sales pitch---they almost HAD to give Webber a max contract. And after one season, it looked like a pretty good investment. One year later, it officially became the worst contract in the history of the franchise---and we’re still paying for it. Bibby was similarly overpaid, especially for a guy whose most notable defensive attribute was a chronic case of whiplash from guys blowing by him. In hindsight, the Kings probably should have unloaded Bibby a season or two earlier when his value was higher. Similarly for Peja, Miller and others, but the Kings resisted the blow-it-up full-rebuild as long as they could, and longer than they should have.
Much has been said on this subject and I don’t have a lot to add. Adelman proved to be a solid coach, and he was followed by three busts. How much of that is Petrie’s doing is up for debate. But the consensus is that Westphal is Petrie’s call. So I’m cautiously optimistic. One thing we can all agree on is that coaching stability is an advantage, assuming you have a coach worth keeping. The revolving door coaching policy had done nothing to help the current team form an identity or develop a winning culture.
Here is what I conclude from looking at the historical evidence:
1. Petrie’s draft record speaks for itself. Let’s hope he keeps it up.
2. When Petrie trades for talent, the results are usually positive.
3. When Petrie trades to unload salaries, the results are underwhelming. But that’s to be expected when dealing from a position of weakness.
4. Petrie’s free agent acquisitions seem to be correlated to the Kings financial position. If they have money to spend, he does well. If they don’t, he doesn’t. But he may be losing a step anyway.
5. Petrie should stop throwing large contracts at guys with high mileage, non-existent defensive skills, and/or a history of attitude, performance, or injury problems. I would conclude from this that a player like Trevor Ariza, for example, is too risky due to his high price tag, unproven track record, and history of injuries. (Regarding substandard defense, exceptions may be made for young players who are likely to put up 40 points on any given night. Go Speed Racer go.)
6. No more max contracts, unless the Kings somehow draft Lebron II. C-Webb had a history of leg injuries and a fair amount of mileage. The Kings bet the house and lost.
7. Coaching stability matters. Let’s hope it’s back in SacTown.
All of this suggests to me that the Kings (and their fans) should be patient. Nothing is assured, but the Kings should husband their resources to ensure that they can pay their young players when their paydays come. Younger players that are still developing are a risk, but they can also be a bargain. The Trailblazers model is instructive, in my opinion, notwithstanding the recent Hedo debacle. The Blazers worked through all their bad contracts and built up a young talent base through the draft and through shrewd transactions. They are now loaded with bargain talent with no financial albatrosses.
Conclusion: Keep unloading the bad contracts. Continue to rely on the draft. Develop the young talent. Skip the expensive big-name free agents. Maintain coaching stability. Better days will follow.