Ultimate Rankings: Breaking Down GMs By Tiers

September 14, 2012

By Luka Papalko


With a new NBA season upcoming and the off-season now a thing of the past, team rosters are set going into the season. Front offices have made their moves during the summer with trades, free agency and the draft. While their success as an executive will ultimately be determined by on-court results, PBD has ranked gone through and broken down all the executives into tiers. Here's a look at PBD's list of the best and worst executives in the NBA.


A League of Their Own

Starting out is the cream-of-the-crop GMs, executives who have set the standard for how the GM job should be done. They have drafted well, managed the salary cap well, created an environment that is great to work and play in and have been very successful on the court.


1. RC Buford  (San Antonio) – the golden standard for GMs across the league, not only has Buford been successful on the court in building a dynasty but also off the court in supplying many of the current teams with successful executives. The true measure of Buford’s success has been his skill of finding players and keeping a small-market team ultra successful throughout the years.

2. Sam Presti (Oklahoma City) – a former Buford protégé, in a few short years Presit has developed one of the best young teams in the league. Following extremely good drafts and excellent cap management, he has managed to make a potential dynasty in another small-market city.


Big Cities, Big Names, Big Time Jobs

While they aren’t considered to be the best, they are certainly on the cusp. Their track record speaks for themselves in their success but are still fielding very competitive teams now due to their ability to acquire talent.


3. Mitch Kupchak (Los Angeles Lakers) – after the current off-season that Kupchak had, it could go down in the books as one of the best ever. The Lakers have stayed dominant and relevant thanks to Kupchak overseeing their roster.

4. Danny Ainge (Boston) – after struggling during the early Paul Pierce years, Ainge managed to pull off the start of the “Big 3” in the NBA. Since then it has led to another championship and many successful years. He will now be faced with re-tooling an aging roster, which he has already gotten a successful start on.


Legendary Team Presidents

Both of these names are legends in their own rights for what they have contributed in the past but have continued to be successful in the present with their current teams. While they don’t necessarily handle the day-to-day operations, they still wield a great amount of power and are key decision makers in their organization.


5. Pat Riley (Miami) – bringing his own “Big 3” to South Beach not only changed the franchise but also changed the NBA. Riley brought another ring to Miami as an executive and his recruiting has been large reason why the Heat have fielded a good roster, despite most of their money being tied up in their three best players.

6. Rod Thorn (Philadelphia) – after stepping down from a successful tenure with the Nets, he has now taken an overseeing role with the 76ers franchise. The long-time executive has been very successful over his career in building winning teams.


In Good Hands

If you’re lucky enough to have one of these GMs, then your team is in a good place. While they’re not upper-echelon management, they certainly can do the job very well and have all proved it in their current or previous tenures.


7. Donnie Nelson (Dallas) – an aggressive GM by nature, but also in part due to Mark Cuban being his boss, Nelson has helped bring a championship to Dallas. He has built well around Dirk Nowitzki and has also drafted relatively well.

8. Masai Ujiri (Denver) – the way he handled the Carmelo Anthony trade and how quickly he was able to make the team competitive is why Ujiri is ranked high on this list. In addition, Ujiri has made the roster better while getting younger, which is a feat in itself. He has acquired many assets, drafted well and set the Nuggets up well for the future.

9. Kevin Pritchard (Indiana) – after getting ousted in Portland and sitting out on the sidelines for a short time, Pritchard is back in action with the Indiana Pacers. Pritchard has always been aggressive and drafted well but with a current roster already being in good shape, his job will be to keep the roster intact and help take the Pacers to the next level.

10. Neil Olshey (Portland) – turning around a franchise that was once considered a joke and with Donald Sterling as your owner, should automatically warrant the status of a good GM. Olshey did a whole lot with very little in Los Angeles and completely turned the tides of a former lowly franchise. Now he will hope to reverse the bad luck that has seemingly cursed Portland for the last few years.

11. Chris Wallace (Memphis) – since the whole Pau Gasol trade fiasco, Wallace has turned the Grizzlies around, making them a competitive team and a tough out in the West. He has made basketball relevant in Memphis again and has built a very good all-around team thanks to several shrewd moves.

12. Danny Ferry (Atlanta) – despite the bad rap he got in Cleveland, Ferry has always been well respected around the league. Ferry is a very solid GM who has already begun to work on re-building a Hawks roster that had gone as far as it could go previously.

13. Gar Forman (Chicago) – since taking over for John Paxson, Forman has built very well around Derrick Rose. He has done a good job of acquiring talent and finding players during his time in Chicago.

14. Daryl Morey (Houston) – the Rockets will need to make some improvements for Morey to keep his job, as they’ve experienced a decline in wins each season with Morey at the helm. While he inherited a team that was losing both of its longtime superstars, he has taken awhile to turn the team around. He has put together lots of assets and young talent, but it has yet to show on the court.

15. Glen Grunwald (New York) – taking over for Donnie Walsh, Grunwald has the task of taking the Knicks to the next level. He was able to orchestrate the most successful years in Raptors franchise history and will hope to do the same while in New York.




