RandBall Q&A: ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons, your next Wolves GM?

Posted on May 6th, 2009 – 3:52 PM
By Michael Rand

simmons.JPGESPN.com columnist Bill Simmons (AKA “The Sports Guy” … or is it the other way around) has been Tweeting all day in hopes of being taken seriously as a candidate for the vacant Wolves GM job (thanks for the alert, Roughkat). Included:

*T-Wolves prez Chris Wright: wright@timberwolves.com. Lobby him on my behalf. My question to Minny: Why not? You are irrelevant right now.
*PS: Here’s my offer to the T-Wolves. 3-year deal, first year for free as long as I can write a book about Season 1. I am dead-serious

With time of the essence — the Wolves have reportedly offered the job to David Kahn — we fired off an e-mail to Bill with some follow-up questions. He obliged with more than just answers. It was epic. Anything is possible! Here we go:

RandBall: On a scale of 1-100, how serious are you about being a viable candidate for an NBA GM job? I respect your basketball knowledge, and I know you’ve thrown it out there in the past, but is this something you really believe you could do and would want to do?

Bill Simmons: A solid 93. I just spent the past two years writing a mammoth book trying to figure out everything that ever happened in the NBA, which players and teams mattered more than we thought (or less than we thought), how we got here, and if there’s a secret to winning that we can learn from everything that already happened. I promise you that nobody has ever put more thought into what dynamics make an NBA team succeed or fail. You will understand when the book comes out in October. It’s 700 pages. No, really. It’s 700 pages. I’m not kidding.

But a couple of things bother me here. First, why does the NBA hold onto this old boy’s network thought process of “he failed the last time, maybe he won’t fail this time” with coaches and GMs? We have copious amounts of evidence that there is no correlation between succeeding as a college coach and succeeding as an NBA coach, or succeeding as an NBA player and succeeding as a GM, or succeeding the second time when you failed the first time. The job hinges on having common sense and a high basketball IQ, understanding chemistry and character, following the San Antonio/Boston blueprint and building a team a specific way, not following the mistakes everyone has made in the past, surrounding yourself with smart people, delegating, brainstorming, doing everything to can to get better, grasping the economic realities of the league and where it’s going, understanding human psyche and the effects of a big contract on certain people, and betting on the right players. We overthink this crap and we shouldn’t.

Second, where are the Minnesota Timberwolves going? What is the goal? They are an also-ran in a small market city with a diehard but tiny group of followers. How do you sell basketball in a bad economy to these people? How do you stand out in a 30-team league? Hey, here’s an idea: By thinking unconventionally and picking someone who has a real connection with fans, understands how they think and will do everything possible to keep them caring about the team. You build a fan base by winning and by connecting with your fans. For Minnesota fans to care about the team, they’d have to feel like A.) they have a say (and I would listen to them), B.) they aren’t throwing money away for tickets without protection if things don’t go wrong (and I would give half-price refunds to every season ticket holder for any season starting with a home game after the team has been eliminated from the playoffs), and C.) there’s a real game plan in place.

Minnesota hasn’t had a game plan really ever. The team overpaid the wrong guys, panicked again and again and antagonized its fans. I will never do that. Ever. Hell, I have even made the following offer: I will sign a three-year deal with the numbers for the second and third year to be determined … for the first year, I will work for free. Just let me write a book about being the GM. That’s my only demand.

One last thing: How many people would ever say, “I’d love Minnesota, living there would be cool?” Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Minnesota … these are salt of the earth cities with great people. I would be proud and happy to move my family there for a few years. Also, I feel like Boston owes ‘Sota for KG, Big Papi and Randy Moss. It’s about time we gave you something back. So what better than me, the former Boston Sports Guy? Come on, you have to admit, there’s a certain symmetry here.

RandBall (our turn already!): Specific to the Wolves, please outline your draft plan (3 first-rounders, 2 second-rounders, and I realize some of it is contingent on where they are in the lottery) and your big-picture plan.

Bill Simmons: I have a whole plan. I cannot unveil it yet because I don’t want to give the secret recipe away and then have them sign some retread like David Kahn. That would suck. I am keeping my plan to myself for now.

RandBall: How much of this is fueled by your man-love for Al Jefferson?

Bill Simmons: It’s no secret, we’ve had a one-sided bromance for years now and he’s my single favorite non-Celtic. The thing I loved about him in Boston was that he had some bad luck — every time he seemed like he was putting together, he’d sprain or pull or tear something — but when the team was tanking down the stretch in 2007, he really played his ass off and turned it into a positive experience. Kept working on his game, busting his ass, mastering his footwork and so on. You could see the results as that season went on. I said somewhere during that season that he was morphing into the best under-25 post player in basketball and it was proven by what he did last year before he got hurt. He has to be double-teamed and he can score on anyone. he also hits his free throws which you have to love. And he’s a fantastic dude. The Celtics organization loved him to death. He’s exactly who you’d want as a franchise guy. The one fallback with him is obviously defense, but there’s a good track record of talented All-Star forwards getting better defensively with age — look at Karl Malone, for instance. If a healthy Big Al is your best guy for the next few years, you’re in great shape.

