NBA General Manager Rankings: David Kahn, Pat Riley, And Everyone In Between

DALLAS, TX - JUNE 05: Team President Pat Riley of the Miami Heat watches from the stands as the Heat play against the Dallas Mavericks in Game Three of the 2011 NBA Finals at American Airlines Center on June 5, 2011 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

In the second edition of the annual NBA general manager rankings, some fresh faces crack the top 10, and others move way up or way down. Despite the Heat's Finals loss, Pat Riley remains at the top.

Before we begin this list ranking the 30 NBA general managers, we must repeat many of the same caveats made in last year's edition. Evaluating general managers is really difficult. They each work for different owners with different expectations of what they need to do. For the time being, they work on different budgets, though the lockout may change that. They can work extremely hard at maximizing their opportunities, only to be stymied by not getting lucky and landing a superstar in the draft. Or, the converse of that. Yet the reality is that, in a league where coaches have short shelf lives, the talent matters more than you think, and the general manager is usually the man bringing in that talent.

For all these reasons, evaluating general managers on their win/loss record is tricky. Instead, we have to look at context and try to figure out if they are doing the best job they can once we strip away luck and consider circumstance. The name of the game is to be successful, don't get me wrong, but success doesn't necessarily ensure GM competency. There are myriad other factors that go into it, things that can't be measured on a scale.

So with that in mind, we're going to try to again rank the 30 NBA GMs. All of these men have forgotten more basketball than I know, and most of them are at least competent compared to each other. But within their peer group, some are just better than others. We're going to go 30 to 1 to create some suspense. Let's get started!

Note: in thinking about how GMs operate, I've found there are four categories: networker, mover and shaker, company man and meticulous planner. A networker refers to someone who has been around the league a long time and succeed using his array of contacts. A mover and shaker refers to someone who is always active around the draft and trade deadline and isn't afraid to use every roster avenue possible to improve his team. A company man refers to an executive that is particularly skilled at carrying out his owner's vision. A meticulous planner refers to those new-age, stat-heavy executives who don't put themselves out there in the media, but are always seemingly crafting something behind the scenes.


30.  David Kahn, Minnesota Timberwolves (last year: 26)

STYLE: Mover and shaker.

THE GOOD: He actually got Ricky Rubio to come over.

THE BAD: There will be many more words in this feature, so I'll just save you the time.

BOTTOM LINE: Not ranking Kahn last in last year's edition was far too kind.

29.  Chad Buchanan, Portland Trail Blazers (last year: N/A)

With no track record to speak of, I'm putting Buchanan here until further notice. He will surely rise next year.

28.  Billy King, New Jersey Nets (last year: N/A)

STYLE: Networker.

THE GOOD: Getting a superstar is never easy, and Deron Williams is a much better player than Carmelo Anthony.

THE BAD: The Nets gave up a king's ransom for Williams without any guarantee he's staying long term, which could end up being horrible. The free-agent contract for Travis Outlaw (five years, $35 million) doesn't exactly give much confidence that King will spend responsibly on current free agent Kris Humphries. UPDATE: As several have pointed out, the Outlaw contract was handed out days before King officially took over. Apologies for the error.

BOTTOM LINE: King, so far, has been pretty much the same GM he was in Philadelphia, giving out big contracts to the wrong people and taking risks that may not be necessary. We'll see with Williams.

27.  Lon Babby, Phoenix Suns (last year: N/A)

STYLE: Networker.

THE GOOD: Marcin Gortat appears to be a legitimate center on a very affordable contract.

THE BAD: His summer signings were disastrous. The Hedo Turkoglu signing was sort of salvaged by getting Gortat, but it also came with Vince Carter. Josh Childress was a horrible fit for the Suns' scheme, and Channing Frye was a somewhat needless re-signing for a team that should have banked his money elsewhere.

BOTTOM LINE: I don't put Babby this low for not trading Steve Nash, because that situation is complicated. I put him this low because he's put himself in a tough spot with Nash's future. Keep in mind, though, that one year is a short amount of time. Babby can easily turn it around.

26.  Bryan Colangelo, Toronto Raptors (last year: 27)

STYLE: Mover and shaker

THE GOOD: His past few drafts have been very solid, netting DeMar DeRozan No. 9 in 2009, Ed Davis No. 13 in 2010 and now stealing Jonas Valanciunas at No. 5 in a weak draft.

THE BAD: Pretty much everything else. The bad contracts to guys like Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon, not getting anything for Chris Bosh when it was clear he wanted out, etc.

