Executives To Watch
No one in the NBA revels in watching their peers getting fired. However, in an industry where results and progress matter, the clock is always ticking for decision-makers. There are a few NBA executives who need their respective teams to do well this season or they could find themselves on the outside looking in. Here are a few of the notables that will enter the season on the proverbial “hot seat.”
Ryan McDonough, Phoenix Suns
At the end of last season, it was said in NBA circles that ownership in Phoenix was going to do a top down review of the team and make decisions on the path forward. At that point, McDonough was considered pretty safe – and after a solid draft and decent offseason, he looks to be in a fairly good situation going forward. However, if the floor falls out from under the Suns again or the coaching staff cannot figure out how to effectively manage the roster duplication, there could be doubts about the direction of the team (especially if things gets ugly).
McDonough does not look like a candidate to be fired mid-season, simply because the expectations for the Suns are not astronomically high. What becomes real is if this is another throwaway season with little to no progress. Assuming the team moves forward and the young guys continue to tap into their potential, McDonough could survive a non-playoff season. But he is certainly on the proverbial clock and improvement across the board is expected.
Rob Hennigan, Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic enter the 2016-17 season facing their longest playoff drought in franchise history. Under Hennigan’s watch, the Magic have had four different head coaches in five seasons and the path forward is anything but clear.
Hennigan seems to have ditched the build-around-the-young-guys model as he traded away many of his young prospects and went after veteran players this summer in trades and free agency moves. The team is clearly in win-now mode.
The Magic have never been a “reactive” organization, but their patience as a franchise is not unlimited and there is a growing sense that if Orlando is not firmly in the hunt for .500 basketball and a playoff berth this year, Hennigan could be out next.
There may not be a more likeable NBA executive in basketball than Hennigan, which makes talking about his potential exit a little tough. But the truth of the matter is, the Magic face a lot of pressure to get back to winning and there isn’t anyone else to put the blame on if that does not happen, especially with a projected payroll of $110 million this season and a roster without a single All-Star.
John Hammond, Milwaukee Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks added another year on Hammond’s deal this summer, putting him under contract through the 2017-18 season. That does not mean he’ll be there if this season shapes up like last year’s campaign.
The Bucks underwhelmed last year and the bar might be a touch lower this year, especially considering how much time head coach Jason Kidd missed to his hip surgery.
With all of that behind them, the Bucks are hopeful to get back in the mix and while Hammond is not the key decision maker, if things go sideways there is a sense that Hammond could get pushed to the side in favor of a more assertive leader.
Like McDonough, it would take an amazing collapse by the team to see a change mid-season. But if the Bucks are again outside looking in and Hammond can’t help right the ship, he could get replaced in the offseason despite his new extended deal.
Ernie Grunfeld, Washington Wizards
Grunfeld always seems to make this list and always seems to come out of the other side smelling like roses. The expectations for the upcoming season are not as great as, say, last year, especially with the Wizards missing out on a major free agent. However, the desire to get back into the playoff hunt is real, mainly because there is a growing sense that John Wall may not continue to be on board with the plan if the Wizards are not in the postseason. That increases the pressure on new head coach Scott Brooks succeeding and Grunfeld being aggressive on the trade front.
It’s easy to buy time in the NBA when your star players are on board, but if Wall loses faith in his team, that could be a big problem for Grunfeld.
Like others on this list, it would take a catastrophic collapse for Grunfeld to be replaced mid-season; but if the outcome of this season is like last year, Grunfeld could be a name to watch.
Gar Forman, Chicago Bulls
The Bulls as an organization have a single goal every year: make the playoffs. While winning a seventh championship is always a goal too, not being in the postseason is a problem for Bulls ownership on many levels. So when you look at some of the decisions the Bulls make on a year-to-year basis, there is a reason they never opt for a true blow-up rebuild. Instead, they always seem to be open to moves like they made this offseason – signing guys like Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade.
For the Bulls’ front office, this season has to yield playoff results. If this year is a repeat of last season, there could be big changes for the Bulls, especially after outing Tom Thibodeau in favor of a more front-office friendly Fred Hoiberg.
Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf is incredibly loyal to his front office guys – both in basketball and in baseball – so it’s very unlikely that Forman or John Paxson get ousted mid-season unless things just implode. Given what’s there on the roster now and how things went last year, that does not seem likely.
However, if this season does not yield a playoff appearance, all bets are off on how long Reinsdorf stays the course with his current front office duo.
Of all the names here, Forman and Paxson seem the least likely to be ousted, but they make the list simply because of how much the Bulls expect to be in the playoffs.
Dell Demps, New Orleans Pelicans
The thing about Pelicans general manager Dell Demps is that people have been writing his basketball obituary for years and he’s still there. However, this season may be his biggest challenge yet, with both of his starting-caliber guards questionable to say the least and superstar Anthony Davis fresh off an injury. With all of that in mind, who know what the Pelicans will really be as a team this year? And given the legal situation involving ownership of the team, who knows much more runway Demps gets?
There has been a long running rumor that former Detroit Pistons executive Joe Dumars could eventually be brought in to oversee basketball operations for the Pelicans, but team sources continue to say there is an unwavering commitment to Demps internally. However, it was a really odd summer for Demps, and his status was considered up in the air for most of the offseason.
If the Pelicans post another disappointing season, it’s hard to imagine Demps not getting the blame. But given how odd things have gone since the Benson family has owned the team, it’s far from a given that he’d be replaced.
There is no question Demps is on the proverbial hot seat. The question is can year two under head coach Alvin Gentry yield enough results to remove that heat and the doubts surrounding the roster?
There is a saying in coaching circles that coaches are hired to ultimately be fired. While that’s sad, it is unfortunately true. NBA executives usually get a longer runway than coaches, but as we’ve seen over the last decade, a GM usually gets about five seasons to turn things in the right direction. Most of the guys on this list are well past the five-year mark, so time will tell if their teams turn the corner enough for them to get off this list next year.
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