Bedouin is Back in the Public Eye

  • By Andrew Taylor, Day 1, 2023

Bedouin is Back in the Public Eye
By Skip ‘Hack’ Morrissey
Baltimore Sun

During the All-Star break I wrote a column highly critical of the Bullets GM Andrew Taylor, better known as Bedouin. The 2022 season was a challenging one for all of us with an investment in the Bullets franchise. For reporters such as myself it was challenging to fill columns when the GM was seemingly inactive and refused to comment publicly on the direction of the team. But for the fans it was a simply horrific experience as they witnessed the franchise they have rapidly fallen in love with tumble down the standings after a promising inaugural season.

Truth be told I never had any significant concerns about Bedouin’s actual job performance, indeed sometimes being a successful GM is more about the moves you don’t make, rather than the moves you do. But I thought that the criticism was fair because as the head of the front office one of the GM’s responsibilities is to manage the expectations of the community, something that Bedouin had clearly failed to do.

To say that our oft impertinent GM was displeased would be a slight understatement. I came home from work on the day the article was published to an answering machine message from Bedouin that I have his permission to publish for you here in full. “Skip, Bedouin here. Got a quote for you. Go f**k yourself.”

I didn’t think much of it at the time. Having no access to someone who isn’t talking to the press, or making any moves isn’t a significant concern. However, when the offseason began and Bedouin immediately launched into action it became an issue that I needed to address, especially when he called me out directly after the Honeycutt trade was completed. Despite that it wasn’t until the team’s gala night for season ticket holders that I had the opportunity. I approached Bedouin late in the evening with some degree of trepidation but to my surprise he laughed the whole thing off. He was in an excellent mood after the Honeycutt acquisition, and was already a few glasses down and he agreed to sit down at the end of free agency for an interview about the last two seasons and all that had taken place.

So that’s how I found myself in Bedouin’s office at USS Constellation Arena staring out over the harbour as Bedouin lit up a cigar and sat down opposite me. I took my seat, switched on the recorder and we got started. What follows is the verbatim transcript of our discussion.

S – “So you made it pretty clear you were annoyed with my article at the all-star break calling you out for not communicating with the media and fans. Why did that article bother you?”

B – “Well Skip, I wouldn’t necessarily say leaving you a shirty voicemail means that I was annoyed per se but I think the issue I took with the article is that I think you played dumb to make your point.”

S – “How’s that.”

B – “Well I think at the end of the day you’re smart enough to interpret what course of action the team is taking and communicate that to the fanbase. I appreciate it’s a component of my job that I may have been neglecting, but surely you agree part of your job in the media is to interpret the news for people. The story isn’t just player A got traded for player B, it’s also what that means for both organizations.”

S – “I don’t necessarily disagree, but without comment from the front office, that’s a significant piece of the puzzle that isn’t on the table.”

B – “That’s fair Skip but we’ve known each other for a long time. You’re known for being on the Bedouin beat. You were with me in Vegas, you witnessed what my front office did in 2017 when we tore that team down. What we did last season isn’t so different. So, I think you could have inferred a little more from what was going on. The lack of evidence of tangible action is not proof of inaction. It’s not like I’ve just been hitting the links every day.”

S – “Okay but at the same time though I’m a reporter, not a columnist. I’m not on Hot Take. I rely on tangible information not just baseless spice. I think there is a distinction there. But let’s move on, do you think part of the reason why you were suddenly less available to the media is because you were as some GMs suggested, “tanking?”

B – “Some GM’s like that clown up in Boston need to focus on getting their own shit together before they talk about other teams. No, we weren’t tanking. If we were tanking Reggie would have gone down with persistent hamstring soreness after the all-star break. We elected to shift our team building strategy towards the conclusion of the 2021 season and I think all our moves since that time are highly consistent with the new strategy. “

S – “I appreciate given that sanctions exist that you want to draw a clear line between a youth centric rebuild and ‘tanking.’ But it’s fair to say you weren’t out to win games last year.”

B – “Our players and coaches want to win every time they take the court. They’re a competitive group and some of the guys like Doze found it really challenging. I get that, I love that. But sadly, our strategy at a front office level made it unlikely that we win a lot of games last year. But winning games isn’t the only goal in a given year. The year wasn’t a waste just because we won less games than the year before; we got a lot of development into a young guys. That’s a big win.
S – “And you got the 2nd pick in the draft..”

