Everyone remembers the final result, few remember the path traveled.
That's more or less how we play the role of Commodus with coaches and general managers, giving thumbs up or thumbs down based on what the W-L column looks like at any given point in time.
Sports fans and owners routinely use results to justify the hiring/firing of team executives, regardless of the uncontrolled factors at play (luck, injuries, over/underachieving performance). It's an unfortunate truth that serves a litmus test for Milwaukee Bucks fans, owner Herb Kohl, and general manager John Hammond heading into the 2012-13 NBA season.
Success should be measured by the decisions someone makes with all the information they have at that time. Likewise, judging someone by the outcome of their decision, rather than the process, makes a dangerous assumption about their control over the grey area that so often muddles up our perceptions of a world brushed only in Frank Capra-esque black and white.
If the Bucks make waves in the Eastern Conference and get to the postseason, Hammond will be lauded for pairing Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings together, negotiating a very flexible extension for Ersan Ilyasova, and acquiring Samuel Dalembert and his rebounding prowess in exchange for a hometown hero sucking up garbage minutes.
If Milwaukee crashes and burns, much like it did after expectations were raised in 2010, Hammond will get crushed for giving a long-term deal to a one hit wonder, keeping two defensively challenged chuckers together in the back court, and amassing a gaggle of power forwards with indistinguishable skill sets.
Ultimately, getting the 8th seed won't do much to change the Bucks' continued place as the definitive occupant of NBA hell (or institutional mediocrity), but that's another post for another blog. But just looking ahead to 2012-13, the truth is that it doesn't matter what happens when we inevitably evaluate John Hammond's ability to run an NBA team.
The only thing that matters is what Hammond did this offseason with the information, resources, and influence he was allotted. In that respect, the summer of 2012 featured his finest work as general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks, showcasing his strengths and minimizing his weaknesses.
Throughout his tenure, Hammond has shown a remarkable knack for turning undervalued assets (Mike Dunleavy, Luke Ridnour, Kurt Thomas, Jerry Stackhouse, 2009-10 John Salmons) into role players of great significance. His second round talent evaluation has been nothing if not solid (Luc Mbah a Moute, Jodie Meeks), and his ability to sell unwanted crap (Salmons, Corey Maggette) really makes me wish I knew how to tap phone lines.
Where Hammond has succeeded in building a roster of solid contributors, he has subsequently failed at the most important judgment of NBA front office success: obtaining a superstar. That requires an owner willing to throw away a few years of competitiveness, a city and team history that appeals to elite talent, and of course, a smidgen of luck in the NBA Lottery, player development, or elsewhere.
Hammond has filled that void with B and C list talent more known for their name than their leadership and ability (Salmons, Maggette, Stephen Jackson, and the jury is still out on Ellis). But this summer, Hammond addressed every immediate weakness without sacrificing the team's short and long term financial state.
The Bucks needed a center, and Hammond got two at very little expense to the team's pocket book and role assignments. Somewhere, Drew Gooden is shooting elbow jumpers and straight on three pointers with a smile.
Drafting power forward John Henson drew out plenty of immediate detractors (myself included). But Henson's (and Tobias Harris') Summer League performance has turned a lot of that initial trepidation into cautious excitement for the development of Hammond's last two first round picks.
The only position still in need of an upgrade is the team's shooting ability from the backcourt. Outside of Dunleavy and rookie sharpshooter Doron Lamb, the Bucks won't feature a two guard capable of spreading the floor consistently. Considering DNP-CD shooting guards come at a dime a dozen, and the Bucks have a handful of multi-purpose wings, it's not a dire situation unless someone gets hurt.
As this season plays out, players will get hurt. Some will exceed expectations, and some are due for a regression. The backcourt will have problems defending bigger guards, and the front court will have issues properly placing the ball in the cup.
No matter how strong your urge is to lay responsibility on the team's architect, resist it and remember that John Hammond isn't shooting, dribbling, or passing the basketball. To paraphrase Commissioner Gordon, he's put the best team together that he can with what he has.