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Uncontested Shots: Who Are the NBA's Best and Worst General Managers?

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Uncontested Shots: Who Are the NBA's Best and Worst General Managers?
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My Fansided colleague, Drew Decker, wrote a post last August on basketball website Sir Charles In Charge listing who he felt were the league's 10 worst general managers.

While I agreed with most of his list, I took exception to a couple of names—most notably, the Milwaukee Bucks' John Hammond.

Decker and I exchanged opinions until we agreed to disagree. My contention was based on what I perceive to be a general manager's No. 1 priority, and that's doing what his owner asks of him.

At the time that Hammond traded Richard Jefferson to the Spurs for expiring contracts there were rumors that Bucks owner Senator Herb Kohl was planning to sell the team.

So while the trade wasn't great in terms of basketball sense it did remove the last two seasons of Jefferson's monstrous deal from the team's payroll in exchange for just one more season of expiring contracts.

My point being that Hammond was only doing what he was ordered to do and therefore was either doing a good job or it was too soon to judge him.

It got me thinking about the criteria that should be used to determine the performance of a GM. Is it winning or putting a culture of winning in place that can be sustained over time? Is it solely about obeying the wishes of the owner? Is it in how he drafts, trades, and signs free agents?

Does the criteria change depending on the market size and/or legacy of a particular team?

Looking back on the moves Hammond has made you can't help but think he no longer deserves to be on anyone's list of the worst GMs—as Decker even admits to in his follow-up piece on Pacman Jones posted this past week.

He hired Scott Skiles as the team's head coach. He drafted Brandon Jennings, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and Jodie Meeks. He signed Andrew Bogut to a 5-year, $72 million extension right before his breakout season. He brought Ersan Ilyasova back from Europe and he traded for Carlos Delfino and John Salmons.

Those are the good things.

Hammond is also the man responsible for selecting Joe Alexander with the eighth overall pick in the draft.

But Hammond's Bucks finished the season 10 games above .500 and are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

In addition, Hammond has positioned them to be major players in 2011-12 when the contract of Michael Redd finally comes off the books.

Decker still docks Hammond points for his unwillingness to trade Michael Redd when he had the chance. But as was the case with Jefferson, there weren't a lot of teams looking to add a big-money contract. Most teams are either trying to trim payroll in anticipation of this summer's free agent bonanza or are cutting expenses because they're losing a ton of money.

Forget for a second that Jefferson hasn't really worked out in San Antonio as well as some, including myself, expected.

What I told Decker at the time was that the Bucks were so excited that someone was willing to take Jefferson's contract from them that Hammond probably wasn't going to keep exploring his options and take a chance that the Spurs would change their mind and go after Vince Carter instead.

As for Redd, I can't imagine teams were itching to trade for the right to pay a guy coming off of knee surgery $35 million over the next two seasons—and that was before his most recent season-ending knee injury.

The rest of Decker's original list of the league's worst GMs is as follows. Keep in mind that Decker made his list before the season started and approached it with a "What have you done for me lately" mentality.

10) Sam Presti

9) Joe Dumars

8) Danny Ferry

7) Jeff Bower

6) Geoff Petrie

5) Ed Stefanski

4) John Hammond

3) Mike Dunleavy

2) David Kahn

1) Chris Wallace

You can't argue with Stefanski, Kahn, and the since-fired Dunleavy. But there are other guys on the list that don't deserve to be there.

And that brings me back to my original premise.

What makes a good GM?

In breaking down the league's general managers it isn't fair to lump them all onto one list because each of them has different objectives depending on the current state of their team.

Therefore, it's best to put each GM in one of five categories and see where they rank accordingly.

The categories are:

1) Those who are trying to position themselves for free agency and/or rebuild right now.

2) Those who wish they could rebuild right now but can't.

3) Those who are trying to win championships now.

4) Those who are trying to win championships within economic constraints.

5) Those who have their nucleus in place and are just positioning themselves to try to win a championship within the next two-three years.

These rankings are based solely on how these GMs have performed in trying to achieve each stated goal and not on their careers as league executives.

While many of the guys on this list don't necessarily have the title of general manager, they are the men responsible for player personnel decisions.

