MIAMI - JULY 09: Head coach Erik Spoelstra (L) and President Pat Riley (R) of the Miami Heat talk during a press conference after a welcome party for new teammates LeBron James Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh at American Airlines Arena on July 9 2010 in Miami Florida. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
As we've seen this summer, the general manager is the most important person in an NBA organization. But once you strip away the factors they can't control, who is really the best GM in the NBA? We rank the candidates from 30-1. And no, David Kahn isn't last.
One of my favorite pieces of writing of the summer was this NBA Fanhouse article by Bethlehem Shoals about the plight of the NBA General Manager. As someone who never hesitates to criticize a GM's decision, it was a pleasure to read.
What we forget is that NBA GMs face a unique challenge. On the one hand, the GM is arguably the most important person within the organization. Coaches matter, of course, but the NBA is primarily a players' league, with the coach acting more as a manager. The players matter, insomuch as they decide games. The owner matters because he is at the top of the organization's flow chart. The general manager, however, delivers the players, hires the coach and carries out the owner's vision. He's ultimately the one who has his fingers in every part of the team.
But on the other hand, a general manager often doesn't matter that much. The NBA is forever a superstars' league, and most of the time, everyone knows who is going to be a superstar. It doesn't take a genius to pick LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal, Magic Johnson, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, John Wall and other great No. 1 picks. That one player can mask so many mistakes a GM makes and make him out to be more of a genius than he actually is.
You can see where the whole picture becomes really murky. General managers are criticized for a number of unrelated things, but the reality is that this is not a level playing field. We try to objectively evaluate GMs by looking at their win-loss record, but that's completely unfair because GMs deal with different owners, have varying degrees of luck in finding that elusive superstar and operate under different budgets (not every team can pay the luxury tax, you know). Context is so important, and yet, whenever people evaluate NBA GMs, it often is on some sort of universal scale (e.g. winning). I realize why we talk in these kind of terms (the age of Twitter, the enlightened fan, etc.), but it doesn't have to be like this.
Therefore, I'm going to attempt the 30 NBA GMs using a more qualitative scale that goes beyond one's win-loss record. I will do my best to consider context rather than wins. We'll count from 30 to 1, because I'm guessing you all want to read about bad GMs first.
Note: if a GM has been on the job for less than a full year, they are not included. Instead, I'm including the immediate past GM.
30. Larry Bird, Indiana Pacers
Long-term plan: Keep the team competitive enough to put people in the seats, until cap room is finally achieved until 2011.
Coaches: Isiah Thomas (2003), Rick Carlisle (2003-2007), Jim O'Brien (2007-present)
Draft picks: Paul George (10th, 2010), Tyler Hansbrough (13th, 2009), Brandon Rush (13th, 2008), Roy Hibbert (17th, 2008), Danny Granger (17th, 2005), Shawne Williams (17th, 2006), David Harrison (29th, 2004),
- 2005: Traded Ron Artest to the Sacramento Kings for Peja Stojakovic's expiring contract
- 2007: Traded Al Harrington, Stephen Jackson, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Josh Powell to Golden State for Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy, Keith McLeod and Ike Diogu.
- 2008: Traded Jermaine O'Neal to the Raptors for T.J. Ford, Rasho Nesterovic and the 17th pick.
Key free agent signings: Jermaine O'Neal in 2003 (six-year max contract), Jamaal Tinsley in 2004 (six-years, $41 million), Danny Granger in 2008 (five years, $65 million).
Free agents let go: Brad Miller (2003), Peja Stojakovic (2006), Jarrett Jack (2009).
Why is Larry Bird the worst GM on thls list? Because Indiana hasn't had a coherent long-term plan for over half a decade now. Sure, the Pacers were dealt a tough hand when the 2004 Brawl ruined a championship team, but that's no excuse for the team's disinclination to rebuild. Instead of sitting on the cap space he gained from moving Artest, Bird traded for Al Harrington's prohibitive contract. Instead of getting cap relief for Harrington and Stephen Jackson, Bird acquired even worse contracts in Murphy and Dunleavy. Etc. etc. It appears Bird finally will have some cap room in 2011, with Murphy, Dunleavy, Ford and Jeff Foster coming off the books. But considering his track record with putting together a long-term vision, I'm not counting on him coming through.
29. Ed Stefanski, Philadelphia 76ers
Long-term plan: Unclear
Coaches: Maurice Cheeks (2007-2008), Tony DiLeo (2008), Eddie Jordan (2009), Doug Collins (present)
Draft picks: Evan Turner (2nd, 2010), Marreese Speights (16th, 2008), Jrue Holiday (17th, 2009)
- 2009: Traded Reggie Evans to the Raptors for Jason Kapono
- 2010: Traded Samuel Dalembert for Andres Nocioni and Spencer Hawes
Key free agent signings: Elton Brand in 2008 (six years, $80 million), Andre Iguodala in 2008 (six years, $80 million), Louis Williams in 2008 (five years, $25 million).
Free agents let go: Andre Miller (2009)
Remember back in the summer of 2008, when Stefanski was a genius for creating cap room to make a big splash? Yeah, about that.
Now, it's tough to argue with the decision to sign Elton Brand. Sure, there were whispers that his style did not fit with the up-tempo team the Sixers had been building. And yes, Brand did miss almost all of the 2006/07 season with an Achilles injury. But he was also the clear top free agent on the market, and the Sixers had a use-it-or-lose-it situation with their cap space because Andre Iguodala needed to sign an extension. So while the Sixers have fallen flat on their face since signing Brand, I can't get too mad at the move.
Everything else though? Yuck. Iguodala was definitely overpaid with his new contract because there weren't many other suitors willing to offer $80 million at the time. Hiring Eddie Jordan when the roster didn't fit his Princeton system was a truly awful decision that may somehow be eclipsed by hiring Doug Collins.
But the worst part is that Stefanski doesn't realize how badly he needs to start over. He rebuffed offers for Iguodala because he was asking for too much in return, which is really problematic because the team now has Evan Turner and no cap flexibility for the foreseeable future to get him good pieces. Stefanski generally drafts very well, but he keeps thinking he's one move away from getting right back into the chase. It's a shame, because a young core of Turner, Holiday, Speights and Thaddeus Young is pretty good. Why not run with it? At least that's more of a plan than Stefanski has come up with thus far.
28. Larry Riley, Golden State Warriors
Long-term plan: Uhh ... good question. I guess the Warriors are building around young talent.
Coaches: Don Nelson (2009-present)
Draft picks: Stephen Curry (7th pick, 2009), Ekpe Udoh (6th pick, 2010)
- 2010 season: Traded Stephen Jackson and Law to Bobcats for Raja Bell's expiring contract and Vladimir Radmanovic.
- 2010 summer: Traded Corey Maggette to the Bucks for Dan Gadzuric's expiring contract and Charlie Bell.
- 2010 summer: Signed David Lee to a six-year, $80 million contract while trading Anthony Randolph, Kelenna Azubuike and Ronny Turiaf to the Knicks.
Free agent signings: Reggie Williams, Dorrell Wright (three years, $11 million).
Free agents let go: Anthony Morrow, C.J. Watson (both 2010)
It's a bit tough to judge Riley, because his predecessor, Chris Mullin, put him in a very tough spot, because he overpaid for a team that made the playoffs once (2007), then dismantled that team just as they started to get good. Former owner Chris Cohan was also nearly impossible to deal with, and the whole front office has been a complete mess in recent years.
However, he's done several things that go against the goal of building through young talent. The team continues to employ Don Nelson as head coach, even though Nelson is a poor coach for player development. Riley's inability to commit to keeping or trading Monta Ellis continues to hold back the franchise's commitment to a clear direction. Finally, while David Lee is an excellent player that should fit in well with this team, he is probably overpaid, and acquiring him cost him a cheaper player in Randolph who has much more potential and plays Lee's position.
Anyway, it's pretty clear that, while Riley wasn't the head GM, he exerted more influence than Mullin during Mullin's final days in office. We can therefore pin a lot of Mullin's later mistakes on Riley too.
