Not much has changed for the Spurs in the past year. After steamrolling through last year’s compressed scheduled on the backs of their aging stars, only to fall to Oklahoma City one round short of the Finals, the Spurs' brass opted not to make any significant changes to their roster. In some ways, that decision seems to be paying off.
Much like last season, San Antonio is cruising through the regular season, with a 29-11 record and the league’s third best scoring margin (+8.1). Just like it’s been for more than a decade, the Spurs rarely beat themselves. They’re 14-1 against sub-.500 teams, playing the same mistake-free game that led them to four championships between 1999-2007. The difference is that, back then, not beating themselves was enough. Now, the Chris Pauls and Kevin Durants of the world have changed things. With this roster, in this NBA, the Spurs just aren’t good enough.
Last Thursday was a big one for new Hawks GM Danny Ferry: His five kids and wife finally arrived in Atlanta, from San Antonio. Then the Orlando Magic traded Dwight Howard. Not to the Hawks, Howard’s hometown team, but to the Lakers. Ferry had gotten 31-year-old Joe Johnson’s albatross of a contract off the Hawks' books ($89 million remaining over four years) within two weeks of taking over in late June, so forgive the Hawks fans out there for thinking he could also lure Howard home. In his 19th-floor office in downtown Atlanta, Ferry spoke quietly, and measuredly, for most of an hour, about where the Hawks are going and where's he's been.
So. Dwight Howard to the Lakers.
It all happened yesterday. I was here, at the office. I heard the news from some sources around the league. It’s something we looked at, but they just would not ... I don’t know that we ever got close at the end, because they just didn’t want to trade him within the division. My first call, when I found out about the Lakers deal, was to [Hawks co-owner] Bruce [Levenson].
His career as an insufferable college player aside, Danny Ferry’s lasting contribution to the basketball world is represented with the photo on this blog post. In 2005, in his first season as Cleveland Cavaliers GM, Ferry was tasked with building a champion around LeBron James. Donyell Marshall, who had shot 42 percent on 3s the previous year, was supposed to be the type of outside threat needed on a team with the play-making James. Larry Hughes was supposed to be James’s Pippen — a long wing defender who could supplement LeBron’s offense when called upon. We all know the rest. It ends with LeBron rapping at a Miami club in his own animal-face T-shirt and Dan Gilbert crying somewhere in all caps.
Whether it’s fair or not, to this point Ferry’s legacy in management is tied to James, and that makes the timing of Monday’s news all the more interesting. Four days after LeBron lifted his championship trophy in Miami, the Atlanta Hawks announced Ferry would be taking over as the team’s GM, his first stint at the helm of an organization since being fired by Cleveland two years ago. Ferry spent those two seasons back in San Antonio, where he’d started his personnel career after retiring as a player with the Spurs in 2003. That the league’s best-run team would be so willing to welcome him back is as good an endorsement as any, and when the Hawks parted ways with Rick Sund earlier this month, Ferry was their first and only call.
When Ferry took over in Cleveland, the instruction manual came with the office. As long as James was there, winning the lottery in 2003 would be the biggest personnel move the Cavs would ever have to make. Decisions that are considered failures now still led to 60-win seasons. This time around, Ferry is looking at some new problems (well, at least three):