 

Those Who Are Trying To Rebuild Right Now (From Worst to Best)

These are the teams that have their sights set on this summer's draft and/or the plethora of free agents who will be available. Their main objective over the past two years has been to trade for expiring contracts and acquire draft picks for a draft that is considered to be deep due to the threat of a work stoppage next year.

7) Neil Olshey, Los Angeles Clippers

Olshey is the Clippers' interim GM in the wake of the team's firing of Dunleavy and will most likely be replaced before next season.

It's tough to put any of the blame for another dismal Clippers season on him, but unlike the other teams on this list the Clippers had high expectations for this season.

Olshey is just keeping the space warm for whomever inherits one of the worst jobs—if not the worst job—in sports.

6) Ernie Grunfeld, Washington Wizards

Speaking of high expectations, before the start of the season the Wizards were thought by many to be the clear-cut fifth-best team in the Eastern Conference.

Even before Gilbert Arenas decided to hold a gun show in the Wizards' locker room the team had greatly underachieved.

So what did Grunfeld do? He traded Jamison, Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, and DeShawn Stevenson for Al Thornton, expiring contracts, and draft picks and will now try to lure free agents to a team that has Arenas' league-worst contract and not much else.

Good luck with that.

5) Rod Thorn, New Jersey Nets

Thorn has spent the past two years trying to shed payroll and acquire guys on rookie contracts with his sights set on this summer's free agent class. So out went Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson, and Vince Carter, and in came Devin Harris, Brook Lopez, Yi Jianlian, Courtney Lee, and Terrence Williams.

While Thorn has done an excellent job in shedding contracts and replacing them with low-cost talent his team still flirted with the worst record in league history.

So even though Thorn should be able to acquire some talent with all of that cap space he will be hard-pressed to get any of the A-list free agents to sign with a team that won 12 games. It wasn't that long ago that some considered the Nets the biggest threat to steal LeBron James from the Cavs.

Notice how nobody even talks about it anymore despite James's status as lapdog to Nets co-owner, Jay-Z.

4) Geoff Petrie, Sacramento Kings

As for Petrie, nobody really knows what he's trying to do. In the past few seasons he has unloaded Ron Artest, Mike Bibby, and Kevin Martin, and all he has to show for them is Carl Landry, Donte Green, Omri Casspi, and a little bit of cap space.

Cap space is a nice thing to have but Sacramento hasn't exactly been a mecca for the league's free agents when you consider Vlade Divac is still their biggest free agent signing ever.

Petrie has also caught flak for hiring head coach Paul Westphal. After a 9-9 start the Kings finished the season 25-57 and owners of the league's fourth-worst record. The Kings also had the second-worst average attendance in the league this season.

Petrie does get credit for drafting expected Rookie of the Year, Tyreke Evans. It's obvious by the trading of Martin that Evans is now the centerpiece of the team and it will be Petrie's job to give Evans a team that he will want to commit to long-term when he's eligible for his first big-money contract.

Petrie has already proved that he can quickly build a winning team with just three solid moves. From 1998 to 1999 he traded Mitch Richmond for Chris Webber, signed Divac, and drafted Jason Williams. By 2000 they were one win away from knocking off the eventual champion Lakers in a first-round series.

He already has his franchise player in Evans. Now he just needs to figure out if he can lure the right free agent to California's capital with the cap space he freed up and use some of those young players he's acquired over the last three years to trade for the final piece.

3) Donnie Walsh, New York Knicks

Walsh's objective since taking over as Knicks GM was to clean up the mess left by his predecessor, Isiah Thomas, and position the team to sign two max free agents this summer.

Had Walsh been the GM of any other team he'd probably be lower on the list. But the allure of the nation's No. 1 media market should make it easier than some might think.

Walsh did the unthinkable this year by getting the Rockets to take Jared Jeffries off his hands. Sure it cost him his most recent lottery pick Jordan Hill, a No. 1 pick in 2012, and the ability for the Rockets to swap picks with the Knicks in 2011 in order to do it.

