NBA franchise executives don’t get too much attention for the work they do behind the scenes, well, as most of the work they do is not very noticeable. It’s a almost closed fraternity where we often see same guys changing places and the hirings value previous partnership and trust more than in any other NBA related group. We call them general managers, but truth is that different franchises have different front office structures, so final calls might come from presidents or vice presidents of basketball operations, positions that are sometimes occupied by the head coaches, too.
Before the NBA Draft 2017 and free agency get on our calendars, some NBA franchises have already started making front office moves. The Orlando Magic have lured former Toronto Raptors GM Jeff Weltman to a higher position on their pyramid, and GM John Hammond left the Milwaukee Bucks to take the same position in Orlando. The Denver Nuggets promoted their own duo – Tim Connelly will now serve as the president of basketball operations, a new role within the organization, while his assistant Arturas Karnisovas will take the general manager job. Magic Johnson got his chance with his LA Lakers as a president and promptly hired former agent Rob Pelinka. The Bucks are actively searching for a new decision maker, while the Cleveland Cavaliers are playing tug of war with their GM David Griffin, whose contract has expired.
Franchises are making moves that could be properly evaluated only after few years, and while some of the executives have proven their knowledge on how to build a successful team before, this league is all about what-have-you-done-for-me-lately. For that reason, I’m not going to rank the executives directly, but only the moves they’ve made leading up to this offseason.
The Best Five NBA GMs by Last Season Moves
1.Bob Myers, Golden State GM
This was sealed on July 7th, 2016, when the Warriors have signed Kevin Durant. Not many deals could have beaten that.
2.Dell Demps, New Orleans GM
Many executives talk about providing relevant support for their franchise players but never pull it off. Acquiring DeMarcus Cousins is a bit risky due to his character, but Demps really hasn’t given up much to pair him with Davis. It’s a weird fit, but stranger things have worked.
3.Daryl Morey, Houston GM
Morey didn’t sign a superstar last season, but knew exactly where to look to add fitting players like Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Louis Williams. He was pro-active and it worked out just fine for the Rockets.
4.Dennis Lindsey, Utah GM
Lindsey managed to address two glaring needs his Jazz team had – point guard position and veteran leadership. Signing Hill and Joe Johnson were not sure fire moves, but both players provided great return and have played the best when it mattered the most.
5.Tim Connelly, Denver GM
Despite drafting from the seventh spot, the Nuggets selected Jamal Murray, young guard who showed most promise of all last year’s lottery picks. Also, unloading Nurkic to create space for Jokic showed excellent recognition and willingness to guide the Nuggets in desired direction.
The Worst Five NBA GMs by Last Season Moves
1.Ryan McDonough, Phoenix GM
The Phoenix Suns had the fourth and the eight pick in the draft last year and McDonough failed to get half of a decent player out of it. Bender and Chriss are young and might improve in the future, but they should have done better. On top of that, the Suns were awfully misbalanced, with some veterans blocking the youngs development to the point where they have to artificially create space by cutting the season short for few of them.
2.Stan van Gundy, president of basketball operations, and Jeff Bower, GM (Detroit)
I have plenty of respect for van Gundy’s coaching prowess, and some of the bold moves he had made as an executive were amazing. But, as I’ve said, I’m only judging the last season activity and Detroit Pistons didn’t do much positive. Well, they barely did anything. They showed big bucks to Drummond who has more issues than an average NBA player and simultaneously added two international centers, Baines and Marjanovic, who barely played. On the other side, they did not address team’s obvious needs at both guards positions.
3.Mitch Kupchak, LA Lakers GM
What was he thinking with that outrageous contract to Timofey Mozgov is beyond me. The Lakers have pulled plenty of terrible moves lately, so it’s no surprise that Kupchak and Buss got hooked, but Mozgov signing tops them all.
4.Gar Forman, Chicago GM
The Bulls weren’t as bad as other teams on this list, making the playoffs and even putting a big scare into Celtics fans, but that should not hide terrible job their front office did with compiling a obsolete type of roster, one that doesn’t fit the coach, the NBA trends or the fans. Rondo and Wade, paired with Butler, meant that the Bulls won’t threaten anyone with their outside shooting. Instead of acquiring complementary pieces, Forman and Paxson went for big names way past their primes, probably to buy more time in their seats, but to a detriment of the Bulls.
5.Vlade Divac, Sacramento GM
Divac is probably the least experienced and least savvy of all GMs, but you’d have to be very naive to handle Cousins situation so poorly. He traded their disgruntled franchise player just a few days after publicly stating that Cousins is going nowhere, which is not very rare, but topped that by revealing how he had declined a better offer by the time of that statement, just couple of days after the trade was finished.
The Kings also missed on all the veteran signings last year, Lawson, Afflalo and Barnes. They traded down in the draft to select young center Pagagiannis, who played a total of 5 games for them last season. Divac also put the cherry on the top by a late season statement that they want to retain Rudy Gay, contrary to all the rebuilding process (and all the advance analytics that rates Gay among the worst players in the league).
The rest of the pack
So there you have it. Phil Jackson was most heavily criticized for his poor job at the Knicks, but apart from showing Anthony the door in a clumsy way (which he should have done, but in a different manner), he didn’t do all that bad.
Neither highly coveted Cavaliers GM David Griffin did all that well. He was only active after LeBron James started complaining about their bench and while he acquired some decent players like Korver and Deron Williams, neither of them turned out to be a difference maker right now, nor a long term solution.
Masai Ujiri also couldn’t make the top 5 list, despite adding Ibaka and Tucker in an attempt to bolster the Raptors’ chances against the Cavaliers. Ibaka’s addition backfired with Valanciunas not been able to find his role in the new lineup and the go-now moves have put the Raptors in a bad position cap wise.
Colangelo finally started cleaning things up at the Processadelphia, while Marks continues to do the tenuous job of putting Nets back on healthy legs. Thibs wasn’t active enough at Minny. Hawks’ Wilcox is losing more battles than winning, and same faith awaits Pacers’ duo Bird-Pritchard.
Danny Ainge did well with adding Horford and drafting Brown for the Celtics, but he has so many assets that he could have done more. Presti has shown signs of desperation with trying to add everything and anything to help Westbrook, while Buford has gone the veteran route and failed to impress for once.
The NBA is shaped by these men, so keep your eyes on the roster moves they pull this summer. They might impact the shape of your favorite team or even the entire division or conference. Can either pull out a hidden ace from up their sleeves? You can count on it. Only if they get bold enough.
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