Those who were hoping the Charlotte Hornets would become a powerhouse in the late 1990s received a setback this week when owner George Shinn, who made his fortune in vocational schools and automobile dealerships, became a basketball expert.
In the NBA, this is known as the Stepien Syndrome, in honor of former Cleveland Cavaliers owner "Terrible" Ted Stepien, who had prepared for his life as a basketball expert by making a fortune in advertising. Stepien and his coaching genius sidekick Bill Musselman once traded four No. 1 picks for four players taken by the Dallas Mavericks in the 1980 expansion draft, an exercise that nearly folded the Cavs franchise.
Anyway, Shinn has announced that if there is only a marginal difference between J.R. Reid and whoever might be available when the Hornets make the fifth selection in the first round Tuesday, the Hornets will take Reid because he played at North Carolina.
That was an interesting statement because, first of all, how will Shinn -- who has no background in basketball scouting or evaluation -- know if there is a marginal difference? And, second, why would anyone with half a brain take someone because he is local rather than because he is the best player available?
Shinn explained that, as a marketing expert, he understands that Carolina fans wanted to watch local players. And those Hornets certainly need marketing tools. Last season they were 20-62 and sold out every home game. If J.R. helps attendance, as expected, Shinn either will be forced to sell standing-room-only tickets in the 23,172-seat Charlotte Coliseum or have closed-circuit telecasts at his vocational schools.
People close to the Hornets say the basketball people would like to draft Oklahoma's Stacey King if he is available. One scenario developing is that if Michigan's Glen Rice slips to the fifth spot, Shinn would allow Rice to be taken ahead of Reid. But the message from Shinn to the basketball staff seems clear: No matter how Reid turns out, it will not be a mistake to take him. But if he is not taken and he turns out to be an excellent player, heads are going to roll.
"It's such a dilemma," Shinn told the Charlotte Observer. "We wouldn't have this problem if J.R. wasn't in this particular draft. I wish some big hand would come out of the sky and tell us what we should do."
Well, George, first of all, big hands don't talk. Second, if you want some big hand to send you a typewritten message, here it is: You hired GM Carl Sheer, player personnel director Gene Littles and Coach Dick Harter to make basketball decisions. Let them make them. If you don't trust them, hire somebody else.
Basketball executives operate at maximum efficiency when an owner is committed to winning, not to drafting the best local player. If Reid is the best player, fine. But to take him because he is the best local player is ridiculous.
And what Shinn ultimately will discover is that club owners who have no basketball expertise but insist on making important personnel decisions usually guarantee that their franchises will never be contenders.
How would Glen Rice slip to fifth? The latest word from the looney bin in Sacramento is that the Kings, who had previously coveted Rice, may take Stacey King with the No. 1 pick. One report is that the Kings, it seems, are impressed that King measured a legitimate 6-11 in his stocking feet. I talked to a scout who had personally measured King, and he said King was 6-10 barefooted. Either King wears thick socks, or the inept Kings have not learned how to use a tape measure. But there is a better theory on why the Kings like King. They think he has a marketable last name.
This could be one of the quicker retractions in history. Earlier this week in this space it was suggested that the Minneosta Timberwolves had a better expansion plan than the Orlando Magic. Wrong.
Since then, the Chicago Bulls have offered the 20th pick in the first round to the Wolves for Rick Mahorn, and the Wolves rejected the deal. Also, in the expansion draft, the Phoenix Suns offered the Wolves and the Magic the 24th pick and a second-round pick, No. 46 overall, to not select Tyrone Corbin.
It wasn't surprising that the Magic turned down the deal since it allegedly has a bad plan, anyway. But the Wolves also rejected the deal. The Wolves also would have had to select Suns guard Steve Kerr as part of the deal.
Kerr was insignificant, but the point is that the Wolves could have had the Nos. 10, 20, 24, 38 and 46 picks instead of the Nos. 10 and 38 picks, Mahorn and Corbin. Of the expansion teams, only the Miami Heat has learned that the correct way to build is with young players. No matter who plays for expansion teams, they are going to lose. Is it better to lose with Mahorn and Corbine, or with youth?
The Wolves, Magic and Hornets have no clue.