Just when you thought Bucks owner Herb Kohl had become desperate in his search for a new GM as even the most loyal Bucks fans flirted with apathy, Kohl has stunned us all with what appears to be one of the smartest moves possible: Detroit Pistons vice president of basketball operations John Hammond.
Hammond, Pistons GM Joe Dumars right-hand man since 2001, helped build the decade of Eastern Conference dominance they’re still enjoying in Detroit, and manages the Pistons basketball operations. But Hammond is much more than an able administrator: he served two seperate sentences coaching in the gulog of NBA futility gulog that is the Los Angeles Cippers (the first stint as an assistant to Larry Brown) and coached in Detroit under Doug Collins during the Grant Hill years.
In running the Pistons, if Hall of Famer Dumars looked at things from a players’ perspective, Hammond gave the coaches’ perspective. However the Dumars-Hammond relationship worked, it has worked, and transforming the style of Eastern Conference basketball to the tough, defense oriented, “it takes five” approach we see today. As dominant as Lebron James can be on the offensive end, the East is still the half of the NBA where defense is king.
Hammond’s hiring is a big surprise because the initial reaction to the Bucks request to the Pistons for permission to talk to Hammond was rejected.
Fortune and Hammond then had a change of heart, just when it seemed Kohl was at wits end in his GM search and even the ever-churning NBA rumor mill had ground to a halt — after spitting out for consideration nearly every right-hand-man, vice president of operations in the league. Kohl had competed with the Knicks for Donnie Walsh and lost (did Kohl really believe he could could compete with Madison Square Garden, still considered by many to be the greatest basketball stage on the planet?). Broadcast analyst Doug Collins, Hammond’s former employer, had again rejected Herb’s advances. Even some of those second-line candidates, such as Phoenix VP David Griffin, had backed away after being interviewed by the Bucks.
The hour did indeed become desperate for Kohl, as he considered interviewing the right-hand-man at one of his favorite supper spots, Ma Fischer’s Restaurant on the East Side. My inside sources tell me that Herb decided against the interview when the restaurant operations guy suggested that, ideally, he would want free reign to make the changes, and thought dangling Michael Redd out on the trade wire might not be such a bad idea. Kohl wasn’t too comfortable with this manager’s attitude but didn’t formally nix the interview until learning his name was Larry.
When fired Sixer GM Billy King, the man Allen Iverson made infamous, surfaced as a candidate this week, Kohl appeared to be at wits end in his search. Bucks fans feared the worst. But then Hammond came out of nowhere and changed his mind.
How and why this happened we’ll soon learn, but it’s very unlikely Hammond took the job without assurances that he would indeed get to make Bucks basketball decisions free of interference from the owner. Maybe the senator convinced him that what NBA wags like ESPN’s Stein call Kohl’s “growing reputation for meddling” is unfair and unearned. Maybe he told Hammond it was fair and earned but promised to change his ways.
Whatever the case, Hammond, who’s had other offers, probably doesn’t take the job without a guarantee that he’ll be in control of the coaching and player personel decisions. If Rick Carlisle’s his man as head coach, as ESPN sources say he is, the Bucks get a winning coach who was right there in Detroit with Dumars and Hammond in 2001 as they began building a contender.
That’s probably bad news for any number of players notorious for their soft defense, including Michael Redd, but that’s best left to a post of its own.