But if Walsh succeeds in luring at least one of the top-tier free agents to New York then it will have been worth it. If he can't then he might have to wait until the summer of 2011 once Eddy Curry's expiring contract can also come off the books.

2) Gar Forman, Chicago Bulls

Give Forman credit for taking chances. His Bulls were a playoff team last season and were in position to make the playoffs again this season when he pulled the trigger on a couple of deadline deals.

Forman knew the trades might make his team worse but he knew they would better the team's chances of landing a top-tier free agent this summer with the cap space to offer a maximum contract.

So out went John Salmons and Tyrus Thomas and in came Hakim Warrick, Joe Alexander, and Ronald Murray.

Wednesday night's win in Charlotte earned the Bulls the right to lose to the Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs. So Forman managed to not only clear cap space but his team also made the playoffs—something that might make them a much more attractive destination for free agents.

1) Pat Riley, Miami Heat

The Heat finished the season as hot as any team in the league. They took advantage of the injury to Andrew Bogut to pass the Bucks for the fifth-seed in the Eastern Conference and a first-round match-up with the Boston Celtics.

It has to be a plus for this summer's free agents that a team that was considered by many to miss the playoffs finished 12 games above .500. That's remarkable for a team that started Joel Anthony, Quentin Richardson, and Carlos Arroyo down the stretch.

Riley is one step ahead of Walsh in that he already has one of the league's best players on his team and only needs to acquire one more star to convince Dwyane Wade to stick around long-term.

But what Riley really deserves the most credit for is not making a move and trusting that he had a team in place that could serve as the supporting cast once he acquires an additional superstar.

 

Those Who Wish They Could Rebuild Right Now but Can't (From Best to Worst)

This list is made up of teams who are also waiting for contracts to expire. The difference is that unlike the previous list of teams who are trying to rebuild, these teams will have to wait at least another year for those contracts to expire.

Each of these teams had chances to speed up the rebuilding process but instead either chose not to, or like Dumars and Colangelo, had the financial freedom to turn things around and flubbed it.

7) John Hammond, Milwaukee Bucks

Hammond only makes this list because he doesn't fit into any of the other categories. Because the Bucks still have more than $25 million committed next season to Redd and Dan Gadzuric, Hammond is still a year away from putting his full stamp on this team.

With Skiles, Bogut, and Jennings he's in a much better place than any of the other guys on this list.

So even though Hammond made what I would consider the most undesirable list he's also in a better position than any of these guys to ascend to one of the better lists almost immediately.

Even though Redd is coming off another knee surgery he's still an expiring contract next season at a time when many teams will be looking to shed salary in anticipation of the league's new collective bargaining agreement.

6) Joe Dumars, Detroit Pistons

I once labeled Dumars the Jerry West of his generation. Both were former players who were always given the greatest amount of respect by their peers. There was a time when everything Dumars touched turned to gold.

Even the sign-and-trade deal that sent Grant Hill to Orlando worked out better for the Pistons than it did the Magic because it netted four-time Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace.

Dumars signed Billups when every other team he'd played for had given up on him. He also stole Rip Hamilton for Jerry Stackhouse, drafted Tayshaun Prince after 22 teams passed up on him, and fleeced the Hawks for Rasheed Wallace.

Before last season the only real blemish on Dumars bio was drafting Darko Milicic when he could have had Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Kirk Hinrich, or Chris Kaman instead.

But even that move was hard to argue with since the Pistons won a championship with Milicic on their roster.

But lately it seems that almost every move Dumars has made has left people scratching their heads more often than not.

Dumars traded team leader Chauncey Billups last season for the expiring contract of Allen Iverson only to waste all of the cap space he accumulated on Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon.

Now Dumars is stuck with a roster that seems stacked at shooting guard and small forward but is thin at point guard, power forward, and center.

Dumars will now try to unload Tayshaun Prince's expiring contract and/or the remaining three years and $38 million of Hamilton's contract that takes him through his 35th birthday.

The next move Dumars makes might be the most important. Whether that's moving Prince or Hamilton, the long-term future of this team is in the hands of a GM whose future might be decided in the next 18 months.

The team has hired Citigroup to figure out the team's value in an impending sale. While no new owner would commit the public relations homicide that would come with firing Dumars, there is a growing contingent of Pistons fans who might be in favor of it.

