The Scorpion GM Speaks: A transcript from an impromptu press conference

  • By Michael Miller, Day 1, 2021

LAS VEGAS - A trip to Las Vegas usually requires both gambling and stripping, and JBL Newcomer Michael Miller has embraced the City mantra by stripping away the core talent of a beloved champion Scorpions team and gambling away its future on an uncertain system and underdeveloped stars. After former team architect and general manager Andrew Taylor abandoned the franchise, team management plucked Miller, an unknown individual with no known prior knowledge and experience, to reload the franchise on the fly. Instead of reload, however, Miller traded away reigning MVP Dontay Sowder and several other aging All-Pros for a complete revision of the team. Below is a transcript of pertinent questions and responses from Mr. Miller's recent press conference.

Q: Prior to accepting the Scorpions GM position, you had no prior experience with any JBL franchise or staffing position. Do you have any idea as to what the hell you are doing?

A: Nope. Next question.

Q: Well, that was a refreshingly honest answer but in no way calms the concerns of this fan base. Why should we trust the moves you are making?

A: The focus of moving forward was flexibility. After full review of the league and the Scorpions team in general, I had concerns about what this team would look like 3 years from now. While Sowder and Omar Grant are entering their prime, Young, Eyles and HP were on the wrong side of 30 with very expensive contracts. The team was likely going to beyond the hard trading limit and lost its mid level exemption for free agency. There were no draft picks for two years. Really, there were just not many places to go with the team that was constructed. After all of the moves that we have made, the Scorpions have a younger team whose skills should fit together. My goal was to extend our competitive window at least an additional 5 years by making these moves now.

Q: So, let's talk about the linchpin of this entire off-season, the decision to trade Dontay Sowder to the Lightning. Many say that you failed to receive unequal value for the reigning MVP. How do you respond?

A: Trading Sowder was always going to be a controversial move. He is such a wide-ranging talent that he can fit into any system and impact both ends of the floor. Honestly, after scouting the league, we became infatuated with both Lamar Francis and Derrick Griffin from the Lightning. Francis is an electric player who we believe is just starting to scratch the service of his immense potential. He's a dynamic player who can be the focus of our entire offense. Griffin is the "yin" to Francis "yang". Griffin projects as an elite defender, who can play the perimeter and the post. He is also aggressive and anticipate he will create extensive opportunities in transition with his turnover skills. Griffin also has untapped potential. You put those two players together with Omar Grant, and you have a high flying offense capable of getting to the rim with high efficiency shots. No doubt about it, Francis, Griffin and Grant are the future core of this team moving forward.

Q: An interesting part is that you did not obtain Griffin directly from the Lightning in the deal for Sowder. Instead, Griffin moved to Baltimore, then was almost immediately shipped to Las Vegas before he even unpacked his bags. What happened there?

A: In our trade discussions with the Lightning's owner, our initial offer focused on Francis and Griffin. Unfortunately, the Lightning had already made a verbal agreement to trade Griffin to another, not disclosed team. So, focusing on getting Francis at just about whatever the cost, we settled for Kai Navigato [a recent top 10 pick] and the unprotected Louisville 1st round pick from 2024. Unbeknownst to us, the undisclosed team was Baltimore. After the Francis deal was officially approved by the League Office, we aggressively moved to throw the kitchen sink at Baltimore for Griffin. Ultimately, we gave up our non-Francis pieces acquired from the Lightning to obtain Griffin. So, it basically all worked out. We were able to obtain the two players we wanted for Sowder, albeit in a roundabout way.

Q: That sounds a lot like collusion with the Bullets.

A: Perhaps it does, but I swear to you that nothing was completed in advance with the Bullets during the Francis deal. Whether the Lightning and Bullets had discussions that we were not a part of, we will never know. Ultimately, however, we were the instigator for the Griffin trade with the Bullets. We initiated the conversation and pursued it by offering a package that we do not believe they could match.

Q: So, with the Francis, Griffin and Grant core, what sort of team do you envision building?

A: Francis, Griffin and Grant are all amazing athletes who can get to the basket. We anticipate that we will run an up-tempo style, focusing on dribble drive motion and transition buckets. To bring the most out of Griffin and Grant, we approached numerous teams to try and acquire a distributor style point guard to play the one. After not getting any traction on trades, we focused on two potential free agent targets in Keith Humphries and Devante Parker. Humphries was intriguing because his age matched the anticipated development curves of Francis and Griffin, but ultimately, Parker seemed to be a better fit and available to us. Parker played very well in Portland's up-tempo system over the last 3 years, with a high assist rate compared to his low usage. He is by no means a ball-stopper. Additionally, there was a concern we could ever clear enough cap room to sign Humphries after we correctly predicted that he would get a max offer from an expansion team based on his youth and potential. We were extremely happy that Parker agreed to sign early because, if it went into a bidding war, we were already maxed out of our cap room with our initial $16.55 million offer and would have lost him.

Q: The Sowder deal was not the only trade action which you engaged in. What kinds of negotiations were had for the other players on your team.

A: Frankly, we were open and honest that we are wiling to have discussions on any player. I believe these discussions are positive and help you get a sense of the value of the players on the team. We even had very tentative discussions with another team about Grant, but nothing really materialized of substance. Certainly, our targets for moving were our older All-Pros on the downside of their careers, specifically HP, Eyles and Young.