BOTTOM LINE: Colangelo's prior track record in Phoenix is saving his job big-time. Someone less accomplished probably would be gone by now.

25.  John Hammond, Milwaukee Bucks (last year: 11)

STYLE: Meticulous planner, at least until me morphed into a mover and shaker overnight in 2010.

THE GOOD: Drafting Brandon Jennings appears to be a solid move, though time will tell if he can mature and improve. He has made a number of excellent bargain-basement moves as well, especially with Carlos Delfino, Ersan Ilyasova (before he left), Keyon Dooling and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.

THE BAD: Followed up his old boss Joe Dumars' disastrous summer of 2009 with an equally destructive summer of 2010, one that saw him give Drew Gooden $32 million over five years, re-sign John Salmons for $40 million over five years and trade for Corey Maggette's horrible deal.

BOTTOM LINE: The only way out of his huge mistakes in 2010 is digging out by adding guys like Stephen Jackson, which only prolongs mediocrity. Hammond's plight shows how a reputation can completely change in one summer.

24.  Rick Sund, Atlanta Hawks (last year: 22)

STYLE: Company man.

THE GOOD: His team has been largely successful recently, and the contract extension he gave Al Horford (five years, $60 million) is very reasonable.

THE BAD: The Joe Johnson deal (six years, $127 million in 2010) is a punchline in and of itself, though you could argue ownership forced him into that. Giving Marvin Williams $35 million for five years was a reach after just one good season, and he probably gave up a bit too much (Jordan Crawford, Mo Evans, Mike Bibby and a first-round pick) to get Kirk Hinrich this year.

BOTTOM LINE: Sund's competent and his owners don't make life easy with their budget, but the Hawks' inability to escape the NBA's middle class is as much his doing as anyone else's. It looks like he'll have to deal Josh Smith to cut costs, and that's unfortunate because Smith's contract and demeanor really isn't the team's problem.

23.  Neil Olshey, Los Angeles Clippers (last year: N/A)

STYLE: Networker

THE GOOD: There's a decent amount of buzz around the Clippers, and Olshey at least seems like he has the respect of his peers.

THE BAD: He may have over-thought himself with the February trade of an unprotected draft pick to get Baron Davis off the roster. Perhaps there was more to the Davis situation than we knew, but that was an incredibly high price to play to get him off the team, even before it became Kyrie Irving.

BOTTOM LINE: Olshey inherited a tremendous young core in place that could mask how well he is doing, because he hasn't wowed me in his first year on the job.

22.  Larry Riley, Golden State Warriors (last year: 28)

STYLE: Company man.

THE GOOD: Has done a good job clearing salary after inheriting a major mess of a situation. The contract he gave Dorrel Wright (three years, $11 million) was a bargain.

THE BAD: The jury is still out on picking Ekpe Udoh over Greg Monroe, but that looks like it was a bad decision. Hiring a head coach (Mark Jackson) with no prior experience is also a huge gamble.

BOTTOM LINE: Riley's basically been doing the work of Robert Rowell and now Jerry West, so it's tough to evaluate him beyond the poor won/loss record.

21.  Larry Bird, Indiana Pacers (last year: 30)

STYLE: Networker.

THE GOOD: Has finally embraced a rebuilding effort centered around young talent, quietly nailing most of his mid-round draft picks, pulling off a nice trade to land Darren Collison last summer and giving Frank Vogel the coaching job.

THE BAD: He put off rebuilding by giving out pointless mid-level contracts. Also, sold so low on Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington in 2007 that they took on worse contracts and set their rebuild back several years.

BOTTOM LINE: Bird may not be long for this job, which is too bad because he was finally starting to learn how to rebuild. Alas, while he is no longer No. 30, he is still in the bottom half for his past performance.


20.  Joe Dumars, Detroit Pistons (last year: 24)

STYLE: Mover and shaker, stymied only by the uncertain ownership situation.

THE GOOD: His work getting the Pistons to the conference finals for six straight years without a superstar and without breaking the bank is one of the greatest general manager accomplishments of the past 30 years.

THE BAD: The disastrous summer of 2009, during which he signed Ben Gordon to a five-year, $54 million deal and Charlie Villanueva to a five-year, $35 million deal. Runs through coaches like lottery tickets, having now employed seven in 10 years.

BOTTOM LINE: Dumars' lack of action recently and the unrest it has caused is not his fault because of the ownership situation, but he will pay for that summer of 2009 for a very long time.

19.  Otis Smith, Orlando Magic (last year: 17)

STYLE: Mover and shaker.

