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Just The Sports: General Managers

Just The Sports

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

General Managers

I will be the first to admit that there is a lot about sports that I do not know. This blog is as much a chance for me to answer some of the sports questions I have than it is a chance to share my thoughts with whoever stumbles across this site. Perhaps the one aspect of sports that never ceases to confuse and baffle me is the workings of general managers. They hand out foolish contracts to players who outperform their career statistics drastically in their walk year, sign proven veterans who have nothing left to provide to the team, give guaranteed money to players for no other reason than that the name is familiar to them, and also make ill-advised trades to at least pass the time. True, even the most rigorous statistical analysis cannot always predict what a player will do, but it is better than whatever methods general managers are applying now.

My confusion has manifested itself throughout this NBA offseason as I watched team after team drastically overhaul rosters without really improving the team, but for now I want to focus on Larry Bird's pursuit of Al Harrington, whom the Indiana Pacers finally acquired from the Atlanta Hawks for his second tour of duty in Indianapolis. For all of the trouble it took to complete this sign-and-trade deal, no one would fault the casual observer for thinking Al Harrington is a great player and the final piece to the Pacer championship puzzle. He is not and he will not be it.

Now, don't get me wrong, Al Harrington is a decent player and on the outside, there looks to be steady improvement in his game. His scoring average has gone up each year since 2003 when he was 22. Never trust scoring average alone, though, for it is the basketball equivalent of runs batted in because it does not tell you how many shots it took for the player to reach his point total. After all, anyone can score twenty points in an NBA game.

The real question is does the player score his points in an efficient manner, taking full advantage of his shots and not using more possessions than is good for the team. Harrington fails those criteria. Harrington's offensive rating has fluctuated every year of his career, going up and then down and then up and then down again. Every year of his NBA career. All the time he was improving and then declining, the one constant was he maintained his below-average offensive rating. There do not even seem to be an optimal number of possessions Harrington can be efficient with.

On a positive note, Harrington can play good defense if the coach stresses it, but looking at his defensive ratings over his career, he will not play defense for the sake of playing defense. The Pacers should hope he still remembers how to play defense after spending two years with the Atlanta Hawks.

In order to avoid being one of those sports followers who only criticize moves and present no real solution, I will present an avenue the Pacers should have at least investigated if they did not and that avenue's name is Troy Murphy, whom the Pacers also would have had to trade for, but a player who is better than Al Harrington while being the same age. Murphy has higher offensive rating numbers and he can play slightly better defense than the league average. Harrington is a better defender, but Murphy more than makes up for it with his scoring and his rebounding.


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