Does the NBA need the Rooney Rule for executive positions?


Does the NBA need the Rooney Rule for executive positions?

The NBA has long been a leader as far as diverse hiring for top positions, but there’s been concern in recent years that qualified black men are being overlooked for key positions in basketball operations.

Whether it’s the infusion of the analytics movement or pattern of teams giving head coaches dual titles as president of basketball operations, there appears to be a glass ceiling on African-Americans reaching the top spot on the masthead, and the whispers have gotten louder and louder as time has presented more evidence to confirm their theories.

As the likes of Sam Hinkie, Ryan McDonough and more recently, Sean Marks, leap to the front of the line to receive top jobs to build teams and make decisions, it leaves many wondering why longtime African-American qualified candidates like Scott Perry, Troy Weaver and Mark Hughes don’t get that same opportunity.

Perry was a vice president in Detroit for a franchise that won a championship and made the conference finals six straight years, moving onto Orlando where he’s helping rebuild the Magic franchise with solid draft picks since 2012.

Weaver is the trusted personnel man in Oklahoma City who has helped build a powerhouse with bookends Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Hughes has been with the Knicks since 2007, now as director of player personnel. Former Pistons President Joe Dumars led the team to a title and should get looks again like his counterparts who’ve gotten multiple jobs without that level of success.

“We have a long history of minorities being well-represented as top basketball executives. I think it’s a matter of time before the numbers move up,” deputy commissioner Mark Tatum said in a wide-ranging interview with CSNChicago.com, pointing out his belief that it’s cyclical while stating nearly one-third of the basketball operations positions were held by African-American men in 1994-95.

African-American and Vietnamese, Tatum is the highest-ranking executive of color in a professional sports league, is second in command the NBA to commissioner Adam Silver.

“But we’re always focused on committing to a culture of inclusion through our league. We’re not standing idly.”

The numbers have been trending in the opposite direction this decade, despite the NBA’s record of inclusion that has long been the best in sports.

In renowned Dr. Richard Lapchick’s Racial and Gender Report Card, the NBA received men’s sports only A+ for racial hiring and the only B+ for gender hiring practices, while also achieving the highest grade for racial hiring practices in the history of men’s professional sports.

The numbers have gone up in the league office and within teams, but seemingly it hasn’t extended to the top of basketball operations. At least not yet.

Since the summer of 2010, 30 positions for president of basketball operations or general manager have been filled in the NBA and six were African-American hires. Four were hired that summer: Billy King (Brooklyn), Lance Blanks (Phoenix), Dell Demps (New Orleans) and Masai Ujiri (Denver).

King was fired in Brooklyn last month, and Blanks was fired in 2013.

Since that time, though, only two have been hired, with Ujiri taking over in Toronto and Doc Rivers taking over as head of basketball operations while also coaching the Los Angeles Clippers.

Demps, Rivers and Ujiri currently have final say in basketball matters.

Milt Newton is general manager in Minnesota but was hired by late Timberwolves president Flip Saunders, who passed away in October, to work under him. Steve Mills is the general manager of the Knicks but Phil Jackson makes the decisions.

The likes of Perry, Weaver and Hughes, along with Allan Houston (Knicks), Gerald Madkins (Clippers) and longtime personnel man Walt Perrin (Jazz) often don’t get interviewed, let alone considered.

It’s not that one set of guys is better than others, but something appears to be flawed in the process when a certain set is seemingly being excluded—especially considering the league is 74.4 percent African-American.

“Some people have brought up the excuse, ‘You’re not a numbers guy and that’s where the league is going,'” a personnel man said. “It creates the belief we don’t use numbers when we do. We’re just not wholly dependent on it. But what have those guys won?”

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Houston’s Darryl Morey is the godfather of the analytics craze, and while the Rockets reached the conference finals last season they’re floundering this year and were desperately trying to unload center Dwight Howard at the trade deadline.

Phildelphia’s Hinkie has been widely criticized for his multiple-season tanking strategies and mishandling of the 76ers franchise, prompting the 76ers to bring in the experienced Jerry Colangelo to repair relationships across the league, with insinuations from more than a few that the NBA urged this marriage to save Hinkie from further embarrassing a marquee franchise.

Memphis hired analytics guru John Hollinger directly from ESPN in 2012, which brought upon the widening gap of “basketball guys vs. numbers geeks,” an oversimplification of both parties.

The league has trended toward people with mathematical backgrounds as opposed to basketball experience, as the criteria for what made someone qualified for a top executive position changed right as more African-Americans reached the summit.