Q: You received some criticism about your trade of PF Orien Young to Pittsburgh for PF/SF Reggie Burke and PF Quadree Ratliff. Young is still playing at a stellar level, while Burke is an unknown second round pick and Ratliff primarily came off the bench last season. What was the thinking behind that deal?

A: Primarily, the deal was done to get salary cap flexibility for this year and next year while also adding an interesting prospect in Burke. Ratliff saves approximately $6 million in cap room this year which, as I am sure we will get to later, was absolutely necessary to be an active player in free agency. Meanwhile, I think Ratliff is a bit undervalued for his defense. He had a sub-100.0 defensive rating in the last year he started and has a nice wingspan for a wing. He will likely compete for the starting PF role. Meanwhile, as to Burke, we had a low 1st round grade on him because he appeared to already have some defensive talent because of the strong steal numbers he had on a good Ohio State team. If his offense comes around, he will be a great piece to match with Francis and Griffin at a cost-controlled prospect. Ultimately, without trading Young prior to free agency, we do not have enough cap room to sign Parker in free agency.

Q: What about the trade for Eyles? Of all the moves you made, that trade appears to have been the most positively received.

A: A lot of work went into the Eyles trade. My focus on moving Eyles, Young or HP was to get at least a future 1st round pick in return as an asset. We heavily shopped Young around the league, but no one was really that interested in a 33-year old who had peaked and still had two years left on an expensive contract. Frankly, Pittsburgh's offer of Burke and Ratliff was the only serious proposal we received from any team. We originally received similar rebuttals when shopping Eyles until we were able to connect with Austin. They were really up tight against the cap and needed to make some maneuvers but they were willing to offer up a 1st for Eyles so we were committed to get this done. Ultimately, sending us Dwight Hill back made the salary work and we were able to get our 1st round pick. Additionally, that 1st rounder could potentially be valuable depending on what happens with Austin over the next few years. They currently appear to have an unbalanced roster with too many wings and not enough guards. Actually, HP was almost dealt instead of Eyles to Austin.

Q: What potential offers were fielded for HP?

A: Well, once it became clear that Eyles for a 1st round pick would not immediately work because of the cap, there were discussions with Baltimore and Austin for a 3-team deal that would have resulted in significantly more cap room and picks. This trade, which we accepted, would have basically blown up the team for future flexibility and draft picks. Austin ended up rejecting that deal, which fortunately worked out for us because we were able to keep HP while also having enough spending flexibility to sign Parker in FA.

Q: What is HP's future with the team? Is he still on the market?

A: First off, other than Griffin and Francis, I am willing to discuss trades for anyone. I firmly believe there is no harm in internal discussions, and all teams have dialogue going at all times to understand what the value of their players are to the rest of the league. As to Grant, I see no reasonable situation where he would be dealt, as it would need to be an offer which makes me better now and the future. As to HP, he is going to be a free agent next year and who knows what his value will be and what kind of contract he wants. I think a lot depends on where is role falls by the end of this year. With Parker coming in as a more "distributor" type of PG, HP could come off the bench as a widely used 6th man or start at the wing. At 6'9" and with his wingspan, HP can certainly defend most wings but there is a concern about his lack of experience at that position. Our coaching staff will need to try different things and figure out whether HP is a better fit at SF or coming off the bench at PG/SG as a 6th man.

Q: It would have been nice if you had some stability in your coaching situation, but of course, your head coach Rowland McLain decided to retire. What kind of impact did that have on your decision making?

A: To be frank, with our changing system to run more up tempo, Rowland likely would have been shoved out the door if he did not decide voluntarily to call it a career. Replacing him was a relatively easy task as we had two great candidates as assistants competing for the job. Both Shane and Rowan interviewed extremely well for the job. They are both JBL Legends, so they understand the game and can best reach their players. Ultimately, while we believed that while Shane was more "ready" for the job because of his past experience as a head coach with the Tritons, we were excited for the potential Rowan brought to the table and thought his system was a better fit for the construction and culture we are trying to fit in the desert. We were disappointed when Shane decided not to stay and accepted the Boston head coaching job, but we are happy for him and wish him all of the best.

Q: Ultimately, what is your strategy as to roster construction with this team?

A: Both our starters and bench players are athletic high-flyers who can get to the basket. With Parker as the facilitator, we anticipate being able to quick high efficiency shots quickly around the rim by featuring Francis and Grant. On defense, we have several wings with great physical talent and wingspan. Our hope is to create turnovers with the press and obtain some quick buckets around the rim. Shooting, or lack thereof, is a significant concern. As of right now, HP is our only decent shooter and we do not have any strong options off of the bench. That will be an area we will likely work on next offseason, and as we continue to build this team. Also, I am very high on the team makeup here. Our players have a nice mix of experience and youth and are hard workers who like coming to the gym.

Q: Last question, what are your expectations this year?

A: I think it is all based on how long it takes us to gel and figure out where HP fits best on this roster. If everyone stays healthy, I can see us competing in a very tough decision and perhaps even making a deep playoff run. Thank you all for your time today.

Time will tell if this active off-season puts the Scorpions on a better or worse position than before Mr. Miller arrived. Certainly, however, he has demonstrated that he is not afraid to gamble.