It’s going to be a great day when a woman joining an NBA team in a front office or advisory role won’t be major news.
That day is coming soon as teams embrace women and their basketball knowledge to help set the path for their organizations.
The latest club to add a female to its front office staff is the Indiana Pacers, who hired Kelly Krauskopf as an assistant general manager after she served as GM of the WNBA’s Indiana Fever for 17 years.
Krauskopf joins WNBA standout players Lindsey Harding, Sue Bird, Kristi Toliver, and Becky Hammon in joining NBA staffs the past few years, a refreshing sight.
“Kelly has played the game, worked in the WNBA league office, helped build and run the Fever franchise from its beginning, and eventually built a championship team,” Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard said.
“She is very well respected in all basketball circles and she has great knowledge of our entire operation, so when we looked at this position, it made complete sense to just look in our own building. We think she will be a great asset to myself, general manager Chad Buchanan, and senior vice president of basketball operations Peter Dinwiddie as we pursue our goal of building a winning team for our state and our city.”
During the Mavericks’ sexual harassment controversy that resulted in team owner Mark Cuban being fined $10 million for his lack of organizational control, NBA commissioner Adam Silver strongly suggested teams begin hiring women for front office positions.
The Spurs made the unprecedented move of hiring Hammon as an assistant coach, and in coming years she could emerge as a candidate for a head coaching job.
The Nuggets hired Bird as a basketball operations associate and the Wizards added Toliver to their coaching staff.
A few years ago, Clippers coach Doc Rivers named former UCLA player Natalie Nakase as the team’s summer league coach, and she eventually joined their staff.
The NBA always has prided itself on being the most trail-blazing professional sports league.
Significant moves such as ESPN hiring Doris Burke as an NBA analyst, the Wizards hiring Kara Lawson as their main commentator, and former Suns vice president Anne Meyers-Drysdale becoming a color commentator was a prelude to these recent moves.
Integrating women into NBA front offices is a move that has been long overdue. The popularization of the WNBA and the rise of NCAA women’s basketball in recent years has helped expose the talent and knowledge of women in basketball. It’s always been there, but it required teams such as the Spurs erasing the perception that women would not be successful coaching men.
It may be time for Silver to take another step in this department. Perhaps the commissioner should institute a Rooney-type rule in the NBA that mandates teams interview at least one female candidate for open front office positions, or perhaps the league can begin a database of female candidates for open coaching and front office positions.
The NBA can use as many innovative minds as it can get and it’s rather primitive to believe that most of those minds are owned by men.
The Celtics have three women who are vice presidents on the administrative side but none in basketball operations.
As progressive as the Celtics have been in race relations — first African-American player and coach — they have an opportunity to continue that trend with women.
It was a landmark week in the NBA with the hiring of Krauskopf and it’s an encouraging sign that teams are finally opening their doors to all qualified front office candidates.
“The chance to work in an NBA front office for a first-class organization filled with great people I know and in a city that has become my home is extraordinary,” Krauskopf said. “My past experience has shown me that building winning teams and elite level culture is not based on gender — it is based on people and processes. I am excited to join the Pacers as we continue building the best NBA franchise in the business.”
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Crawford is still getting job done
In his most recent return to New York last Monday, Jamal Crawford dished out a career-high 14 assists for the Suns in a win over the Knicks. At age 38, Crawford is still putting up numbers, and still having fun.
While all of his draft class (2000) is out of the NBA, Crawford is still relevant in a league of millennials. His role with the youthful Suns is that of veteran leader, mentor, life coach, and that’s the way he wanted it.
It would have been easy for Crawford to join a contending club, be a 13th or 14th man, and wave a towel while his teammates sparked a playoff run. But he wanted a more prominent role, even if it came with a team far from playoff contention.
“Not saying I don’t want to win a championship, but it’s never been in me to take the easy way out in any situation,” he said. “And these guys were really excited to have me. I was ready to play. When the season started, I wanted to be out there. Sometimes it’s more important to see somebody go from point A to point C or D rather than we try to chase a championship because I think these are lessons they can have for their whole career and stick with them, and hopefully when they’re in their 15th year, they can pass to somebody else.”
The Suns, who followed up the win over the Knicks by defeating the Celtics Wednesday night at TD Garden, are loaded with younger talent such as Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, and Josh Jackson. Crawford is averaging 17 minutes per game off the bench, but his primary role is offering advice and guidance to his teammates. The process had been slow until recently.
“It’s been fun, it really has,” Crawford said. “They’ve been really receptive. They’re really trying to get better. They listen and they apply. And that’s all you can ask. As a young guy just trying to establish and trying know what it’s like to win. It’s pretty gratifying. It’s just small steps. Obviously we have a ways to go, but hopefully we’re trending in the right direction.”
Like Vince Carter, one of Crawford’s contemporaries, said last week, staying physically prepared enough to play in the NBA is a “lifestyle” that requires many sacrifices.
“But I think if you stay in love with the game, you’re willing to do anything that comes with it,” Crawford said. “Whether it be diet or staying in shape. I think when you love the game, you’ll do anything for it. That’s helped me tremendously, not drinking, not smoking.”
Carter, still in the league at 41, said he stays away from playing pickup games in the offseason to save his legs and energy. Crawford is the opposite, playing in any game he can find. And that includes hosting a pro-am tournament in Seattle that gives NBA players a chance play play high-level competition during the summer.
Crawford’s tournament offered Celtics guard Kyrie Irving a chance to play last summer as he recovered from knee surgery. The games on one particular day drew a famous and unexpected guest as a spectator: Celtics legend Bill Russell.