THE GOOD: Depending on whether you give him credit for driving this or not, picked Dwight Howard over Emeka Okafor. Recognized the value of Jameer Nelson and gave him a very affordable contract to keep him in 2007.

THE BAD: The December trades for Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu really worked out poorly, and the Magic's payroll is stuffed with players who are decent, but probably make too much money.

BOTTOM LINE: Little has changed to convince me that Smith is overrated. The biggest feathers in his cap are Howard (who was drafted when he wasn't GM, though he played a role in the decision), coach Stan Van Gundy (who only came after Billy Donovan changed his mind) and Nelson (an affordable point guard). Smith is the definition of someone who has one of the five best players and coaches in basketball, and therefore can't really lose. It's less a sign on him than on his luck.

18.  Ernie Grunfeld, Washington Wizards (last year: 18)

STYLE: Company man.

THE GOOD: He's done an excellent job carrying out owner Ted Leonsis' plan of accumulating draft picks, having now gained seven first-round picks in the last two years. Pulled off a brilliant use of asset management by taking on a draft pick, then dealing for two more for the price of renting Kirk Hinrich for four months.

THE BAD: Gave a premature contract extension to Andray Blatche, handing him a five-year deal two years before he was scheduled to be a free agent. Seems a bit too committed to the Blatche/Nick Young/JaVale McGee core in general. In the past, he had a tendency to overpay free agents, though that has faded since Leonsis took over.

BOTTOM LINE: Grunfeld is versatile, capable of executing many plans and undoing things that don't work. Now that he has a young superstar, he must prove he can build a team for the long haul, and not just one that tops out as decent.

17.  Ed Stefanski, Philadelphia 76ers (last year: 29)

STYLE: Company man.

THE GOOD: Hiring Doug Collins has turned out brilliantly, much to my surprise, which is why Stefanski has moved up this list. He's always been a very good drafter, uncovering Thaddeus Young and Jrue Holiday with mid-round picks.

THE BAD: Drafting Evan Turner No. 2 overall in 2010 may be a big mistake, depending on whether DeMarcus Cousins gets his head straight. While he's turned into a competent player again, Elton Brand is also still very overpaid.

BOTTOM LINE: Stefanski regained some of his reputation with the 76ers' surprising season, and there's a good amount of young talent there. But the next couple years will be tough as he tries to carry his team past mediocrity. Having Rod Thorn around will help, as will new ownership.

16.  Geoff Petrie, Sacramento Kings (last year: 9)

STYLE: Company man.

THE GOOD: There's certainly a lot of talent on this team, with Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins and Marcus Thornton, who was acquired brilliantly for Carl Landry. There's also Jason Thompson, J.J. Hickson, Jimmer Fredette ... the bottom line is that Petrie's never been bad at acquiring talent.

THE BAD: How does all of this fit together? It's kind of a mess of shoot-first personalities, and I see no real leader. It's almost like they're the Los Angeles Clippers of early in the decade, and while Petrie's got a track record and a rough situation with ownership, you wonder if there's more he could have done to make the talent fit together.

BOTTOM LINE: Petrie knows talent, and his history is impeccable. I'm just not sure what the plan is here.

15.  Chris Grant, Cleveland Cavaliers (last year: N/A)

STYLE: Too early to tell.

THE GOOD: Grant correctly determined that the value of an additional first-round pick, even in a weak draft, is worth taking on a bad contract, even one as bad as Baron Davis. This would have been true even if that pick didn't turn into Kyrie Irving.

THE BAD: It's early, but picking Tristan Thompson at No. 4 over Jonas Valanciunas may be a decision Grant will rue going forward.

BOTTOM LINE: The beginning of a rebuild is always the easiest part, but Grant is off to a good start turning the Cavaliers around.

14.  Dell Demps, New Orleans Hornets (last year: N/A)

STYLE: Meticulous planner.

THE GOOD: Considering the incredible burden he's put under with the league owning the team, it was quite an accomplishment to have his team make the playoffs again. Hiring Monty Williams as a coach was an excellent move, even though he was young. UPDATE: So Williams was hire before Demps. My mistake.

THE BAD: They actually had some pretty good assets coming into the year, with several good youngsters and a couple expiring contracts, and they ended up with Trevor Ariza, Jarret Jack and Carl Landry. I know the situation is weird, but I feel like they could have done better.

BOTTOM LINE: I give most of the credit for New Orleans' good season to Williams and Chris Paul. Demps hired Williams, but he inherited Paul, so it's tough to put him much higher.

