The Ever Evolving Role of the GM
I’d like to think I accomplished a few things in my professional life, but I guess I’m most proud of what I did to bring Portland a major league sports team.
And I’m still in love with them.
We’re in a unique position this year. Usually if you acquire one good player in a year, you’ve done really well. We’ve got a chance to get three this time. We have two first round draft choices, you can trade and you can get a player via free agency. So you could get three key players this year, and I think we have a couple of those already – Obviously LaMarcus, and I think Batum is in that category too.
The season we won the championship, 1977, it was the year of the merger between the NBA and the ABA. And as a result we got a couple of picks in the draft. That enabled us to get Maurice Lucas to add to what we already had, and it brought us Dave Twardzik. We made the playoffs for the first time and won the title that same year.
It can’t happen exactly that way this time around because there’s no merger between two leagues. You can’t trade your way to a championship, but you can make the one trade that puts you over the hump. If you make one good move through the draft, trade or free agency, and you keep adding a good player every year, you’re going to be pretty good.
That’s where the general manager comes in. As the next GM, I want a good basketball man that makes good decisions when it comes to trades, when it comes to free agents, and especially when it comes to the draft.
But I think just as important as getting a GM and maybe even more important is getting the right coach. The trick to me in coaching today is getting the players who will play hard 82 games a year and play together 82 games a year. And the coach who succeeds in doing that will have a darn good basketball team. It’s about good players and good people, and that’s what Stu Inman and Bucky Buckwalter used to emphasize. You win with good people.
Back then, the GM was not only taking care of all the basketball operations but everything else: public relations, television, the whole thing. What I saw at the time, a GM meant doing everything but the basketball operations, and I acquired Stu through a fortunate circumstance and made him what I called director of player personnel. That was exactly what he was going to do here.
I remember the day Paul Allen bought the team. The next day there was a computer in every office in the place. And I was told then that Stu could email me about all the prospects he’s watching, and I said, “I’ve got a better thing than that, I’ll take three steps and walk next door into his office and I’ll ask him, how’d you like that kid at Kentucky?” The computer’s a wonderful thing, but I’d rather deal with people face to face.
I don’t care how many times you’ve seen a player, you have to look at the little things. Stu was so good at that. You look at a player, how does he react during a timeout? Does he sit down hard on the bench? Is he tired right away? Is he coachable? Does he listen to what the coach is saying? All those things get included in to your evaluation of a player. That’s how we fell in love with Darnell Valentine – Because we liked the way he related to a loose ball.
It’s a totally different experience now. When we came into the league, the rule was you could not get into the draft until your college class had graduated. You didn’t have to graduate but you had to be there four years. So we just looked at college seniors, those were the only players we were going to draft.
Then eventually you could no longer confine yourself to drafting seniors so a lot of juniors came out, and then it became everybody. Not only were we drafting college players, but after my time here, we drafted high school players. And on top of all that, all of a sudden you’re scouting the whole world. You have players in this league now from Europe, South America, Asia, everywhere. It already is and will continue to be a whole different ball game.
I’m sure we’ll find just the right guy for the job, but would I want to be a GM in this whole new world?
No way. I just want to sit back and enjoy it.