Well, it's time for the year end review of the best and worst GM's in the NBA. In what may seem a bit strange, one of the best teams in the league has IMO the worst GM out there while a team that just set a record for ineptitude might have one of the smarter bosses in the league.
16. Danny Ferry (Cleveland): How hard is it to figure out that you should surround LeBron James with players who can spread the floor for him? Ferry seems to refuse to add a legitimate shooting guard alongside LBJ, instead adding one big man after another. Even when one of his picks starts to come through like JJ Hickson's started to, it's a case of too little, too late. I'd love to see James stay in Cleveland but I can't blame him for leaving since I wouldn't want to have my career in the hands of Danny Ferry.
15. Ernie Grunfeld (Washington): The bottom line is that it's hard to find a great move that Grunfeld's made that doesn't include Caron Butler. Making matter worse, Butler seems to be one of the biggest problems in the Wizards locker room. The move that probably should get Grunfeld fired is the fact that he just traded the #5 pick for Randy Foye, who is now backing up Earl Boykins, a guy who was signed off of the street after not playing in the NBA for a year. The Wizards are a team going nowhere and it's all on Grunfeld's shoulders.
14. Larry Bird (Indiana): It's almost like he's trying to make this team embody the word "vanilla" in every way, shape, and form.
13. Bryan Colangelo (Toronto): The supposed savior of the Raptors, Colangelo has built a team that's likely going to chase the other savior, Chris Bosh, out of town. The Hedo signing is going to haunt them while Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon are nice offensive players but are negatives on the defensive end. Colangelo's had top picks and spent lots of money and has nothing to show for it. The bottom line, though, is that if he doesn't trade Chris Bosh, he should be fired. The writing has been on the wall that the Texan was going to leave Toronto. The only reason he's still there is Colangelo's belief that he could build a team that would convince Chris to stay. He hasn't so it's time to bite the bullet and make a deal while they can still get something (although they won't get as much as they should) for CB4.
12. Jeff Bower (New Orleans) : Bower is an example of why I wait until three years to list people in the ranking. After a year, Bower looked like he was doing a very nice job. Now he's turned the Hornets into a bit of a mess. I have no idea why he thought adding Emeka Okafor's contract to a stingy payroll was a wise move. He rushed out and signed some people as final pieces even though the team didn't have a reliable second fiddle (I've always seen David West as a third star, at best). Some of the bad contracts becomes expiring deals next offseason so the Hornets might be able to make a move but right now, they don't have much hope of improving much.
11. Donnie Nelson (Dallas): Donnie Nelson seems to have built his team like I draft my fantasy baseball team - with a lot of big names who really aren't good anymore (and may never have been as good as their hype). Luckily for him, Dirk and Mark Cuban seem to love one another or else we might be talking more about whether or not Dirk was going to fly the coop in 2010. (For all of the talk of Bosh, I think Dirk would be the best addition in Miami. He could take a KG discount which would allow the Heat to sign another top of the line player.) Right now, Donnie will be judged on what he does with his expiring contracts. If there was a team that could eat a big contract, like Gilbert Arenas's, it's Dallas.
10. Joe Dumars (Detroit): Dumars was near the top of this list for years but he's basically looking to catch lightning in a bottle for a second time. The first Detroit team was built with a lot of luck. Ben Wallace went from afterthought to All-Star, Chauncey Billups emerged, they got Rasheed for nothing. This new lineup isn't as enticing. Ben Gordon is good but he's no Billups. I'm not a big fan of Charlie Villenueva. They re-signed Rip Hamilton who doesn't seem to fit in the Pistons 2.0. Dumars is going to have to find takers for Rip and Tayshaun Prince (which shouldn't be bad since he only has one more year left on his deal) but even then, it's going to take a lot of luck to land the type of players that will get the Pistons back to being contenders.
9. Pat Riley (Miami): The Miami brain trust is basically the line between good and bad. And that's because they haven't really done much but are in a position that could turn them into a champion or the worst team in the league. If Dwyane Wade leaves, this team is in trouble. I'm a big believer in Michael Beasley but there will be some growing pains if Wade heads to NYC. On the other hand, this team seems like the leading candidate to land a couple of major free agents this offseason. The Heat aren't in a position to be great this year but they could be a dynasty or dismal in the near future.