27. Bryan Colangelo, Toronto Raptors
Coaches: Sam Mitchell (2006-2008), Jay Triano (2008-present)
Long-term plan: Stay competitive, even if it means throwing cap flexibility into the wind.
Draft picks: Andrea Bargnani (1st, 2006), DeMar DeRozan (9th, 2009), Ed Davis (13th, 2010),
- 2006: Traded Charlie Villanueva to the Bucks for T.J. Ford, who was promptly given a four-year, $32 million extension.
- 2008: Traded Ford, the rights to the 17th pick and Rasho Nesterovic's expiring contract to the Pacers for Jermaine O'Neal (max contract until 2010)
- 2010: Traded Hedo Turkoglo to the Suns for Leandro Barbosa and Dwyane Jones.
Free agent signings: Chris Bosh in 2006 (three-year max contract), Jorge Garbajosa in 2006, Anthony Parker in 2006, Jason Kapono in 2007 (four years, $24 million), Jose Calderon in 2008 (five years, $45 million), Andrea Bargnani in 2009 (five years, $50 million), Turkoglu in 2009 (five years, $53 million), Jarrett Jack in 2009 (four years, $20 million), Amir Johnson in 2010 (six years and $33 million), Linas Kleiza in 2010 (four years, $20 million)
Free agents let go: Mike James (2006), Marion (2009) Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon (both 2009).
Many LeBron James defenders say he should have left Cleveland because his general manager, Danny Ferry, failed at surrounding him with a good supporting cast. However, the truth is that argument should hold far more water with Chris Bosh than with LeBron. Bosh is not as good as LeBron, but he's had far less help from Bryan Colangelo, who squandered many of Bosh's best years with impulsive decisions.
Colangelo had a good reputation in Phoenix, but his tenure in Toronto has been abysmal. He's has thrown money around irresponsibly, despite being given several chances at the kind of cap flexibility necessary to build a good long-term foundation. Colangelo has had cap space in 2006 and 2009 and came away with T.J. Ford and Hedo Turkoglu. He traded many key assets for an overpaid and broken-down Jermaine O'Neal, then somehow made things worse by signing Turkoglu with the money he saved by eliminating his own mistake. He's given out long-term mid-level contracts to marginal players like Jarrett Jack, Jason Kapono and Amir Johnson. He's overpaid his own flawed players, giving Ford a big contract despite his injury issues, Calderon a bigger contract despite his defensive problems and Bargnani an even bigger contract despite not showing he was worth it consistently. In other words, he's the worst stereotype of the impatient GM, unwilling or unable to contain himself when he has some money in his pocket.
But none of those issues are as damaging as his handling of Bargnani in general. While the 2006 draft wasn't exactly full of superstars, Bargnani wasn't even on anyone's radar with the No. 1 pick until Colangelo began talking him up. Bargnani ultimately was a poor fit next to Bosh and played inconsistently, but that didn't stop Colangelo from constantly defending him, firing a head coach (Sam Mitchell) who didn't like him and giving him a big contract extension in 2009.
The difference between Ferry and Colangelo is Ferry learned from his initial mistakes and made shrewd moves to try mitigate them, whereas Colangelo just keeps making the same mistakes over and over again. That's why Colangelo is way down on this list.
26. David Kahn, Timberwolves
Coaches: Kurt Rambis (2009-present)
Long-term plan: Build around Ricky Rubio and pick up undervalued assets while he waits in Spain.
Draft picks: Wesley Johnson (4th, 2010), Ricky Rubio (5th, 2009), Jonny Flynn (6th, 2009), Wayne Ellington (28th, 2009), Lazar Haywood (30th, 2010)
- 2009: Traded Mike Miller and Randy Foye to the Wizards for the 5th pick, Etan Thomas, Oleksiy Pecherov and Darius Songaila.
- 2010: Traded two future second-round picks to Miami for Michael Beasley
- 2010: Traded Al Jefferson to the Jazz for Kosta Koufus and two protected future first-round picks.
Free agent signings: Ramon Sessions in 2009 (four years, $16 million), Nikola Pekovic in 2010 (three years, $13 million), Darko Milicic in 2010 ( four years and $20 million), Luke Ridnour in 2010 (four years, $16 million)
Free agents let go: No significant ones.
I know what you're thinking. Wait a minute, David Kahn isn't last? KAAAAHHN!
No, he's not, and there's only one reason why: Kahn, unlike the guys ahead of him, actually has a long-term plan. As mad as he is (and he is really, really mad), there at least is a method to his madness. His method? Build around Ricky Rubio.
(Stop laughing please).
Yes, it's true that there is no guarantee Rubio actually comes to Minnesota. The young Spanish point guard has been pretty cool (literally) on making a firm commitment to the Timberwolves. But let's not go too crazy here, because this is really an issue about money, as Canis Hoopus notes. The risk of Rubio screwing the Timberwolves over and never coming to the NBA is much less than people think.
Now, that doesn't make Kahn's plan a good one. Rubio is not David Robinson, so it's probably not worth throwing three years away for him. In addition, while the goal is to assemble a team that fits his strengths (goodbye Al Jefferson!), the cast they've assembled to date doesn't really get the job done (some players do, but ... Michael Beasley? Jonny Flynn? Luke Ridnour? Hell, Kurt Rambis and his Triangle offense?). Finally, it's kind of baffling to put all your eggs in the Rubio basket to the point where you're either passing on much better talent (DeMarcus Cousins) or trading away real talent for very little (Jefferson).
So I'm not saying Kahn knows what he's doing, because he doesn't. I'm just saying that Kahn, unlike Colangelo, Stefanski and Bird, has a long-term plan. It may not be a good plan. In fact, right now, I'd say it's a terrible pan. But it is an actual plan, which is what every rebuilding team needs.
Then again, he did just re-sign Darko.
25. Mike Dunleavy, Clippers
Hired: 2008, officially
Coaches: Himself (2008-present)
Long-term plan: At the time ... good question.
Draft picks: Blake Griffin (1st, 2009), Eric Gordon (7th, 2008), DeAndre Jordan (35th, 2008).
- 2009: Traded Zach Randolph to Grizzlies for Quentin Richardson's expiring contract.
- 2010 season: Traded Marcus Camby to Blazers for Travis Outlaw and Steve Blake's expiring contract.
Free agent signings: No significant ones from 2008-2010
Free agents let go: Blake and Outlaw (both 2010).
Dunleavy is gone, so there's no real need to dwell on his tenure, which was mostly unremarkable. It's tough to separate Dunleavy the GM from Dunleavy the coach, so he has to be blamed either way for moves that didn't work out prior to 2008. He had a pretty good 2009 summer, drafting Blake Griffin, dumping Zach Randolph and making a shrewd trade for Craig Smith and Sebastian Telfair. Otherwise, though, it's a pretty bleak picture.
24. Joe Dumars, Pistons
Coaches: George Irvine (2000-2001), Rick Carlisle (2001-2003), Larry Brown (2003-2005), Flip Saunders (2005-2008), Michael Curry (2008-2009), John Kuester (2009-present)
Long-term plan: Rebuild while staying competitive. In other words, an oxymoron, unless you have a superstar, which he doesn't.
Key Draft picks: Darko Milicic (2nd, 2003), Greg Monroe (7th, 2010), Rodney White (9th, 2001), Rodney Stuckey (15th, 2007), Tayshaun Prince (23rd, 2002), Jonas Jerebko (39th, 2009)
- 2002: Traded Jerry Stackhouse and Brian Cardinal to the Wizards for Rip Hamilton, Hubert Davis and Bobby Simmons.
- 2004 season: Traded Chucky Atkins, Lindsey Hunter, Bob Sura and a first-round pick to the Hawks and Celtics for Mike James and Rasheed Wallace
- 2008 season: Traded Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess to the Nuggets for Allen Iverson's expiring contract
Key free agent signings: Re-signing Billups (2007), Wallace (2005) and Prince (2007). Rip Hamilton in 2008 (three years, $38 million beginning in 2009/10), Ben Gordon in (five years,$55 million), Charlie Villanueva in 2009 (five years, $35 million).
