NBA PM: The Next NBA GM
When things go wrong and an NBA team falls short of expectations, it is rarely the players who pay the ultimate price. The accountability line usually starts with the head coach, which is why the average NBA head coaching tenure is 2.58 seasons. Next in line is the general manager who put the team and the coaching staff together, and while their tenure is considerably longer than that of the head coaches they hire and fire, it seems every season we see at least a couple of GMs on the chopping block. With that in mind, we take a look at the next wave of likely NBA GMs.
Sam Hinkie – Executive VP Basketball Operations – Houston Rockets
By all indications the new NBA collective bargaining agreement is going to change the way teams do business, favoring the “Moneyball” model used by Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane and showcased in the movie by the same name. That’s not a problem for Hinkie, who has been using the system for years. He’s entering his seventh with the Rockets after advising two NFL teams on draft strategy and also has a background in venture capital and private equity. When it comes to numbers crunching, Hinkie is a master, and his contributions to Houston’s front office are a big part of the reason why the Rockets have remained in the playoff chase despite massive injuries that would have relegated other teams to the bottom of the league. As NBA teams start to think about how they’re going to operate under a new business model, don’t be surprised if Hinkie’s name surfaces as a frontrunner for open GM positions.
Larry Harris – Former GM – Milwaukee Bucks
In the NBA, as in many aspect of life, who you know is almost as important as what you know. With that in mind, it’s hard to believe that Larry Harris isn’t sitting in an NBA front office calling the big shots. Not only is he the son of Del Harris, one of the most respected people in the NBA, he is also one of those people who truly worked their way up from the bottom and found success at the top. Larry began as a part-time advance scout for the Milwaukee Bucks when his dad was the head coach and worked his way up to the general manager’s chair in what turned out to be a 20-year career with the team. Sources close to the situation in Portland tell HOOPSWORLD that having a great relationship with team owner Paul Allen is of paramount importance in their GM search, and Harris’ great relationship with Bucks owner Herb Kohl might make him an ideal choice for the Blazers. Like the Blazers, the Bucks have a variety of both business people and basketball people making decisions about the team, meaning there are also internal similarities between Portland and Milwaukee that might make Harris the right man for the job. Harris is currently entering his fourth season as a consultant and scout for the Golden State Warriors, whom he also served as an assistant coach.
David Griffin – VP Basketball Operations – Cleveland Cavaliers
Griffin is no stranger to fans of the Phoenix Suns, who know him as one of the primary masterminds behind the team that was a perennial contender with Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire and Grant Hill. It was widely believed that Griffin would be named the Suns’ GM when Steve Kerr was let go, but that job offer never came and Griffin moved on. After being offered the GM chair in Denver, Griffin accepted the job in Cleveland, where he will help the Cavaliers recover from the exit of LeBron James.
Kevin Pritchard – Director of Player Personnel – Indiana Pacers
When Kevin Pritchard was the GM of the Portland TrailBlazers he became known as the “Wizard of the Draft,” as he had a knack for making draft night moves that helped the Blazers improve immediately. He is also the GM who oversaw the complete rebuilding of a Blazers franchise that had become known more for its problems off the court than for its accomplishments on it. He drafted Rookie of the Year and now three-time All-Star Brandon Roy, who has been at the heart of Portland’s image makeover. Difference with team owner Paul Allen led to Pritchard’s firing, though the team did honor his contract and pay him through the end of last season. Pritchard has had discussions with the New York Knicks and Toronto Raptors, but is also quite pleased with his new opportunity with GM David Morway, President Larry Bird and the Indiana Pacers.
Dennis Lindsey – Vice President/Assistant GM – San Antonio Spurs
After spending 11 seasons with the Houston Rockets, including five as VP of basketball operations and player personnel, Dennis Lindsey was hired as the assistant GM of the Spurs in 2007. During his tenure, of course, the Spurs have been on of the NBA’s elite teams, including last season, when they owned the Western Conference’s best record. He’s already one of the hot names being talked about by teams in need of a GM and was close to being the Blazers’ next front man before he soured on the “indecisiveness” of the team’s internal process. Lindsey is also considered to be a finalist for the open Toronto Raptors job, though it seems Ed Stefanski has that job wrapped up.
Jeff Bower – Former GM – New Orleans Hornets
Few NBA GMs have had to face the kinds of challenges taken on by Jeff Bower during his tenure with the New Orleans Hornets. He made the tough choice to trade away franchise point guard Baron Davis, then drafted his replacement in Chris Paul, and helped the team stay together during an emergency relocation to Oklahoma City and then a return to hurricane-stricken New Orleans. When healthy, the Bower-era Hornets looked like a team that could challenge the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs for the Western Conference crown, and they stayed very competitive when Bower had to take the head coaching reins and coax his team to a 34-39 record while Chris Paul spent roughly half the season sidelined by injuries. Bower took his team from the lottery to contention, helped them through a relocation, and did everything but wash the jerseys to keep them competitive in his last season. There’s no question he’s someone who will do whatever it takes to win, and he should have that chance again in the NBA. Bower’s name has most recently surfaced in connection with the Toronto Raptors’ vacancy.
