Reggie Miller Probably Isn't the Best GM Option

Some Indiana fans may not know that Wednesday was Reggie Miller’s 46th birthday. (It was. Hope you had a good one, Mr. Miller.) What most all fans should know by now, however, is that team owner Herb Simon reportedly may try to recruit Uncle Reg to run his franchise once Larry Bird steps down, something likely to occur in the not-so-distant future.

This is probably not a good idea.

For starters, there just is not a great track record for once-elite NBA players succeeding in the front office. Larry Bird has arguably done a pretty decent job since Donnie Walsh left and the Legend started flying solo. He hasn’t done a lot, but was patient enough to wait out the cap hell the team was in, and he has left the team well-positioned for future improvement.

Joe Dumars has been both praised and killed for his decision-making. With Dumars, there have been some infamous moments: Darko-over-Wade/Melo/Bosh decision, the wretched 2009 Summer (he overpaid for non-fits Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva) and the debacle that was the 2010-11 team. But he won a title and made a bunch of savvy moves also: Ben Wallace and Rip trades, Sheed pick-up, Tayshaun.

So all in all we can say he has been successful, at least for a time. This is true of even the best GMs, really, and would likely be true of Reggie even if he beat the odds to ultimately prove OK at his job.

On the flip side, of course, Jerry West is one of the best GMs of all time. He helped make the 1980s Lakers a dynasty and revived the Grizzlies franchise by putting them in the Playoffs for several straight seasons despite having no players outsiders considered stars. He is almost universally praised as one of the best to ever do it.

The rest of the list of great players turned GMs isn’t that pretty, however. Elgin Baylor led the Clippers nowhere. Michael Jordan’s tenure, when it comes to player personnel decisions, has been laughable to the point that we don’t even need to get into the details. Chris Mullin has signed some players to horrible contracts. Remember Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy, Jr? (More on this later.) That was his handiwork. Isiah Thomas as a GM? That’s the whole joke. Kevin McHale in Minnesota. Ask KG or Joe Smith how that went. And Wes Unseld’s tenure in Washington is rarely remembered fondly.

I may be forgetting some guys on either side of the good/bad ledger. But if Larry Bird is probably the third best GM — and Dumars’ controversial stint is second — among the eight Hall of Fame players listed here, that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for hiring a Hall of Fame player. (I know they haven’t let Reggie in yet. Don’t care. He’s a Hall of Famer.)

Of course, basing a hiring decision on what other people have done is silly. That’s not the real reason I don’t think Reggie should be brought in even if Donnie Walsh could be brought in as a mentor.

See, Simon has shown a great interest in handing the keys over to state legends. First Larry Bird. Then Isiah Thomas. One was an excellent coach. One was a terrible coach. And, as noted, Bird has been an OK GM that a lot of fans — and sportswriters — would tell you has been awful.

Still, when he was brought into the front office, some fans felt as though he was hired more for his ability to sell tickets than make player personnel decisions. “Boomer for Adults” he was called by some. (Boomer being the Pacers mascot who dunks basketballs off of trampolines much to the delight of children.) Everyone who really paid attention knew that Walsh was the one running the show. Bird was just there to hang out and smile for the camera, fans thought.

That was not true, of course, as we now know. Bird was indeed actually groomed for the role he now has. But the initial perception, and the uncertainty of the “two-headed monster” making decisions in the later years, were not particularly helpful for the franchise in hindsight. It was a distraction for fans. And it certainly didn’t lead to a great product on the floor. The franchise is just now getting out from under all the decisions made by Bird and Walsh.

And now Simon wants to go through all that again?

On top of that, being an Indiana legend could be as problematic as it is helpful. Reggie would get a pass on some blunders because of who he is. But as the blunders added up (and they would … even great GMs have a sizable list of misfires), he would likely feel a lot more pressure to fix them than a guy like, Daryl Morey, or even Chris Mullin, would.

Conseco is colloquially referred to as “The House Reggie Built.” How do you deal with that? That puts a ton of pressure on a man to make things right. And perhaps the worst thing to do after you make a mistake as a GM is try to instantly fix it.

That’s what Isiah did constantly in New York, just doing deal after deal after deal that only deepened the downward spiral of debacleness. (Not a word. But was on a D kick.) In fact, I would argue that the greatest thing that Bird the GM has done was not try to fix his mistakes.

He, and Donnie, made the difficult decision to unload Stephen Jackson (and include Al Harrington) in exchange for the terrible, horrible, awful contracts of Lil Dun and Troy Murphy. That was an understandable, but bad, decision. Combined with the Tinsley banishment, another understandable, but bad decision, this put a millstone around the franchise’s neck for years. But Bird didn’t panic and start trading future picks and Danny Granger for whatever the 2009 version of Steve Franchise was. He just waited out his mistakes.

Does Reggie have the personality to do that? Or, running a team in a building that may as well be named after him, and facing daily headlines and ESPN chatter about his underperforming team, would he start trying to fix things immediately? Having become increasingly familiar with his personality while watching him on TV the past few years, I think the latter is more likely.

All that, combined with the fact that most all GMs just do not do well in their positions in the long-term, it seems likely to me that Reggie would not become a great GM. And that would forever sully the way an entire state feels about it’s biggest professional basketball hero.

And mostly, I just don’t want that to happen.

So perhaps it’s selfish, and perhaps I’m thinking like a 12-year-old when I say this, but I would prefer that Reggie simply stays where he is: in the rafters.

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