B – “And there’s that.” Bedouin laughs.

S – “And we’ll come back to that pick but since it’s been a while since we spoke I want to speak to you about the reasons that the front office changed direction and the moves you’ve made since then. When we last spoke you’d constructed quite a talented unit for the inaugural season. It didn’t look like you were a team that was going to bottom out and build through youth. What changed?

B – “What we were trying to do was build a solid foundation which we could then add a big-name player to, creating an almost instant contender. I think we had some great front court depth, a great veteran point guard and leader in Strick and on the side we’d been working to acquire Reggie. We felt that adding a big name to Reggie and Strick would get us right into the conversation. What changed was that none of the big fish we had on our list proved obtainable. I think we got a little unlucky with a change of management in Chicago but these things happen. So, whilst we ultimately secured Reggie we began to consider pursuing a different course of action.

S – “What do you consider to be the first move you made in line with the new strategy?”

B – “Once Reggie signed his extension with us that’s when we pulled the trigger Knowing that we’d have a veteran all-star calibre guy with us for the next 3 years allowed us to fully commit to stripping things back and building up from there. The first trade we completed in line with the new strategy was probably sending Navigato and Charles out for a few first round draft picks one of which we then traded for a few more draft picks. Don’t ask me to remember the exact picks, it’s been a while now.

S – “And then you made a few more deals like that, Randoph to the Vipers, Obra to the Vipers, Warren to the Canes. All moves designed to clear cap space and bring back picks. The first really substantial move that we probably need to touch upon is decision to trade away Jamar Strickland who was really the leader of the team.

B – “I was on the fence about Strick, and definitely there were members of our front office team on both sides of the decision; to hold or trade. I think we were probably going to hold him until Novak got moved. Once Novak got moved I had a better sense of the market and I thought that if we could get a comparable price then it would be a deal worth pursuing. You’ve got to remember, independent of Strick intangibles as a player, we didn’t give up very much to acquire him. Ultimately, we felt that with Reggie in place we could afford to move on. And that gave us a pick high enough that we were able to select Brandon Kelly, who I was confident was going to go at least ten spots higher than he was ranked by the scouting services.”

S – “In that draft you kept Pick 16, which you used to pick up Kelly, but you traded Pick 17 on to the Jacks. Why was that?”

B – “We really liked Kelly and were determined to get him on board, but we weren’t as enamoured with what we thought our options would be at 17. As a group we were leaning towards Antoine Willis, but we felt that he just didn’t quite have the height to play center and that playing him exclusively at PF was just gonna do a disservice to both him and Doze, who we are super high on. So punting the pick for a likely lottery pick down the road seemed like a solid return. And when we got Augustin, a similarly skilled player in the second round that was definite confirmation that we’d made the right choice.

S – “After that you acquired Mirko Blazevic, who was part of the 2017 Scorpions team you mentioned earlier but you traded him on pretty quickly after free agency.”

B – “We felt we probably needed another experienced guy in the front court and I like Mirko but after we signed Ratliff in free agency he was no longer as necessary. We felt we got decent value for him.

S – “And then nothing for a year. So, what were you up to, since you claim you weren’t golfing.”

B – “First off we, and I mean the front office, were monitoring the development of our guys. That was the biggest focus for us last year. We worked really closely with the coaching staff and made some changes to the offense to see how the guys would respond, we pushed for some more development minutes for White and Augustin. Internally we saw some really nice wins in that space. I appreciate that didn’t necessarily translate to the standings. But we loved what we saw from Kelly, I’d rather Kelly at 16 than Poke at 1, and are really thrilled with what Augustin did for us as a second rounder. If he can get that shot worked out he’s going to be huge for us off the bench.

S – “Were you involved in any trade discussions? You know I have to ask…”

B – “Nah I locked Trader Bed in a little room underneath the stairs for the year. Last year was always going to be a challenge, and it required a lot of patience. It was frustrating because yes there were discussions here and there, moves that could have helped us. But only in the short term. And we were focused on the long term. Sometimes success as a GM is more about the deals you don’t do, than the deals you do.”

S – “Tezale Craig for example.”

B – “There is a bit of fake news going on there. I was absolutely involved in discussions there. But more in the capacity as a broker, a middle man. If I could acquire and flip him for a net gain then great. But no, I never had any interest in him for our organization.”

