The Lakers announced several front office promotions on Friday, officially naming Ryan West Director of Player Personnel, Jesse Buss Assistant General Manager/Director of Scouting, and Clay Moser Assistant Coach/Director of Basketball Strategy.
We originally touched on the West promotion in this space, so this is not necessarily new news. Investing in West, in my opinion, is a smart move as he brings both youth and experience to the table and is, seemingly, well regarded around the league.
The Moser move was also expected, as reported by Bill Oram back in July. From Oram’s report:
Assistant coach and advance scout Clay Moser is expected to transition from the bench to the front office in a sort of liaison position, which previously did not exist within the organization. A team spokesman confirmed Monday that the move is in the works.
The responsibilities of the role have been among those heaped upon assistant coach Mark Madsen. The plan with Moser, however, is to facilitate a pipeline of ideas with a basketball person in the front office.
Having Moser in place to help bridge the gap between the analytics staff and the coaches is an investment worth making — should it translate to actual implementation and/or affect strategy by the coaches. I have my doubts Byron Scott will suddenly turn around 180 degrees on his views towards the usefulness of analytics (read the full Oram piece above for more background), but it’s worth a shot.
The Jesse Buss promotion is the only other front office change that wasn’t on the radar before. He’s had “Assistant GM” added to his title (he was already the Scouting Director), but it’s unclear if his duties are actually changing. The Lakers already have an Assistant GM in place — Glenn Carraro was appointed to that role in 2012. This isn’t to minimize the impact of Buss’ promotion, rather it’s meant to provide more context and background.
The more understated part of the Lakers release came at the end when they gave some background on who Moser will be working with on the analytics side of the house:
Moser will work closely with Director of Analytics Yuju Lee and Associate Director of Analytics Aaron Danielson.
Lee brings a wealth of statistical and computer science knowledge to his position, holding MS degrees in each discipline from UCLA, while working closely with the basketball operations, coaching, and training staffs to incorporate statistical analysis into the day-to-day operation of each department. Lee was originally hired as a consultant by the Lakers for the 2012-13 season, contributing to a variety of analytics projects.
Danielson’s role includes designing and implementing statistical analysis for the basketball operations department, while also assessing league trends and developing new analytic content for the coaching and training staffs. Currently finishing his PhD in statistics at UCLA, Danielson previously earned master’s degrees in public policy from the University of Chicago and in economics from NYU. He began working with the Lakers two seasons ago in a consultant role.
This is the first time the Lakers have ever provided any information on anyone from their analytics team. Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss have both been pretty secretive about how they use analytics and who is on their team crunching the data. While the Lakers have taken some hits in the press about how much they embrace these numbers and their growing influence on the game, Kupchak has remained somewhat defiant, speaking highly of the people in place and feeling more than comfortable with what they do as an organization in this area.
It is interesting, then, to see these two names dropped into a press release with some background provided about their credentials as people comfortable with the data they will be asked to crunch and package for interpretation by those making the basketball decisions. Whether this will pacify the critics is unknown, but it does show a willingness to be more open about this part of the organization.
After the Lakers’ press release, General Manager Mitch Kupchak went on the record with USA Today’s Sam Amick providing more background on the promotions and the analytics staff. The entire piece is worth your time, but here are a couple of excerpts which caught my eye:
Kupchak on the title changes for Buss and West:
“I wouldn’t necessarily say that job descriptions are going to change a lot (for Jesse Buss and West), but to a large degree it’s a recognition of a job well done,” he said. “If you feel that you’ve got people who have worked hard and done a good job, you recognize them.”
Kupchak on pulling back the curtain on his analytics team by naming names:
“But we do have to, I feel, we have to show our fans that we’re doing everything we can to get back to that spot. If that means sharing these inner workings of the organization moreso than we ever did, then we have to do that.”
Kupchak has always been a straight shooter and the above quotes don’t deviate from his history at all. I find it interesting that he notes West and Buss likely won’t be doing much different than what they were doing before, but sees the title changes (and likely uptick in salary) as reward for a job well done. Both already (seemingly) have strong and well received voices in the organization, but it’s clear — at least to me — that the promotions don’t reshuffle the decision tree in the organization at all.
Regarding Kupchak’s comments about appeasing fans, this clearly reflects (as Amick drives home in his post) how losing as many games as the team has affects front office behavior. No longer can the team afford to simply say “believe in what we’re doing” since the results on floor don’t inspire many fans to believe in much beyond that people aren’t doing their jobs very well.
For me, this ignores the context of all that goes into making a basketball team successful and the huge factor simple luck or catching a few breaks goes into that success, but I don’t think Mitch is talking about fans like me. Every day fans call into radio stations which are affiliates to the team and provide feedback via their viewing habits on TV programming which portrays a general impatience and mistrust for how the team is being run.
That will mostly change when the team starts winning — some fans will still complain because, well, they’re fans who love to complain — but for now this is the new reality. Based on his comments, Mitch seems to understand this quite well.