5) Bryan Colangelo, Toronto Raptors

Colangelo went into the summer of 2009 with one goal in mind. He needed to convince soon-to-be free agent Chris Bosh that the future in Toronto was bright enough for Bosh to stick around long-term.

So Colangelo signed Bosh's old college teammate and close friend Jarrett Jack and traded for Hedo Turkoglu, Reggie Evans, Marco Belinelli, Antoine Wright, and Amir Johnson.

The result is a team that missed the playoffs and, in all likelihood, will lose Bosh either without compensation or in a sign-and-trade deal.

It would be in Colangelo's best interest to sign-and-trade Bosh since the team won't have much cap space to replace him should he leave as a free agent.

Colangelo's future in Toronto might be tied to the Bosh situation. If he fails to either re-sign Bosh or sign-and-trade him then I don't envision Colangelo would be around in the summer of 2011 when the expiring contracts of Evans and Marcus Banks could create another $10 million in cap space.

4) Larry Bird, Indiana Pacers

Nobody really knows what Bird is trying to do other than waiting for the summer of 2011. The Pacers currently have three players in Mike Dunleavy, Jr., Troy Murphy, and T.J. Ford who have large contracts that expire after next season.

There were rumors earlier in the season that Bird and Ferry were discussing a trade that would have sent Murphy to the Cavs for expiring contracts but the Cavs ultimately made a move for Jamison instead.

Now Pacers fans are left playing the waiting game while the team tries to build around Danny Granger and recent draft picks Brandon Rush, Roy Hibbert, and Tyler Hansbrough—none of whom have even made the Rookie/Sophomore game.

In the meantime, the league's best arena has seen it's average attendance drop to less than 14,000 per game.

3) Ed Stefanski, Philadelphia 76ers

You can blame Stefanski's predecessor, Billy King, for the horrible contract of Samuel Dalembert but you can definitely hold Stefanski responsible for the contracts of Andre Iguodala, Louis Williams, and Elton Brand.

Even though the Sixers have close to $23 million in contracts set to expire after next season the team still won't be in position to become a contender with a shrinking cap and so much money committed to those three guys.

There were rumors that the team was looking to move Iguodala at the deadline for Amaré Stoudemire but nothing happened. Look for them to try to move him again to a team that strikes out in free agency but has the cap space to absorb the final four years and $57 million left on his deal.

As for Brand, the only question is whether or not Stefanski will still be the team's GM when Brand's contract finally expires in 2013.

2) Larry Riley, Golden St. Warriors

You can't fault Riley for all of the injuries this team has suffered this season. Now that the Warriors are for sale the question is whether or not Riley will still have a job when the new ownership takes over.

On the bright side, he drafted likely Rookie of the Year runner-up Stephen Curry and the team still has a number of young lottery picks drafted by former GM, Chris Mullin.

The big question going forward is if the personnel of this team will be able to fit in with a different coach's system. Even if the team's new owner allows Don Nelson to finish out his contract the odds are it will likely be his last.

Riley probably won't be able to make any moves until after the ownership change when his fate will be decided. Whoever the GM is will probably try to package Monta Ellis with one or two of their other young players to fill a need.

1) David Kahn, Minnesota Timberwolves

Give Kahn credit for lowering the expectations for his team almost immediately. While some of the other bottom-feeders were trying to sell their fans a bill of goods Kahn let it be known that his team was still years away from even making the playoffs.

The question for the Wolves is how patient will their fanbase be after another disastrous year? Kahn will most likely see what he can get this summer for either Al Jefferson or Kevin Love.

The Wolves should have three picks in the first round of the draft—their own pick, the Bobcats' pick, and Utah's pick. That's not necessarily a good thing since I'm not so sure getting even younger is the smartest thing for them to do. Kahn might want to consider either selling or trading Utah's pick since it will be the lowest of the three.

Even though Kahn has acted on the wishes of owner Glen Taylor, you have to dock him points for both trading Mike Miller and Randy Foye for the right to draft Ricky Rubio and for trading the draft rights to 18th-overall pick Ty Lawson for Charlotte's 2010 first-rounder.

