President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby and new General Manager Ryan McDonough step onto the podium to introduce the franchises next head coach in Jeff Hornacek. All three said their piece with candid stories, a few laughs, and babies crying.
The Phoenix Suns' vaunted training staff is highly touted for their preternatural medical prowess, but it was German necromancers who resurrected O'Neal's career. Jermaine underwent a blood-spinning therapy, known as Regenokine, which had Jared Dudley tweeting that O'Neal looked five years younger. So how did the rejuvenated O'Neal fare on this season's report card?
Judging O'Neal based on his counterparts on the Suns
O'Neal came into the season as a bit of an unknown. His career seemed to be tapering towards its inexorable end, but reports of renewed vigor and vitality gave fans hope that he could be a productive backup. He was.
At times, O'Neal even outplayed starter Marcin Gortat (and obviously Haddadi). There isn't a stark contrast between their numbers, but that further illustrates how well O'Neal actually played. The only areas where Gortat held a significant advantage were turnovers and FG%. Jermaine was able to partially compensate for relinquishing control of the basketball at a higher rate by blocking nearly one extra shot per 36 minutes. Although Marcin's FG% was nearly four points higher, their true shooting percentages were much less disparate (Gortat .543, O'Neal .538) due to O'Neal's vastly superior FT%.
At this point in his career O'Neal is a backup dictated by the necessity of a reduced workload, but if he could actually go for 30+ minutes a night he could probably still start in the league (for a
crappy lesser team like the Suns) based on his numbers. Especially in a league plagued by a lack of effective centers.
Judging O'Neal based on previous seasons
The new O'Neal looked more like the old O'Neal than the caricature that needed to be put out to pasture. Besides minor nagging injuries Jermaine managed to stay healthy throughout the season while easily posting his best numbers in several years. This is quite impressive to me since 34 year old players rarely accomplish such a feat.
Judging O'Neal based on centers leaguewide
Out of 96 centers listed on Basketball-Reference.com O'Neal graded out quite favorably.
These categories O'Neal ranked in or near the top third. *All numbers per 36.
Other areas weren't quite as roseate.
But two of those areas are still in the top 60, meaning he would rank out as a low end backup. Although his profligate nature with the basketball dropped him into the bottom third in turnovers, this was the only area where he graded out very poorly. Overall, I think a compelling argument can be made that O'Neal was one of the best backup centers in the league.
Overall Grade: A-
It was refreshing to finally write a review on a player that didn't have an underwhelming or execrable season. Jermaine provided everything a backup center is expected to and more. He was a Sun who actually exceeded expectations. But it could also be argued that O'Neal is the type of player that might help a team win a game or two so they finish in fourth instead of third and move down to fifth instead of winning the lottery like the Cleveland Cavaliers. Totally hypothetical scenario.
While I wouldn't be terribly upset with O'Neal returning, which is possible based on his effectiveness from the Suns' perspective and being able to stay healthy and contribute from Jermaine's, I would prefer for the Suns to go young and O'Neal get a chance to play for a better team in his waning career.
First reported by Paul Coro of azcentral.com, the Suns hired two front office guys to unspecified front office roles to supplement McDonough and current Director of Player Personnel John Treloar. Now the Suns have a large contingent of scouts to evaluate the Suns' most important period of drafting since the 80s.
Ronnie Lester, 54, was the Assistant GM in LA for 10 seasons after 14 years as a scout and front office member. His contract, along with at least 20 other Laker personnel, was not renewed when it expired during the 2011 lockout. Lester was a lifer with the Lakers, and was very disappointed when the Lakers cut so many ties in 2011.
Lester worked next to Mitch Kupchak for a decade as they rebuilt and reshaped the Laker team around Kobe Bryant that won two championships, and was the "loudest voice in the room" when the Lakers took chubby high school C Andrew Bynum the #10 pick in 2005. Lester scouted Bynum personally that year, and told Kupchak there's no way they could pass him up if he was still available when they drafted.
The supremely talented Bynum helped the Lakers win two rings as he earned a max contract extension as one of the three best centers in the game. Bynum was traded to the Sixers in the deal to acquire Dwight Howard last year, a year after Lester was cut out of the picture. Bynum, still only 25 years old, is now a free agent with major health and commitment issues.
Other than Bynum, the Lakers' drafts were hit and miss during his tenure as leader of the scouting staff for 10 seasons. Draftees with solid NBA careers:
None but Bynum were stars, but only Bynum was drafted higher than #19 overall.
Lester has not worked in the NBA since being let go by the Lakers in 2011.
Pat Connelly graduated college in 2002 and was in the Wizards front office for the past seven years, starting as a scout. He was promoted to Director of Player Personnel three years ago when his brother - the prior Director of Player Personnel - was hired away from the Wizards to become the Assistant General Manager of the New Orleans Hornets. His rapid rise and contingent of brothers holding various sports front office roles sound quite similar to the career path of McDonough himself.
Generally speaking, to get a person out of their current contract requires either (a) a mutual parting from his current employer ("Thanks for taking him!") or (b) a promotion.
Last week, new Suns GM Ryan McDonough said that hiring anyone currently under contract was a dicey proposition because they are so ingrained in their own team's draft preparations. Connelly's forte, per the Wizards media guide, was college and international scouting, along with analytics and salary cap management. He wasn't the top personnel man in Washington. They have a large contingent of titles in the basketball operations group, including a Vice President of Player Personnel to whom Connelly had reported.
Connelly was never the biggest voice in the room, and has not been credited with any one draft pick. The Wizards have drafted high for years, and since he became Director of Player Personnel the Wizards drafted a huge bust in Jan Vesely at #6 before taking Bradley Beal at #3 a year ago.
When he was hired, Ryan McDonough was clear in his vision to follow the blueprint of the Celtics front office, which is smaller than most. He wanted only a few lieutenants who were master evaluators - who would scout at all levels, who would be able to compare and contrast a current NBA player to a draft prospect to an NBDL player to a guy toiling in Europe.
Now he adds Lester and Connelly to the existing staff led by current Director of Player Personnel John Treloar.
Looks like the Suns have hit another couple of ground rule doubles to supplement the two home runs they've already smacked out of the park (McDonough and Hornacek). Lester and Connelly have solid NBA front office experience and can only help.
Stay tuned for official announcements on all the latest hirings, including Hornacek's staff.