Power Ranking the Shrewdest Owners in the NBA

Ben ShapiroAnalyst IIIOctober 4, 2012

Power Ranking the Shrewdest Owners in the NBA

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    If you look up the definition of the word "shrewd," you find this: "given to wily and artful ways or dealing."

    In other words, these guys know how to wheel-and-deal—they make deals, and the deals they make more often than not bring positive results.  

    The NBA is full of owners—there are 30 of them in all. Some teams' owners have reputations for not being shrewd. Ask any fan of the New York Knicks or Los Angeles Clippers about their opinion of the owner of their favorite team and "shrewd" is probably not the first word that leaps to mind. 

    James Dolan and Donald Sterling may both be shrewd businessmen, but that doesn't mean it translates to winning a lot of basketball games, and it certainly hasn't yielded any NBA titles.

    So who are the NBA's top owners?

    Which guys consistently make deals to improve their teams, and then see those deals play out with success on the basketball court?  

No. 5: Clayton Bennett, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Clayton Bennett might not be universally liked, but he's definitely shrewd. 

    Bennett, along with associate owner Aubrey McClendon, is the man who moved the team formerly known as the Seattle Sonics to Oklahoma City, where they are now known as the Thunder.

    It doesn't really matter whether you're on the left end of the modern political sphere or more to the right. Both sides agree that the actions of Bennett and McClendon to pluck the Sonics from Seattle and move them to Oklahoma City have been described as "sordid" by Forbes Magazine, while Dave Zirin of The Nation magazine said that the two men "stole" the team from the people of Seattle.

    Forbes and The Nation aren't known for seeing eye-to-eye on things, but they're in rare agreement on this issue.

    From both a business standpoint and a success standpoint, the move has worked out for the owners of the franchise.

    The Thunder play in one of the NBA's smallest markets, but last season they advanced all the way to the NBA Finals before being beaten by the Miami Heat.

    The Thunder already had budding superstar Kevin Durant when they arrived in Oklahoma City, but since then, they've acquired Russell Westbrook and James Harden through the NBA draft.

    They also hired Scott Brooks to coach the team. Brooks' first season was 2008-09, and in 2009-10, he won NBA Coach of The Year. He's still at the helm and has a career record of 174-125 entering the 2012-13 season.

    Most impressively, the team has moved to lock up it's most precious young superstars by inking them to long-term contract extensions.

    Kevin Durant was first when he signed an extension in June of 2010.

    Russell Westbrook followed by singing his extension in January of 2012.

    The Thunder are one of the league's youngest and most talented teams. Their owners might not be the most popular guys, but their deals have panned out, and success has followed.  

No. 4: Boston Basketball Partners L.L.C., Boston Celtics

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    Owning the Boston Celtics is a daunting task. After all, the franchise is one of the most successful in NBA history. 

    That success had come to screeching halt when the Boston Basketball Partnership acquired the Celtics on December 31, 2002.

    The new owners bought the Celtics in the midst of a championship drought that had lasted 16 years. In the years leading up the acquisition, the Celtics had endured some of the worst seasons in franchise history. 

    It was up-and-down in the early years.  The Celtics made the playoffs, but didn't seem to pose a real threat to the NBA's top teams. The 2006-07 team finished with a record of 24-58, and the Celtics appeared headed down a path to irrelevance. 

    It was in the offseason following that 2006-07 season that the Celtics made their move—it was a series of moves, actually. 

    The end results were that the team ended up with a "big three" of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen. 

    In the years since, the Celtics have become a perennial force in the NBA. They won a title in June of 2008, advanced to the NBA Finals in 2010, and have won the Atlantic Division five years in a row as the 2012-13 season approaches. 

    The Celtics ownership, along with their President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge have deftly navigated the challenges of injuries and an aging roster. Through it all, the Celtics have remained very relevant, and highly competitive.

    Unlike some owners who have a singular figurehead, the Celtics group operates in relative obscurity. They still manage to get the job done. 

    The Boston Basketball Partnership has brought the Boston Celtics back to the top tier of NBA teams. It's a place they've been before, and it looks as though they're sticking around for a while.  

No. 3: Peter Holt, CEO of Spurs Sports & Entertainment, San Antonio Spurs

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    In 1993, when Peter Holt made his first investment in the San Antonio Spurs, the franchise was an annual playoff participant, and an annual playoff disappointment, as well. 

