When the Hawks hired Danny Ferry as general manager, the organization tapped an executive with experience in one of the most high-pressure jobs in the recent history of professional sports. Ferry was the GM responsible for surrounding LeBron James with sufficient talent in Cleveland to both win championships and convince LeBron to stay. Persons unacquanited with the actual history of Ferry's tenure in Cleveland sometimes criticize Ferry's "failure" to get LeBron enough help to win a championship. The reality is that, when Ferry took over as Cleveland GM in June of 2005, he took over a franchise with a talent base decimated by bad draft picks and trades.
Ferry was preceded as Cavs GM by Jim Paxson, the brother of current Bulls Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson. Jim Paxson, who presently serves as a consultant to the Bulls, was GM of the Cavs from 1999 to 2005. The following was the draft record during Paxson's tenure:
1999: Andre Miller (8th); Trajan Langdon (11th)
2000: Jamal Crawford (8th)
2001: DeSagana Diop (8th)
2002: Dajuan Wagner (6th)
2003: LeBron James (1st)
2004: Luke Jackson (10th)
You might be wondering why Miller and Crawford never played with James. That's because in July of 2002, after a season in which Miller averaged 16.5 points and 10.8 assists, Paxson traded Miller and Bryant Stith to the Clippers for Darius Miles and Harold Jamison. Paxson also executed a draft-night trade in 2000 sending Crawford and cash to Chicago for 7th pick Chris Mihm. In one of Paxson's final acts as GM in February of 2005, he traded what would become Cleveland's 2007 first round pick for Jiri Welsch. Cleveland also owned Toronto’s 2007 first round pick, but Paxson traded it to Charlotte in June of 2004 for Sasha Pavlovic.
With 20/20 hindsight, Paxson could have surrounded LeBron James with a squad consisting of Miller, Crawford, Joe Johnson (taken two picks after Diop), Amare Stoudemire (three picks after Wagner) and Al Jefferson or Josh Smith (both picked after Luke Jackson). Instead, the 9 first-round draft picks Paxson controlled from 1999 to 2007 turned into Langdon, Mihm, Diop, Wagner, Miles, Jamison, Jackson, Welsch, Pavlovic and LeBron James.
Into this disaster stepped Danny Ferry, who also had no first round pick in 2005 because Paxson's predecessor, Wayne Embry, traded it away in 1997 for Wesley Person and Tony Dumas, neither of whom contributed during the LeBron era. Once Ferry finally had a chance to conduct a draft in 2006, he immediately showed an ability to find talent late in the first round and in the second round. Ferry selected Shannon Brown with the 25th pick in 2006, then selected Daniel Gibson with the 42nd. In 2008, Ferry drafted JJ Hickson with the 19th pick. Although Brown never significantly contributed during his time in Cleveland, the fact is that Ferry found a rotation NBA player at the bottom of the first round.
Ferry's first draft with the Hawks preceded the trades of Joe Johnson to the Nets and Marvin Williams to the Jazz. Had Ferry known what his roster would look like today, maybe he would have passed on John Jenkins and selected Perry Jones or Jeff Taylor instead. Jenkins looked during summer league like he might have slightly more defensive potential than I had projected. If Jones' knees fail to hold up and Jenkins has a productive career, I may end up feeling differently about that pick than I did on draft night.