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Talent Lesson: Could You Sit Steve Nash With the Season on the Line?

I know, you're shocked.  A blog posting from KD comparing our HR/Talent scene to the sports world.

It's just too easy and clear NOT to do.  Case in point - Game 6 of the Phoenix Suns/Los Angeles Lakers series on Saturday night (May 29, 2010 if someone pops this out of a time capsule).Nash dragic

Here's the situation.  Suns are down 17 to the Lakers, and it appears the series is over (Suns have to win to force a game 7).  The Suns, working their normal substitution rotation, have their bench/non-starters in, who aren't getting a lot done.  There's some friction between two players from the Balkan region of Europe - Sasha Vujacic of the Lakers and the Suns' Goran Dragic.  Vujacic and Dragic basically hate each other and usually stop one step short of a catfight when they come on the court and guard each other.

So, the Lakers are in complete command - until - Vujacic hits Dragic with a cheap shot, resulting in a flagrant foul, free throws, the ball out and a six point possession for the Suns.  From there on in the fourth quarter, the Suns roll, going on big runs of 12-2 and 16-4 to cut the Lakers' lead to five points with 5:35 remaining.  All of that work happens with the Suns bench in the game, led by Dragic, who's clearly pissed off and determined to score at will against the Lakers.

Then, the Suns make a classic mistake.  They take the hot hands out of the game, sitting the key bench players I'll define as key to the turnaround as Dragic and Jared Dudley (who had cooled a smoking Kobe Bryant off defensively during the same period Dragic was driving at will), so they can bring in mega-star Steve Nash and key defender Grant Hill.  Dragic and Dudley go to the bench, never to return.

Result - the Suns lose all momentum.  Nash can't get loose offensively against the Lakers in the same way Dragic did, and Hill can't guard Kobe with the same effectiveness that Dudley had.  The Suns stop scoring and Kobe goes nuts with Dudley on the bench.

Game over - Lakers win the series.

The lesson?  It's one thing to have set rotations and roles.  You do this, I do that.  It's good business to make sure your best, most experienced talent is front and center at critical times for your business.  Writing a piece of code, doing a key presentation for new business, etc.  I get that you want to have your historically best talent controlling your destiny at key times.

But history is just that.  It's what happened in the past.  At some point, as a leader/manager, you're going to see circumstances that make you question that move.  It might be a young professional on your team that's clearly rolling on a project, or perhaps she's made a connection with the prospect that your veterans haven't and might be the best point to deliver the presentation as a result.  Whatever the circumstance, you're going to have to make a judgment call.  Is now the time to leave the veterans in the background and put the rookie front and center?

Do you have the guts to do that when it clearly makes sense?  Can you take the heat/chippiness from the veterans who think it's their right/entitlement?

Welcome to the loneliest seat in the world.  The leader making the call that today, the veteran we've rode this far isn't good enough.  The veteran sits, the young professional plays.

Could you sit Steve Nash?

Comments

Steve Boese

Of course I have to weigh in, at least to take up the basketball decision by Gentry to pull Dragic and Dudley late in the game. The Suns had been playing uphill all night and while Dragic and Dudley did both help to lead the fightback, (aided by the incredibly stupid flagrant foul on Vujacic), for me it seemed like they had given all they could (Dragic missed his last two shots before being subbed out). Nash came in and promptly drove right to the rack and scored making it a three point game (the closest the Lakers ever got it would turn out). The Dudley-Hill switch is a little more debatable to me, but watching the array of incredibly tough shots Kobe made down the stretch, with Hill in solid defensive position, makes me think that no matter who was checking him Kobe was winning that game.

I think your larger point is valid though, at some point the leader has to make that tough call to pull the star performer and let the rookie have a shot. But you can't wait until the biggest game, with the season on the line to make that call. You have to give the new kid the opportunity to have that kind of experience (or as close as you can get to it), before Game 6 in the conference finals. Did Dragic ever lead the team all the way in the 4th in a close and important game before? If he had not, then that is Gentry's fault, but you could also understand why Nash was put back in. There are 10 other guys on the team that may not have been comfortable with a 'go with the hot hand' strategy if they had never seen Dragic step up under similar conditions.
The decisions in the 4th quarter, or in the preparation for the big sales presentation, are tough, but can be made a little easier by seeing past 'tonight's game' and thinking about the big prize.

Sackadamus

KD-

I watched the game as well and agree with you that the momentum was clearly in the Sun’s hands before they put their starters back in towards the end of the 4th quarter. But, I tend to take the manager MLB view of these types of coaching situations and play the odds. I like Dragic’s game, but he tends to play a little bit out of control, especially when he gets hot – he’ll take some real bad shots. So, I wouldn’t sit Nash – he’s an all-star, future HOF’er and flat out makes things happen. In a must win situation – I’m going with experience and odds – not the hot hand of a kid who doesn’t know when to shut it down.

I understand the importance of Momentum – but she’s a fickle playmate – and can change on you in a moment – like when Kobe hits two outrageous shots that no human alive should be able to make…

Brother – as my Daddy always told me – you have to dance with the one that brought you.

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