Who’s Got Next – The GM Edition
Every year for more than a decade I have quizzed a pool of agents, front office executives and even a few in the ownership circle of the NBA on which names should be considered as the “Next Guys” on both the NBA coaching and NBA front office front.
This year, more than any other, there is a growing sense that as many as six NBA teams could be looking for new leadership this summer. While six front office changes seems aggressive, even if only half make a change that could still be a big shift in the NBA, especially if the next hires come from existing teams.
Here are some of the names to know, as the topic of front office change starts to take center stage in the coming months.
Adam Simon – Miami HEAT
Simon is widely regarding in NBA circles as a quality evaluator of talent and a NBA-lifer, having spent more than 22 years in the HEAT organization, literally working his way up from an intern position. Simon has been a key driver in helping the HEAT discover talents like Tyler Johnson, Hassan Whiteside and a myriad of other diamond in the rough players the HEAT seems to find year-after-year. With a solid reputation in the agent community, a strong understanding of the collective barging agreement and the inner workings of the NBA, Simon continues to be one of the most frequently mentioned guys to watch in the “next GM” conversation. The HEAT have continued to put more responsibilities on Simon’s plate, so stealing him away from South Beach won’t be an easy conversation, but he is one of the names to know.
Tony Ronzone – Dallas Mavericks
Ronzone has been in the NBA for almost two decades, serving various roles with teams like the Pistons, the Timberwolves and currently the Mavericks. Ronzone is regarded as one of the more connected guys in the NBA, both domestically and internationally. With a vast network of relationships reaching into virtually every basketball league in the world, Ronzone embodies the “connected” concept; he knows everyone. Ronzone has served as Director of International Scouting for TEAM USA and has personal relationships with some of the top players in the game, as well as a solid reputation with the agent community. Known as a guy that can get things done. Ronzone has coached in China, was the National team coach for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. When it comes to X’s and O’s in the front office, there might not be a better “basketball guy” of the bunch. Ronzone makes the list of more insiders than not.
Matt Lloyd – Orlando Magic
While Magic Assistant General Manager Scott Perry gets a lot of press as a possible front office hire, the name more insiders mention is Matt Lloyd. Arriving in Orlando with current GM Rob Hennigan, Lloyd has a solid resume having worked his way up in the Chicago Bulls organization from a game-day staffer in the PR department to a senior manager position in the basketball operations department. In Orlando, Lloyd has developed a reputation as a hard worker, a solid and informed deal maker with agents and he’s as visible as almost anyone in the Magic front office, while scouting and evaluating talent. In terms of the “next guy,” Lloyd might be a sneaky play for an opening this year, especially if there is the expected upheaval in Orlando. Lloyd is well regarded in NBA circles and fits the young up-and-comer mold.
Marc Eversley – Philadelphia 76ers
Eversley makes this list every year, and is usually one of the unanimous names from virtually everyone sampled. Eversley started his basketball career with Nike on the sports marketing side before landing in Toronto with Bryan Colangelo. Eversley has held executives role with the Raptors, the Wizards and most recently with the Philadelphia 76ers, where he literally oversees the day-to-day of the team on many fronts. Viewed as a savvy and smart talent evaluator, Eversley has a reputation for putting in the work. He is visible at virtually every significant scouting event and regular attendee at the Sloan Sports Conference in Boston. Eversley might epitomize the profile of the “next GM.” He recently accepted a pretty solid role with the 76ers to anchor Bryan Colangelo’s staff, so he might not be obtainable this go around.
Tommy Sheppard – Washington Wizards
There may not be a nicer guy in basketball than Tommy Sheppard; “well regarded” does not give him credit. He is almost revered in NBA circles. Sheppard’s name comes up with almost every front office opening in the league and he has interviewed for a few of them. Sheppard has been with the Wizards for almost 15 years and is the guy that handles the day-to-day of the team, including managing the salary cap, deal making, scouting and running the draft process for Washington. Sheppard has a pretty solid gig in Washington, so it would take something special for him to consider leaving, especially with the Wizards on an upswing again. There may not be a more balanced and proven guy currently not completely running a team, which is likely why his name comes up anytime you discuss the topic.