“It’s crazy, I would have never talked about it if Kyrie didn’t,” Crawford said. “We’ve always been like family [with Irving]. And the fact that he spent time up there and I started organizing stuff for him is an honor because he could have went anywhere to get his game back around. He trusted me in a lot of ways and I made sure he got the best of everything.”
Oubre embraces move to Phoenix
Given how well Kelly Oubre has fared against the Celtics the past few years, it was curious that the Wizards were so eager to trade him, as they did this past week to the Suns.
Oubre, 23, was a rising player for the Wizards, with the ability to defend and hit big shots. He dropped 20 points in his last appearance against the Celtics as a member of the Wizards, and he came back and scored 13 with Phoenix on Wednesday in the Suns’ surprising win.
The Wizards had little choice but to move Oubre because they weren’t going to be able to afford him long term. Oubre will be a restricted free agent and the Wizards are so salary-cap strapped with the contracts of John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter, they wouldn’t have been able to match any offer for him.
So they dealt him for less than a year of Trevor Ariza and that idea is as curious as it sounds. Generally, NBA general managers don’t trade 23-year-old players for 33-year-old players, unless it gives them a legitimate chance at winning a championship.
Ariza only gives the Wizards a chance at making the playoffs, although they are 0-2 since he arrived. But GM Ernie Grunfeld is so desperate for success that he sacrificed Oubre for a shot at the eighth seed. It’s been difficult in Washington since it lost to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2017.
Washington was bounced from the first round of the playoffs last spring as the eighth seed, and now are three games out of the eighth spot, despite its exorbitant salaries.
Wall and Beal have never truly meshed as expected, each feeling as if he should be the No. 1 option. That has caused major chemistry issues. And what doesn’t help is Porter is the team’s highest-paid player but the third option. Porter has been injury-prone for the past few years and seems content with being a complement to Wall and Beal.
But he just happened to become a free agent at the right time and the Nets offered him a lucrative contract that the Wizards felt inclined to match.
Also, with the contract of center Ian Mahinmi, the Wizards are making moves to pare payroll, such as moving Jason Smith to the Bucks.
This likely isn’t going to turn out well for the Wizards, who have begun the season 12-20. Oubre could have been a key piece in the team’s future, but the Wizards aren’t thinking future.
After Oubre’s trade, the only draft pick the Wizards have on their roster since taking Porter in 2013 is rookie Troy Brown. By comparison, the Celtics have eight of their draft picks on their current roster in the same span.
Oubre took the trade in stride, realizing that impending free agents are susceptible to trade.
“It’s a mutually [good] feeling [to be in Phoenix] because I’m excited,” he said. “I definitely have to find myself within this organization and find myself within this offense. I’m still learning and growing as well as these guys and we’re all in the same boat.”
The Suns are an organization that has been in transition for a few years, and they are piling up young talent and hoping Oubre, despite being just 23, can provide leadership. He said he embraces his new role.
“I can bring defense, energy, and a fresh spirit,” he said. “I’m here and now I’m focusing on this moment.”
He gives a boost to the roster of new coach Igor Kokoskov, whose team beat Boston to extend its season-long winning streak to four. The Suns thought they would be improved this season, adding Ariza on a one-year, $15 million deal, trading for Ryan Anderson, and then signing Jamal Crawford.
Instead, it’s been another learning experience and the focus has changed to improving its younger core. Oubre should help that effort.
“He’s a smart kid, he picked up our stuff pretty quick, and I feel like he’s been with us for a couple of weeks,” Kokoskov said. “He can help us with his length, size. The fact he’s 23 and a veteran just tells you who we are as a team, we’re very young. He’s got experience we don’t have but he’s also got a lot to learn and we’re happy he’s with us.”
It’s been a difficult week for Doc Rivers’s son, Austin Rivers. He got caught up in the Memphis-Phoenix-Washington trade mess that occurred when the Grizzlies and Suns confused which player named Brooks was going from Memphis to Phoenix. The Suns wanted Dillon Brooks, a former second-round pick who has turned into a starter, while the Grizzlies wanted to give up MarShon Brooks, the former Celtic who has resurrected his career as a reserve for Memphis. The trade was called off, the Suns eventually sent Oubre and Rivers to Phoenix for Ariza, and Rivers was waived. Rivers has turned into a 26-year-old journeyman. His next team will be his fourth and he has never expanded his game beyond scoring. Rivers is now in a situation in which he is looking to join a contending team and play his way into a lucrative contract. The Clippers signed Rivers to a three-year, $35 million extension in the summer of 2016, when they were so salary-cap strapped they were essentially forced to bring back all of their own free agents. Now that Rivers has been waived, he can join a team on a minimum deal and try to prove he is a capable and productive player on a winning team. Rivers obviously had higher aspirations than being bought out of his contract at age 26. He left Duke after one season, believing he was ready to be an impact player. Instead, he spent three uneven seasons with the Pelicans before his father acquired him via trade. Rivers has talent, but the thoughts of him being a starting shooting guard on an elite team have probably faded. At this point, Rivers is just looking for work . . . Many NBA executives are at the G-League Showcase in Las Vegas and that Jan. 5 date where clubs can sign players to 10-day contracts is fast approaching. The Celtics have some roster flexibility because they have an open two-way contract after waiving Walter Lemon. President of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Globe there was no sense of urgency in bringing in another two-way player. The G-League Showcase features a plethora of players vying for their NBA chance. Several are expected to get that chance this season.