Key free agents let go: Grant Hill (2000), Ben Wallace (2006).
It pains me to put Joe Dumars, the architect of the Pistons teams of the 2000s, this low. However, Dumars has been a disaster since the Chauncey Billups/Allen Iverson trade. Dumars made the deal to regain salary-cap flexibility to rebuild a team that has run it's course, but ended up spending that money on Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva and a re-signed, declining Rip Hamilton. He's refused to deal any of his other big-contract players like Tayshaun Prince because he legitimately thinks his team can and should be "competitive" when rebuilding.
That's the problem, though -- you can be "competitive" without major salary obligations to declining players. Dumars, like many of the GMs behind him on this list, fundamentally misunderstands this. I'm not sure why Dumars refuses to take the long-term approach. Sure, their arena is empty, but it seems they have a core of dieharts that are willing to wait around for a long-term rebuilding project. It's not like Dumars is in a city like Charlotte, where the team desperately needs the revenue from home playoff games.
Therefore, the only explanation for Dumars' recent issues is that he must believe that, because he built a "star-less" core earlier, he can do it again. Newsflash Joe: you probably can't. Lightning doesn't strike in the same spot twice.
23. Michael Jordan/Rod Higgins, Bobcats
Coaches: Sam Vincent (2007-2008), Larry Brown (2008-present)
Long-term plan: Drum up local interest in the team by getting the squad to the playoffs, even if it hurts long-term cap flexibility.
Key Draft picks: Adam Morrison (3rd, 2006), D.J. Augustin (9th, 2008), Gerald Henderson (12th, 2009), Alexis Ajinca (22nd, 2008), Jared Dudley (22nd, 2007).
- 2007: Traded the eighth overall pick to Warriors for Jason Richardson
- 2008 season: Traded Richardson, Dudley and a second-round pick for Raja Bell and Boris Diaw
- 2009: Traded Emeka Okafor to the Hornets for Tyson Chandler.
- 2010 season: Traded Bell and Vladimir Radmanovic to Warriors for Stephen Jackson and Acie Law.
Key free agent signings: Gerald Wallace in 2007 (six years, $57 million), Carroll in 2007 (six years, $27 million), Okafor in 2008 (six years, $72 million), Thomas in 2010 (five years, $40 million), Shaun Livingston in 2010 (two years, $7 million).
Key free agents let go: Raymond Felton (2010)
(Higgins is really the GM at this point, which is why I'm including him. Jordan's more of a figurehead these days).
Jordan/Higgins are much like the other teams ahead of them in that they don't seem to have a coherent, long-term vision. However, in this case, I think they can be excused a bit. The Bobcats really can't afford to go to a long-term youth movement at this point because they'll lose their fans. The team struggled to keep a hold on the city when they were losing, and when the fans don't show up, you suddenly don't have enough money to do anything significant with your team.
That explains why they throw financial flexibility into the wind and do their best to build a team that will actually make the playoffs. That way, the Bobcats will drum up some local support and take in the money they desperately need from home playoff games. It's not a sustainable long-term model for winning, but it's probably what they have to do.
That doesn't excuse the constant flubbing of draft picks or the pointless trades this regime has made, of course. But I do think the front office has been dealt a bad hand, in that the previous regime failed to generate enough buzz to support the club during its expansion years.
22. Rick Sund, Hawks
Coaches: Mike Woodson (2008-2010), Larry Drew (present)
Long-term plan: Be a championship contender while still staying under the luxury tax
Key Draft picks: Jeff Teague (19th, 2009), Jordan Crawford (27th, 2010)
- 2009: Traded Acie Law and Speedy Claxton's expiring contract (expiring) to the Warriors for Jamal Crawford
Key free agent signings: Josh Smith in 2008 (five years, $58 million), Mike Bibby in 2009 (three years, $18 million), Zaza Pachulia in 2009 (four years, $16 million), Marvin Williams in 2009 (five years, $38 million), Joe Johnson in 2010 (six years, $125 million).
Key free agents let go: Josh Childress (2008, 2010), Flip Murray (2009).
This may seem really low for the GM of team that was one of the eight best in the league last year, but Sund's lack of creativity drops him way down in my eyes.
The Hawks have a good, but not great team and an ownership group that won't go over the luxury tax. They're not winning a title anytime soon, that's for sure. Yet Sund seems so committed to bringing back the same core of players that have proven they can't get it done.
I'm not even talking about the ridiculous Joe Johnson contract, which we'll get to in a second. I'm talking more about all the moves that led up to it. There's little collective rhyme or reason to the contract handed out to Mike Bibby (three years), Zaza Pachulia (four years), Marvin Williams (five years) and Jamal Crawford (a trade, mind you, but two years). The contracts by themselves make sense, but taken together, they demonstrate a lack of planning. That's four key role players making a combined $25 million per season that expire in four different years.
Let's go back to Johnson now. Yes, his contract is terrible, no doubt. But Sund really got himself stuck by not thinking ahead with his other contracts. He put himself between a rock and a hard place because he did not think to give his role players contracts that all expire around the same time. He limited his options to "sign Johnson, ride it out and maybe rebuild in five years" or "don't sign Johnson and fail to rebuild for a couple years because all of Johnson's role players are clogging up our cap flexibility." Under those circumstances, it's more understandable that Johnson got what he got.
I strongly believe that a lack of creativity and long-term planning with smaller decisions ultimately leads to a lack of creativity and long-term planning with bigger decisions. Bad process leads to bad process. Rick Sund and the Hawks are the best example of this.
21. Chris Wallace, Grizzlies
Coaches: Marc Ivaroni (2007-2009), Lionel Hollins (2009-present)
Long-term plan: Build around young talent, even though the owner is cheap.
Key Draft picks: Hasheem Thabeet (2nd, 2009), O.J. Mayo (3rd, 2008), Xavier Henry (12th, 2010), DeMarre Carroll (27th, 2009), Darrell Arthur (27th, 2008), Greivis Vasquez (29th, 2010), Sam Young (36th, 2009)
- 2008 season: Traded Pau Gasol to the Lakers for Kwame Brown's expiring contract, Javaris Crittenton and the rights to Marc Gasol.
- 2008: Traded Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal, Jason Collins and the 5th pick to Minnesota for Marko Jaric, Antoine Walker's expiring contract, Greg Buckner and the 3rd pick.
- 2010: Traded Quentin Richardson's expiring contract to the Clippers for Zach Randolph
Key free agent signings: Darko Milicic in 2007 (three years, $21 million), Allen Iverson in 2009 (veterans minimum), Rudy Gay in 2010 (five years, $82 million), Tony Allen in 2010 (three years, $10 million)
Key free agents let go: Hakim Warrick (2009).
Wallace gets a lot of flack that really should be directed toward owner Michael Heisley. Heisley was the one who wanted Thabeet at No. 2. Heisley is the one that balked at the prospect of paying Rudy Gay a front-loaded contract. Heisley is the one that goes the cheap route with everyone.
Under those circumstances, it's almost impossible for Wallace to do his job well. His record on his own decisions has certainly been mixed, with the Pau Gasol trade being an obvious negative. However, he did well to find some good young players with the picks he actually made, and while many were skeptical of the Zach Randolph trade, it turned out far better than we expected. Wallace was also the one who saw Marc Gasol's potential before we all did.
There are plenty of mistakes in here, no doubt (trading Kyle Lowry, committing to Mike Conley, the Ronnie Brewer situation and, of course, Pau), but it's hard for any GM to look good with Heisley looking over your shoulder.
20. Jeff Bower, Hornets
Coaches: Byron Scott (2005-2009), himself (2009-2010), Monty Williams (2010-present)
Long-term plan: Stay under the luxury tax and still keep Chris Paul in town.
