Most serious NBA fans can name all or most of the league's current head coaches. (Some might struggle with Brett Brown, but that's par for the course with the current Sixers.) Putting names to the league's 30 general managers is a bigger challenge. Most GMs stay behind the scenes (Daryl Morey is the exception who proves the rule) and recently there are fewer ex-players and more business, legal or analytic types getting the jobs.
Out of sight doesn't need to be out of mind, especially for those who will be running teams in the near future. And so we humbly present a list of the next 12 NBA general managers. These are folks who have yet to run basketball operations on their own in the NBA. Most are currently assistant GMs and many have interviewed for GM jobs in the past. Let's meet them.
If you disagree with any of the names, sound off in the comments. If you want to discreetly disagree with any of the names, send a whisper into the night. (Meaning send me an email.)
1. Troy Weaver, Thunder
Weaver has the distinction, perhaps, of being the best GM prospect who hasn't gotten his chance to run a team as of yet. He's interviewed for top jobs, and the Thunder have even gone so far as to decline permission for at least one team to interview him. Weaver is the guy who recruited Carmelo Anthony to Syracuse and purportedly led the internal charge to draft Russell Westbrook. Those are two big aces to have in your pocket.
Weaver has been in NBA front offices for more than a decade, and working for such a successful franchise that has already developed an NBA GM (Orlando's Rob Hennigan) means that his shot is surely right around the corner. Weaver's more of a scouting and relationships type, as his boss Sam Presti and others in the front office (first Hennigan and now the No. 3 guy on this list) focus on cap management. So a team hiring Weaver will want to ensure he can handle that all-important end or hire someone able to do so.
2. Jeff Weltman, Raptors
Weltman nearly got the Phoenix job that went to Ryan McDonough and now gets mentioned with every opening. He's been in NBA front offices for two decades, including two long stints as an assistant GM (Denver and Milwaukee). He's now Masai Ujiri's No. 2 in Toronto, which is a great place to put the finishing touches on a resumé. Weltman is experienced, well-rounded and connected.
There's no question Weltman will soon be an NBA GM. As with Weaver, it's just a matter of time.
3. Michael Winger, Thunder
Weaver could get leapfrogged by a co-worker, again. Winger's name is golden, as he's more of a cap and contract guy than the scouting and personnel-oriented Weaver. It may not make much sense, but it appears NBA franchisees currently value legal minds over basketball minds. (That's not a statement on either end of the spectrum -- of course the lawyers who get GM jobs know basketball and the basketball guys who get GM jobs know contracts. It's just a thing that is.)
Winger has been in the NBA about a decade, having risen up in Danny Ferry's Cavaliers before jumping to the Thunder in 2010. Had Cleveland let David Griffin go at the end of the 2013-14 season after his interim stint, many believed Winger would get the call from Dan Gilbert. Alas, Griffin (who until getting hired by the Cavs would have been No. 1 or No. 2 on this list) stuck around and had one of the more interesting offseasons ever.
Winger has a J.D. and a history of process management, so he's a perfect fit for the business side of GM-ing a basketball team. The question will be about his scouting chops.
4. Shareef Abdur-Rahim
Abdur-Rahim quietly left the Kings sometime in the past few months. He spent 2013-14 running their D-League affiliate in Reno, along with assisting in a bulging front office under Pete D'Alessandro. It's unclear why Abdur-Rahim left Sacramento, but he clearly has a bright future in whatever he does in the NBA.
As he's an Atlanta native, Shareef will be an obvious candidate if the Hawks do end up dismissing Danny Ferry. People say he's a sponge with a keen eye. He might need another stop to prove his chops, but his solid playing career, brain and sterling reputation might get him in the door right now.
(Someone not on this list who probably could be: Chris Gilbert, who worked closely with Shareef in Reno and is basically taking over his role with the Kings. Gilbert spent a few years in Golden State before joining the Kings and, like his predecessor, has a great reputation.)
5. Mike Zarren, Celtics
Danny Ainge's analytic guru has become more well known thanks to The Wheel, a lottery reform Zach Lowe has written about extensively. He was an analytics pioneer and remains someone who is close to the metrics community, which works in his favor. He also works the cap and has learned from one of the league's most respected personnel bosses in Ainge.
