GM Watch: Who’s Got Next?: Last summer there were six new general manager named in the NBA, one of the largest shifts in leadership the league has seen in some time. While there will likely be some significant moves made among NBA front office this summer, the number of open jobs won’t be nearly what it was a year ago.
Here are some of the jobs that could come open, and some of the names that might fill them:
Joe Dumars (Detroit Pistons): The Pistons and Joe Dumars look headed for a divorce and, according to sources close to that situation, the feeling may be mutual. Dumars is in the final year of his contract, so parting ways with Dumars won’t exactly be a firing, rather an option not to renew or give him a new deal. There has been a little friction between Dumars and Pistons ownership and it’s been brewing for some time. Since buying the team in 2011, Tom Gores has installed more checks and balances around Dumars and has sought advice outside of Dumars on an increasing basis.
Sources close to the situation say Gores has built his own relationships with his young franchise players and has been moving toward a change at the top for some time.
So for the Pistons it’s not “if” the Pistons part ways with Dumars, it seems more like “when.” To Dumars’ credit, he’s done an amazing job identifying and drafting talent, he has simply struggled to put a culture, specifically a coaching staff, on the floor to maximize it.
It seems fairly clear the Pistons will be in the market for new leadership at the top and on the bench this summer.
»In Related: The History Of The Detroit Pistons Draft
Dell Demps (New Orleans Pelicans): The New Orleans Pelicans are a tough situation to read, mainly because new ownership doesn’t see the world like most NBA owners do, and that’s because of their history and success in the NFL. They are not exactly patient with the growing pains of the NBA, where it’s much harder to go from worst to first.
Pelicans general manager Dell Demps and head coach Monty Williams were given multi-year contract extensions in 2012 that locked both into the organization through the 2015-16 season. That has not stopped the rumors of change from floating around the team, specifically as it relates to Williams’ future as the head coach.
Demps regrettably might be part of a top-down organizational change and that would be unfortunate. Demps has had some wins in his time in New Orleans, but with the team failing to meet expectations this year, and the question marks on the roster, will ownership stay the course or will they make a major change?
The Pelicans look like a team that needs one more season to come together. However with ownership somewhat impatient with the process and with fans clamoring for change, it’s unclear what the off-season will hold for Williams and in some regards Demps as well.
There is a scenario where Williams is out and Demps remains, but there are some that believe if one goes, the other won’t be far behind.
»In Related: The History Of The New Orleans Pelicans Draft
Gar Forman/John Paxson (Chicago Bulls): Take this one with a grain of salt. For as much success as the Bulls have had on the court, there have been well documented issues off the court, specifically between the front office and head coach Tom Thibodeau. There have been countless reports of Thibodeau wanting out of Chicago this summer, which would be devastating for the Bulls organization. Thibodeau is arguably the best coach the Bulls have had since Phil Jackson, so the question becomes does it evolve into a “me or them” scenario for Bulls ownership?
The tandem of Gar Forman and John Paxson have made some solid moves not only in the draft but in locking in core players early, while finding solid value contributors in free agency.
If the Bulls can’t sort through things this summer, there is a scenario in which ownership may have to choose between the front office team that’s in place and their head coach.
Despite all their successes, it’s hard to argue that the Bulls could find another coach that’s as good as Thibodeau. Since Jackson, the Bulls have swung and missed on coach after coach and given how their draft picks have blossomed under Thibodeau, changing the front office may be smarter than changing the coaching staff.
It will be an interesting summer for the Bulls. Sources close to the process contend that too much is made about a rift between the two staffs, but you have to wonder is this a ‘where there is smoke…” scenario and if it is, who is left standing when it’s all said and done?
»In Related: The History Of The Chicago Bulls Draft
David Griffin (Cleveland Cavaliers): The Cavaliers made a mid-season change at the general manager spot, ousting Chris Grant and replacing him with assistant general manager David Griffin. The Cavaliers have gone 14-13 since the change after going 17-33 to start the season.
Under Griffin’s watch the team has been playing far better basketball and the dysfunction that had marred the club seems to have subsided.
In talking to sources close to the situation, not only has Griffin instilled some confidence in the young guys, he has actively engaged not only with Cavs star Kyrie Irving, but troublesome guard Dion Waiters. His hands-on approach has resonated well with the Cavs and there is talk that he could remain in his position beyond this season.