S – “He’s an MVP calibre player. Why did the Bullets have no interest?”

B – “Cause he’s a demanding diva at times and because he didn’t fit our timeline. I’m sure we’ll discuss Honeycutt soon, but he’s not at Craig’s level yet, but he fits the timeline. And that’s a really significant factor for our organization.”

S – “So during the season you had a few chats, I presume you scouted extensively given the number of picks you had, and then suddenly the finals are over and then it was on like..”

B – “On like Donkey Kong, showing my age there I think. Again I’ll come back to what I was saying earlier, still waters run deep you know. As soon as the playoffs began we quickly moved into acquisition mode. We really liked Bundu and felt that since we held pick 12, dropping five spots down and getting a few seconds was a great deal for us.”

S – “You say you like Bundu but he lasted on your roster for maybe a day.”

B – “We really like him, I think he’s going to be one of the best defenders in the league. All defensive team guy when he fully develops. But he is one of many player who we’ve held over the past few years that I have valued lower than you might think as an asset because they were going to hit free agency. Rice, Sherman, Foreman, Obra, Bundu and even Strick. We’re not at the point in our process where we want to be capping out. And I’ve made attempts to largely keep us out of free agency for that reason. You can’t afford to be paying $20m to a player who isn’t a max, not if you want to be playing when it really counts.”

S – “So you quickly moved Bundu to the Warriors along with some picks for Parker and some picks…”

B – “The drones pick specifically. I rate that pretty highly. That was about consolidating some future assets. There is no point having five, no wait make that six recent first rounders on your team if you can’t play them all. They won’t develop optimally, and you won’t get a good price when you move them.

S – “Six seems an oddly specific number.”

B – “Nope, totally random. Anyway, we wanted to consolidate our future assets. But first round picks eat up your cap too. So, consolidation is beneficial on a couple of different fronts.”

S – “Now that brings us to the big one. The acquisition of Honeycutt. I hear there’s a bit of a story there. Care to share?”

B – “I won’t say too much out of respect to other organizations but it’s fair to say our initial conversations about Honeycutt were as a middle man. I’m often happy to play that role. If a team has a player I want, and I don’t have what they want, its easy. Tell me what you want, let me be your personal shopper. Some people think that’s a bit weird. Regardless I got a deal lined up with Comey for Honeycutt but couldn’t get the other team over the line. Did everything we could, made a super generous offer. This is on the night before and the morning off the draft. But I couldn’t get it done and was comfortable going in with Picks 2, 12 and 15. But as pick 12 approached Comey and I started talking again and we ultimately came to terms on a slightly different version of the deal.

S – “And suddenly you have a player who was very much in contention for an All JBL team spot last year. I presume that changes the timeline a little?”

B – “Not so much this year, but certainly it probably pulls the all-in date forward by a season. And you see that reflected in the two trades we made afterwards. We traded back into the draft to get a defensive center on board now in Derrick Malone and that acquisition allowed us to move on from Ilic who’s contract no longer suited our timeframe. Parker I really respect, but we were never planning to retain him, in fact we insisted on the Warriors 2025 1st pick in that deal because we assumed we’d need to bundle it later to move his salary. That deal also puts us in great position for next offseason. We’ll have a high lottery pick from the Drones and can now easily open max cap space.

S – “But in trading Ilic you don’t really have a center unless you plan to start Malone.”

B – “We don’t plan on starting Malone. Coach Williams and I have had several discussions since the trade and I think we’re in agreement that this year, we’re going try something a little different. We’re going to be starting Dozier at the 5 and Kelly at the 5 and ramping up the speed a little. We’ll still give plenty of opportunity to those guys at the 4 and the 3, and indeed to Malone at the 5. But we really want to gain a full understanding of what our guys are capable of this season. Because we need to know very clearly as an organization what we require with our pick, and with our cap space next season. Because that is the last guaranteed chance we’ll have to make those decisions before we start to get squeezed by the cap rules. And that’s what I mean by our timeline changing long term. Honeycutt’s salary drags those decisions closer.”