But the jury is out on analytic-gurus-as-GMs: the Rockets under Daryl Morey have not fulfilled their promise, and judgment will wait on Sam Hinkie's Sixers for at least another couple of seasons. Will a third analytics GM get hired with that record? I'm skeptical, though doubting Zarren is typically a bad move.
6. Tommy Sheppard, Wizards
Sheppard has interviewed for a few GM jobs. Like Weltman, he has a substantial NBA history (19 seasons) with varied responsibilities. He seems to now focus on cap management and contracts, but has scouting experience as well.
The Wizards' rebound certainly helps his status. Washington effectively rebuilt a team under the watch of Sheppard and GM Ernie Grunfeld, which should give a rebuilding team hope Sheppard can do it again.
7. Bobby Marks, Nets
Being Brooklyn's cap wizard is something serious. The Nets have so thoroughly flouted salary cap restrictions with clever maneuvering and smart strategic planning that Marks surely deserves an award of some sort. Instead, he'll probably get a GM job sometime in the near future. He might want to stick in Brooklyn, though. If GM Billy King survives a few more years, contracts will starting peeling off the cap sheet, making for some really interesting opportunities for a retooling on the fly. If Marks is happy in Brooklyn, the Nets' cap sheet is going to be mighty interesting the next few years.
8. Kenny Smith or Reggie Miller, TNT
Some team will do it, and it might not even be a horrible idea. Smith was a candidate of some level of seriousness for the Kings' opening a year ago, and Miller has been mentioned a few times. There is a painful dearth of former players on this list because former players aren't getting a ton of front office opportunities. (Or, they aren't seeking them.) But Smith and Miller, as players-turned-media, could follow in the footsteps of Steve Kerr, Mark Jackson and Doug Collins and get work based on their public personas.
And as if there is any question, I would hire Smith over Miller in a heartbeat.
9. Brian Pauga, Spurs
You would think "The Next Spurs Front Office Prospect" would rate higher by rule, but the list is deep. Pauga is San Antonio's director of scouting and runs the D-League's Austin Toros. That's obviously a key position in the Spurs organization. He's worked his way up R.C. Buford's ladder since 2007, which means other teams will soon be clamoring to poach him. Thanks to the Spurs' mystique, he could easily be the next guy hired off of this list. That said, there's a certain timing issue with major hires and teams that constantly play deep into the postseason. It's more an issue for coaches, but it could cost Pauga an interview at some point.
10. Mark Hughes, Knicks
Hughes is New York's director of pro personnel and has a coaching background. Like the scouting types on this list, he'll have to prove he can navigate the complex cap. But as a former NBA player and someone who won a national championship in college (Michigan, 1989), he has a strong traditional background to get looks. His reputation is also excellent.
11. Travis Schlenk, Warriors
Schlenk has been around, working in Orlando during the Chuck Daly era and now in Golden State. He has a good mix of experience with both scouting and analytics and a strong reputation within a strong front office that should breed a few future GMs. (It seems like a foregone conclusion that Kirk Lacob, a ridiculously young assistant GM, will eventually run the team for his father, managing partner Joe Lacob.) Schlenk was mentioned for the Kings' and Pistons' openings.
12. Gersson Rosas, Rockets
Rosas was actually hired away by the Mavericks to work under Donnie Nelson last year. Apparently, Rosas didn't have the role he thought he'd have, so he moseyed back to Houston, where he runs scouting and helped recruit Dwight Howard. He'll have to answer questions about the bizarre Dallas situation, certainly. But the fact that the Houston native was willing to leave the Rockets in the first place means he wants a position of real power and will go elsewhere to find it. He just needs a team to hire him.
A note on the lack of women on this list
I am fully convinced that there will be a woman in a position of power in an NBA front office soon, and a female NBA general manager at some point in the not-distant future. I am, however, unclear as to who that would be because there are currently no women with apparent GM aspirations in NBA front office personnel roles. Natalie Nakase of the Clippers would appear to be such a candidate, but is on record as wanting to become an NBA head coach. Nancy Lieberman is a name that could fit, but she seems to be an unlikely candidate at this point of her illustrious career in basketball. If you have a name along these lines that I've missed, share it in the comments!