“One GM told me on a long plane ride: You have to make these owners comfortable enough that they can see themselves having a beer with you,” one executive said. “It’s not just about being good enough or smart enough. They have to be comfortable with you.”

And comfortable enough to see these particular men leading franchises, not just being part of organizations. It goes for all walks of life: People hire who they're comfortable with, even if it's not with prejudice or outright or even overt racism.

“Marks (is) from New Zealand,” Tatum said. “Given our global nature of our game, it’s important to have that kind of a skill set to identify talent. Look at Masai Ujiri (Nigerian) and the job he’s done.”

One compared it to “moving the goalposts” for executives who followed the path laid out, especially without the benefit of being former or prominent NBA players.

They went through scouting, most did coaching or assistant coaching and then rose through the ranks of basketball operations, positioning themselves to earn what they worked for before suddenly being put in purgatory, to a degree.

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With the profile of NBA owners changing recently, as franchises have changed hands at a rapid rate, one wonders if they’re even aware of the top candidates from this world, people who may not be from the world they’re used to, as sports is a different animal than corporate America.

“There’s only 30 of those jobs and I don’t think it’s tied to the influx of new owners,” Tatum said. “We have the most diverse ownership group in professional sports, an African-American owner, an Indian-American owner, a Russian owner.”

Tatum is referring to Hornets owner Michael Jordan (African-American), Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive' (Indian-American) and Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov (Russian).

Jordan has significant say in basketball matters and hired an Asian-American, Rich Cho, as general manager. Ranadive’ hired former NBA player Vlade Divac (Serbian) as vice president of basketball operations, and Prokhorov hired Marks, who’s from New Zealand, so diversity hasn’t been a big issue.

But the African-Americans have gotten the short end, recently.

Without being branded as the “smart guys,” they haven’t gotten the attention from teams when positions open or even the media to some measure. Marks’ hiring has followed another recent trend, as he was hired by Prokhorov days ago to take over the Nets franchise: picking from the tree of the San Antonio Spurs, a model franchise with five NBA titles since 1999.

Marks retired in 2011, was an assistant coach with the Spurs in 2013 and the next season was named assistant general manager, holding the title until he made the move to Brooklyn.

Former Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer now holds the coveted and rare title of coach and president of basketball operations for the Atlanta Hawks, receiving the title after just two years of being a head coach.

In the wake of the Danny Ferry controversy that began in the 2014 offseason, when he was recorded making racially insensitive remarks about former Bulls forward Luol Deng, Budenholzer gained final say on basketball matters despite not spending any time in a front office, another instance many on the inside have pointed to as African-Americans being overlooked and ignored.

Perry worked under Sam Presti and Rob Henningan, both products of the Spurs system, but has never been interviewed for president of basketball operations, and neither has Hughes.

Weaver has had a couple looks but so far has chosen to stay in Oklahoma City, and wasn't interviewed by the Nets.

All have been counted on by players and peers for their knowledge and experience, but one wonders if they’re at risk of extinction.

“We’re urging teams to look at the numbers (across the board) and be better,” said Tatum, which could’ve been a nod to the recent report a few months ago about the dwindling number of African-American coaches in the NBA, and the fact they’re fired quicker than their counterparts.

Many brought up the “Rooney Rule,” the NFL requirement that legislates teams interview at least one minority candidate for coaching positions, seeing as how very few African-Americans were being considered for leadership opportunities.

The NBA balks at that notion, believing their issue shouldn’t lead to mandated rules, and could point at the loopholes through the Rooney Rule as the NFL’s minority coaching numbers have decreased.

After initial success, some have called for the Rooney Rule to be modified, as the NBA’s numbers are better than the NFL—but then again, the culture in the NBA is a bit more progressive.

“For us it’s not about checking the box, it’s about a commitment,” Tatum said. “It’s about a holistic approach to a culture of inclusion. Given our record, we feel good about our environment.

“We’re gonna help provide processes and programs to help that we’re seeing a wide pool of jobs. ”

Although privately the NBA doesn't feel the Rooney Rule should apply to them, Tatum revealed to CSNChicago.com the league is starting two initiatives to address diversity across all mediums.

They hired a chief diversity and inclusion officer, Oris Stuart, who will head up the NBA’s Global Inclusion Council. The council is made up of 18 team and league executives, who’ll look at hiring practices and organizational structures in the league office and also the teams.