Key draft picks: Chris Paul (4th, 2005), Hilton Armstrong (12th, 2006), Julian Wright (13th, 2007), Cedric Simmons (15th, 2006), Darren Collison (21st, 2009), Craig Brackens (21st, 2010), Quincy Pondexter (26th, 2010), Marcus Thornton (43rd, 2009),
- 2005: Traded Jamaal Magloire to the Bucks for Desmond Mason and a first-round pick.
- 2006: Traded J.R. Smith and P.J. Brown to the Bulls for Tyson Chandler.
- 2009: Traded Chandler to Bobcats for Emeka Okafor.
Key free agent signings: Paul in 2008 (four-year max contract), Bobby Jackson in 2006 (three years, $15 million), Peja Stojakovic in 2006 (five years, $64 million), David West in 2006 (five years, $45 million), Morris Peterson in 2007 (four years, $23 million), James Posey in 2008 (four years, $25 million).
Key free agents let go: Mason in 2007, Janerro Pargo in 2008.
There's a lot of talk about how the Hornets did Bower wrong and put a smart man out of work because they're cheap. However, Bower's record has definitely been a mixed bag at best. There are some major successes in here, such as the fair contract for David West, the trade for Tyson Chandler and the drafting of Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton. It's also really, really hard to execute the kind of cost-cutting moves Bower had to make to get under the luxury tax and still remain relatively competitive, which the Hornets did.
But all that ignores that it's very much Bower's fault that he got himself in that situation. Bower fundamentally mismanaged his cap flexibility with damaging mid-level contracts to marginal players that he didn't need. James Posey is the worst, but Morris Peterson and Bobby Jackson are pretty bad too. The Peja Stojakovic contract was also problematic even at the time, though he was one of the best free agents on the market. While Bower should be commended for changing his philosophy and fixing his own mistakes, the fact is that he had to fix his own mistakes.
That, my friends, is how you squander Chris Paul's prime.
19. Gar Forman/John Paxson, Bulls
Hired: 2009 for Forman.
Coaches: Vinny Del Negro (2009-2010), Tom Thibodeau (present)
Long-term plan: Build a championship team around Derrick Rose with the cap flexibility gained recently.
Key draft picks: James Johnson (16th, 2009), Taj Gibson (26th, 2009).
- 2010 season: Traded John Salmons and two second-round picks to the Bucks for Hakim Warrick and Joe Alexander
- 2010 season: Traded Tyrus Thomas to the Bobcats for Flip Murray, Acie Law and a future first-round pick.
- 2010: Traded Kirk Hinrich and the 17th pick to the Wizards for the rights to Vladimir Veremeeko.
Key free agent signings: Luol Deng, 2008 (six years, $72 million)*, Carlos Boozer, 2010 (five years, $82 million), Kyle Korver, 2010 (three years, $15 million), Ronnie Brewer, 2010 (three years, $12.5 million).
Key free agents let go: Ben Gordon (2009), Brad Miller (2010).
The Bulls have a weird front office dynamic, with John Paxson still in the picture and owner Jerry Reinsdorf meddling as he sees fit, so it's tough to tell where one person's influence ends and another's begins.
That said, we know that Forman spearheaded a couple big decisions: the re-signing of Luol Deng in 2008, the decision to let Ben Gordon go in 2009 and the clearing of enough cap room to compete in the 2010 free agent market. The Deng contract was probably a mistake, because he wasn't worth $72 million even when it was signed. Letting go of Gordon is a debatable move -- on the one hand, it gave them more wiggle room in 2010, but on the other hand, they could have gotten that by trading Kirk Hinrich sooner. Finally, the 2010 plan was probably a good decision, though it came with many risks.
At the end of the day, Forman's moves have given the Bulls a fairly strong team. It probably could have been stronger, and I'm not wild about his methods, but the results work. I hope his owner gives him a bit more freedom to really fill out a great team around Derrick Rose.
18. Ernie Grunfeld, Wizards
Coaches: Eddie Jordan (2003-2008), Ed Tapscott (2008-2009), Flip Saunders (2009-present).
Long-term plan: Now: build through the draft. Before: get owner Abe Pollin his championship before he passed away.
Key draft picks: John Wall (1st, 2010), Nick Young (16th, 2007), Kevin Seraphin (17th, 2010), JaVale McGee (18th, 2009), Oleksiy Pecherov (18th, 2006), Trevor Booker (23rd, 2010), Andray Blatche (49th, 2005).
- 2004: Traded Jerry Stackhouse, Christian Laettner and the 5th pick to Mavericks for Antawn Jamison.
- 2005: Traded Kwame Brown to the Lakers for Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins' expiring contract.
- 2009: Traded the 5th pick, Etan Thomas' expiring contract, Darius Songaila and Oleksiy Pecherov to the Timberwolves for Mike Miller and Randy Foye
- 2010: Traded Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson to Mavericks for Josh Howard's expiring contract, James Singleton, Quinton Ross and Drew Gooden's expiring contract.
- 2010: Traded Jamsion to Cavaliers for Zydrunas Ilgauskas' expiring contract, Al Thornton and the 30th pick.
Key free agent signings: Gilbert Arenas in 2003 (six years, $65 million) and 2008 (six years, $111 million), Haywood in 2005 (five years, $25 million), Caron Butler in 2005 (five years, $48 million), Daniels in 2005 (six years, $30 million), Songaila in 2006 (five years, $23 million), Stevenson in 2007 (four years, $15 million), Andray Blatche in 2007 (five years, $15 million), Jamison in 2008 (four years, $52 million).
Key free agents let go: Larry Hughes (2005), Roger Mason (2008)
There's a big misconception that Grunfeld has no plan with anything he's doing. That's really not true at all. In fact, it's quite the opposite -- Grunfeld sticks to "plans" so diligently that he doesn't fulfill his other duties as a general manager.
Like Rick Sund in Atlanta, Grunfeld stuck himself between a rock and a hard place coming into the pivotal 2008 offseason. He did extremely well on many of his early moves in D.C., but began clogging up his cap with long contracts to so-so players. When it came time to decide what to do with Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison, Grunfeld was faced with the same "status quo vs. really slow rebuild" quandary. He chose the former, and considering he worked for an owner (Abe Pollin) that was in his 80s and had no time for a long rebuild, he sort of had no choice. That also explains many of his moves after 2008, such as the trade for Mike Miller and Randy Foye. His owner wanted a veteran team that could win right now, so Grunfeld had to give it to him. Now, he's carrying out new owner Ted Leonsis' vision, and so far, he's sticking to the plan.
That said, there are two troubling things about Grunfeld. First, he seems to neglect the draft far too often. He's traded a top-five pick twice in his GM tenure for non-all stars, and the picks he has made (prior to 2010 of course) have all been shot-in-the-dark picks. Some of Grunfeld's projects have worked out, but he should have been augmenting those picks with players more ready to contribute right away.
Second, he consistently fails to get good value on his trades, especially recently. While the Miller/Foye trade fulfilled a plan, Grunfeld depreciated the value of his best asset (the fifth pick) by making his intentions of trading the pick way too public. He also only got expiring contracts (for the most part) for Butler, Haywood and Jamison, and took on a far bigger contract in Hinrich than other teams looking to pick up assets from clubs dumping salary to get under the cap (i.e. Houston and Oklahoma City).
In the end, Grunfeld certainly knows what he's doing, but loses a lot of points for his shaky execution of his boss' visions.
17. Otis Smith, Magic
Coaches: Brian Hill (2005-2007), Stan Van Gundy (2007-present)
Long-term plan: Build a four-out, one-in team around Dwight Howard and Stan Van Gundy, costs be damned.
Key draft picks: Fran Vazquez (11th, 2005), J.J. Redick (11th, 2006), Courtney Lee (22nd, 2008), Daniel Orton (29th, 2010).
- 2006 season: Traded Steve Francis to the Knicks for Trevor Ariza and Penny Hardaway's expiring contract.
