If we give an award to an executive it should be because they improve their teams wins and do it by making intelligent moves. Larry Bird does not deserve this award at all. Last season the Pacers won 37 wins. This season they improved their wins by 15 (if we adjust to an 82 game season), so clearly it was the brilliant moves made by Larry Bird, right? The answer is no! The Pacer’s success had everything to do with a lucky improvement from Roy Hibbert and a good progression from sophomore Paul George. The moves Larry Bird made to help the team? Well they were mediocre to bad. Let’s review using Basketball-Reference’s transaction data:
- Drafted Kawhi Leonard in the 1st round (15th pick) of the 2011 NBA Draft.
- Drafted Davis Bertans in the 2nd round (42nd pick) of the 2011 NBA Draft.
- Traded Kawhi Leonard, Davis Bertans and Erazem Lorbek to the San Antonio Spurs for George Hill.
- Waived Jeff Pendergraph.
- Waived James Posey.
- Signed David West as a free agent.
- Traded Brandon Rush to the Golden State Warriors for Louis Amundson.
- Traded cash and a 2012 2nd round draft pick to the Toronto Raptors for Leandro Barbosa.
- Signed Kyrylo Fesenko as a free agent.
If we treat the draft and trade of Kawhi Leonard as one move then the Pacers made eight moves this season. Let’s examine them and grade it to see if Larry deserves an accolades
Trading Leonard was one of the stupidest moves this season
George Hill had been an average player his first three seasons in San Antonio. Kawhi Leonard was projected as the third best rookie in the draft. Also with the 15th pick in the draft Leonard’s contract was gold! He will make less than $2 million a year for the next two seasons, a mere $3 million three seasons from now, and the Spurs have him as a restricted free agent after that. The Pacers paid a little over $2 million for Hill’s contract this season and he is now entering restricted free agency, where his contract will take a bump. Instead of betting very little on a top prospect for an insanely cheap contract, the Pacers chose to invest in an average player. Sure, Hill did improve this season but compared to Leonard it was nothing!
Signing David West was stupid
The Pacers invested $20 million to sign David West for two seasons. The response will be that David West is a good player and he also played well this season. First, David West is an average player! He is overrated because he averages around 20 points per game. Second David West is over 30 and players over 30 tend to decline. The final part is that the going rate for a win is around $1.7 million. David West tends to average around 5 wins a season. As such his going rate should be around $8.5 million. What’s more Indiana is a small market team. A win is not worth as much in Indiana as it is in a big market like New York. Arturo estimated the value of a win in Indiana at around $1.2 million. So David West’s value in Indiana based on historical data would be around $6 million and that’s assuming he doesn’t age like milk! David West performed at his normal levels, which means the Pacers overpaid David West by $4 million! Wasn’t the whole complaint of the lockout that small market teams were overpaying for marginal talent?
Trading Rush for Amundson was stupid
Brandon Rush is a 26 year old player. He’s been above average his last two seasons and played great this season. Louis Amundson is a 29 year old player. He’s never hit hit 1200 minutes and did not play well last season or this. Why on earth would the Pacers make this trade? The one reason might be that the Pacers wanted to upgrade for size and felt they didn’t need a shooting guard. Unfortunately that reason will fall flat in a second.
Trading for Barbosa was stupid
Barbosa has never been that great of a player. In 2007 and 2009 he had two good seasons but the rest of his career has been marred with mediocrity and he’s frankly been terrible his last several seasons. His contract was also over $7 million this season. The Pacers gave away a draft pick and cash for that! At the market value we discussed above a $7 million contract would require an above average player for the Pacers. At $7 million and a draft pick AND cash? Well they just overpaid like mad. This was a terrible move, especially considering they preempted it by trading away a good shooting guard.
Bad waives and bad pickup
The Pacers waived James Posey. He’s older and hasn’t been productive in years. His contract was around $6 million this season and I assume waiving him was to make room for West. That said, they didn’t gain much by paying him to go away as he only had one season left. In essence they traded him away for flexibility, which they promptly wasted.
The Pacers also waived Jeff Pendergraph. While he has only racked up around 500 career minutes, he has played above average in that time. His salary was a mere $1.5 million. Waiving him and then later trading a good player for Amundson is questionable at best.
Finally, the Pacers picked up Fesenko. He has never been good! He only suited up for 17 minutes (in which he played great) but still! What is the point of picking up a bad player that has never played well in four seasons?
There is not a single move on the Pacers’ short list that was good. In fact, all of them were pretty terrible. The lockout was allegedly about small market teams being forced into overpaying. All the Pacers did was overpay for marginal talent! They also ignored good looking young prospects and instead focused on players that have never been great. None of these moves are what define top franchises! Patrick at the NBA Geek completely nails what happened in Indiana. The Pacers lucked into a very good Hibbert and George. There is no move Bird did this season that can take any credit for that! The voters are awarding luck and in doing so they reinforcing the very habits that not even a year ago were being touted as destroying the NBA.
(Editor Arturo’s note: I had nothing to do with this, I swear :-) )