Charlotte's pick will be the 16th overall. But Lawson has already proved that he can play in the NBA. So whoever Kahn drafts will inevitably be compared to Lawson.

Kahn also signed Ramon Sessions away from the Bucks for four years and $16 million and Sessions's averages are down more than four points and nearly three assists per game compared to last season. Chances are the Wolves are stuck with Sessions until it either expires or has just one year remaining.

Kahn's future might be tied to whether or not Rubio ever makes it to Minnesota. It's hard to believe that Rubio is in a rush to leave European powerhouse FC Barcelona to join one of the league's worst teams. Especially when he knows that he can avoid the league's rookie scale by coming over three years after being drafted as opposed to just one or two.

Kahn might still insist that he was happy with the pick but if he has the chance to move Rubio's rights he shouldn't allow his pride to stand in the way of making a deal that could pay off immediately.

 

Those Who Are Trying To Win Championships Now (From Worst to Best)

6) R.C. Buford, San Antonio Spurs

Buford convinced Spurs owner Peter Holt to abandon any hope of having cap space this summer or next and instead make the trade for Richard Jefferson. The move has backfired and now the small-market Spurs are on the hook for one more year of Jefferson's deal at $15 million.

Last week Buford signed Manu Ginobili to a three-year, $40 million extension.

Even though I'm sure the Spurs and their fans are thrilled to have Ginobili locked up, had Buford not traded for Jefferson then he could have at least explored the free agent market this summer and then renounced Ginobili if he was able to attract a top-tier free agent to replace him.

The Ginobili signing was more of an indication that the Jefferson trade was a failure than it was a reward for one of the franchise's greatest players ever.

While draft picks George Hill and DaJuan Blair have worked out, Buford's other big free agent signing, Antonio McDyess, hasn't really panned out either.

Buford had $54 million committed to just six players before re-signing Ginobili and is a year away from having to re-sign Tony Parker.

Buford is still one of the league's best GMs but he will have to get creative if he wants to give Tim Duncan another shot at a title.

There were already rumors that Buford tried to trade Parker to the New Orleans Hornets for Chris Paul.

Don't be surprised to hear more rumors regarding Parker this summer.

With Hill still on a rookie contract and Jefferson almost impossible to trade, moving Parker might be Buford's only hope at winning Duncan another ring. He can't really afford to wait for Jefferson's deal to expire in the summer of 2011 when Duncan will be 35.

The good news for Spurs fans is that nobody would be surprised if Buford found a way to trade Jefferson for the type of power forward that would allow Duncan to move into the same type of role that David Robinson took on when Duncan was drafted in 1997.

5) Danny Ainge, Boston Celtics

Ainge has quite an eventful summer ahead of him. If the Celtics don't make it back to the Finals there will be plenty of questions for this team. For example, now that Kobe Bryant has established the market for stars in their early 30s, will Paul Pierce try to sign a similar extension with the Celtics?

If Bryant is worth three years and $85 and Ginobili is worth three years and $40 million then surely Pierce is worth three years and at least $60 million, right?

If that's the case then does that mean that Ray Allen is all but assured of being let go?

It's curious that Ainge didn't try to move Allen when he had the chance. With Rajon Rondo's extension kicking in next season and a looming extension in 2011 for Kendrick Perkins, Ainge might have lost his only chance to keep this team a contender for at least another year.

While Ainge acquired Nate Robinson from the Knicks to shore up the team's bench, the move seemed to be more of a play for Allen leaving than for this season's title hopes.

By acquiring Robinson's Bird Rights Ainge has found a replacement for Allen's scoring for a fraction of the price it would take to retain Allen.

4) Mitch Kupchak, Los Angeles Lakers

Speaking of GMs that didn't make trades when they had the chance, Mitch Kupchak didn't acquire a point guard at the trade deadline and now the Lakers are no longer the favorites to win the title.

Many pundits have even wondered if this team can make it out of the Western Conference for a third straight year.

Kupchak could have tried to use Adam Morrison's expiring contract to find the team help and instead will now have to use their mid-level exemption to find a third-tier free agent point guard like the Clippers' Steve Blake or the Pacers' Earl Watson since Memphis owns their first-round pick from the Pau Gasol trade.