S – “So do you think you’re done move wise? I would note some have said they’d be amazed to see Damien Dukes on your roster come opening day.”
B – “I’ve been somewhat uncharitable in regard to how I’ve spoken about Dukes over the past few seasons. I think part of that is really a shot at the GM who gave him that contract. As I said, he’s a clown. Having said that I think it’s clear at this point that Damien may never live up to his draft positioning but he’s a player who clearly belongs in the league. My concern is honestly whether I can provide a role for him that is to our mutual satisfaction. The same applies to Derek Cousins. If I can’t find a role for them that both parties are happy with, then I’ll look to move them on. There is no point holding onto talented players you can’t play. So yes, I may have a few small moves left in me. But I don’t anticipate any wholesale changes.

S – “So let’s talk about Evans. Coming into the draft he was ranked as the number one prospect; a dynamic scorer but not the most traditional PG. The rumour was that you preferred Hughes. Where do you stand now?

B – “We did have Hughes number one on our board. But that shouldn’t be considered a knock on Isiah. Firstly, we already had both a young PG and SF in place with Morgan and Kelly. We like both those guys, but Morgan probably has a little more seasoning at this point. That was one an argument put forward in favour of Hughes amongst our team. A second argument is that historically most JBL championship teams have featured an elite SF; the only PG led champions were the Skyhawks and Devils under Vickery and Wilkes. And the third argument for Hughes was that to date, he has shown more defensive ability. But there were a lot of arguments in favour of Evans too.

S – “Such as?”

B – “He was the more productive player in college and maintained efficiency despite a weak group of team mates. He’ll be a top ten shooter in the league from day one and you may have noticed we like to shoot threes at the Bullets. He has specific elite skills, whereas Hughes is a more balanced player. And we actually believe that if harnessed correctly Evans may actually have the higher ceiling. And yes, we understand the concerns about his lack of assists and his defense. But we feel our system will mitigate any playmaking and handling concerns and our workouts with him have convinced us that over time he will put the time in to develop the defensive side of his game.”

S – “And you obviously didn’t know you’d have Honeycutt on the team when you finalized the draft board?”

B – “Not at all. It’s very safe to say that Evans would have been our first choice if Honeycutt had been in the picture at that time. Honestly, we couldn’t be happier with how things have worked out. I think it will be so positive for Evans to have players such as Honey and Reggie on the wings. We don’t need Isiah to come out and average 20-10. What we’re looking for is how efficiently he performs, nobody here is interested in his counting stats.”

S – “So I think that brings us all up to date. But before we finish what’s your goal for this season, your projection for the team.”

B – “Well I may have given it away by trading our 2024 1st round pick away but I don’t expect us to be high in the lottery this year. I think the playoffs are an obtainable goal for us. Having said that I don’t think I would necessarily consider the season a failure if we don’t make it. We’ll be doing some experimentation as I mentioned earlier, and I think a realistic range for us is 4-10 in the eastern conference.”

S – “You really think the team can secure home court?”

B – “No, I said I see that as a plausible scenario if absolutely everything goes perfectly. It is the best-case scenario and in my experience I’ve never encountered that. I think a low seed is the most likely outcome and I think that would be a really positive result for us and would provide a good chance for our younger players to get some playoff reps.

S – “So since you don’t think the Bullets will win who’s your tip for the championship?”

B – “Well since we’ve left Vegas I probably wouldn’t have answered this till now but since sports gambling is all good now in the state of Maryland I’ll happily give your readers my tip. Put your money on the Huskies. Thunder don’t have depth. You gotta have a minimum of 3 guys you trust on the bench. I’ll probably get into a little more detail about this stuff over the coming days in some league run media appearances. Keep an eye out.”

S – “Well thank you for your time Bedouin. I would have preferred to have talked sooner, but you’ve been very generous with your time.”

B – “My pleasure Skip, let’s sit down again properly at the all-star festivities. I’ll buy you a beer.”

S – “Till then.”

And with that our long overdue interview was over. I think ultimately Bedouin did a good job of explaining the rationale behind his decisions. If I was a fan I’d be more comfortable now that I’ve had the plan explained. But at the same time, it’s easier to make things look well planned in hindsight. I guess that’s the advantage you gain in not talking to us for a season or two. You look a little more convincing. But to paraphrase Bedouin himself at the end of the day it comes down to three words; “Bullets. Playoffs. Championship.”

If the team can make the playoffs this season that will get us to 2 out of 3 and that ain’t bad.

For now.