13.  Chris Wallace, Memphis Grizzlies (last year: 21)

STYLE: Company man.

THE GOOD: Pulled a fast one on everyone by believing in Zach Randolph when nobody else did . Made an excellent coaching hire in Lionel Hollins, gave Tony Allen a bargain-basement (three years, $9 million) deal and continues to draft well.

THE BAD: At some point, these huge, huge contracts being given out to Randolph (four years, $66 million), Rudy Gay (five years, $86 million), Mike Conley (five years, $40 million) and eventually Marc Gasol will come back to bite him.

BOTTOM LINE: Wallace has a hard job working under Michael Heisley, who is liable to jump in and overrule him whenever he wants. He had been doing a better job than people realized the last couple years, though there will be a lot of pain on the back end of these contract extensions.

12.  Mitch Kupchak, Los Angeles Lakers (last year: 13)

STYLE: Company man.

THE GOOD: Pulled off the Pau Gasol trade, for one. Recognized the value of Lamar Odom and rewarded him, and also saw the intangible value of bringing Derek Fisher back in the fold in 2007, when Kobe Bryant was his most disgruntled.

THE BAD: Has handed out a lot of bad long-term mid-level contracts to reserves, the latest being Steve Blake.

BOTTOM LINE: It's impossible to trace where Kupchak's authority ends and Jim Buss' begins, not to mention all of the other voices in the Lakers' circus, so grading Kupchak is impossible. He gets so many built-in advantages though that it's hard to say he's much better than average, relative to his peers.

11.  Rich Cho, Charlotte Bobcats (last year: N/A)

STYLE: Meticulous planner.

THE GOOD: Stole Gerald Wallace from the Bobcats while a member of the Blazers' front office for spare parts and a low draft pick. Did a tremendous job in the 2011 draft to move on out from Stephen Jackson's contract and pick up an extra lottery pick in the process.

THE BAD: May have alienated Brandon Roy by pushing for him to be suspended after Roy expressed frustration with being benched in the playoffs last year. For all his skill with his transactions, he lacks experience.

BOTTOM LINE: It's still early, but Cho is off to a very good start in his first two stops. His departure from Portland has as much to do with the Blazers' instability among ownership as anything he did. He's off to a good start turning the Bobcats around.


10.  Donnie Walsh,* New York Knicks (last year: 14)

STYLE: Networker

THE GOOD: He immediately brings legitimacy to your team because of his experience and his contacts. Was smart to believe in Amare Stoudemire, and was also smart to go after Raymond Felton and draft Landry Fields. Also pulled off a really nice sign-and-trade to get some value from losing David Lee.

THE BAD: You can't really blame him for the Carmelo Anthony trade, but his drafting record is a bit spotty -- Fields fell off, Jordan Hill in 2009 was a waste and while Danilo Gallinari isn't bad, Eric Gordon would have be better. The team was also pretty shallow last season, and many of the draft picks that could have replenished that were given to Daryl Morey at the 2010 trade deadline.

BOTTOM LINE: Walsh brings professionalism and legitimacy, and is a very good GM, but he might have been a tad overrated. Still, his departure will hurt the Knicks.

9.  Daryl Morey, Houston Rockets (last year: 3)

STYLE: Mover and shaker.

THE GOOD: Nobody is better at collecting assets, a trait that has allowed his team to stay competitive despite seeing his two stars break down in a series of injuries.

THE BAD: Has consistently been unable to turn those assets into a significant star, beyond Kevin Martin, who cost them Carl Landry.

BOTTOM LINE: Is it bad luck that prevents Morey from pulling off big moves? Is it a shortcoming with him? He's certainly done what he could with a bad hand, and getting a superstar in a trade requires a lot of luck, so he deserves to be in the top 10 of GMs on this list. Still, you sometimes wonder if there's a purpose to all his asset collection.

8.  Danny Ainge, Boston Celtics (last year: 8)

STYLE: Mover and shaker.

THE GOOD: A tremendous evaluator of talent, Ainge's ability to find value with late draft picks gave him enough ammunition to make the trades for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. He also saw the value of Rajon Rondo far before anyone else and was very much correct in steadfastly refusing to include him in the Garnett deal.

THE BAD: His boldness got him in trouble when he underestimated the effect the Kendrick Perkins trade would have on team chemistry last season. He also overrated Jeff Green in that deal, and was wrong to hitch his wagon to Shaquille O'Neal staying healthy at the deadline last season.

BOTTOM LINE: Ainge isn't afraid to make big moves, and while those can sometimes backfire, he always puts himself in a position to make things happen. Garnett, Allen and Paul Pierce will always know that their general manager will never stop trying, even if his moves don't always work out.