- 2007 season: Traded Ariza to the Lakers for Brian Cook and Mo Evans.
- 2009: Traded Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee and Tony Battier to Nets for Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson
Key free agent signings: Rashard Lewis in 2007 (six years, $127 million), Mickael Pietrus in 2008 (four years, $24 million), Brandon Bass in 2009 (four years, $16 million), Marcin Gortat in 2009 (five years, $34 million), Matt Barnes in 2009 (veterans minimum), Chris Duhon in 2010 (four years, $15 million), Redick in 2010 (three years, $19 million), Quentin Richardson in 2010 (two years, $7.5 million), Jameer Nelson in 2007 (five years, $30 million)
Key free agents let go: Hedo Turkoglu (2009), Darko Milicic (2007), Grant Hill (2007)
This is pretty low for a GM who's put together a juggernaut of a team like Smith has, but Smith has also gotten very lucky. It's much, much easier to look good when you have a superstar like Dwight Howard (who Smith inherited) and an owner willing to go deep into the luxury tax to build a winner.
If you isolate those two factors, Smith's record doesn't look quite as good. He's overpaid several free agents -- most notably Rashard Lewis, but also guys like Marcin Gortat, Brandon Bass and others. His draft record has been spotty, and many of his trades have not worked out. He has done some good things, to be fair. His faith in Jameer Nelson has been handsomely rewarded, and he was right to pass on re-signing Hedo Turkoglu. But he's also a poster boy for why it's misleading to evaluate GMs based on wins and losses. It's hard to fail when you have Dwight Howard and an owner willing to spend.
16. Steve Kerr, Suns
Coaches: Mike D'Antoni (2007-2008), Terry Porter (2008-2009), Alvin Gentry (2009-present).
Long-term plan: Tinker with the Suns' essence while making them more fit to win the in playoffs.
Key draft picks: Earl Clark (14th, 2009), Robin Lopez (15th, 2008), Goran Dragic (45th, 2008).
- 2008: Traded Shawn Marion's expiring contract and Marcus Banks for Shaquille O'Neal.
- 2008: Traded Raja Bell and Boris Diaw to Bobcats for Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley.
- 2009: Traded O'Neal for Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic, both of whom were cut.
Key free agent signings: Steve Nash in 2009 (two years, $22 million), Channing Frye in 2009 and 2010 (two years, $3.8 million, then five years, $25 million), Grant Hill in 2007 and 2009 (two years, $4 million), Matt Barnes in 2008 (veterans minimum),
Key free agents let go: Amare Stoudemire (2010).
Kerr obviously got off to a very bad start with the Shaquille O'Neal trade, and he has to be docked for that. Since then, though, Kerr did some very good things to tinker at the Suns' essence without completely blowing it up. It helps to have Steve Nash, who does well to attract veteran free agents, but Kerr has displayed his chops too with shrewd trades (the Bell/Richardson deal), draft steals (Lopez, Dragic) and underrated free agent signings (Frye).
Again, the mistakes Kerr made early in his tenure are too damaging to rank him higher, but he's done extremely well since then. It's unfortunate he left right when he had a chance to prove himself further.
15. Danny Ferry, Cavaliers
Coaches: Mike Brown (2005-2010)
Long-term plan: Keep LeBron James happy by committing all-out to winning
Key draft picks: J.J. Hickson (19th, 2008), Shannon Brown (25th, 2006), Christian Eyenga (30th, 2009), Daniel Gibson (42nd, 2006)
- 2008 season: Traded Larry Hughes, Shannon Brown, Drew Gooden and Cedric Simmons to Bulls; and Adrian Griffin to Sonics, for Joe Smith, Ben Wallace, Delonte West and Wally Sczcerbiak
- 2008: Traded Smith to Thunder and Damon Jones to Bucks for Mo Williams.
- 2009: Traded Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic to Cavaliers for Shaquille O'Neal.
- 2010 season: Traded Zydrunas Ilgauskas' expiring contract and the 30th pick to Wizards for Antawn Jamison
Key free agent signings: LeBron James in 2006 (three-year max contract), Hughes in 2005 (five years, $60 million), Marshall in 2005 (four years, $22 million), Ilgauskas in 2005 (five years, $50 million), Jones in 2005 (four years, $16.1 million), Drew Gooden in 2006 (three years, $23 million), Daniel Gibson in 2007 (five years, $21 million), Delonte West in 2008 (three years, $13 million), Anderson Varejao in 2009 (six years, $50 million), Anthony Parker in 2009 (two years, $6 million), Jamario Moon in 2009 (three years, $9 million).
Key free agents let go: Jeff McInnis (2005).
Danny Ferry's major problem is that he messed up badly in 2005. Armed with tons of cap space to build a contender around LeBron James, Ferry blew it with Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones. Those are mistakes that are nearly impossible to erase, because they are all long-term contracts and because Ferry couldn't exactly just trade them in a salary dump with LeBron's shadow looming over him.
So he tried to make the best of his terrible situation, and in the end, he actually did pretty well. He was able to turn Hughes and Marshall into Delonte West, a useful piece for the future. He then made a very shrewd trade for Mo Williams, giving up nothing of value to get the kind of shooter and secondary playmaker LeBron needed. Neither of those guys are All-Stars, but it's hard to get All-Stars when you have little to offer. Ferry did about as well as he could.
Then, Ferry turned Wallace's corpse into Shaquille O'Neal -- again, not a great player, but a useful player that does far more for his team than Ben Wallace. He then kept Anderson Varejao and West with good-value deals and shrewdly signed Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon for cheap. In the end, while he never could find LeBron another star, he surrounded him with an excellent group of role players using assets worth basically nothing.
Ferry gets penalized for going for Antawn Jamison over Amare Stoudemire, as well as for his epic disaster in 2005. But he also was in a very tough spot and did about as well as he could have considering the circumstances. For that, he should be ranked in the middle of the pack.
14. Donnie Walsh, Knicks
Coaches: Mike D'Antoni (2008-present)
Long-term plan: Get under the cap in 2010, now, get under the cap for 2011.
Key draft picks: Danilo Gallinari (6th, 2008), Jordan Hill (8th, 2009), Toney Douglas (29th, 2009).
- 2008 season: Traded Zach Randolph and Mardy Collins to Clippers for Cuttino Mobley and Tim Thomas
- 2010 season: Traded Jared Jeffries, Jordan Hill, a 2012 first-round pick and the right to exchange 2011 first-round picks to Houston; traded Huges to Kings, for Tracy McGrady and Sergio Rodriguez
- 2010: Sign-and-traded David Lee to Warriors for Anthony Randolph, Kelenna Azubuike and Ronny Turiaf.
Key free agent signings: Amare Stoudemire in 2010 (five years, $99 million), Raymond Felton in 2010 (two years, $15.8 million), Chris Duhon in 2008 (two years, $12 million).
Key free agents let go: Lee (2010), Harrington (2010), McGrady (2010), Duhon (2010).
Walsh simply had to get under the cap in 2010, and he did. He made mistakes along the way, especially in the draft, and he got swindled by Daryl Morey and lost a lot of future draft picks. But in the end, he succeeded in cleaning up Isiah Thomas' mess and has put the Knicks in position to be a genuine threat in the 2011 free agent market. Replacing David Lee with Amare Stoudemire, Anthony Randolph, Kelenna Azubuike and Ronny Turiaf was outstanding, and while I'm not wild about Raymond Felton, the long-term cost isn't bad and he does fit Mike D'Antoni's system fairly well.
Average sounds about right to me.
13. Mitch Kupchak, Lakers
Hired: 2003, officially.
Coaches: Phil Jackson (2003-2004), Rudy Tomjanovich (2004-2005), Frank Hamlin (2005-2005), Jackson again (2005-present)
Long-term plan: Build a winner
Key draft picks: Andrew Bynum (10th, 2005), Javaris Crittenton (19th, 2007), Brian Cook (24th, 2003), Jordan Farmar (26th, 2007), Sasha Vujacic (27th, 2004), Luke Walton (32nd, 2003), Ronny Turiaf (37th, 2005)
- 2004: Traded Shaquille O'Neal to Heat for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and a first-round pick.
