There’s plenty to be excited about as the 2014-15 regular season winds down and the playoffs are about to begin. This is also a good time for owners to evaluate their team’s performance thus far. Not every team has been clicking on all cylinders and is poised for a deep playoff run. All those high hopes that most teams had before entering the season last October have now come full circle and reality has set in for teams who are on the outside looking in. And for those general managers that sold their owners and fan bases on a vision that didn’t come to fruition, they may find themselves on the hot seat.
So who are the executives that could find themselves out of a job? Here we discuss a few names to keep an eye on.
Pete D’Alessandro – Sacramento Kings GM
To say the Kings have not exactly been a pillar of stability for a few years is an understatement. In his second season as the owner of the Kings, Vivek Ranadivé has done his best to bring fresh ideas to the franchise and change things. However, there has already been a few hiccups along the road.
Former head coach Mike Malone was fired earlier in the season and his dismissal raised eyebrows around the league. The Kings were showing improvement and his relationship with DeMarcus Cousins seemed to be a big part of that. You would think this wouldn’t reflect poorly on D’Alessandro considering he wasn’t even the one that hired Malone. Ranadivé hired Malone two weeks prior to hiring the young general manager in the summer of 2013. This tells you a lot about how quickly things can change under the Ranadivé regime.
Since then the Kings hired George Karl, the sixth winningest coach in NBA history, who in theory should help this team take a leap towards respectability sooner rather than later. You also have the new addition of Vlade Divac as the new vice president of basketball and franchise operations, who according to rumors has superseded D’Alessandro as the leading voice in the King’s basketball related decisions. Even Chris Mullin, the King’s advisor that recommended the hiring of D’Alessandro as GM to Ranadivé, has recently bolted amid tension in the organization in order to be the new coach at St. John’s University. When you consider everything mentioned and the fact that the Kings last two drafts have failed to yield players that are needle movers, it seems the writing may be on the wall for the Kings GM.
Billy King – Brooklyn Nets GM
In just over four years, I think it’s safe to say the Billy King experiment hasn’t worked out in Brooklyn. During his tenure, we’ve seen the Nets become the highest payroll team filled with bloated albatross contracts and a trade away plethora of draft picks all in the hopes of building a championship contending team that’s never lived up to the hype. You may be thinking that King isn’t the only one to blame here considering that much of this was done under the direction of Russian billionaire and team owner Mikhail Prokhorov. While there’s some truth to that, it won’t be the owner who will have a target painted on his back if the team needs a scapegoat and a fresh start. At the end of the day it was King who put this Nets roster together and it will ultimately be him that will be held accountable to it.
In the Brooklyn Nets, you essentially have a team that is trending in the opposite direction of what you would want in an NBA franchise. There continues to be less win totals year after year while the payroll has yet to be significantly reduced. It’s telling that after sticking to the company line about an aged Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and oft-injured Brook Lopez continuing to be part of the team’s core– King finally indicated near the trade deadline that he would be willing to move anyone on the roster. The only problem was that the trade deadline came and went, and once again the Nets missed the boat on unloading any of those three large contracts. It’s almost comical how the deal that prevented the Nets GM from unloading Brook Lopez to the Thunder mainly involved Enes Kanter, whom the Jazz drafted using a first round draft pick obtained in the Deron Williams deal with the Nets. There’s a reason why Billy King is considered by many to be one of the worst general managers in the league. With the team currently fighting just to make the playoffs with such an expensive roster, there is more than enough reason for Billy King to be on the hot seat.
Tim Connelly – Denver Nuggets GM
After an injury marred campaign in 2013-14 sent the Denver Nuggets into a tailspin in a tough Western Conference, many were quick to give the rookie GM a pass. The prevalent thought among the Denver brass was that if healthy, the Nuggets could compete at a high level under a tough, defensive-minded coach like Brian Shaw this season. The issue is while Connelly may have hired a no non-sense defended minded coach he really didn’t have the type of players that bought into that mindset. The Nuggets are a team filled with offensive minded players used to running-and-gunning in the George Karl era and were then expected to become a half court team that plays tough defense? I don’t think so. Moves needed to be made to fit the style of play the Nuggets’ front office wanted to run and they needed to have leaders in the locker room to help build that culture. The Nuggets did not have that any of that.
So what moves did the Nuggets make? How about overpaying Kenneth Faried with a four-year, $50 million plus contract despite knowing that he didn’t quite fit the brand of basketball they were looking to build. Many felt the young GM was pressured into the move, after all Faried was a fan favorite and had just dazzled playing alongside other NBA stars for Team USA last summer. It didn’t help that rumors abounded about Faried rubbing teammates and others around the organization the wrong way after signing his big contract. It wasn’t long into the season before the Nuggets realized the finished product wasn’t coming together on the floor. As the losses mounted, Brian Shaw called out his players’ effort on multiple occasions and eventually the players themselves had tuned him out. Brian Shaw was fired shortly thereafter and one veteran ex-player under Shaw summed up the situation quite succinctly.
“That’s bulls–t,” said David West of the Indiana Pacers. “No grown-ups on the roster. You can’t win without grown-ups.”
This has all culminated in the Nuggets essentially deciding to go into a full re-build mode. Nobody on the roster is untouchable at this point. Timofey Mozgov, JaVale McGee and Arron Afflalo, who have all been key members of the team, were traded away this season among others. To make things worse, those around the league have taken stock of the mess the Nuggets have become with one rival executive noting that lack of confidence emitted when Connelly picks up the phone, according to an ESPN report. That does not bode well for the Nuggets as every sense of weakness is exploited by rival teams looking to gain an advantage in negotiations. This will be a situation to monitor heading in the summer as the Nuggets may look for a new executive to right the ship.
The world of the NBA executive can change in an instant. Owners and their fan bases can get impatient if they don’t see the team trending in the right direction. You may be able to change coaches to buy yourself some time, but eventually general managers are held accountable for assembling a team that cannot perform at a high level. These are just a few guys who may have already played their last cards.
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