Larry Harris – Golden State Warriors
Harris has held a GM position before running the Milwaukee Bucks. Harris, like many on this list, came up from the bottom, starting out as a video coordinator in Milwaukee before rising to assume almost every role on the operations side of the business. Harris joined the Warriors in 2008 and was an assistant coach for a year in 2008, before shifting to the scouting side. Harris has been the lead guy for the Warriors on the draft for a number of years, and while the Warriors make decisions as a group, Harris played big roles in landing Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Festus Ezeli and even current Warrior rookie Damian Jones. Harris has a strong basketball background and is well regarded in NBA circles. He has been grinding since the Bucks gig and is considered one of the more experienced options of the bunch. Harris has a solid and established gig with the Warriors, so it might take a solid situation to poach him away from a perennial Finals contender.
Troy Weaver – Oklahoma City
Weaver has a long history in basketball, starting his operations career as an assistant coach in college basketball before joining the Utah Jazz as a lead scout, eventually working his way up to Director of Player Personnel. Weaver joined the Thunder in 2010 and has served as Sam Presti’s right-hand guy ever since. Viewed as a “grinder” by many of his peers, Weaver has been mentioned and interviewed for a couple of opening over the last five years. It’s hard to assemble a list of “next guys” without Weaver on it. There is a prevailing thought that it would take a whopper of a situation to pry Weaver out of Oklahoma City, but his name should be on any list on this topic.
Jeff Weltman – Toronto Raptors
Weltman has a great front office resume, serving in roles for the Clipper, Pistons, Nuggets and Bucks before moving to Toronto with Raptors president Masai Ujiri. Weltman carries the title General Manager and handles all of the day-to-day for the team including the salary cap, scouting, working with agents and fleshing out the roster. Well regarded in NBA circles as a proven operator, it would take a great situation to pry Weltman out of Toronto. Regarding proven and polished guys that are ready to go, Weltman might be one of the best on the board.
Michael Zarren – Boston Celtics
Like Weltman, Boston’s Mike Zarren is considered one of the best and brightest. The problem with landing Zarren is he has a great gig with the Celtics and is widely considered to be Danny Ainge’s replacement if and when Danny decides to step back from the game. Zarren has interviewed with teams in the past only to pull out of consideration. It’s not out of the question that Zarren gets asked to interview, but it’s pretty unlikely he’d consider leaving the Celtics, where he has something of a cult following among the analytics community. While Zarren is known for his role in crafting the NBA Draft “wheel” concept, he is also a savvy dealmaker and negotiator and serves a General Counsel for the Celtics and does most of the contract and cap work in the front office.
While there are likely a dozen more names that could make a list like this including former executives like long-time Pacers and Bucks executive David Morway, recently released Laker GM Mitch Kupchak and long-time executive Jerry West [who may move on from the Warriors]. These names are the ones current insiders in basketball view as the next guys.
We’ll do the same exercise on the “next coaches” next week.
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NBA Saturday: Kuzma Is The Main Attraction In Los Angeles
Kyle Kuzma, not Lonzo Ball, is the rookie in L.A. that is turning heads around the NBA.
Out in Los Angeles, there is a dynamite rookie first-round pick lighting it up for the Lakers, invoking memories of the days when the purple and gold had homegrown stars.
That’s Kyle Kuzma. He was the 27th pick in the NBA Draft. Twenty-five picks after Lonzo Ball, the rookie that first sentence would have presumably been about had it been written three months ago.
Ball’s early season struggles are well-noted. He’s missing shots at an all-time bad clip for a rookie, his psyche seems a bit rattled, and he isn’t having the impact most Lakers fans would have hoped he would from the jump.