8. Mark Warkentien (Denver): Warkentien has done a solid job with the little he has to work with. This isn't to say that the Nuggets aren't talented, they just don't have many players that are trade assets. Kenyon Martin's contract is finally becoming more movable, Nene's deal is easier to move now. There's only so many times that an Iverson for Chauncey Billups deal presents itself. He's done a solid job but it's the next year or so when he'll have to prove his worth.
7. Kevin O'Connor (Utah Jazz): Like Bryan Colangelo, O'Connor loses points for potentially losing his prized power forward for nothing. There HAS to be a team with a shooting guard that would be interested in Boozer and his expiring deal. Sure, I wouldn't be wild about taking on Rip Hamilton's contract but there has to be something out there. The Jazz also have the Knicks #1 pick so they could use that in a trade to land someone (and so far, this draft isn't all that exciting IMO so trading it now might be the better option). The biggest issue is that the Jazz have kind of sunk into a Spurs-like neutral, in which they show up for some games, take others off. It feels like a team that needs someone to breathe some life back into them. Can O'Connor find that player?
6. Geoff Petrie (Sacramento): I often question Petrie and he usually proves me wrong. Petrie has done a solid job rebuilding the Kings so I'm sure he'll figure out a way to make it work.
5. Rod Thorn (New Jersey): I know it seems odd to list the GM of the team that just had a historic losing streak as one of the best GM's but Thorn's done a great job of collecting young talent and clearing up cap space, all without the luxury of a top 5 pick. The Nets are primed to make a run at LeBron but even if they miss out on him, they'll be in one of the best situations with cap space, young players, and a top draft pick. One reason he isn't hire is the Vince Carter deal. I thought he could have done a bit better than he did or, at the very least, not given up Ryan Anderson in the trade.
4. RC Buford (San Antonio)
: Apparently the aforementioned life-breathing player isn't Richard Jefferson. The Spurs seem as listless as ever although you can't fault Buford. That trade was a no brainer. He's also continually added talent with late picks, Dajuan Blair being the latest example. And while I know many would say that Blair was a no brainer, at least two teams took power forwards in the second round over Blair. Buford is still one of the best in the business.
3. Danny Ainge (Boston): I wanted to put him higher since I really liked the Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels signings (and it seems like Clifford Ray is working his magic with Shelden Williams) but the Celtics still have some of the same questions nagging them. Still, third place is more like a #1c. He's still the cream of the GM crop
2. Otis Smith (Orlando): See, this is how you build around a superstar. Not only in terms of having complementary players like Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis but also in terms of backups like Jason WIlliams, Ryan Anderson, Brandon Bass, Marcin Gortat. The scary thing about the Magic is that they have the type of bench talent that they could package to add another very good player.
1. Mitch Kupchak (LA Lakers): Trevor Ariza's play in Houston will raise some eyebrows but I don't think he would have done as well trapped in the triangle. I also think that Artest is a better player and the kind of guy who will, at the very least, keep his teammates from resting on their laurels. The Andrew Bynum pick (and following contract) are looking better and better.
As for the rest of the GM's who haven't been around long enough to make the list...
Rick Sund (Atlanta) is tough to judge because he inherited a team of young guys and hasn't done too much since taking over. I was skeptical of the Jamal Crawford signing but it has worked out. The key will be how he handles Joe Johnson, who is going to be a free agent this off-season. Does he overpay to keep him? How does he replace him if he leaves?
Gar Forman (Chicago) took over a bit of a mess and nothing has really changed. Unfortunately, it's becoming painfully obvious that they desperately need a real coach and to make some trades. Ty Thomas's value is basically nil but they could still get something for Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich, and John Salmons. They'll make a run at Dwyane Wade with their cap space but I can't see him being all that interested in joining this squad. That's not to say that they should rush out and add salary before testing the waters this offseason but they need a very strong plan B, in case that doesn't work out.
Kevin Pritchard (Portland) was the belle of the ball but then he let Raef LaFrentz's contract go off the books when most people expected him to use it (and the young talent the team has stockpiled) to bring in another superstar. He also presided over the Oden over Durant decision which is finally starting to look like it might not be a complete landslide. The Andre Miller signing was a mistake but it's a short deal so Pritchard still has decent contracts and young talent to deal. The question is if and how he's going to turn his assets into stars.