Living Off Past Reputations

Whether it is right or wrong, the next group of GMs are living off what they’ve done in past years and not so much what they’ve been able to do more recently. They have all dealt with rebuilding of sorts after coming off of successful eras but have yet to find their way. This will be a deciding year in their tenures as whether or not they still have their touch in building teams.


16. Joe Dumars (Detroit) – after experiencing several successful seasons with the Pistons, it’s been a steep decline since the departure of Flip Saunders. They have struggled to put together successful seasons but now Dumars is hoping the young talent that he has been acquiring will start to pay off.

17. Bryan Colangelo (Toronto) – whenever a franchise player leaves town, it’s a tough move to handle. Colangelo has been trying to rebuild the Raptors and make it back to the playoffs, which could be a year or two away with the young roster they currently have.

18. Geoff Petrie (Sacramento) – experiencing a similar decline after extreme success, Petrie’s former golden status in Sacramento is now up for debate after six straight losing seasons and no major progress being shown. With the team possibly on the move, Petrie has to hope his current constructed roster can start to produce or else he could be out of a job.


Time Will Tell

These are GMs are who were hired within the past couple years and have spent some time on the job but not enough to where it would be fair to properly judge them. This year will be a big year for their respective teams, as they look to take the next step in their development which means a lot is riding on their talent evaluation.


19. Dell Demps (New Orleans) – so far, so good for the New Orleans GM. Trading Chris Paul was a tough thing to do but the way the team has rebuilt then has been impressive. He has quickly added several key pieces to their young core and has the team’s future looking up.

20. Chris Grant (Cleveland) – there is a lot riding on “surprise picks” Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters, as they could make or break his tenure in Cleveland. So far he has done a good job of acquiring assets but whether or not he has built the right team around Kyrie Irving is remain to be seen.

21. Rich Cho (Charlotte) – after being given an unfair shot in Portland, Cho bounced back quickly with a job in Charlotte and will now have full control over the franchise. A “moneyball” type GM, Cho will have to build the Bobcats from the ground up.

22. Lance Blanks  (Phoenix) – some time will be bought with the expected loss that a player such as Steve Nash leaving the Suns has. But Blanks will have to draft well and manage the salary cap well to be successful in Phoenix.


Clock Is Ticking

These GMs, while seemingly could be secure now, could be on shaky ground if improvements aren’t seen on the court with their teams. Their moves in the past have been questionable and will have to prove their worth this upcoming season.


23. Ernie Grunfeld (Washington) – he has struggled to rebound in the post-playoff years with the Wizards, as his teams have recently been near the bottom of the NBA year after year. Now with a younger roster and a good, young core, Grunfeld can hope to be higher on this list next year.

24. Billy King (Brooklyn) – dating back to his days in Philadelphia, he has always made some very disputed moves and his competency as a GM has been brought to question several times. He is now faced with the task of making the Nets competitive immediately, as his recent acquisitions can certainly prove that. Whether he’s the man for the job, it remains to be seen, but he certainly won’t go down without trying.

25. David Kahn (Minnesota) – the jokes will forever live on about Kahn’s drafting habits but those habits have turned out to be semi-successful with the T’Wolves seeing a bright spot with their play last year. Kahn still has a way to go to dig himself out the hole he’s dug himself but last year was certainly a start.

26. John Hammond (Milwaukee) – while having some talented players in Milwaukee, Hammond has seemingly settled for mediocrity every year since taking over. The team hasn’t been able to get out of the Central Division’s basement or make a definitive run at being a top-tier Eastern Conference team.


Just Starting Out

The following list of new GMs could be placed in any order. It’s not fair to judge the GMs with such a small body of work for most, especially considering their all first time GMs. Give these guys some time before properly being able to rank them. For now, they will be ranked arbitrarily.


27. Gary Sacks (Los Angeles Clippers) – the long time Clippers executive was elevated to GM after Neil Olshey’s contract was not renewed in LA. He has helped turn around the Clippers franchise and was able to beat out several other candidates for the full time GM job.

28. Dennis Lindsey (Utah) – another former Spurs executive, Lindsey has been a highly sought after GM with potential openings over the past few years. He has turned down several offers but decided Utah was the right one. Former GM Kevin O’Connor will be taking a higher role with the team, leaving the day-to-day duties to Lindsey.

29. Rob Hennigan (Orlando) – already doing heavy work on the job, it didn’t take long for Hennigan to get to work after taking the job. Whether he likes it or not, his tenure in Orlando will largely depend on the return he got in the Dwight Howard trade. While his hand was forced and time will be given for him to turn the franchise around, a lot of pressure has been placed on him after that trade.

30. Bob Myers (Golden State) – the former agent joined the Golden State front office under the new ownership group. Myers will have the help of former GM Larry Riley who will stay on the staff but his task will be to turn around a Golden State franchise that hasn’t seen sustained success in more than a decade.