All of that has barely mattered, though, in large part to the show Kuzma has been putting on just 16 games into the 2017-18 season. In Friday night’s loss to the Phoenix Suns, Kuzma put up 30 points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers, the most by an NBA freshman so far this year. That performance was Kuzma’s sixth 20-point game of the young season, another rookie best. And to top it all off, Kuzma was the first rookie to reach the 30-point, 10-rebound plateau since none other than Magic Johnson, back in February of 1980.
Kuzma’s path to the NBA was much different than Johnson’s, though, along with his rookie counterpart Ball. Those two prospects were highly-touted “superstar potential” guys coming out of the college ranks. Kuzma? Well, he was a 21-year-old junior out of Utah who didn’t make the NCAA Tournament his last year and was a career 30 percent three-point shooter as an amateur.
The knocks on Kuzma began to change during the NBA Draft process and came to a head for the Lakers when long-time scout Bill Bertka raved about his potential.
“He got all wide-eyed,” Lakers director of scouting Jesse Buss told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. “And he said, ‘If this guy isn’t an NBA player, then I don’t know what the f— I’m looking at.'”
The Lakers took a chance on the 6-foot-9 forward who had a rare combination of a sweet shooting stroke to accompany his low-post moves that seemed to be reminiscent of players 20 years his senior.
Fast forward from draft night to the Las Vegas Summer League, and everyone could see with their own two eyes the type of player Los Angeles drafted. The numbers were startling: 21.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 1.1 steals, and 48 percent from beyond the arc out in Sin City for Kuzma, all capped off by a Summer League championship game MVP.
Summer League stats should be taken with a grain of salt, but what Kuzma did in July was proved he belonged.
Through the first month of Kuzma’s rookie campaign, when the games are actually counting for something, all he’s continued to do is prove that his exhibition numbers in Vegas were no fluke.
After his 30-point outburst, Kuzma now leads all rookies in total points scored (yet still second in scoring average), is fourth in rebounds per game, third in minutes, and third in field goal percentage.
By all accounts, Kuzma is outperforming just about every highly-touted prospect that was taken before him last June, and sans a Ben Simmons broken foot in September of 2016, he would be in line for the Rookie of the Year award if the season ended today.
Following Wednesday night’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, head coach Brett Brown had more than a few nice things to say about Kuzma.
“He’s a hell of a rookie,” Brown told NBC Philly’s Jessica Camerato. “That was a great pick by them.”
Brown went on to commend Kuzma for being “excellent” Wednesday night, when prior to his game Friday against the Suns, Kuzma set a career-high by scoring 24 points.
For all of the praise and the scoring numbers Kuzma is bringing to the Staples Center, his Lakers team sits at just 6-10 on the season, and has been on the wrong end of a number of close games so far this year.
While that’s good for second in the Pacific division right now, behind only the Golden State Warriors, it isn’t likely that type of success (or lack thereof) will get the Lakers to the playoffs. So, despite all of the numbers and attention, Kuzma isn’t fulfilling his rookie year the way he had hoped.
“It is cool, but I’m a winner,” Kuzma told Lakers Nation’s Serena Winters. “I like to win, stats don’t really matter to me. I just try to play hard and I want to win.”
Few projected the type of impact Kuzma would have this early on in his career, and even fewer would have assumed he’d be outperforming the Lakers’ prized draft pick in Ball. But surprising people with his game is nothing new to Kuzma.
From Flint, Michigan, to Utah, to Los Angeles, Kuzma has been turning heads of those that overlooked him the entire time.
With one month in the books as the Los Angeles Lakers’ most promising rookie, Kuzma has all the attention he could’ve asked for now.
Kelly Olynyk Strengthens the HEAT Bench
David Yapkowitz speaks to Kelly Olynyk about his early showing in Miami.