That does not mean the Cavaliers won’t go shopping for an uber-experienced team president type. If they can’t find that proven star executive they are looking for that could woo free agents to Cleveland, staying with Griffin seems more likely than not.
No one involved in the situation really wants to talk about the summer while the Cavs are trying to grab that final playoff spot in the East, but it does seem more likely than not that Griffin stays where he is unless a real top-tier named executive surfaces.
»In Related: The History Of The Cleveland Cavaliers Draft
Chris Wallace (Memphis Grizzlies): Despite popular opinion, the Memphis Grizzlies did not release general manager Chris Wallace last summer as most expected. Wallace signed a multi-year extension with Memphis back in the summer of 2010, and it’s believed this is the final year of that deal. The Grizzlies have built a new leadership group around CEO and managing general partner Jason Levien, who makes all the decisions on basketball operations.
Wallace was in the hunt for the Sacramento Kings general manager job last summer and it’s believed he’ll be out in Memphis this summer. It is possible the Grizzlies look to replace Wallace, who handles the day-to-day work of running the team, but it wouldn’t be out of the question for his duties to be rolled into the existing organizational structure. The Grizzlies hired long-time sportswriter and advanced stats guru John Hollinger last season as well as adding long-time agent and former coach Stu Lash to the front office to handle pro personnel.
Lash handles most of the conversations with other teams, while Hollinger, Lash and Levien work through the talent evaluation and acquisition process together. Wallace has played a role in that over the last year, but removing him from the process wouldn’t seriously impact how the team is run or the decisions that are being made.
The Grizzlies have looked at adding new personalities to their front office staff, so it’s not out of the questions that if Wallace is indeed out after this season that he is replaced, however its more likely that’s he’s replaced with an on-the-rise junior executive rather than a veteran front-office personality.
»In Related: The History Of The Memphis Grizzlies Draft.
Steve Mills (New York Knicks): With the arrival of Phil Jackson as the new Knicks team president, current general manager Steve Mills is going to take a different role in the process. It’s believed that Jackson, in addition to hiring a new coach this summer, will look for a day-to-day general manager type to handle running the team, while he oversees things from the top. This is not an uncommon arrangement. Larry Bird does the same in Indiana with Kevin Pritchard running the day-to-day. Miami’s Pat Riley does the same with Andy Elisburg, who runs the day-to-day for the HEAT.
Unlike most of the situations mentioned above, Mills will remain with the team, just with an adjusted set of responsibilities.
There has been a lot of talk in the press about Jackson selecting a front office type that he has a relationship with, however outside of former Suns executive Steve Kerr, there are not a lot of proven front office types connected with Jackson.
It’s clear that change is coming to the Knicks this summer, and that Jackson is going to make some staff changes. That means current executives like former Nuggets general manager and current Knicks executive Mark Warkentien may be on the way out.
»In Related: The History Of The New York Knicks Draft
So, with the hot seats identified, who are some of the names that could fill them?
Bryan Colangelo With the success that the Toronto Raptors are having this season, Colangelo may get some level of validation on the job he did in Toronto. It’s unlikely that Colangelo is tapped for any of the jobs that are likely to come open, but he is clearly a name to watch over the next year or so. Say what you want about Colangelo’s moves, the Raptors are in a pretty good position going forward.
Stu Jackson Before becoming the Dean of Discipline (Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations) for David Stern and the NBA, Jackson was the general manager of the Vancouver Grizzlies for six years. Jackson is now out from the NBA office and is something of a free agent. Jackson’s name has been kicked around in NBA circles and it’s possible he is a candidate for a team president job in the near future.
David Kahn Don’t groan too loudly Minnesota fans. Kahn may be gone, but his name continues to surface as a possible team president for a would-be ownership group trying to buy a NBA team. It’s highly unlikely that Kahn is hired this summer, unless his group buys the team, but it does seem that Kahn is not finished in the NBA and he could be calling the shots of a team again fairly soon.
