Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Curtailing The Danny Ferry Optimism Barrage

In the past 48 hours, I've heard the word "optimism" (or its adjective and adverb variations) roughly 7,354 times.  "We're filled with optimism!"  "This is a reason to be very optimistic about the future!"  And so on.   It has been a litany of happily banal peppiness.  Optimism is a pleasant and frankly a necessary emotion to have at times; unfounded optimism doubly so.  But only a fool grins blithely in the face of impending disaster.  Or, if nothing quite that dire, at least in the face of something that should decidedly not foster anything akin to hopefulness. 

Which is why I am beyond perplexed by the optimism offensive currently being waged by Atlanta's sports talk radio on Danny Ferry's behalf.  The news broke yesterday that the Hawks have signed the former Spurs executive and Cavs GM to a six-year contract, over which time he will serve as GM and President of Basketball Operations of a franchise in desperate need of a concrete identity.  We're happy about this why?

For starters, people seem to be treating this as a definitive upgrade over Rick Sund.  Certainly, more harm than good has been done to the organization's personnel and fiscal situation on Sund's watch, but it's a thornier question  as to exactly how much control he was allowed to exercise in the decision-making process that led to those problems.  When you are issued directives that range from somewhat counterintuitive to downright insane by your team's ownership, you can bite your tongue and execute them or you can lose your gainful employment.  Given the constraints and strictures he was working under, I think Sund has done a decent job.  Presuming that the new GM will somehow rectify, or at least not repeat Sund's (possibly-not-his-fault) "errors" is doing Sund a disservice and giving Ferry unearned credit.

Next stop on the Myth-Debunking Train: I've heard an awful lot of people saying "look what Danny Ferry did in Cleveland!  Multiple trips to the finals!  He'll be great!"  What he "did" in Cleveland is eloquently laid out at Hoopinion by Bret LaGree, but to summarize: he walked into a situation with LeBron F****** James, Andy Varejao, and Big Z, and couldn't muster enough supporting pieces on the roster to get the Cavs a ring.  Which, you know, led to The Decision and all the subsequent occurrences that eventually got LeBron a ring in Miami.  We all know Dan Gilbert is a pathetic, egomaniacal jackass with a penchant for whining about things in comic sans font, and it's entirely possible that he gave just as many ill-fated marching orders to Ferry in Cleveland as Sund was issued in the ATL, but ... BUT.  Danny Ferry had the greatest player of his generation and two very nice buttresses to that talent in place when he arrived, and failed to assemble a team with the depth and versatility necessary to win a championship around them.  Epic fail, Danny.

And finally, can we stop the giddiness resultant from having a former member of the Spurs organization involved with the Hawks simply because we have a member of the Spurs organization?  The key word there is "organization."  That means the entirety of people involved in making a team functional, from ownership to ball boys and interns.  The ethos and attitudes that govern franchises come from the top down.  Assuming that Danny Ferry's long association with a winning entity will ameliorate the Hawks' problems proceeds from the false premise that his arrival will automatically correct Atlanta's collective organizational thinking on every rung of the ladder.*  

Consider the Spurs' NFL equivalent: the New England Patriots.  No franchise in football has been run with more consistent excellence over the past 12 years; yet nearly every disciple of "Belichick U" has fallen on his ass the moment he left, because other teams do not have ownership as smartly hands-off and organizational philosophies as universally bought-into as the Pats.  Just because Danny Ferry comes from a team where excellence is the province every single employee does not mean he can wave a magic wand and turn the Hawks into Spurs East.

*For those who will counter this argument by pointing out how well GM Sam Presti, another Spurs alum, has done in Oklahoma City, let me remind you of a few things.  A. Drafting Kevin Durant only after Portland disastrously took Greg Oden 1st can make anyone look good in hindsight.  And B. Presti has been able to build around Durant with Westbrook, Harden, and co. largely because everyone except KD is either still on rookie contracts or wasn't that expensive to sign.  The real test will be how he handles things when it's time for people to get paid.   

One last thought on the on-court talent.  Atlanta's current situation does not involve anyone close to the caliber of the finest players of Ferry's previous tenures.  As good as Smoove, Horford, and Teague are, they are a class or three below LeBron and the Duncan/Parker/Ginobili trio that Ferry had the benefit of working with in the past.  Because of Joe Johnson's contract and Atlanta's lack of well-positioned draft picks, he's probably not going to be able to acquire top-tier talent anytime soon.  Also, the Hawks just re-upped Larry Drew, whose coaching efforts have been passable at best.  The combination of being severely limited in roster and cap flexibility and a coach who has thus far proved unable to maximize the current roster's efficacy does not bode well for improving the Hawks' fortunes.

None of this is to say that Danny Ferry will necessarily do a bad job in his new role.  Given the constraints of his situation, I certainly would not consider the next few years mirroring the last few (choppy regular seasons culminating in first- or second-round playoff exits) to be a failure.  I merely wanted to point out that all this unbridled optimism is way off the mark, that Ferry's history has not been stellar when viewed within the proper context, and that it matters little who sits behind the Hawks' GM desk as long as the ASG insists on forcing poor decisions and Joe Johnson's contract is on the books.  Be hopeful.  Be optimistic.  But be reasonable about it.  Miles to go before we sleep, people.  Miles to go. 

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