The past few years, Kelly Olynyk carved out a nice role for himself as an important player off the Boston Celtics bench. He was a fan favorite at TD Garden, with his most memorable moment in Celtic green coming in last season’s playoffs against the Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
With Boston pushed to the limit and finding themselves forced into a Game 7, Olynyk rose to the occasion and dropped a playoff career-high 26 points off the bench on 10-14 shooting from the field in a Celtics win. He scored 14 of those points in the fourth quarter to hold Washington off.
He was a free agent at the end of the season, and instead of coming back to the Celtics, he became a casualty of their roster turnover following Gordon Hayward’s decision to sign in Boston. Once he hit the open market he had no shortage of suitors, but he quickly agreed to a deal with the Miami HEAT, an easy decision for him.
“It’s awesome, they got a real good culture here,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “The organization is great, the city is great, the staff from the top down they do a good job here.”
Olynyk was initially the HEAT’s starting power forward to begin the season. In their opening night game, a 116-109 loss to the Orlando Magic, he scored ten points, pulled down five rebounds, and dished out three assists.
The very next game, however, he found himself back in his familiar role as first big man off the bench. In that game, a win over the Indiana Pacers, Olynyk had an even stronger game with 13 points on 50 percent shooting from the field, including 60 percent from three-point range, eight rebounds, and four assists.
Throughout the first eight games of the season, Olynyk was thriving with his new team. During that stretch, he was averaging a career-high 11.4 points per game on a career-high 55 percent shooting from the field and 60. 8 percent from downtown.
“I’m just playing, I’m just playing basketball,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “They’re kind of letting me just play. They kind of let us all just play. They put us in positions to succeed and just go out there and let out skills show.”
For a HEAT team that may not be as talented on paper as some of the other teams in the Eastern Conference, they definitely play hard and gritty and are a sum of their parts. Night in and night out, in each of their wins, they’ve done it off the contributions from each player in the rotation and Olynyk has been a big part of that. Through Nov. 16, the HEAT bench was seventh in the league in points per game with 36.6.
In a win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 5, Olynyk was part of a bench unit including James Johnson, Tyler Johnson, and Wayne Ellington that came into the game late in the first quarter. The score at that point was 18-14 in Miami’s favor. That unit closed the quarter on a 16-6 run to put the HEAT up double digits. After that game, head coach Erik Spoelstra recognized the strength of the HEAT bench.
“Our guys are very resilient, that’s the one thing you’ve got to give everybody in that locker room, they’re tough,” Spoelstra said. “This is all about everybody in that locker room contributing to put yourself in a position, the best chance to win. It’s not about first unit, second unit, third unit, we’re all in this together.”
In Boston, Olynyk was part of a similar group that won games off of team play and production from every guy that got in the game. They were also a tough, gritty team and Olynyk has recognized that same sort of fire in the HEAT locker room.
“It’s a group of hard-nosed guys that can really grind it out and play tough-nosed basketball,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “We can go a lot of places. We just got to stick together and keep doing what we do. We can compete with anybody and we just got to bring it every single night.”
At 7-8, the HEAT currently sit outside the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. Olynyk has seen a bit of a decrease in playing time, and likewise in production. He’s right at his career average in points per game with 9.5, but he’s still shooting career-highs from the field (54 percent) and from three-point range (47.4).
It’s still very early, though, and only one game separates the 11th place HEAT from the 8th place Magic. The HEAT are definitely tough enough to fight for a playoff spot, especially with Olynyk around helping to strengthen their bench.
Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 11/17/17
Spencer Davies updates the list of names to keep an eye on and who’s in contention for DPOY.
We’re exactly one month into the season now, as the NBA standings have started to take shape headed into winter.
A couple of weeks ago, Basketball Insiders released its first Defensive Player of the Year Watch article to go in-depth on players that could compete for the prestigious award. Since then, there have been injuries keeping most of the household names out of the picture.
Guys like Rudy Gobert (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (ankle) have been or will be sidelined for weeks. Kawhi Leonard has yet to make his season debut recovering from a bothersome right quad.