Shannon Brown is all but assured of opting out of his deal, Derek Fisher is an unrestricted free agent who has given Lakers fans migraines this season, and Jordan Farmar is a restricted free agent who is much-better suited in an up-tempo offense than in the triangle.

The good news is that if he's willing to let Farmar, Fisher, and Brown leave then he can use the full mid-level to sign a point guard without adding much, if anything, to this season's payroll.

Kupchak should get credit for signing Bryant to a three-year extension when Bryant could have easily demanded a maximum five-year extension. By locking up Bryant and Gasol the Lakers have sent a message to this summer's free agent and their representatives that they have nobody under contract for the 2014 season.

We'll get an idea if they were listening if you see guys like LeBron, Wade, and Bosh sign deals that give them the chance to opt out in the summer of 2014.

3) Otis Smith, Orlando Magic

Smith was criticized for trading away Hedo Turkoglu and replacing him in a separate deal with Vince Carter. While Carter has had flashes of brilliance it is another of Smith's moves that has paid dividends. Smith signed journeyman Matt Barnes to a two-year, $3 million contract that includes a player option for next season.

Barnes has given the Magic a swagger and toughness that a lot of people felt they lacked in their series against the Lakers last June.

While the Magic have struggled at times this season they still finished with the league's second-best record and you'd have to think that they have a better chance of knocking off the Cavs than the Lakers or Celtics do.

2) Donnie Nelson, Dallas Mavericks

I know it's easy to be the GM of a team with an owner whose willing to spend whatever it takes to win a championship. I also know that there isn't a GM who wouldn't have made the deal that Nelson made with the Wizards for Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, and DeShawn Stevenson.

But that's not why Nelson is so high on this list.

What Nelson deserves credit for is the foresight he had when he signed Josh Howard and Drew Gooden that allowed him the flexibility to make the moves he made when the opportunity finally came about.

Nelson only signed Gooden for one year after the Magic matched the team's offer for Marcin Gortat and made sure that the final season of Howard's contract was a team option—thus giving him two expiring contracts.

Next summer Nelson has a team option with a buyout on Erick Dampier's contract that would allow him to swap him at his full value to a team looking to trim payroll who could then pay Dampier's buyout.

1) Danny Ferry, Cleveland Cavaliers

Even if Ferry wasn't already bald you'd think he would have lost his hair just worrying about whether or not LeBron will re-sign with the team this summer.

If the future number six does decide to bolt his home state you won't be able to put the blame on Ferry.

Ferry has done everything in his power to put the best team around his superstar and as a result they have the league's best regular season record for the second year in a row and are the clear-cut favorites to the win the city its first title since 1964.

Ferry hasn't been on the winning end of every trade he's made but he was able to take the free agent signees that many labeled disappointments and turn them into gold.

Larry Hughes and Donyell Marshall were used to get Ben Wallace who was used to get Shaq.

Damon Jones was used in the deal that brought the team Mo Williams.

This season he used Zydrunas Ilgauskas to acquire Antawn Jamison without having to give up J.J. Hickson and got Ilgauskas to re-sign with the club after he was bought out by the Wizards.

Ferry, with the blessing of Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, has committed an additional $150 million in payroll by acquiring Mo Williams, Shaquille O'Neal, Antawn Jamison, and re-signing Delonte West and Anderson Varejao.

On the other hand, anything short of a championship would be considered a failure and could ultimately lead to the departure of the league's expected MVP.

I don't envy the pressure that Ferry is under but I do admire the way that he's handled it.

 

Those Trying To Win Championships With Economic Limits (From Worst to Best)

5) Jeff Bower, New Orleans Hornets

I'm not an apologist for Bower but you have to feel for the guy. If it wasn't bad enough that his owner George Shinn instructed him to make a bunch of lopsided trades to trim payroll he also made him coach the team after he fired Byron Scott.