- 2005: Traded Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins' expiring contract to Wizards for Kwame Brown.
- 2008 season: Traded Brown's expiring contract, Crittenton, the rights to Marc Gasol and a first-round pick to Grizzlies for Pau Gasol.
Key free agent signings: Kobe Bryant in 2004 and 2010 (maximum both times), Vladimir Radmanovic in 2006 (five years, $30 million), Walton in 2007 (six years, $30 million), Derek Fisher in 2007 (three years, $15 million), Ron Artest in 2009 (five years, $30 million), Odom in 2009 (four years, $33 million), Steve Blake in 2010 (four years, $16 million).
Key free agents let go: Smush Parker (2007), Trevor Ariza (2009).
Nobody, and I mean nobody, has as many built-in advantages as Kupchak. He has Kobe Bryant, the league's premier winner, Phil Jackson, it's premier coach, and Jerry Buss, an owner always willing to spend. Kupchak can get away with mistakes most other GMs can't.
But Kupchak has done pretty well on his own too, especially with trades and good value picks late in the draft. His free agent signings have been a bit underwhelming, but again, you can get away with that in L.A. Most importantly, Kupchak never blinked when Bryant demanded a trade in 2007 and did what he had to do to give him the championship team he desired. Other GMs might have panicked, but Kupchak stayed cool. Sure, he probably was given a mandate to not trade Bryant from up above, but he still deserves props.
There's also the Pau Gasol trade, which was certainly a bit lucky, but also a hell of a coup.
12. Rod Thorn, Nets
Coaches: Byron Scott (2000-2004), Lawrence Frank (2004-2009), Kiki Vandeweghe (2009-2010), Avery Johnson (present)
Long-term plan: Build around young talent, now that they struck out on the LeBron James sweepstakes
Key draft picks: Kenyon Martin (1st, 2000), Derrick Favors (3rd, 2010), Brook Lopez (10th, 2008), Terrence Williams (11th, 2009), Richard Jefferson (13th, 2001).
- 2001: Traded Stephon Marbury, Johnny Newman and Soumalia Samake to Suns for Jason Kidd and Chris Dudley.
- 2005: Traded Alonzo Mourning, Eric Williams, Aaron Williams and two first-round picks to Raptors for Vince Carter.
- 2008: Traded Kidd, Antoine Wright and Malik Allen to Mavericks for Devin Harris, Trenton Hassell, Maurice Ager, DeSagana Diop, Van Horn and two first-round picks.
- 2009: Traded Carter and Ryan Anderson to Magic for Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee and Tony Battie.
Key free agent signings: Kidd, 2003 (max contract), Mourning, 2003 (mid-level exception), Jefferson, 2004 (six years, $78 million), Jason Collins, 2004 (five years, $25 million), Carter, 2007 (four years, $60 million).
Key free agents let go: Martin (2004), Nenad Kristic (2008).
Thorn has an extremely impressive body of work with trades in particular, and nobody can say it was luck that allowed him to turn the Nets' franchise around. To be as good as they were for that long is impressive, considering ownership never allowed him to go over the luxury tax. Thorn has certainly made mistakes, particularly in re-signing his own stars to poor long-term contracts, and delaying the rebuilding of a decidedly average team in the late 2000s. But in a league where it's so hard to get good value in trades, Thorn's consistent ability to do so means a lot.
The Nets will miss his guidance going forward, and Billy King is a very underwhelming replacement.
11. John Hammond, Bucks
Coaches: Scott Skiles (2008-present)
Long-term plan: Find undervalued players and traits and bring them to small-market Milwaukee.
Key draft picks: Joe Alexander (8th, 2008), Brandon Jennings (10th, 2009), Larry Sanders (15th, 2010).
- 2008: Traded Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons to Nets for Richard Jefferson.
- 2008 season: Traded Mo Williams to Cavaliers and Desmond Mason to Thunder for Damon Jones, Luke Ridnour and Adrian Griffin.
- 2009: Traded Jefferson to San Antonio for Bruce Bowen's unguaranteed contract, Kurt Thomas and Fabricio Oberto's unguaranteed contract.
- 2010 season: Traded Hakim Warrick's expiring contract and Alexander to Bulls for John Salmons.
- 2010: Traded Dan Gazduric's expiring contract and Charlie Bell to Warriors for Corey Maggette.
Key free agent signings: Drew Gooden in 2010 (five years, $35 million).
Key free agents let go: Charlie Villanueva (2009), Ramon Sessions (2009).
Hammond would have been higher if not for his curious 2010 offseason, when he seemingly abandoned the principles that allowed his club to have so much success in 2009/10. Last season, the Bucks were the quintessential "more than the sum of their parts" team, and Hammond deserves so much credit because he realized that tough defense is undervalued in this market. He hired a coach who preaches it, made sure to build around a point guard/center tandem and found great bargains to fill the other spots in the lineup. He was also opportunistic in trading for John Salmons when his value was lowest.
That's why it's so interesting to see Hammond spend a lot of money on Corey Maggette, Drew Gooden and a re-signed Salmons. I'm very curious to see it all play out, because it certainly goes against the philosophy he's used to build a successful team in a tiny market. Perhaps Hammond believes that now is the time to switch gears with his philosophy. I'm skeptical, but hey, maybe he's right.
10. Donnie Nelson, Mavericks
Coaches: Don Nelson (2002-2005), Avery Johnson (2005-2008), Rick Carlisle (2008-present)
Long-term plan: Extend Dirk Nowitzki's prime and use assets to bring in a good running mate.
Key draft picks: Rodrigue Beaubois (25th, 2009), Dominique Jones (25th, 2010), Maurice Ager (28th, 2006), Josh Howard (29th, 2003).
- 2003: Traded Nick Van Exel's expiring contract, Avery Johnson, Popeye Jones and others to Warriors for Antawn Jamison, Danny Fortsen, Chris Mills and Jiri Welsch
- 2003: Traded Raef LaFrentz, Welsch and Mills to Celtics for Antoine Walker and Tony Delk.
- 2004: Traded Jamison to Wizards for the 5th pick, Jerry Stackhouse and Christian Laettner.
- 2008 season: Traded Devin Harris, DeSagana Diop, Trenton Hassell, Keith Van Horn's expiring contract, Maurice Ager and two first-round picks to Nets for Jason Kidd, Antoine Wright and Malik Allen.
- 2010 season: Traded Howard's expiring contract, Drew Gooden's expiring contract, James Singleton and Quinton Ross to Wizards for Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson.
Key free agent signings: Dirk Nowitzki in 2006 and 2010 (max, slightly less than max), Raef LaFrentz in 2003 (seven years, $60+ million), Erick Dampier in 2004 (six years, $67 million), Shawn Marion in 2009 (five years, $39 million), Haywood in 2010 (six years, $57 million)
Key free agents let go: Steve Nash (2004), Michael Finley (2005).
Nelson has the built-in advantage of an owner in Mark Cuban who will spend up the wazoo, but that's not always a good thing, especially when Cuban jumps in to approve moves like the Jason Kidd trade and the Erick Dampier contract. Nelson manages that impulsiveness well, consistently getting good value on nearly all his transactions. He has yet to find a good enough running mate for Dirk Nowitzki, but it's certainly not for a lack of effort.
Ultimately, Nelson hits a lot of singles and doubles, and that's not a bad thing for a team that is willing to spend and will therefore never have or need cap flexibility.
