With The Last Dance documentary now live and the actions of one Jerry Krause magnified to a global audience once again, I look at the cold-blooded responsibilities of basketball operations as a whole.
“There has been much criticism of our approach. There will be more. A competitive league like the NBA necessitates a zig while our competitors comfortably zag,” wrote former Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie in his resignation letter.
“We often chose not to defend ourselves against much of the criticism, largely in an effort to stay true to the ideal of having the longest view in the room.
“To attempt to convince others that our actions are just will serve to paint us in a different light among some of our competitors as progressives worth emulating, versus adversaries worthy of their disdain.”
Hinkie continues on to compare himself to Warren Buffet and Abraham Lincoln, among others, in the letter.
As a young NBA fan at the time, I was more than excited. While the Sixers had stunk for half a decade at the time (and stunk bad), they had acquired enough assets and developed their own to create a title-contending team; the ultimate goal of an NBA franchise.
The Process was unpopular enough to get Hinkie pushed out of a job, but in retrospect, it was a smart play.
Similar to when Boston traded Isaiah Thomas for Kyrie Irving.
“I don’t know what we owe him,” Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge said following the trade.
“We gave him an opportunity while he was here.”
Ainge isn’t wrong, Boston swooped in on Thomas when his value was at its lowest; he had struggled to find his footing in Phoenix next to two nominal point guards in Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe.
The Celtics essentially traded a 2016 Cleveland first-round pick and Marcus Thornton for Thomas, developed the asset and flipped him for an All-NBA-level guard in Kyrie.
Trading Thomas away, unfortunately, happened to be after he played a playoff game within 24 hours following the death of his sister, Chyna. He famously scored one of the more emotional 33 points en route to a victory.
Some would describe the move as cold-blooded and heartless, but it was calculated.
And then there’s poor Chris Mullin.
Jersey retirements are usually special nights for players to reflect on their time with the team and the team to essentially thank the play for their dedication to the team and city.
Unfortunately for Chris, his jersey retirement night came a week after fan favourite Monta Ellis was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks for Andrew Bogut. Thus far, Bogut hadn’t lived up to his number one overall pick hype thanks to injuries and Monta was a bright spot for a team starving for on-court excellence.
As Warriors owner Joe Lacob read from his cue cards, the poor guy was clearly shaking and upset that the night for Chris was being overshadowed by the trade. This just happened to be the next time the fans got to see one of the people responsible.
After that night, the Dubs finished the season with a 6–22 record, tanked enough to select Harrison Barnes with the seventh overall pick and then Festus Ezeli at 30 and a chubby forward at 35 called Draymond Green.
By the time the Warriors made their fifth Finals trip in five seasons including three titles and a 73-win season, Monta Ellis hadn’t worn an NBA jersey in almost two years.
Who had the longest view in the room then?
Enter Jerry Krause.
As someone who has read both Sam Smith’s The Jordan Rules and Phil Jackson’s Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success (wow, what a name drop in book form), I am fully aware of all the… how do you say… unfortunate things Krause has been involved with.
What we saw detailed in the first two episodes of The Last Dance was Scottie Pippen’s contract issues, he was the 122nd highest-paid player in the league during the Bulls’ sixth championship run.
But we also got a brief insight into why the issues existed in the first place. Scottie grew up in a poor family and when he got drafted, he made security a priority, he wanted to make NBA money, life-changing money, but he also wanted to make sure a freak injury or accident couldn’t get in the way of that.
With two family members using wheelchairs after a stroke and freak wrestling accident, he understood risk and did what he could to avoid it.
He did the thing that you see on Deal Or No Deal that makes people in old homes think: what a lovely guy, he has his head screwed on.
Bulls owner and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf says on The Last Dance that he told Scottie not to sign that contract because if all things break right, he stands to make much more money.
It’s not Krause’s fault that he traded for a draftee who had different contractual aspirations to your usual 22-year-old. The contract became a bargain in no time and everybody knew it, but there was no incentive for Krause to get out of the contract and renegotiate: why would he? It may be the smart thing to do emotionally, but Krause has to build a championship roster, and that takes business sense.
When two-time MVP Stephen Curry led his Golden State Warriors to 73 wins, he was at the tail end of his rookie extension, a contract signed just as he came off ankle issues that dampened his market.
In that 2016/17, hot off what Bleacher Report recently ranked the best MVP season of the last 20 years, Steph was the 82nd highest-paid player in the league, just behind Marvin Williams and ahead of Nikola Pekovic (wow, memories).
The Last Dance also shows Krause under fire for openly entertaining Scottie trades. In retrospect, he was wrong there, as Scottie is the ideal number two to Michael Jordan.
But one of the main forces that stopped the Warriors from trading Klay Thompson to Minnesota in a deal centred around Kevin Love was Jerry West’s voice saying no, there’s something special here.
Nothing stopped Danny Ainge from trading for Kyrie, but what would that team look like if he hadn’t? Would Isaiah have just faded with the injuries like he has? Would Kemba be a Celtic?
And my favourite hypothetical, what if Kyrie had been traded to one of his other preferred destinations? Kyrie gave the Cavs a list that included San Antonio, Miami, New York and Minnesota. Brooklyn wasn’t to be seen.
I’m not going to delve into the non-basketball decisions Krause made that hurt his legacy, The Last Dance will cover them well enough. All I can say is that I’m very excited to see what they do with the Toni Kukoc dilemma (that was my favourite) and definitely anything to do with Dennis Rodman, naturally.
When it comes to the basketball decisions, winning is all that’s needed. For Krause to keep his job for as long as he did with such frayed relationships is a testament to how well-built and successful the MJ Bulls were.
Let it be known that people will always refer to them as the MJ Bulls, the Phil Jackson Bulls or the Scottie and MJ Bulls.
Nobody will call them the Krause Bulls.
Jerry Krause was an unpopular man. So are many of basketball executives, players and personalities in the NBA before and after him, but when he passed away just over two years ago, he passed with more NBA championship rings than almost anyone in the world ever will.