Their goal is to look at how talent is hired and the developmental practices and evaluate them, as Tatum is part of that council.

“The hiring of Stuart is a big step to our teams that we’re gonna help provide processes and programs that we’re seeing a wide pool of candidates across all different jobs, not just basketball operations,” Tatum said.

Tatum also said the league is creating a Basketball Operations Associates program for former players and other candidates to work in the league office. The program launches next season.

“It will give them tremendous exposure to the work of basketball operations, salary cap management and all the other related basketball-operations issues that would be required to be considered for these basketball operations jobs at teams,” Tatum said.

Tatum said the success on the business side of things, as former league office employees Scott O’Neil (76ers) and Chris Granger (Kings) prompted the league to move forward with the program on the basketball operations side.

“The idea is to create a pipeline of talent, bringing them into basketball operations and then go out and work for various teams,” Tatum said.

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Plenty of retired players, from the likes of Chauncey Billups to NBATV’s Steve Smith, have expressed some desire in working in basketball operations at some point.

Others in the pipeline include Orlando’s Harold Ellis and Detroit’s assistant general manager Brian Wright, one of the youngest at his position in the league. Creating the pipeline of diverse candidates for future eras can ensure African-Americans don’t get shut out down the line.

“There are actually team executives on the global inclusion council,” Tatum said. “We have team representatives on the council and they’re embracing it. They’re embracing it. Our teams understand diversity is good business. They’ve demonstrated it, they have a good track record.”

“There are going to be opportunities that will present itself. Yes, we’re looking at this one area but the addition of ours will be helpful because he (Stuart) is looking at all positions across the board.”

When asked what the response from teams have been, Tatum said, “They get it, they understand it and they embrace it. Anything that’s going to get them best in class at what they do.

“It doesn’t matter if they’re black, white or a woman. You’ve seen how ownership groups have hired Becky Hammon (Spurs assistant coach) or Nancy Lieberman (Kings assistant coach).

“The idea is to create information. The more information, the better idea we can figure out how we’re doing. It’s not good enough to be best in sports.”

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They’re not sure what they’ll find, or what the recourse will be, but Tatum is confident teams will respond positively to the findings, confident in the NBA’s history.

“We haven’t gone that far yet,” said Tatum as far as penalties or sanctions for teams who’ve fallen behind. “We’ve created a scorecard to measure how we’re doing. The first thing is having information, identifying if there is an issue and trying to get to the core, if it’s a systemic issue and what resources can we provide to our teams and the league office to make sure there is always a diverse pool of candidates and a diverse work force as well.”

With these initiatives, the NBA has put itself on the clock as a whole, and where things go in the next couple years will determine if things are moving forward or if progress has plateaued.

Will teams take suggestions on diversity and keep an open mind in leadership positions, or will the likes of Perry, Hughes, Weaver stay put at their glass ceiling while others pass them by?

“We have a tremendous positive track record in this area but it’s literally been because people who run our teams have organically said ‘this is important to us’,” Tatum said. “And that’s probably the best way to build it as opposed to having somebody check a box. But there’s also a lot of benefit to having the data, the information and evaluation of things we could be doing better. That’s what we’re focused on right now.”

Why the Bulls should bet on potential and draft Jaren Jackson Jr.

Why the Bulls should bet on potential and draft Jaren Jackson Jr.

Previous making the case for: Deandre Ayton | Luka Doncic | Mo Bamba | Marvin Bagley | Michael Porter Jr.

The modern NBA center is transforming. Last season 12 centers (as listed by Basketball Reference) made 50 or more 3-pointers, up from 10 players in 2016-17. The year before that, in 2015-16, five players accomplished that feat. Four players did it in 2014-15, three did it in 2013-14, and from 1990 to 2012 only Mehmet Okur (five times), Channing Frye (three times) and Byron Mullens (once) accomplished it.

Many of the names on that list, however, don’t exactly cut it on the other end. Sure, players like Joel Embiid, Al Horford and Marc Gasol are elite defenders. But repeat 50+ club members also include Karl-Anthony Towns, Marreese Speights, Kelly Olynyk, DeMarcus Cousins and Pero Antic. In other words, players Rudy Gobert won’t have to worry about contending with for Defensive Player of the Year.

But that former list – the Embiid, Horford, Gasol one – could add another member to it in the coming years. Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. was a rarity in college basketball this past season. He became the fifth player since 1992 to compile 35 or more 3-pointers and 100 or more blocks in a single season. Jackson had 38 and 106, respectively, and he accomplished those numbers in 764 minutes; the other four players on the list averaged 1,082 minutes, and the next fewest was Eddie Griffin’s 979 minutes in 2000-01.

