Former Hornets General Manager and coach Jeff Bower has been hired as the new General Manager of the Detroit Pistons. Bower was GM of the Hornets from 2005-2010. The reactions to the hire appeared to be mixed. Nobody was blown away by it because Bower isn’t a huge name but also because Coach Stan Van Gundy has final say on all basketball operations. As such Bower will be doing more scouting and making suggestions to SVG than he will be in decision making.
There was another reaction that was very visible and that was one of negativity. Bower’s tenure as GM of New Orleans, except for a couple year stretch, didn’t have a lot of success. He’s largely remembered as the man that traded away Tyson Chandler and drove Chris Paul out of town. While many of the criticisms towards Bower are fair, he also did a lot of good for New Orleans while he was general manger that has seemingly been forgot.
When Bower took over the Hornets he did so during the Hurricane Katrina disaster, not exactly an easy time. Not even half a year into the job and Bower was tasked with not only rebuilding a struggling team but running an NBA franchise that no longer had a home. Half the fan base was either gone or too busy trying to rebuild a city to even think about attending a basketball game. The argument can be made that Bower didn’t have to worry about the logistics because his job was the product on the court, not what was going on outside of it. To say that the distraction of everything going around New Orleans wasn’t a distraction personally feels like underrating just how much of a distraction those outside factors were.
The outside factors aside, Bower slowly built a successful team. In 2005 he drafted Chris Paul to put next to a young David West. The next year he traded an aging P.J. Brown along with a young J.R. Smith for Tyson Chandler and in a separate trade got the always consistent Peja Stojakovic. With this core of players, the Hornets remained relatively competitive despite playing games in Oklahoma City, hundreds of miles from their real home. Slowly the team began to improve and after a few seasons of battling injuries, they broke through. During the the 2007-2008 season the Hornets won 56 games and finished one game behind the #1 seed Lakers in the West.
Unfortunately this would be the best this group of players would ever reach. Tyson Chandler suffered a toe injury in the following season that held him to 45 games and took away the team’s biggest defensive presence. Without that presence the team struggled and couldn’t do any better than 7th in the West. That offseason Chandler was traded for Emeka Okafor and the fall of the Hornets began. In 2010 Bower was fired.
It’s clear that Bower did have success while he was general manager of the Hornets. He traded for players like Tyson Chandler and Peja Stojakovic and drafted guys like Chris Paul and built around him and David West. Where most of his criticism comes is that the team was so unsustainable and trading Tyson Chandler.
The Chandler trade in hindsight is really bad. He traded a future Defensive player of the Year for a solid defensive center, but one not as good as Chandler. While Okafor has never been as good as Chandler is at his best, Okafor at the time was much healthier. For a team that was trying to win at that time before Chris Paul’s contract ran out, it wasn’t the worst move, especially since Chandler only played 51 games the season after the trade.
There’s also the criticism that the team he built peaked way too quickly. The problem with this is that the environment Bower was in was never sustainable in the first place. Outside of building a team in a city that was recovering from one of the greatest natural disasters in American history, Bower was working for an owner that was facing money problems and that was never a great owner to begin with. It’s extremely difficult to build a sustainable team in that kind of environment. Not only is their pressure to win but you have to do it cost effective. There’s no way to know for sure but perhaps another reason the Chandler for Okafor trade was made was so the team wouldn’t have to deal out the eventual big bucks on a possibly injury prone Chandler.
Does all of this excuse wrong decisions Bower made? No, not even close. His draft history with the Hornets was suspect at best with some of highlights being Chris Paul, Darren Collison, and Marcus Thornton. Outside of Paul, that is mediocre drafting at best. The draft is a crap shoot but Bower still drafted a handful of high draft picks that didn’t remain in the NBA like Julian Wright and Hilton Armstrong.
Did SVG choose the right guy to make his right hand man in making decisions? There is really no way to tell. Bower had a lot of success but with those successes came a fair share of failures. In reality it was hard to judge Bower fairly because he was never in an environment built to succeed. This doesn’t excuse the mistakes he made as a GM but it does point to the idea of letting him have time before an ultimate decision is made on if he can succeed in Detroit.