7.  Masai Ujiri, Denver Nuggets (last year: N/A)

STYLE: Networker.

THE GOOD: Given the circumstances, he probably couldn't have done much better handling the Carmelo Anthony situation.

THE BAD: His entire career has essentially been the Anthony trade, so it's too early to tell.

BOTTOM LINE: He got a ton of value out of dealing Anthony in a no-win situation, and while the jury is still out on what he does with all of those pieces, that alone is worth vaulting him this high.

6.  Gar Forman, Chicago Bulls (last year: 19)

STYLE: Company man.

THE GOOD: Surrounded Derrick Rose with the nucleus he needed to spur the Bulls to the best record in the regular season without breaking the bank. Took a chance on Tom Thibodeau when nobody else would and reaped the benefits. Is as shrewd a navigator of the salary cap as there is in this league.

THE BAD: The contract handed out to Carlos Boozer (five years, $75 million) has the potential to hold the Bulls back from going to the next level. May be a bit too conservative in trumping character when taking a chance to get to the next level may be warranted.

BOTTOM LINE: Much of the Bulls' success is due to Rose, but Forman is a solid manager of the cap and an excellent evaluator of management. The next challenge for him is ensuring this mix does not get stale. With the Boozer contract as an anchor, that may prove to be his biggest challenge yet.

5.  Donnie Nelson, Dallas Mavericks (last year: 10)

STYLE: Company man.

THE GOOD: His team just won the championship, for one. He stole Tyson Chandler from the Bobcats for Erick Dampier's contract, for another. More generally, Nelson hasn't made too many mistakes recently, even though he and his team are always making moves. He was also smart to keep the nucleus together and stay patient even as that patience wore thin among his fanbase after consecutive first-round playoff exits.

THE BAD: Brendan Haywood isn't as awful as people think, but handing him a six-year, $55 million deal was definitely a mistake that could cost them key contributors like J.J. Barea and Caron Butler.

BOTTOM LINE: Having the deep pockets of Mark Cuban is an unfair advantage, but Nelson would be pretty good anywhere.

4.  Kevin O'Connor, Utah Jazz (last year: 2)

STYLE: Networker.

THE GOOD: He may have traded Deron Williams too early, but he got one heck of a package in return for him, and now has one of the deepest frontcourts in basketball. One could argue getting one of Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter for Williams is a good deal. O'Connor ultimately got both.

THE BAD: He had a tough job, but Tyrone Corbin wasn't overly impressive in his first few games replacing Jerry Sloan. The Al Jefferson trade didn't work out as planned, and dealing a superstar like Williams is always risky.

BOTTOM LINE: O'Connor sure gave his rebuilding effort a hard kick with the assets he received in the Williams deal, proving once again he's one of the best.

3.  R.C. Buford, San Antonio Spurs (last year: 7)

STYLE: Meticulous planner.

THE GOOD: Almost everything, all the way down to making sure his team was as good as it was this past year.

THE BAD: Definitely overpaid Richard Jefferson, in a surprisingly non-Spurs move that has jacked their payroll up beyond what it should be.

BOTTOM LINE: Buford's still one of the best GMs in the league, but he has slipped a tiny bit, and a couple others in the league have caught up.

2.  Sam Presti, Oklahoma City Thunder (last year: 4)

STYLE: Meticulous planner.

THE GOOD: There are so many ways to describe Presti's strengths, but my favorite one is this: he knows when to take the risk. The Kendrick Perkins trade came at the right time and sent out just enough value where it barely hurts his team, but still provides enough value to make the trade fair. Presti fostered a culture where the risk was minimal, which was his greatest strength.

THE BAD: Hard to find much of anything, but he did trade Rodrigue Beaubois for B.J. Mullens, and his 2010 lottery pick (Cole Aldrich) didn't get off the bench last year.

BOTTOM LINE: Presti's pretty much running this league. Sure, he got lucky with drafting Kevin Durant, but he's made the most of it.

1.  Pat Riley, Miami Heat (last year: 1)

STYLE: Mover and shaker.

THE GOOD: Only the biggest free agent heist in NBA history.

THE BAD: Has a tendency to overpay role players, which reared its ugly head again in the five-year, $30 million contract given out to sign Mike Miller.

BOTTOM LINE: Lots of teams put themselves in position to bring the Big 3 together, but only Riley actually pulled it off. Even though they didn't win the title, Riley gets the No. 1 spot for that alone for the second straight year.

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