Bower would never have made the trade that sent Tyson Chandler to the Bobcats for Emeka Okafor had it not saved Shinn money this season and next. The same goes for the trade of Hilton Armstrong to the Kings for a conditional draft pick and cash, the one that sent Devin Brown to the Bulls for Aaron Gray, or the one that sent Bobby Brown to the Clippers for another conditional pick.

Even the firing of Scott has been attributed to cost-cutting since there are stretch provisions in place that allow teams to pay fired coaches over the course of five, ten, or even 15 years.

It was only two years ago that Bower's Hornets finished the regular season one game behind the top-seeded Lakers. Bower knew that he would have to overpay free agents to lure them to a city that was still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

But since then Bower has watched some of those overpaid free agents go from either being young or in their prime and overpaid to being old and overpaid—namely Peja Stojakovic, Morris Peterson, and James Posey.

But Bower redeemed himself a little with the drafting of Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton.

Now comes the (welcome) news that Shinn plans on selling the team to minority owner Gary Chouest. There have been reports that Chouest plans to spend the money that it will take to put the Hornets back into the position to compete for a championship—including holding onto franchise star Chris Paul.

But this offseason will be telling for Bower and the Hornets. The team's second-best player, David West, is a year away from free agency. Since Bower will be hard-pressed to find anyone who will take Okafor off his hands he'll most likely try to move Collison if he can find someone to take on the final two seasons of Posey's deal or, more likely, the final season of either Stojakovic or Peterson's deals.

Bower is very much in the same position that Riley has been in for the past couple years. He needs to convince his star player that the team is headed in the right direction and that there's light at the end of the tunnel.

4) Steve Kerr, Phoenix Suns

You could make the case that Kerr has only made three positive moves since becoming the Suns GM back in 2006—signing and then re-signing Grant Hill, drafting Robin Lopez, and replacing Terry Porter as the team's head coach with Alvin Gentry.

The rest of Kerr's résumé isn't nearly as impressive but, as is the case with Bower, it isn't Kerr's fault. You can't blame Kerr for trading Kurt Thomas and two first-round picks to the then-Sonics for just a second-round pick or not re-signing Matt Barnes last summer.

But even though it wasn't Kerr's idea to trade Shaquille O'Neal to the Cavaliers for essentially nothing, Kerr does deserve blame for the failure of the trade that brought Shaq to Phoenix.

But with Gentry now running the same offense that the Suns had so much success with under Mike D'Antoni the Suns are not only back in the playoffs but managed to finish with the third-best record in the conference and might currently be the hottest team in the west.

Now it will be up to Kerr and his owner, Robert Sarver, to see if they can come to an agreement on an extension with Amaré Stoudemire if he decides to opt out of his contract after the season.

Should Stoudemire leave it will be hard for the Suns to convince any of the top free agents to sign a long-term deal with an owner who has spent the past three years instructing his GM to trim payroll.

It's amazing how one player can make a GM look better than he probably is. It's the other Steve, the Canadian one, who probably deserves more credit for the team's success. Nash is now 36 and could probably play for at least another three seasons.

But if Kerr can't keep Stoudemire from leaving then Nash might want to spend those last three seasons on a team that has a chance to finally get him that ring.

3) Kevin O'Connor, Utah Jazz

I always had a certain amount of respect for the anonymous GMs—the ones who even die-hard NBA fans couldn't recognize in a police lineup.

You could put O'Connor on that list.

Like the other names on this particular list, O'Connor has had to make some unpopular moves in order to keep his team's payroll down. But it's those moves that allowed him to make other moves to keep the team competitive.

O'Connor would never willingly trade first-round pick Eric Maynor or Ronnie Brewer for just a conditional first-round pick and the rights to someone named Peter Fehse.

But O'Connor was able to lure free agents like Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur to a city that has long been believed to be at the bottom of most free agent's list of destinations.

He also re-signed Okur and Paul Millsap when most just assumed that both would be let go.

Perhaps the best move that O'Connor made was when he traded Keon Clark and Ben Handlogten to the Suns back in 2004 for Tom Gugliotta and the rights to the Knicks' first round pick in this summer's draft—a pick that could end up being first overall.

