Frank Hughes has an interesting piece about Wally Walker in the TNT today; it deals with Walker’s somewhat surprising comments to a Tip Off Luncheon at the Fairmont Hotel on Monday in Seattle.
You should really read the article in its entirety, but one quote in particular stoked my anger.
“I have been the head of this organization for 12 years, and we have the fifth-best record in the NBA,” Walker said.
I’ve heard this argument a couple of times now, but it’s the first time Walker has taken it as his own. I think it deserves a little examination.
Let’s set some ground rules first. In my mind, taking credit for the accomplishments of others is bad form, and until the players you’ve acquired as a GM contribute at least 50% of the points to the team’s total, then it isn’t your team, it’s your predecessor(s)’. So, with that in mind, let’s examine Walker’s real accomplishments (and, if you think I'm being overly critical, think of it this way: If the Sonics win the championship this year, don't you think Wally would want/deserve some credit for what happens?).
Walker was hired to be the Sonics GM on July 22, 1994, replacing Bob Whitsitt, making his first season as GM 1994-95. But does he really deserve any credit for Seattle’s 57-25 record that year? Considering the only move Walker made was to sign Bill Cartwright to a 3-year deal, I’d say no. When the people you acquire contribute 2.4 ppg TOTAL to the team’s effort, I’d say that a 3-year-old could have done your job for that season. So let’s eliminate the 57-25 from Wally’s career accomplishments.
Moving on to 1995-96 and Walker’s first major move, acquiring Hersey Hawkins and David Wingate for Kendall Gill. The Sonics made it to the Finals, but Wingate, Hawkins, Sherrell Ford (!), and Eric Snow (!) – Wally’s Guys (WG) – gave the Sonics all of 25 ppg, so, again, a no go.
1996-97: It’s still Whitsitt’s team, as Walker adds Terry Cummings, Jim McIlvaine, ... well, just a boatload of crap, really. Still well below the 50% threshold.
1997-98: Ahh, now we’re talking. Vin Baker, Dale Ellis, Jerome Kersey, Greg Anthony, Aaron Williams – all WGs. The magic 50% mark has now been surpassed. From here on in, the Sonics are Wally’s Team. Let’s start the W-L count from here, then.
Now, let’s add the totals to see what we get ...... adding music .... 384 wins. Okay, what does 384 wins mean?
Well, let’s take a look at the Western Conference, because I’m too lazy to add up the entire league. How do the Sonics fare in relation to the other teams in their conference in this time period? There are 14 teams in the West. Guess how many won at least 384 games? 2? 3? 5?
Try seven. That’s right, during his tenure as general manager, when the players on the roster were players that he personally recruited, Wally Walker ranked in the absolute middle of the Western Conference pack. No better, no worse.
Sorry, Wally, you and your friends can parrot this “5th best record in the NBA during my tenure” crap all you want, but the sad truth is that when left to your own devices, you’re only capable of creating a middling team that makes the playoffs once every 3 or 4 seasons. You can dress it up all you want, but the truth is Walker was an average GM that will be lucky to ever get another job in the league, unless he manages to glom his way onto another millionaire.
Far be it from me to ride to Wally's rescue because I agree with your general premise. However, you have to admit that deciding to KEEP guys on your roster is as much of the GMs job as going out and getting guys. Just for laughs, Wally could have traded Gary Payton to the Magic (or the Warriors) in '95 for the draft rights to Penny Hardaway. Probably just as well that he didn't. I know it's tough to argue counterfactuals, but just wanted to point out that standing pat counts as a move.
I agree with Rob, sometimes GMs get overly critized for not making moves, when the moves they could have made would have ruined the team.
Still, you're right that Walker shouldn't be taking so much credit for Whitsitt's work. I guess Wally's kind of the Rick Neuheisel of NBA GMs: He's good with other people's players, useless at getting his own, and leaves franchises/schools in disarray when he leaves.
Also in a similar vein, the guys you add don't really have to score 50% of the points to make a difference - if you're blocking shots, getting rebounds, steals, boxing out, giving assists... you're contributing to the W just as much as the the guy putting up 20 shots to get 15 points. Sorry, your method is biased. I still agree with the premise though - Wally sucks big and I'm glad to see his back.
You're right - using points is a shoddy way of taking value, since the other areas are at least as important.
Really, the best measuring stick is minutes played, since that indicates how much of the team is of your own creation. If fewer than half of the minutes played are from guys you acquired, then it's not really your team, in my mind.
Even by using that method, though, it's not until 1997-98 that the Sonics become Wally's team. Before that, not only were the guys he acquired not scoring, they weren't playing either, not because they stank (although some of them did), but because the lineup Walker inherited was so damned good. Perkins, Det, Gary, Kemp, Nate ... that's a pretty good team to begin with and it didn't need Wally Walker to help it win any games.
Another point in Wally's defense could be that he couldn't make any moves when he took the team over because MAKING ANY MOVES WOULD'VE BEEN IDIOTIC. When you've got all-stars at practically every position, only an idiot would change the setup (with the exception of Kendall Gill, who was just a great big problem for George Karl).
In that way, Wally figured (rightly) that he's best to leave the team be and let them go as far as they could.
Good point though that when he was on his own, Wally struggled to create a good team, even though the Sonics did well in the draft.
But, hey, Wally's gone, so let's focus on the now, right? How many wins is everyone figuring for the Sonics this season? I'm going to throw down the gauntlet and say 43 and a possible playoff berth if Karl screws things up in Denver (crazy idea, I know).
The larger point is that he was an arrogant ass that alienated the Sonic fan base. In the end, he was nothing but a sock puppet for an ignorant owner who didn't know the difference between owing an NBA team and owning a business.
Hail Dorothy! The Wicked Walker Bitch is dead!
It's also disingenuous to say that his teams made the playoffs "once every 3 or 4 seasons" since the team made the playoffs 6 times in the 9 seasons you listed.
Now granted, making the playoffs in the NBA is not the most difficult task in the world, but still...
Honestly, I give Wally some credit for keeping the Sonics a viable playoff team in the post-Karl era. Remember, he turned an aging GP into a younger player with similar talent. Granted, GP was my favorite player, but on an unemotional level trading for Ray Allen was a brilliant move, considering that Gary was at the end of his all-star run.
Wally made plenty of terrible moves, but he's no Isiah Thomas...
I wonder if Wally will put that on his tombstone -
1950 - 2032
"I made plenty of terrible moves, but I'm no Isaiah Thomas"
Letting go George Karl? Stupid! His unability to get a real center through free agents and drafts...Booth, Swift, Maclivane? Letting Nate go! I hated Wally as a player for the Sonic. Very soft! And as a Gm and Pres.......Pathic!!!!!!
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