Staying on those minutes, Jackson averaged 21.8 per game. That was decidedly fewer per game than Carter (26.9), Bamba (30.2), Ayton (33.5) and Bagley (33.9). We’ll get to why those minutes might be an issue, but for now it’s a reason to not be scared off by his lack of raw numbers (10.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.0 blocks).

Jackson’s block percentage (14.2%) ranked fourth in the country. That was higher than Bamba’s 12.9%, despite Bamba tallying 3.7 blocks per game. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that Jackson was elite as a rim protector. He ranked in the 99th percentile in defensive possessions around the rim, allowing a mere 0.405 PPP. To put that number in context, freshmen Joel Embiid (0.844), Karl-Anthony Towns (0.8) and Myles Turner (0.667) weren’t even close. This past season Bamba allowed a whopping 1.088 PPP in that area, ranking in the 33rd percentile nationally.

Jackson plays bigger than the 236 pounds he weighed in at last week’s NBA Draft Combine. Here’s where we tell you he’ll need to add muscle like all 18-year-olds entering the NBA (oh, he’s also the youngest first-round prospect in the class). But defending the interior shouldn’t be a problem; his defensive rebounding rate wasn’t spectacular (19.8%), but the Spartans were a solid rebounding team as a whole – 76th nationally – so Jackson didn’t need to be great for the Spartans to succeed.

Jackson is going to defend at a high level, and in five years he’ll likely be known more for his defense than his offense. But that’s not to say he doesn’t have potential on that end of the floor. He ranked in the 91st percentile in points per possession (shooting 51 percent from the floor and 40 percent from deep helps), doing his most damage in the post (1.22 PPP, 98th percentile) and on jumpers, which were almost exclusively 3-point attempts (1.09 PPP, 81st). He was even a plus on pick-and-rolls, averaging 1.11 on a limited 27-possession sample size.

But not all 3-pointers are created equally. Consider that Jackson did almost all of his damage beyond the arc from the top of the key. He went 21-for-42 from straightaway, according to Synergy Sports, an absurd percentage on that many attempts. From all other areas he went 17-for-54. But in the pick-and-roll era, Jackson’s ability to pop out to the top of the key after setting a screen, and his confidence to take and make those shots, is priceless.

He needs polish on both ends. That seems like the easy way out, and a generic statement that could be made for all these prospects. But so much of his game is still raw; again, there’s a reason he played just 54 percent of all available minutes, and tallied 15 minutes in the Spartan’s NCAA Tournament loss to Syracuse.

He committed 5.9 fouls per 40 minutes (Bamba committed 4.3, for reference) and he shot just 48 percent on non-dunks inside 6 feet. His post numbers were good because he is nearly 7 feet tall and was always one of the most talented players on the floor. It’ll get tougher at the next level, and he’ll need to improve his feel around the rim as well as his post moves.

It doesn’t appear likely at this point, but there’s still a chance Jackson could fall to the Bulls at 7. We’ll safely assume Deandre Ayton and Luka Doncic will be off the board. If Michael Porter’s medicals check out he should go in the top 5, and the other three selections could be Marvin Bagley, Mo Bamba and Trae Young. Young is certainly the least likely of the bunch, but it only takes one team to fall in love with his potential. Orlando at No. 6 is a natural fit.

If he is there at No. 7, he needs to be the Bulls pick. Admittedly this would be less of a decision than some of the other picks we’ll get to in the coming weeks. Allowing Lauri Markkanen to roam the wings while Jackson set picks for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine would improve the offense drastically. And putting an elite rim protector next to Markkanen only covers up the latter’s weaknesses and, thus, makes him a better player.

If teams fall in love with Bamba’s length, Young’s shooting and Porter’s health, Jackson could be waiting when the Bulls pick at No. 7. He isn’t the wing the front office covets, but he is a two-way player with immense upside.

Wichita State's Landry Shamet could give Bulls backcourt versatility they desperately need


Wichita State's Landry Shamet could give Bulls backcourt versatility they desperately need

The Bulls are in need of talent. That much is clear after a 27-win campaign in which they finished ranked 28th in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They’ll add a pair of prospects next month, with two selections in the first round, and presumably take the next step in their rebuild. Talent is important, that can’t be overstated. The Bulls should stick to their board and take the best player available nine out of 10 times.