RandBall: Which three current GMs would you immediately try to fleece in a trade if given an actual GM job, and why?

Bill Simmons: First, Chris Wallace. It’s like becoming a star actor or singer and having sex with Lindsay Lohan — you just have to do it so you can say you did it, and it’s so easy, why wouldn’t you do it? Second, Ernie Grunfeld. He’s panicking and that whole franchise is panicking, they are a dumb blockbuster trade waiting to happen. Third, and most obviously, Mike Dunleavy. You cannot go wrong making a trade with Mike Dunleavy. You just can’t. He’s the perfect storm of fleeceable — bad at his job, unaware of the salary cap, ignorant of character issues with players, desperate to keep his job. What’s better? It’s like being served a good trade platter. “I’ll be your maitre’d, Mike Dunleavy, can I offer you an Eric Gordon to start?”

RandBall: Plain and simple: why should the Wolves hire you?

Bill Simmons: I would twist that around: Why SHOULDN’T they hire me? Do you really think David Kahn is going to be a water cooler topic in Minnesota this month? It’s just like when Milwaukee hired John Hammond last year … congrats, you just brought in a perfectly average GM who will have zero impact on your visibility locally. If you’re a big market team, yeah, you don’t need your GM to sell tickets and get people talking. If you’re a small market team? It’s a much more significant hire in a non-basketball sense.

Not to steal from my rant on today’s podcast, but let’s say Minny hires me. Wouldn’t “Timberwolves hire ESPN.com sports columnist as GM” immediately become one of the most talked-about NBA stories of the year? How else would the T-Wolves ever lead PTI or get a cover of Sports Illustrated? It’s just smart business. You are a floundering franchise that needs to get people talking … how do you do this? How do you connect with your fans? How do you make a splash? By hiring me. Obviously you don’t make that move if I’d suck at the job, but that’s thing, I wouldn’t suck at the job. I follow this league as closely and as diligently and as thoughtfully as anyone on the planet. So I didn’t play or coach. So I didn’t get fired from a previous GM job. Who cares?

I would think outside the box, and really, that’s what a team like Minnesota needs from their GM. I would go out to dinner with every [original] Minny season ticket holder — and there can’t be many — in groups of eight or 10 just to let them know that someone appreciates that they stuck with the franchise for this long. I would make a vow that, if we are ever eliminated from the playoffs in any season, from that point on, every home game is half-price and all season ticket holders get a half-price refund on the remaining games so they aren’t paying for crappy tank jobs. I would make myself accountable at every game and via email. I would make a rule that any T-Wolves fan could trade in a jersey of a player no longer on the team and get 40% off a new one. I would have a contest to find two T-Wolves fans to announce all our home games on Timberwolves.com, kinda like Mystery Science Theater but with diehard fans of the team. Etc etc etc. I have a million ideas. Really, you have to be an idea guy to be an NBA GM – you deal with a lot of stuff beyond “Which players should I pick?” And anyone who reads my column knows that I never, ever, EVER run out of ideas.

You would be in good hands. I think like a fan, and I am connected to fans. I would never leave them disenfranchised. That much I could guarantee you. They would always feel like they were invested in my team. And not just that, but I am fortunate enough to have an army of loyal readers who like me. Most of those people would love to see me succeed and turn the NBA upside down. You know what that means? More T-Wolves fans across the country. More people buying T-Wolves merchandise and hitting the website. More national attention. Etc etc etc. And what about the national media? What’s a better during the season story than my first T-Wolves season, my first trade deadline, my first draft pick, my first trade and everything else? I would be the fountain of stories that keeps on giving. You have to admit, people would be talking. Isn’t that the fundamental goal as a sports team, not just to win, but to get people talking for the right reasons and not the wrong ones? And who knows how to deal with the media better than me? I’d be like a young Donnie Walsh, feeding stories and info, keeping everyone happy, controlling how every opinion is shaped through the media in a variety of ways. Michael Rand, you should be rooting for this more than anyone. I will be buttering you up like a two-pound lobster. You’ll LOVE having me as a GM. I know how the game works.

RandBall: What got you going with this idea today on Twitter in the first place?

I read a story that the T-Wolves couldn’t find a good GM candidate. I couldn’t believe it. I had to offer my services. And by the way, I am extending the same offer to the Los Angeles Clippers for all the same reasons you just read. I would take either job in a heartbeat. I know I could do it. And if I fail for whatever reason, at least the book will be good.

In fact, that’s my campaign slogan: “SIMMONS FOR GM: AT LEAST THE BOOK WOULD BE GOOD.”

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