Mark Warkentien – Director, Pro Player Personnel – New York Knicks
Warkentien is one of the true professors of the NBA, understanding the economics of the league like few others, and he can even explain it to someone who didn’t major in economics. Say, a journalist, for example. He was the driving force behind the Denver Nuggets’ rise to contention behind the play of Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin and Nene, and even found ways to help head coach George Karl manage some of his more difficult personalities. His job with the Knicks is not permanent, so he would likely take a long look at other opportunities that arise. It was widely believed that the Knicks hired Warkentien, who shares an agent with Carmelo Anthony, to help land Anthony in New York, which obviously happened. For Warkentien, the opportunity was more about getting to work with long-time friend (then Knicks President) Donnie Walsh. Now Walsh is gone and the speculation is that Warkentien might not be far behind.
Steve Kerr – Former GM – Phoenix Suns
Former NBA players don’t always make great GMs, but in the case of Steve Kerr, who has championship rings from his playing days with the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs, the fit was almost immediate. He retired from the league in 2003, became a consultant for the Suns’ front office the following season, and was named GM in 2007. Kerr wasted no time remaking the roster, acquiring Jason Richardson, Jared Dudley and Shaquille O’Neal in separate moves during 2008 and leading them to the Western Conference Finals in 2010. By then, however, the writing was on the wall that financial issues were going to force the dismantling of the Suns, and Kerr stepped down as GM. Kerr took some time off to spend time with his family, but rest assured he will be back in an NBA front office as soon as he’s ready to throw his name into the ring.
Ed Stefanski – Former GM – Philadelphia 76ers
Earlier this week the Philadelphia 76ers’ new ownership team made it clear that team president Rod Thorn will be given full charge of the team, meaning GM Ed Stefanski is out of a job. Sources close to the situation tell HOOPSWORLD that Stefanski won’t be out of work for long, and is highly likely to be the new GM of the Toronto Raptors when the 2011-12 season tips off. When Raptors president Bryan Colangelo was given a two-year contract extension it was under the provision that he hire a GM to help with the running of the team, and Stefanski is the clear frontrunner for that job.
Sometimes teams will also include existing GMs in their own searches, and there are a couple of names that should come up regularly in this category, as well. Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti is probably the hottest young GM in the business, having built a contender in near-record time and without breaking the bank. It remains to be seen how well Presti can keep the team together once a few more of his players are off of their rookie contracts, but all indications are that Presti may be the best young GM in professional sports. Indiana Pacers GM David Morway doesn’t get the same kind of press that Presti does, but he, too, has done a masterful job of taking a Pacers team that was over-the-hill and over budget and slowly but surely rebuilding them into the team that returned to the playoffs last season. The Pacers are a team on the rise, and Morway’s performance there will no doubt put his name in the mix for teams looking to revamp their rosters and rebuild quickly.
Durant Moving To The Post?
When the Portland Trail Blazers were on the clock on draft night 2007 they took a long hard look at both Kevin Durant and Greg Oden. The team needed a center more than anything, and with most scouts saying Durant would be a power forward it made less sense for the Blazers to take Durant than Oden. Of course, injuries to Oden have made this look like a horrible mistake, especially now that Durant is one of the top players in the NBA . . .at small forward. The Blazers may have had their four spot wrapped up, but Durant could easily have played next to LaMarcus Aldridge for years.
This summer, however, Durant has been looking to increase his effectiveness in the post, where he has rarely wandered during his four-year NBA career. Last season just 6.2% of his offense came in the low post, with the vast majority of his production coming from mid-range and beyond on isolations (24.7%), off of screens (20.6%) and spot-ups (12.2%, and ranking in the 90th percentile).
“Oh, everything,” Durant told The Sports Animal in OKC about what he’s been working on this offseason. “Posting up, more play-making skills, shooting off the dribble, everything. I’ve just been trying to watch different guys around the league, try to look at some of their tendencies and try to put that in my game as well. So I’ve been learning a lot, watching a lot of film and trying to grow.”
Durant insists he has always had a post game, but he’s spent more time avoiding the inevitable double-team out in the open floor.
“I’ve always wanted to say this but I have a post up game, it’s just that I get double-teamed a lot, no team in the NBA is going to allow me to post up and have three or five seconds to do what I do before sending a double-team. So for me, why would I always post up when I know I’m going to get double-teamed and put myself in a bad position and get turnovers? So I try to get in there and score quick and get some post moves in, but why would I always go down there when I know a double-team is going to come where I get most of my turnovers? A lot of people get that kind of confused in thinking I don’t have a post game when I know I have a good post game. It can get better, of course, but I do have one. And every time I go down there, there’s two or three people down there and I can’t make a post move.”
It’s true – 11.1% of Durant’s turnovers last season came while he was in the post, and considering how infrequently he operated in the post that’s a fairly telling stat.
At the same time, Durant is trying to focus on being a part of the discussion going on between NBA players and owners in their ongoing labor dispute. He says the players understand that this new labor agreement won’t just be about the current players, but also those coming in the future.
“Yeah man, I think we’re trying to get a deal done that’s going to really help what we’ve got going on now, but the players that will be coming after us, too. We’re sacrificing a little bit of time for betterment of both. But hopefully we get something done because I know the fans are getting anxious or a little upset, but I think we’re doing what we need to make sure the players have a fair deal.”
Durant will also be holding his own charity game this Sunday in OKC, something he’s been looking forward to for quite some time.
“I think it just starts its own self,” said Durant of the process. “When guys play in summer leagues throughout the summer, with us having this extended offseason, it was just so much fun you just had to keep it going. And guys like to play under the whistle. We started off with one in Baltimore where all the guys — LeBron (James), Carmelo (Anthony), CP (Chris Paul), myself — we all played in that one and since then guys just started to schedule them and they just got better and better. So I wanted to do one in OKC for awhile now, and it’s started to come together now and I can’t wait.”
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