But as much as the Bulls need an influx of talent, versatility in the backcourt might be a close second. And while there isn’t really any player at No. 7 that would fit that bill – they could reach for Collin Sexton – there are a number of versatile guards, in a class dominated at the top by bigs, who could be there when the Bulls are on the clock at No. 22.

Meet Wichita State guard Landry Shamet. That classic NBA buzzword “versatile” is thrown around more often than ever before. The idea that a player can play multiple positions, can defend 1-3 or has the potential to learn two spots at the next level. Then there’s Shamet. He’s actually done it.

He arrived in Wichita as a shooting guard, the Shockers’ highest-rated recruit in nine years. A broken foot cost him all but three games of his freshman season, but he returned in 2016 and made an immediate impact, including a shift to point guard midway through the season; the move went seamlessly, as he led the Shockers in assists (3.3) and was 14th in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.00). He matched Kentucky freshman point guard DeAaron Fox in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, scoring 20 points on 7 of 14 shooting in a loss.

He remained at point guard in his sophomore season and dominated, earning an honorable mention All-American nod while leading the team in points (14.9) assists (5.2), and 3-pointers (2.6) per game for a Shockers team ranked in the top 25 all year, and as high as No. 3 in December.

He had the ball in his hands plenty at Wichita State, but his shooting hardly suffered. A point guard in name, his shooting may be his best attribute. In his final two seasons Shamet shot 44.1 percent from deep on 354 attempts. He was the nation’s best spot-up shooter when Greg Marshall used him off the ball, and made multiple 3-pointers in 23 of 32 games.

His versatility can best be explained as such: He was the only player in the country – and just the 13th since 1992 – to average at least five assists, 2.5 3-pointers per game and shoot 44 percent from deep. The 6-foot-5 guard brings shooting, facilitating and length defensively to the table. It’s no cliché.

“I feel like I can step in and do whatever a coach needs me to do, whether it’s playing on the ball being a facilitator/playmaker/initiating offense, or a guy you’ve got to honor off the ball (as) a spot-up shooter,” Shamet said Friday at the NBA Draft Combine.

He struggled shooting in the 5-on-5 scrimmages over the two-day span, but also noted that he accomplished his main goal of defending well. His 6-foot-7 wingspan will be looked down upon in an era where measurements mean more than ever, but he also had a 39-inch max vertical (12th best) and a 3.11 three-quarters court sprint (10th best).

He admitted he’s more athletic than some give him credit for – as his vertical would suggest – but that his game is more “cerebral” and making the right decisions.

“I feel like I have a high IQ, a cerebral player,” he said. “I’m not going to wow you with crossing people up and doing things that a lot of the guys in the limelight do all the time. I feel like I’m a solid player, pretty steady across the board.”

It’s a skill set the Bulls could use. His numbers and measurements look similar to Denzel Valentine, who has drawn mixed reviews in two NBA seasons and is really the closest thing the Bulls have to a “versatile” guard; Valentine was one of 21 players with 140+ 3-pointers and 240+ assists, 12 of whom were All-Stars.

Shamet also has seven inches of vertical leap and a quicker sprint as far as Combine times are concerned, and he’s a more natural fit as a point guard than Valentine. Shamet said two players whose games he studies include Malcolm Brogdon, a less-than-flashy guard who won 2017 Rookie of the Year making just about every correct play. Brogdon possesses the same sneaky athleticism – ask LeBron James – has shot 40 percent from deep in two NBA seasons and has a 2.62 A/TO ratio.

“You don’t want to step out of your comfort zone and be somebody you’re not, so out here I’m trying to be me, be solid, (and) make the right play all the time,” he said. “I don’t rely on my athleticism, I like to think the game. So I try to just be myself.”

Kris Dunn is cemented as a point guard for the Bulls’ future, and the front office sang Cameron Payne’s praises at season’s end, though he’ll be a free agent after next season. But Dunn, Payne and Jerian Grant combined to shoot 33.6 percent from deep, and even Payne’s 38.5 percent shooting came in a limited, 25-game span.

Shamet wouldn’t be a home-run pick, and certainly not a sexy one. Those picks have burned the Bulls in the past with players like Tony Snell, Doug McDermott and even Valentine. Shamet is 21 years old and has had two major foot surgeries. But the skill set is one the Bulls have needed for some time. And in a draft where the Bulls will be searching for talent, adding a player who fits the bill as a team need as well makes sense.