May 2, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Denver Nuggets head coach George Karl looks on against the Golden State Warriors during the fourth quarter of game six of the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Nuggets 92-88. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Ask anyone who followed this past NBA offseason and they’ll tell you that the Denver Nuggets had one of the worst offseasons in the league. Last year this team was a media favorite, a 57-game winner, a fourth seed in the playoffs, and must watch TV. This year they’ll be lucky to make the playoffs in a stacked western conference, and while they might still be an entertaining team this year, it won’t be because they’re good.
So what changed? This offseason Denver chose to start by letting go both Masai Ujiri and George Karl, one of the more successful general manager-coach duos in the league. The Nuggets, under that regime, had made the playoffs the past ten years running, weathering even the forced departure of superstar Carmelo Anthony. But the problem here isn’t necessarily that the Nuggets chose to move on, it’s how they moved on.
Ujiri and Karl were generally considered one of the better management duos in the league, but there were questions about whether the roster under them was capable of winning a championship. That explains the sides going separate ways, but the moves under Denver’s new GM Tim Connelly are still questionable. Some of the notable moves include trading their starting center for a second round pick and Darrell Arthur, letting Andre Iguodala go for next-to-nothing and signing Nate Robinson to a team that already had two above-average point guards.
These moves are what happen when a team stops thinking forward in regards to player evaluation and just starts thinking about names and basic stats that don’t tell the whole story of a players skills. That’s how you end up thinking it’s a good idea to start Javale McGee.
Sounds a little like a team we know. A team which at the end of the year will find itself in a very different place than last year’s Nuggets did. The current front office of the Seattle Mariners has done a job that Bill Bavasi would be proud of (other than the lack of a James Paxton for Jason Giambi trade).
Jack Zduriencik has managed to toss aside any clear method of evaluating talent at a major league level other than “do they hit home runs?” or “hey that guy was good once.” And it has left us with little-to-no support for the young talent that Jack Z, to his credit, brought in.
But scouting young talent is not the only job of the front office and in most other aspects they’ve failed. It’s a serious issue that the only move they made this offseason that I didn’t vehemently dislike was re-signing King Felix, and that’s a serious problem. It’s time for some change in Seattle, and like in Denver, the team needs to clean house. This team needs management on all levels.
But the upper management and ownership in Seattle should take a lesson from Denver and realize that looking backward is no longer a viable option if you want to have a winning franchise in a modern professional sports league. You have to be on the cutting edge. This franchise needs to prioritize forward thinking.
Jul 8, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners second baseman Nick Franklin (20) hits a RBI double against the Boston Red Sox during the 7th inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
The other lesson to take away from Denver’s situation is the method they used in constructing their roster. As strange as it seems to do so, the 2014 Mariners should value exactly the same things that the 2012 Nuggets did. The roster should be build with an emphasis on youth, depth, bench versatility and, most importantly, the idea that you don’t need to have star players.
Teams have shown over and over again that spending big money on free agent hitters is not a viable long term option. The Mariners, instead of aiming for free agents like Prince Fielder or Josh Hamilton, need to shoot to simply have a plus player at every position like their division counterpart, the Oakland A’s. The recipe for the Mariners to succeed is not to spend big money on free agents at every position. It is to build a team by developing young prospects and by filling each position with players who, at the least, are not negatively impacting the team.
That kind of depth and consistency throughout the team will over time, produce equal or better results than those of a team like the Angels who have invested all their money in a few positions. Seattle has some very nice young talent in place but it’s time for a new GM who will properly evaluate veteran talent based on an evaluation of a player as a whole and not just a desire to hit more home runs.
It’s also time for a manager who can step out of the eighties and manage a baseball team with at least some level of common sense and intelligence. With the right hands on the steering wheel the Mariners could soon end the misery of their fans with winning baseball, if only they take to heart the lessons of the Denver Nuggets.