    The Spurs would make the playoffs and be sent packing before advancing to the NBA Finals.

    Things would change under Holt. 

    There were two critical occurrences that led to the eventual run of Spurs success:

    One included a little luck, the type of luck that landed the Spurs the No. 1 overall pick in the 1997 NBA Draft. A pick they would use to select Tim Duncan. 

    The other was the hiring of Gregg Popovich as the team's general manager in 1994. In 1996, Popovich fired Head Coach Bob Hill and inserted himself into the role of head coach. 

    Under the on-court leadership of Popovich and Duncan and the ownership of Holt, the Spurs have won four NBA titles. They've dealt with the retirement of David Robinson and continually reloaded a team that is built around the combination of Duncan and Popovich. 

    Whether it is drafting key players such as Manu Ginobili late in the second round of the 1999 draft or Tony Parker, 28th overall in the 2001 draft, Holt and company always seem to be able to find and nurture top NBA talent. 

    In 2011-12, the Spurs didn't win a title, but they did make some midseason moves that would yield very positive results. They acquired Boris Diaw off the waiver wire, and then got Stephen Jackson in a three-team trade with the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors. 

    It was classic Spurs.

    The two players were both talented and both under-performing. Charlotte had waived Diaw and Jackson was having a forgetful season in Milwaukee. Of course, they both flourished in San Antonio. 

No. 2: Micky Arison, Miami Heat

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    Micky Arison assumed a controlling interest in the Miami Heat in 1995 and the Heat have been one of the NBA's most consistent competitors ever since. 

    Arison appears to possess a nose for the most competitive men in the league. Whether it is a head coach, such as Pat Riley; a bruising center, such as Alonzo Mourning; a future hall of famer like Shaquille O'Neal; or a mega-star like LeBron James

    Arison's teams have won, and won often. They've been to the NBA Finals three times and sport a 2-1 record. He has been able to build—and then rebuild—the Heat into a successful team.

    As an owner, Arison has demonstrated a willingness to consistently go out and either trade for or sign big-name players who will pack the stands and keep the Heat highly competitive.  

    In the late 1990s, the Heat had players such as Mourning, Tim Hardaway, P.J. Brown and Jamal Mashburn.

    When the 90s Heat started to fade, Arison gave to go-ahead to trade for Shaquille O'Neal. 

    The 2006 squad that won an NBA title was led by Dwyane Wade and O'Neal, with Gary Payton and Antoine Walker playing key roles, as well.

    In July of 2010 Arison's Heat pulled off a major coup when they re-signed star guard Dwyane Wade, and then added free-agents Chris Bosh and LeBron James to form a potent "big three."

    The two years of the Big Three's reign have featured two NBA Finals trips and one NBA title.  

    Arison's teams have been able to remain highly competitive and they've done so in several different incarnations. 

No. 1: Jerry Buss, Los Angles Lakers

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    If you admire what Micky Arison has been able to do, then imagine having done that for twice as much time. 

    That's what Jerry Buss has done in Los Angeles. 

    Buss assumed control of the Lakers in 1979, and since then, the list of top NBA players to have worn the purple and gold of the Lakers is a veritable who's who of NBA royalty. 

    Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Dennis Rodman, Pau Gasol, and this past summer, the names Steve Nash and Dwight Howard were added to the list. 

    Not only has Buss brought in the best players, but he's also brought in the best coaches.

    Pat Riley and Phil Jackson are probably numbers one and two on the list of greatest NBA coaches of the last 40 years.

    Not surprisingly, both men have coached the Lakers, and both men have won NBA titles with them.

    Under Jerry Buss, the Lakers have made a jaw-dropping 16 trips to the NBA Finals, winning ten rings in the process.

    Buss has navigated his fair share of pitfalls as well.

    Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's retirement, Magic Johnson's sudden retirement due to the HIV virus, the blending of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, and then the breakup of that core.

    The Lakers won two NBA titles in 2009 and 2010 with a team built around Kobe Bryant, but when cracks appeared in that foundation, the Lakers went out and brought Steve Nash and Dwight Howard into the fold.

    No one knows if the acquisitions of Howard and Nash this past summer will yield positive results, but if history is any indicator, then the mere fact that Buss is still signing checks for the Lakers has to make fans of the purple and gold feel very optimistic.