9. Geoff Petrie, Kings
Coaches: Gary St. Jean (1995-1997), Eddie Jordan (1997-1998), Rick Adelman (1998-2006), Eric Mussleman (2006-2007), Reggie Theus (2007-2008), Calvin Natt (2008-2009), Paul Westphal (2008-present)
Key draft picks: Tyreke Evans (4th, 2009), DeMarcus Cousins (5th, 2010), Jason Williams (7th, 1998), Spencer Hawes (10th, 2007), Tariq Abdul-Wahad (11th, 1997), Jason Thompson (12th, 2008), Peja Stojakovic (14th, 1996), Hedo Turkoglu (16th, 2000), Quincy Douby (19th, 2006), Omri Casspi (23rd, 2009), Francisco Garcia (23rd, 2005), Gerald Wallace (25th, 2002), Kevin Martin (26th, 2004),
- 1999: Traded Mitch Richmond and Otis Thorpe to Wizards for Chris Webber.
- 2001: Traded Jason Williams and Brent Price to Grizzlies for Mike Bibby.
- 2005: Traded Webber and Matt Barnes to 76ers for Kenny Thomas, Williamson and Brian Skinner.
- 2006: Traded Peja Stojakovic to Pacers for Ron Artest.
- 2010: Traded Kevin Martin and Hilton Armstrong to Rockets for Carl Landry and Joey Dorsey.
Key free agent signings: Too many to count on both fronts
Petrie's draft work is simply incredible, perhaps the best of any GM in basketball. He also built a real juggernaut early in the decade thanks to some great trades, and he's now got a really nice young team on his hands. Petrie's only shortcoming is that he often overpays for marginal talent, handing out big contracts to guys like Beno Udrih, Francisco Garcia, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and (nearly) Bonzi Wells. He also tends to overpay for his own players, giving Mike Bibby and Brad Miller too much money in particular.
But when you draft as well as Petrie, your team will always be able to rebuild shrewdly.
8. Danny Ainge, Celtics
Coaches: Jim O'Brien (2003), John Carroll (2003-2004), Doc Rivers (2004-present)
Long-term plan: Find a way to extend the rapidly-closing window of the Big 3.
Key draft picks: Marcus Banks (13th, 2003), Al Jefferson (15th, 2004), Gerald Green (18th, 2005), Avery Bradley (19th, 2010), Rajon Rondo (21st, 2006), Delonte West (24th, 2004), Tony Allen (25th, 2004), Kendrick Perkins (27th, 2003), Glen Davis (35th, 2007), Leon Powe (49th, 2006)
- 2004: Traded Antoine Walker and Tony Delk to Mavericks for Raef LaFrentz, Chris Mills and Jiri Welsch.
- 2007: Traded the 5th pick, Sczcerbiak and West to Sonics for Ray Allen and the 35th pick.
- 2007: Traded Jefferson, Sebastian Telfair, Green, Ryan Gomes, Theo Ratliff's expiring contract and two first-round picks to Timberwolves for Kevin Garnett.
Key free agent signings: Paul Pierce in 2005 (max contract) and 2010 (four years, $61 million), Perkins in 2007 (four years, $16 million), Rasheed Wallace in 2009 (three years, $18 million), Jermaine O'Neal in 2010 (two years, $11 million), Ray Allen in 2010 (two years, $20 million). UPDATE: Can't believe I forgot about Rondo's five-year, $55 million extension last summer.
Key free agents let go: Gary Payton (2005), Antoine Walker (2005).
Ainge provides a lesson for all of us when wondering about the madness of GMs like David Kahn who seemingly are always rebuilding. When he arrived in Boston, Ainge saw a marginal team and was determined to tear it down, even if it took a while for fans to ultimately see the fruits of his labor. He kept stockpiling draft picks, building up their value by playing them and biding his time until the right opportunity came along. Eventually, it came, and it led to a title.
It's true that trading for superstars like Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen requires being a bit lucky. However, you also have to put yourself in a position to make it happen, and Ainge did exactly that with his draft picks and his general philosophy. It takes a lot of guts and skill to perform a franchise facelift, but Ainge made it happen. That alone has to propel him way up this list.
Oh, and Ainge also nailed the Rajon Rondo pick and continues to find good young players that can contribute for cheap. That's not luck -- that's skill.
7. R.C. Buford, Spurs
Coaches: Gregg Popovich (2002-present)
Long-term plan: Extend Tim Duncan's title window.
Key draft picks: James Anderson (20th, 2010), George Hill (26th, 2008), Ian Mahinmi (28th, 2005), Beno Udrih (2004), Tiago Splitter (28th, 2008). DeJuan Blair (37th, 2009).
- 2005: Traded Malik Rose and two first-round picks to Knicks for Nazr Mohammad.
- 2008 season: Traded Brent Barry, Francisco Elson and a 2009 draft pick for Kurt Thomas.
- 2009: Traded Bruce Bowen, Fabricio Oberto and Kurt Thomas for Richard Jefferson.
Key free agent signings: Tim Duncan in 2003 and 2007 (maximim), Manu Ginobili in 2003 and 2010 (three years, $39 million), Tony Parker in 2004 (six years, $66 million), Robert Horry, 2004 (two years, $9 million), Antonio McDyess in 2009 (three years, $15 million), Richard Jefferson in 2010 (four years, $39 million).
Key free agents let go: Turkoglu, more.
What has happened to the San Antonio Spurs recently? Giving Richard Jefferson $40 million? Going over the luxury tax the year before? Throwing cap flexibility into the wind? It's certainly a bit jarring, and I had to penalize the impeccable Buford for it. Buford probably feels that he needs to spend to prolong Tim Duncan's window, but I'm not convinced about that. If and when Duncan declines and the Spurs need to retool, it will be far more difficult than it should be.
That said -- c'mon, it's R.C. Buford and the San Antonio Spurs. They have to be high on the list because of everything they accomplished this decade. They're the league's best-run franchise, and while a lot of that is luck (drafting Duncan), much of it is due to the work of Buford. He might be losing his touch, but he has to also be rewarded for the touch he showed beforehand.
6. Kevin Pritchard, Blazers
Coaches: Nate McMillan (2006-present)
Long-term plan: Build a championship-caliber young core
Key draft picks: Greg Oden (1st, 2007), LaMarcus Aldridge (2nd, 2006), Brandon Roy (6th, 2006), Jerryd Bayless (11th, 2008), Luke Babbit (16th, 2010), Elliot Williams (22nd, 2010), Rudy Fernandez (24th, 2007), Nicolas Batum (27th, 2008), Dante Cunningham (33rd, 2009)
- 2007: Traded Zach Randolph, Fred Jones and Dan Dickau to Knicks for Steve Francis and Channing Frye.
- 2010: Traded Steve Blake's expiring contract and Travis Outlaw's expiring contract to Clippers for Marcus Camby.
Key free agent signings: Roy in 2009 (max contract), Aldridge in 2009 (five years, $65 million), Andre Miller in 2009 (three years, $21 million), Steve Blake in 2007 (three years, $15 million), Camby in 2010 (two years, $22 million), Martell Webster (four years, $20 million)
Key free agents let go: Frye in 2009.
Pritchard strikes me as the modern day Stu Inman, a name Trail Blazers fans probably know well. Like Inman, Pritchard built a perennially successful franchise by finding diamonds in the rough and generally paying way more attention to detail than his peers. Like Inman, Pritchard changed the culture of his franchise and created a cult of personality around himself (which, in Pritchard's case, probably led to his firing). Finally, like Inman, Pritchard made one massive mistake.
Inman's mistake was taking Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan. Pritchard's mistake, of course, was taking Greg Oden over Kevin Durant. In his defense, Pritchard made a pick everyone else would have made (except maybe for Ainge). However, it's still a huge, huge mistake that prevents him from being number one.
Pritchard also gets docked a bit because he has an owner willing to spend, which makes his life easier. But besides the Oden pick, his record is truly outstanding, and he did it as the GM of a team in desperate need of a culture change and a savior. Here's hoping the 2006 draft, and not the 2007 draft, will forever be his legacy in Portland.
5. Mark Warkentien, Nuggets
Coaches: George Karl (2006-present)
Long-term plan: Contend for a championship, even with an inherited hefty luxury-tax bill.
Key draft picks: Ty Lawson (18th, 2009).