While that isn’t the best news for fans and the league at the moment, it’s likely that those players will be just fine and return with the same impact they’ve always made. In the meantime, there are opportunities for others to throw their names in the hat as elite defenders. With new names and mainstays, here’s a look at six healthy candidates.
6) Joel Embiid
Trusting the Process in Philadelphia was worth the wait. As polished as the seven-footer is with the ball in his hands on offense, he might be even more dangerous as an interior defensive presence.
One of ten players in the NBA averaging at least a block and a steal per game, Embiid makes a world of a difference for in limiting opponents. Through 14 games, the Philadelphia 76ers are allowing just 96.4 points per 100 possessions with him playing. Furthering that, he’s the only one on the floor who dips the team’s defensive rating below 100 and has the second-highest Defensive Real Plus-Minus rating (3.03) in the NBA.
5) Kristaps Porzingis
Like Embiid, it’s been an incredible season for the one called The Unicorn. Before the season started, Porzingis stated it was a goal of his to accomplish three things—an All-Star game appearance, Most Improved Player, and Defensive Player of the Year.
So far, he’s on the right track. Outside of being the league’s third-highest scorer (28.9 points per game), the Latvian big man is hounding and deterring shot attempts nearly every time inside. According to SportVU data, Porzingis is allowing his opponents to only convert 35.1 percent of their attempts at the rim, which is the lowest by far among his peers seeing at least four tries per game. Oh, and when he’s off the floor, the Knicks have a 112.4 defensive rating, which is 9.3 more points per 100 possessions than with him on.
4) Nikola Jokic
At the beginning of the season, it looked like the same old story with the Denver Nuggets defense, but their intensity has stepped up on that end of the floor for the past couple of weeks. Playing next to new running mate Paul Millsap has taken some getting used to, but it seems like the two frontcourt partners have started to mesh well.
Though it might not have been the case a season ago, the Denver Nuggets are a net -12.4 per 100 possessions defensively without Jokic on the court as opposed to a team-best 100.1 defensive rating with him on. A huge knock on the Serbian sensation last year and before then was his inability to defend. He’s still got things to work on as a rim protector with his timing, but the progress is coming. He’s seventh in the league in total contested shots (168) and has been forcing turnovers like a madman. Averaging 1.6 steals per game, Jokic has recorded at least one takeaway in all but two games.
3) Draymond Green
In the first DPOY watch article, the Golden State Warriors had been better off defensively with Green sitting. That right there should tell you how much we can really put into data in small sample sizes. It’s changed dramatically since that point in time.
Without Green playing, the Golden State Warriors have a defensive rating of 105.4 as opposed to 98.4 on the same scale with him on the floor. His matchups are starting to grow weary of driving on him again, as he’s seen less than four attempts at the basket. Currently, in DRPM, he ranks eighth with a 2.60 rating.
2) Al Horford
The Boston Celtics are still the number one team in the NBA in defensive rating. Horford is still the straw that stirs the drink for Brad Stevens. If you didn’t see that watching that knockdown, drag-it-out game against the Warriors on Thursday, go back and watch it.
He has the highest net rating on the team among starters and is leading the team by altering shots and grabbing rebounds with aggressiveness we haven’t seen since he played for the Atlanta Hawks. Ranking fourth in Defensive Box Plus-Minus and in DRPM, Horford is continuing to make his presence felt.
1) DeMarcus Cousins
Dominance is the word to describe Cousins’ game. With a month-long absence of Gobert, he has a real chance to show fans and voters that his defensive side of him is no façade.
Next to his partner Anthony Davis, Boogie has kept up the physicality and technique of locking up assignments. The third and final member of this list averaging at least a block and steal per game, Cousins is at the top of the mountain in DRPM with a 3.13 rating.
The New Orleans Pelicans significantly benefit with him on the hardwood (102.3 DRTG) as opposed to him on the bench (112.7 DTRG). He’s one of six players in the league seeing more than six attempts at the rim, and he’s allowed the lowest success percentage among that group. He’s also contested 193 shots, which is the second-most in the NBA.