Grading the general managers of Southland teams
The assignment seemed simple:
Rank the general managers of the six local baseball, basketball and hockey teams. Examine their resumes, study their rosters, calculate their calculations, decipher their best and worst deals and let the debate begin.
But it’s not easy to compare the performances of executives who work in different sports and under such different conditions.
The hockey general managers, Dean Lombardi of the Kings and Bob Murray of the Ducks, work under a “hard” or stringent salary cap and in a sport whose revenues are less than those of the NBA and Major League Baseball. Their basketball counterparts, Mitch Kupchak of the Lakers and Neil Olshey of the Clippers, have a “soft” or flexible cap, though a possible lockout this summer could lead to changes in the league’s financial structure.
The Dodgers’ Ned Colletti has had to work with a very tight budget because of Frank McCourt’s shaky finances but has gotten the team into the playoffs three times. The Angels’ Tony Reagins has built the fourth-highest payroll in baseball at over $138 million, but his team has hovered around .500 this season.
In addition, they have had varying degrees of success.
Only Kupchak has brought a championship to Los Angeles, with four titles to his sole credit. He shared one title with Jerry West, who ranked above him in the Lakers’ hierarchy until West left the Lakers in the summer of 2000. Next closest is Murray, who was the senior vice president of hockey operations under Brian Burke during the Ducks’ 2007 Stanley Cup run and was promoted when Burke resigned in November 2008.
Here’s how the local general managers rank, and why:
1 MITCH KUPCHAK, LakersFour championships. Period.
He reaped the benefits of West’s work with the 2001 and 2002 teams but reconfigured the lineup to create the back-to-back champions of 2009 and 2010.
He has had his tribulations, including adding Karl Malone and Gary Payton only to have the Lakers lose in the 2004 NBA Finals to Detroit. And his status seemed shaky in the summer of 2007 when Kobe Bryant blasted management after the team’s second straight first-round playoff exit and demanded a trade. Kupchak didn’t trade Bryant — or Andrew Bynum, whom Bryant had ripped — and later strengthened the team by acquiring Pau Gasol from Memphis.
Kupchak also changed Bryant’s opinion of his executive skills. “He goes from an F to an A-plus,” Bryant said.
Kupchak is the senior GM in town. He was given the title in June 1994, though West ranked above him until 2000.
Best deal: Acquiring Gasol and a second-round draft pick from Memphis on Feb. 1, 2008 for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, the draft rights to Marc Gasol and two future first-round picks. Gasol became a key figure in the 2009 and 2010 championships.
Worst deal: Acquiring Brown and Laron Profit from Washington for Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins on Aug. 2, 2005. Butler became a two-time All-Star. But Kupchak was able to move the disappointing Brown in the Gasol trade.
2 DEAN LOMBARDI, Kings
He rebuilt an organization that had bottomed out, but not all his picks have blossomed. He has struck out with premier free agents but did well to sign defense-oriented defensemen Rob Scuderi and Willie Mitchell, even if he overpaid.
His first coaching hire was a mistake — impatient Marc Crawford couldn’t work with kids — but successor Terry Murray has fit Lombardi’s plan to build from the back. Two consecutive first-round playoff exits could mean Murray has taken them as far as he can, but Lombardi is unlikely to make a coaching change. And Lombardi must step up to find a scorer and speed.
Best deal: Acquired right wing Justin Williams in a three-way deal with Carolina and Edmonton for Patrick O’Sullivan and a draft pick. Williams is a scoring threat when not injured.
Worst deal: Traded Colten Teubert and a second- or third-round pick in 2012 to Edmonton for lumbering Dustin Penner, who scored two goals in 19 regular-season games and one in six playoff contests and has a year left at $4.25 million.
3 NED COLLETTI, Dodgers
The organization cut spending on drafting and development and McCourt wanted the payroll cut substantially as well. That meant playing a lot of kids already in the system.