- 2006 season: Traded Andre Miller, Joe Smith's expiring contract and two first-round picks in 2007 to 76ers for Allen Iverson.
- 2008 season: Traded Iverson to Pistons for Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess.
Key free agent signings: Carmelo Anthony, 2006 (five-year max contract), Nene in 2006 (six years, $60 million), J.R. Smith in 2008 (three years, $15 million), Chris Andersen in 2009 (five years, $26 million), Al Harrington in 2010 (five years, $34 million)
Key free agents let go: Steve Blake (2007), Marcus Camby (2008 -- not officially, but dumped for nothing), Linas Kleiza (2009), Dahntay Jones (2009).
Warkentien got dealt a really tough hand because the previous GM, Kiki Vandeweghe, threw around money way too frivolously for an owner who doesn't have incredibly deep pockets. Somehow, he's managed to build a contender despite that, finding great free-agent bargains and making shrewd moves to stay in contention while also trimming some salary. The Allen Iverson move is his only blemish, but he corrected that with the Chauncey Billups trade.
The Nuggets are probably in even more of a tight spot now than ever, and Warkentien's own future with the club is murky. But keep in mind that Warkentien inherited a lot of the cap hell the Nuggets currently have. To make the team better under those circumstances is very impressive.
4. Sam Presti, Thunder
Coaches: P.J. Carlisemo (2007-2008), Scott Brooks (2008-present)
Long-term plan: Build around Kevin Durant and the rest of his young talent, using the salary-cap creatively to get it done.
Key draft picks: Durant (2nd, 2007), James Harden (3rd, 2009), Russell Westbrook (4th, 2008), Jeff Green (5th, 2007), Cole Aldrich (11th, 2010), Serge Ibaka (24th, 2008), Byron Mullens (24th, 2009),
- 2007: Traded Ray Allen and the 35th pick to Celtics for the 5th pick, Wally Sczcerbiak and Delonte West.
- 2009: Traded a first-round pick to Bulls for Thabo Sefolosha.
- 2010: Traded the 21st and 26th picks to Hornets for the 11th pick and Morris Peterson.
Key free agent signings: Durant in 2010 (max contract), Nenad Kristic in 2008 (three years, $15 million), Thabo Sefolosha in 2009 (four years, $13 million).
Key free agents let go: Rashard Lewis (2007).
Presti is probably the most creative general manager in the league, and he continues to rip off fellow GMs with his unique strategy of using his salary-cap space to pick up draft picks and other young assets. He also consistently nails his draft picks, which is so hard for anyone to do, and has built a young, talented roster that is the envy of everyone.
But I can't put him No. 1 for two reasons. First of all, he has Kevin Durant. Presti completely lucked into Durant, and having a guy like him makes you look a whole lot better. This isn't to take away from Presti's genius long-term plan in building around him, but his strategy wouldn't result in this much success if Durant wasn't around.
Secondly, I strongly believe Presti needs to think about changing gears. His prized young players are all going to have to sign contract extensions, which will eliminate the cap space Presti has always prized. This summer may have been the last time Presti will have enough cap space to sign a piece to put his team over the top, and he declined to use it. With the Thunder now a successful team with a successful core, that could prove to be a mistake.
I'm nitpicking though. The reality is that Presti is one of the best in the business.
3. Daryl Morey, Rockets
Coaches: Rick Adelman (2007-present)
Long-term plan: Build enough assets to eventually make a big move to bring in the superstar the team is missing.
Key draft picks: Patrick Patterson (14th, 2010), Aaron Brooks (26th, 2007), Carl Landry (31st, 2008).
- 2007: Traded Vassilis Spanoulis and Jackie Butler to Spurs for the rights to Luis Scola.
- 2008: Traded Jackson, Donte Greene and a future first-round pick to Kings for Ron Artest.
- 2010 season: Traded Tracy McGrady's expiring contract to Knicks for Jared Jeffries, Jordan Hill, a 2012 first-round pick and the right to swap 2011 first-round picks.
- 2010 season: Traded Carl Landry and Joey Dorsey to Kings for Kevin Martin and Hilton Armstrong.
Key free agent signings: Landry in 2008 (three years, $9 million), Trevor Ariza In 2009 (four years, $24 million), Scola in 2010 (five years, $47 million), Lowry in 2010 (four years, $24 million), Brad Miller in 2010 (three years, $15 million.
Key free agents let go: Artest.
Nobody gets more value with their decisions than Daryl Morey. He finds contributors in the draft in places nobody else does. He swindles other GMs in trades, picking up a boatload of assets that the other 29 GMs only dream they had. In short, there's very little he's done wrong.
Morey arrived on the scene having to deal with a top-heavy team without much of a supporting cast and without much prospect of improving. Now, he has a more balanced team with tons of assets and a ton of flexibility to improve. Going from Step 1 to Step 2 while maintaining an extremely successful team like he has is remarkably impressive.
Step 3 now is to do something with those assets, which is proving to be a challenge. But sometimes, that's how it works. To get that great player in a trade, you have to be lucky. The good news for Rockets fans is that Morey has put himself in a position where he and his team can get lucky.
2. Kevin O'Connor, Jazz
Coaches: Jerry Sloan (1999-present).
Long-term plan: Build a good team that fits Sloan's vision.
Key draft picks: Deron Williams (3rd, 2005), Gordon Hayward (9rd, 2010), Ronnie Brewer (14th, 2006), Kris Humphries (14th, 2004), Kirk Snyder (16th, 2004), Sasha Pavlovic (19th, 2003), Eric Maynor (20th, 2009), CJ Miles (34th, 2005), Paul Millsap (47th, 2006), Mo Williams (47th, 2003),
- 2000: Traded Howard Eisley to the Mavericks, Adam Keefe to the Warriors and a first-round pick to the Celtics for Donyell Marshall.
- 2010: Traded Kosta Koufus and a future first-round pick to the Timberwolves for Al Jefferson.
Key free agent signings: Carlos Boozer in 2004 (six years, $68 million), Mehmet Okur in 2004 and 2009 (six years, $40 million, two years, $21 million), Andrei Kirilenko in 2004 (maximum contract), Matt Harpring in 2006 (five years, $25 million), Deron Williams in 2008 (maximum contract).
Key free agents let go: Boozer (2010), Karl Malone (2003), Derek Fisher (2008).
O'Connor may be the most underappreciated GM in basketball. Nobody does a better job of sticking to a plan. O'Connor has committed to Jerry Sloan as his coach and finds players that perfectly fit his system. Players like Wesley Matthews, Paul Millsap, Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Miles, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, Matt Harpring and even Deron Williams would all have been successful elsewhere, but their success was magnified because they were all perfect fits for Sloan. O'Connor understands that you can't just throw together talent and expect it to jell. You have to find the right kind of talent, and for over a decade, he's done exactly that.
O'Connor has also done a great job managing the luxury tax, something that will always be an issue because Utah is a small market. Last season, he made cost-cutting moves that didn't affect his team's performance, then recovered from losing Carlos Boozer by trading for Al Jefferson. His one mistake was giving Andrei Kirilenko too much money in 2004, but otherwise, his record is impeccable.
The only thing lacking is a championship, but that's tough to do when you only get one top-five pick in a decade. O'Connor used that pick well, and he's made every last move count. That's the mark of a good GM.
1. Pat Riley, Heat
Coaches: Himself (1995-2003), Stan Van Gundy (2003-2005), himself (2005-2008), Erik Spolestra (2008-present)
Long-term plan: Create enough cap room to pull off the free agent coup of the century.
Key draft picks: Michael Beasley (2nd, 2008), Dwyane Wade (5th, 2003).
Key trades: Too many to list
Key free agent signings: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in 2010
Key free agents let go: Does it matter?
Look, Pat Riley just pulled off the free agent coup of the decade (maybe of all time). It was a coup that required a level of long-term planning and creativity that no other GM is remotely capable of doing. I hate the guy, and he did get lucky, but he was also a genius. He has to top this list, and frankly, nobody comes close.