Steve Kerr The word is that Kerr wants to coach and he may be Phil Jackson’s guy on the bench in New York. It is possible that Jackson creates a hybrid role for Kerr to fill not only his needs on the bench but also to handle some of the day-to-day leadership and guidance he is seeking in the front office. Running a team on the court and in the front office is a tough task even for the most proven of coaches, so it’s unlikely that Kerr being coach and GM makes a lot of sense, but it does seem like Kerr in New York next year is likely, especially if he wants the job.
Ed Stefanski When Masai Ujiri took over the Toronto Raptors, Stefanski, who had handled a lot of the day-to-day for Bryan Colangelo in Toronto, was also let go. Stefanski is an able and savvy executive and would be an under-the-radar hire. Stefanski ran the Philadelphia Sixers for roughly four seasons and is a capable and knowledge candidate. Don’t be surprised to see his name kicked around, especially for a team looking for a solid day-to-day operator.
Dave Twardzik Like Stefanski, Twardzik is a proven veteran front office guy. He last held the role of assistant general manager in Orlando under Otis Smith and is another under-the-radar kind of hire for a team looking for a proven day-to-day operator.
Mark Warkentien It looks likely that Warkentien could be out in New York this summer. Warkentien has been doing a lot of the day-to-day work for the Knicks not only under current GM Steve Mills, but previously under Donnie Walsh and Glen Grunwald. Prior to joining the Knicks, Warkentien was the general manager of the Denver Nuggets. Warkentien would be an interesting hire for a team looking for a veteran leader or a strong day-to-day manager.
Larry Harris Harris is currently a consultant and scout for the Golden State Warriors after running the Milwaukee Bucks for several years. Harris has a proven track record and truly has held almost every job you can hold in basketball. It’s more likely that Harris is tapped to be an assistant general Manager or a day-to-day operator for a team president type. Harris has been deeply involved in college scouting and the draft for the Warriors, so a young team that is looking to rebuild through the draft or is trying to find value players might look at Harris a little differently.
Jeff Weltman Weltman recently joined Masai Ujiri in Toronto after several years with the Bucks. It’s unlikely Weltman looks at anything other than a general manager job, but when it comes to smart and savvy basketball guys, Weltman is top-tier. It seems inevitable that Weltman will be running a team and when you look at situations like the Detroit Pistons, don’t be surprised if his name surfaces as a candidate.
Brian Hagen Hagen is another under-the-radar executive. Hagan could get some interest this summer. Hagan was with New Orleans for a number of years and has been with the Chicago Bulls as an assistant general manager since 2012. Hagan is another candidate that has held almost every role you can hold in basketball and is another possible day-to-day operator for a team looking for a solid front office type.
Troy Weaver Weaver is one of the go-to-guys for Sam Presti in Oklahoma City. Weaver’s name was kicked around a lot last summer, and it’s very likely that he’ll get some interviews again this summer. Weaver was said to be a finalist for the Orlando Magic job two years ago, and it seems likely that he’ll be running his own team fairly soon. With the success that up-and-coming executives like Rob Hennigan and Ryan McDonough have had in rebuilding their teams quickly, Weaver becomes an interesting option.
Tommy Sheppard The Wizards’ success this season should put Washington’s senior vice president of operations Sheppard back on the map as a general manager candidate. With more than 19 years of experience in the NBA, Sheppard is a hard working day-to-day manager type. While the trend may be to lean on younger more stat driven candidates, Sheppard is an interesting candidate especially for a team like Detroit, which needs a proven operator.
Scott Perry While Rob Hennigan gets most of the credit for Orlando’s turn around and rebuild, a lot of the day-to-day work is being done by Perry. It seems like only a matter of time before a team scoops him out of Orlando, especially as the Magic start to turn the corner. It might not be this summer for Perry, but it does seem likely as things improve with the Magic, Perry’s stock will go up as well.
Mike Zarren So who is the next uber-smart guy on the general manager radar? It’s likely Zarren, who is the Celtics’ assistant general manager. A few years ago, Zarren was in the running for the 76ers general manager job, so he has been on the front office radar for a while. He is absolutely an advanced analytics guru and one of the pioneers of some of the tools that teams use every day. Zarren is also the brain behind the much debated “wheel” NBA Draft system. Zarren is likely going to have his name linked to virtually every job that comes open, especially given the league’s growing tendencies towards analytics.
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