Steve Kerr (Phoenix) and the Suns started fast but I think that win streak was a mirage and that they should have tried to deal their core and start over. Amar'e Stoudemire still needs to be traded or re-signed; losing him for nothing will be a waste of the Suns best asset. Staying the course is just delaying the inevitable; the Suns need to rebuild.
Ed Stefanski (Philadelphia) signed Elton Brand and now needs to figure out a way to move him because he obviously doesn't fit in with the Sixers. Outside of that, the maturation of Mareese Speights and Jrue Holiday will probably define his tenure so far.
Sam Presti (Oklahoma City) replaced Pritchard as the new fave GM du jour but he's not without his own question marks. Had he selected Brook Lopez in 2008, the Thunder would have had the pick of the litter of the amazing PG crop of 2009. The current Thunder squad is nice but Brandon Jennings, Lopez, and Kevin Durant? Still, hindsight is 20/20 and Presti's done a solid job so far. How he handles his cap space and young talent (I still think they should move Jeff Green sooner than later) is his focus for the next year
Donnie Walsh (New York) has done a good job of dumping contracts and waiting out other deals but I'm not quite sure how he rates beyond that. He's probably going to lose David Lee and Nate Robinson for nothing. His draft picks are suspect. Jordan Hill was a terrible pick and Danilo Gallinari looks OK but why are you taking a SF when you're going after LeBron? Speaking of The King, the Knicks have little going for them besides location, location, location. And even that might be trumped by the Nets, who, despite their record losing streak, have much better young talent and a better roster fit for James.
David Kahn (Minnesota) made a splash in this year's draft but I really think the Rubio decision is going to haunt him. The longer he waits, the less likely it seems that they'll get top dollar for Rubio. And I really don't think Ricky is going to come to play with the Wolves. Of course, all he had to give up for the pick was basically Randy Foye so Rubio could never come and the deal would still be a wash. All told, Kahn made some solid deals and seems primed for a big move in a year or two. One of those deals should IMO feature Big Al Jefferson because he is the key to the Timberwolves and I just don't see him as a leading man on any team.
John Hammond (Milwaukee) made the right move with Brandon Jennings and has a nice little squad on his hands. They should look to deal Michael Redd, if they can. Honestly, I think he should probably move Bogut as well because this team seems destined for mediocrity.
Chris Wallace (Memphis) is still the worst GM in the NBA. The Iverson debacle, Thabeet at #2, and now he could possibly lose Rudy Gay for nothing. He's built a team that has to overachieve to be mediocre.
Mike Dunleavy (LA Clippers) might be #2 on the worst GM list. He gets a reprieve from the main list because he wasn't "officially" the GM until a year ago but he was the guy that signed Tim Thomas and Cuttino Mobley. The Baron Davis signing was terrible and the Clippers are, once again, looking towards rebuilding. Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin are nice cornerstones but I have no faith in Dunleavy that he can put it together. Perhaps the biggest thing going against him is that he'll never fire his head coach, which might be the main thing holding back Baron and Co.
Daryl Morey (Houston) was someone that I was originally against since he's a numbers guy who subscribes heavily to Hollinger-esque statistical formulas. Still, he's done a decent job rehauling the Rockets. He has a lot of pieces to play with in trades but he also has to figure out how to handle Luis Scola's impending free agency. The Ariza signing looks great but this team needs a lot more help to make the next step.
Larry Riley (Golden State) basically has to wait another year until Don Nelson's contract is over before he has any real hopes of shaping this team. The team also needs to sell high on most of its young talent, and that includes Monta Ellis, Stephen Curry, and especially Anthony Randolph. I still like Randolph's talents but he reminds me of Ellis Burks - a guy who won't ever really reach his full potential and will need a change of scenery to even get 3/4 of the way there. I'm usually a fan of rebuilding through youth but the Warriors might be in a situation where they are better off dealing their young guys for veterans and making a small window run at the conference finals.
Rod Higgins (Charlotte) is just the front man for Michael Jordan and the Bobcats braintrust has built one of the most uninspiring teams in the league. Yes, they could fight for the playoffs this year but is anyone going to go? This is a mediocre team that doesn't have much to draw fans in and little hope to make a move to improve themselves. Not to mention that he's struck out in the draft.