Head to Head: Which GM Has to Turn the Corner?

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Who are some of the NBA general managers that are feeling the pressure entering the 2014-15 season? Basketball Insiders’ Moke Hamilton, Alex Kennedy and Bill Ingram give their thoughts:

Sam Presti, Oklahoma City Thunder

Tomorrow is promised to nobody—and to no team.

Since advancing to the NBA Finals back in 2012, the Oklahoma City Thunder have failed to replicate similar success. With cost-cutting directives coming from the top, the team made a surprising trade of James Harden, which shifted the balance of power in the NBA, and subsequently let Kevin Martin—the main prize of the trade—head to the Minnesota Timberwolves as a free agent.

Built around Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, the Thunder do have what it takes to be an elite team in the NBA’s tough Western Conference, but to say that Sam Presti and coach Scott Brooks are both facing pressure to help this team re-ascend would be an understatement.

There has been some recent speculation that Durant—who signed with Roc Nation Sports back in June 2013—would welcome an opportunity to head to a bigger market when his current contract with the Thunder expires on July 1, 2016.

Though that is still two years from now, it is safe to assume that the one thing that will have Durant seriously considering a change of scenery when the time comes is his team failing to restock the cupboard that has been slowly diminishing in the quality of its contents.

Attempting to follow the blueprint of the San Antonio Spurs, the Thunder are convinced that building the franchise begins with three featured stars and auxiliary pieces. While that may be true, it should be pointed out that even the Spurs understood the importance of acquiring and keeping pieces such as Steve Smith, Brent Barry, Malik Rose, Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter.

In many such instances, the Spurs were forced to spend a little bit more money than they wanted to, but they did it in the name of winning. To this point, the Thunder need to understand that there is fine balance that must be found between remaining below the luxury tax threshold but spending enough to compete against the likes of the conference’s other powers.

That, more than anything else, will be Presti’s challenge, especially as the hourglass toward the expiration of Durant’s contract continues to draw nearer.

In effect, the Thunder opted to hold onto Kendrick Perkins rather than amnestying him and reallocating the funds allotted to him to Harden. And even with the emergence of Reggie Jackson and the potential of Jeremy Lamb, this team simply needs to get stronger—right now.

Presti is just one of a few general managers across the league who has his work cut out for him this summer. However, if there is one thing that the NBA public has learned in this post-decision era, it is that superstars are seemingly unafraid to change addresses if they feel that their front offices have not done adequate jobs of surrounding them with talent.

And if there is one thing that today’s superstars hate more than anything else, it is cheap owners who—despite having playoff success and selling out their building every single night—pinch their pennies to the tune of allowing talent to walk away and thereby decreasing the team’s odds of competing for a championship.

As it currently stands, Durant’s current contract with the Thunder is drawing near and this is Presti’s second to last summer to prove that he is capable of helping Durant accomplish his ultimate goal of winning a championship.

He has two years to prove that and for sure, he is facing the pressure. If there is one thing we have learned in the recent past, it is that small market teams face and uphill battle as it relates to keeping their talent. Thunder fans are certainly hoping that Presti gets this one correct.

– Moke Hamilton


Dell Demps, New Orleans Pelicans

Take one look at the New Orleans Pelicans’ recent moves and it’s clear that the team no longer wants to be in the rebuilding phase. The Pelicans have added veterans such as Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson to a core that already included Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon in an effort to make the leap to playoff squad in the Western Conference.

When Dell Demps decided to trade away Nerlens Noel and a 2014 lottery pick (which became the No. 10 selection) for Holiday at last year’s draft, it sent a win-now message that was loud and clear.

However, making the transition from rebuilding to competing is often easier said than done. Look no further than the Charlotte Bobcats and Washington Wizards – two teams that experienced success and made the playoffs last season, but only after enduring years of failure.

Injuries really limited the Pelicans during the 2013-14 season, but it’s tough to say if this squad would’ve made the playoffs even if they had been completely healthy. The team won just 34 games, meaning they wouldn’t have even qualified for the postseason in the dreadful Eastern Conference.

The Pelicans want to crack their conference’s top eight next year, but the West is insanely competitive. Not only will they have to fend off the West’s current playoff teams (all of which won 49 or more games), they’ll also have to beat out fellow fringe squads such as the Phoenix Suns, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers that also have their sights set on making the postseason in 2014-15.

While it’s certainly possible, especially if Davis can take the next step in his development and become a superstar, there’s no guarantee that the Pelicans are ready to compete on that level.

Demps will have his work cut out for him this summer, and league sources say that New Orleans has already been very active. The team has already started working the phones in an effort to acquire a 2014 draft pick, while also doing their homework on a number of upcoming free agents.

Win-now moves followed by loss-laden seasons lead to front-office overhauls, which is why there is a ton of pressure on Demps next season. If the Pelicans make the playoffs, his transactions will have paid off and been justified. But if they continue to sit at the bottom of the standings, he could be out of a job.

– Alex Kennedy


John Hammond, Milwaukee Bucks

One of the toughest jobs in the NBA is being the general manager of a small market team, especially a market like Milwaukee, which is hardly a hot spot for marquee free agents.

Still, the Milwaukee Bucks are a professional sports franchise, and sooner or later they will be expected to win basketball games. Bucks general manager John Hammond was named the NBA’s Executive of the Year in 2010, but since then the franchise has fallen on hard times.

Over the last couple of seasons, the Bucks have been headed steadily downhill, and additions like Brandon Jennings, Samuel Dalembert, Monta Ellis, Ersan Ilyasova and O.J. Mayo have hardly helped the team pull out of their nosedive. Injuries have been an issue as well, but injuries are a part of sports and can’t be used as an excuse for long-term losing.

With new ownership in place, losing won’t be tolerated for long, but the good news for Hammond and his leadership team is that this promises to be a summer of exponential growth.

The Bucks have the second pick in what is supposed to be a historic NBA Draft, they could make a splash in free agency if the new owners will spend up to the luxury tax threshold and they have promising young talent in Brandon Knight, John Henson and especially Giannis Antetokounmpo to build around the franchise cornerstone they add in the draft.

If the Bucks aren’t markedly better in 2014-15, Hammond is probably on the outs. On the other hand, if the second pick turns out to be a franchise-changer and free agency goes well, Hammond might also be positioned for another Executive of the Year award a year or two down the road.

– Bill Ingram