With the NBA regular season winding down, there’s invariably a look to the off-season and beyond. The media focuses on players who will change teams and coaches who will be fired, yet no one considers the general managers. This article looks at NBA architects on the hot seat.
NBA General Managers on the Hot Seat
Some History on this New Trend
In recent seasons, several new head coaches assumed the role of President of Basketball Operations of their respective teams. The reason for this was primarily to be insurance. As former football coach Bill Parcells said ‘If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.’ This move insulates the coaches from the general manager becoming disenfranchised with them and ultimately firing them.
Like most positive trends in the modern NBA, the trend of a person holding dual posts came to the fore in San Antonio. President Gregg Popovich. In 1996, Popovich who was the Spurs executive vice president of basketball operations/general manager decided to take over as Coach. The rest is history. Flip Saunders did a similar thing with the Minnesota Timberwolves as well. Incoming coaches like Doc Rivers, Stan Van Gundy, and Tom Thibodeau negotiated the dual role. Atlanta Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer assumed the additional responsibilities after then GM Danny Ferry left.
The Zen Master is not Sitting Comfortably
Phil Jackson‘s tenure as President of Basketball Operations has been tumultuous at best. Having inherited superstar Carmelo Anthony from the previous regime, Jackson felt it necessary to build a winner. It’s safe to say his transactions have not borne fruit. Jackson has shown an impatience reminiscent of a Yogi losing his cool and swearing on a national radio program.
After being dubbed a “super team” by point guard Derrick Rose, the latest version of New York Knicks has proven to be a cesspool of ineptitude. There were questions from the outset. Most notably, how come Jeff Hornacek was chosen as coach? Why sign Joakim Noah to a multi-year contract though he showed a precipitous decline in his final seasons with the Chicago Bulls? What about the development of second year phenom Kristaps Porzingis? Was it worth it to trade young players for Rose who was proving to be somewhat injury-prone? From the outset the Knicks as an organisation looked incompetent or better still impotent.
Noah’s albatross of a contract proves the undoing of any GM. This is one of many terrible moves made by Jackson. Jackson wants his team to adopt the Triangle Offense as a philosophy but hired Hornacek to be the coach. Hornacek at his previous stop veered towards the ‘pace and space’ version of basketball. Bear in mind, Anthony was not a big fan of that run and gun style. Knicks legend Patrick Ewing openly expressed interest in the Knicks job while it was available. Jackson did not interview Ewing for the opening. Owner James Dolan said he will not fire Jackson. But he is on the hot seat.
No Longer a Magic Kingdom in Orlando
The Orlando Magic have endured some puzzling moves throughout the leadership of GM Rob Hennigan. In a weakened Eastern Conference, the Magic have failed to make the playoffs in the previous five seasons under Hennigan’s stewardship. Former head coach Scott Skiles suddenly left the team during the last offseason. Said Skiles, “I am not the right head coach for this team.” Hennigan traded away the nucleus of the team to acquire Serge Ibaka. A head scratching move considering, the Magic had a young combo forward in Aaron Gordon who plays better at power forward. This trade sent Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and a future first round pick for Ibaka. Not to mention, Hennigan traded Tobias Harris for rentals, Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova.
Non of these moves worked. Hennigan traded Ibaka to the Toronto Raptors at the trade deadline. The Magic is a team in disarray, and the blame falls squarely on Hennigan. There’s speculation about his replacement circulating. To his credit though, Hennigan traded away unhappy center Dwight Howard who has since played for three teams.
Is the Wind of Change Blowing in Chicago?
The Chicago Bulls as an organisation has been mired in mediocrity post the Michael Jordan era. After Jerry Krause left the role of GM, Gar Foreman and John Paxson were hired. Paxson was a former player and vital member of the first three-peat. If only his savvy on the court carried over into meetings. After a run of visibly successful seasons, the Bulls fired head coach Tom Thibodeau. In subsequent press conferences and releases, the Bulls’ brass went on a smear campaign against Thibodeau. Then the Bulls hired Fred Hoiberg who was an NBA coaching rookie. Foreman made the decision to trade Rose to the Knicks, which was prudent as well as allow Noah to leave via free agency. They gave Hoiberg a young team to mold. Or so it seemed.
Instead, the signing of malcontent Rajon Rondo followed. Next came Dwayne Wade, fresh from his break up with the Miami Heat. However it didn’t occur to Foreman or Paxson that Rondo was sent home from the Dallas Mavericks staff. Or his time in Sacramento following Dallas was equally horrible. Never did it enter the minds of Foreman and Paxson that there was a reason why the Heat was hesitant to meet Wade’s demands, even after losing LeBron James. Hoiberg is yet to show that he is in charge. The Bulls are inconsistent at best. On their roster, All-Star Jimmy Butler is forced to carry the load of not only the young players, but the old geezers as well. The Bulls ownership has shown a loyalty to the staff. While the seat is very hot, it will shock no one if Paxson or Foreman return.
How Patient is Steve Ballmer Really?
The other team in Los Angeles has surpassed the Lakers in recent years. The Clippers led by Doc Rivers has been a consistent playoff team. Unfortunately results in the playoffs were disappointing. Over the past few seasons, the Clippers have been near the top in statistics with their starting five. The issue remains, the team never solved the depth issue. Enter Rivers. He is the President of Basketball Operations of the Clippers.
Rivers have made some interesting moves of the years. One such move was Lance Stephenson. Then he was sent to Memphis along with a first round pick for Jeff Green. Why? Because Green played for Rivers previously. Of course the Austin Rivers signing will continue to remain a criticism, though Rivers (the player) has shown massive improvement. The inability of Rivers to solve the mystery of staring small forward is a hindrance against the Western Conference. Put that together with the Clippers allegedly having one of the smallest front office department in the league.
Rivers has made improvements this season however. The hiring of Lawrence Frank as general manager seems smart. Frank expanded the front office. However the Clippers were hampered by injuries and bad luck throughout the season. It is possible that owner Steve Ballmer may look to make a change at the top. Rivers the coach, was done a disservice by Rivers the President. Unfortunately, they both one and the same.
Another California Version of Incompetence
Of course one cannot speak of hot seat and incompetence in the NBA without acknowledging the Sacramento Kings. This organization has turned dysfunction into an art-form. GM Vlade Divac traded away franchise player DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans for way below value. Also this trade came after Divac openly stated the team was not going to trade Cousins. So now the Kings, a team in shambles have turned to NBA outcast Sam Hinkie. Moves made by Hinkie continue to have huge ripples in the NBA even after his departure. Of course, the Kings are denying any interest in Hinkie. However they denied they were trading Cousins once before.
Consequently, there are a few basketball architects available for employment. Names like Bobby Marks, Mitch Kupchak, and even Rod Higgins are all out of the NBA. Change is on the horizon. The above mentioned teams maybe making changes at the top.