During Colletti’s tenure James Loney, Matt Kemp, Jonathan Broxton, Clayton Kershaw and Andre Ethier have blossomed, and Colletti brought in decent veterans such as Greg Maddux, Vicente Padilla, Jon Garland and Casey Blake. He can’t land the biggest names because he can’t spend money. Maybe he shouldn’t have traded catching prospect Carlos Santana for Blake, but Blake twice led the Dodgers to the National League Championship Series and remains a key player.
Under Colletti the Dodgers made the playoffs in 2006, 2008 and 2009, but a return to the World Series seems distant. He spent $80 million last winter on a bunch of so-so acquisitions, and his $110-million payroll includes deferred money owed to some of his biggest mistakes (see below).
Best deal: Trading tempestuous outfielder Milton Bradley to Oakland for productive outfielder Andre Ethier.
Worst deal: Pick one or all — Jason Schmidt, Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones. Manny Ramirez qualifies among the best and the worst. Ramirez landed in Colletti’s lap for nothing but went sour soon after Colletti re-signed him for two years and $45 million. Those four account for $16 million in deferred payments this year.
4 BOB MURRAY, Ducks
Murray succeeded Brian Burke in November 2008, inheriting a team that had no salary-cap space and needed an overhaul. He has stumbled — he didn’t get enough for Andy McDonald or James Wisniewski and he traded productive winger Chris Kunitz for defense flop Ryan Whitney — but he cleared cap space, brought in youngsters, re-signed Bobby Ryan to a long-term deal and got the Ducks to the playoffs two of the last three seasons and to the second round in 2009.
The Ducks were seeded No. 4 in the West this season despite losing starting goalie Jonas Hiller to a case of vertigo. Hiller’s illness led Murray to gamble on goalie Ray Emery, a success until Emery sustained a groin injury. Murray is loyal to Coach Randy Carlyle, perhaps to a fault.
Best deal: Acquired defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky from Edmonton for Whitney and a sixth-round draft pick. Visnovsky was a power-play catalyst and had a career-best 68 points last season. Whitney never fit with the Ducks after being acquired for Kunitz, who won the Cup with the Penguins.
Worst deal: Perhaps he shouldn’t have sacrificed the present for the future by trading Chris Pronger to Philadelphia in June 2009 but Pronger, then nearly 35, wanted a seven-year, $35-million extension. Murray got Joffrey Lupul (later dealt to Toronto for Francois Beauchemin), defenseman Luca Sbisa and two first-round draft picks for Pronger. That’s a good return.
5 TONY REAGINS, Angels
The Angels missed the playoffs last season and have won only one of three playoff series during his tenure. Reagins has been more aggressive than his predecessor, Bill Stoneman, but his moves haven’t always worked out.
He gets points for trading for Mark Teixeira at the deadline in 2008, though Teixeira left as a free agent. And acquiring Dan Haren for Joe Saunders and three minor leaguers has been a plus.
But he loses points for trading infielder Sean Rodriguez for struggling left-hander Scott Kazmir, who will end up costing the Angels about $25 million.
Best deal: Signing Torii Hunter as a free agent in November 2007. He has become the heart of the team.
Worst deal: Trading Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli for outfielder Vernon Wells, who had $86 million and four years left on his contract. Wells was batting .183 in 35 games with four home runs and 13 runs batted in before going on the disabled list because of a groin strain.
6 NEIL OLSHEY, Clippers
Not enough of a track record to go on his appointment in March 2010.
He had a good start by acquiring the draft rights to guard Eric Bledsoe for a future protected first-round pick. Olshey also traded Baron Davis to Cleveland in February with a first-round draft pick that became No. 1 overall when the Cavaliers won the lottery, for guard Mo Williams and forward Jamario Moon.
The deal freed up salary-cap space, made the team younger and handed the team to the Blake Griffin-Eric Gordon generation.
Olshey’s most important task will be to keep Griffin, who becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2014.
“I can guarantee you he will only ever be a Clipper,” Olshey told ESPNLosAngeles.com. If Olshey pulls it off, he might rank No. 1 on the 2014 version of this list.
Best deal: Too early to say.
Worst deal: Too early to say.
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