O'Connor has ultimate flexibility this summer. He could try to move Millsap to acquire the missing piece so the team can better afford to re-sign Carlos Boozer or he could just wait for Andrei Kirilenko's $18 million contract to expire after next season and use the team's cap space to re-sign Deron Williams to a long-term extension and either re-sign Mehmet Okur or try to sign a free agent.

2) Mark Warkentien, Denver Nuggets

After the 2007-08 season, Warkentien was given instructions by Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke to trim the team's payroll. So Warkentien traded Marcus Camby, one of the most popular players on the team, for nothing.

In an effort to save face with the fans he signed former fan-favorite Chris Andersen and re-signed J.R. Smith for three years and just $15 million.

At the beginning of the following season he moved Allen Iverson to the Pistons for Denver-native Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess (who was bought out) in a move that not only trimmed payroll but instantly made the Nuggets a better team.

The 2008-09 Nuggets finished two wins shy of the NBA Finals. Warkentien was given instructions by the team's owner, Stan Kroenke, not to add to the team's payroll—so gone were defensive stopper Dahntay Jones and three-point shooter Linas Kleiza.

Warkentien found a replacement for both in one player—fleecing the Pistons again. This time he traded a 2011 second-round pick for Aron Afflalo.

Warkentien also traded a future first-round pick—likely in 2014—to the Wolves for the draft rights to Ty Lawson.

The Nuggets still have the ninth-highest payroll in the league but Warkentien has managed to trim payroll while simultaneously making the team better—the best indicator of a great GM.

1) Rick Sund, Atlanta Hawks

Under Sund's leadership the Hawks finished with the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference last season and the third-best record this season.

What's most impressive about what Sund has accomplished is in how he has re-signed the team's free agents to below-market contracts and kept the Hawks in the top 10 of the league's lowest team payrolls.

Sund allowed Josh Smith to test restricted free agency and ended up matching an offer sheet that pays Smith $58 million over five years—a bargain given Smith's production on both ends of the floor.

Sund also re-signed Mike Bibby for only three years and $18 million, Zaza Pachulia for just $19 million over four years, and Marvin Williams for five years and $37.5 million.

But the move that has brought Sund the greatest amount of attention was his trade last summer that sent Acie Law and Speedy Claxton to the Warriors for Jamal Crawford.

Crawford is not only expected to win the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award but will also provide insurance should Sund fail to re-sign Joe Johnson this summer.

 

Those With Their Nucleus In Place But Still A Year or Two Away (Worst to Best)

5) Michael Jordan, Charlotte Bobcats

Jordan has often been criticized for residing in Chicago while running a team based in Charlotte. But now that the Bobcats are headed to their first postseason in the franchise's history it's time for Jordan to get some credit for some crafty moves that have made us forget about some of his blunders.

It was Jordan who hired fellow Tar Heel Larry Brown to become the team's head coach. It was also His Airness who made the trades that brought Boris Diaw, Stephen Jackson, Tyson Chandler, and Tyrus Thomas to Charlotte.

Those four, along with All Star Gerald Wallace, are now the foundation of a team that is just a couple seasons away from having enough cap space to make a run at an NBA title.

The biggest questions surrounding the Bobcats center around whether Brown will coach the team beyond this season and whether Jordan, now the team's majority owner, is willing to spend what it will take to retain Thomas, a restricted free agent, and Felton, an unrestricted free agent, this summer.

With Chandler and Nazr Mohammed only under contract for one more season Jordan and his good friend/colleague Rod Higgins can make a significant move next summer and then make another the following summer once DeSagana Diop and Diaw's contracts expire.

The Bobcats were 31-10 at home this season. They moved up from 26th in attendance last season to 22nd this season. Having a team in the playoffs should only help to generate more buzz to a team that shares a state with the last two NCAA champions.

How much responsibility Jordan will relinquish to Higgins is also to be determined but the two should be commended for making the playoffs in just the franchise's sixth season.

4) Daryl Morey, Houston Rockets

There are very few moves that Morey has made since taking over for Carroll Dawson that he hasn't been on the winning end of.

It wasn't Morey who made the trade that brought Tracy McGrady to Houston but it was him who put a team around McGrady that was better with McGrady in street clothes than they were when he was in the lineup.

But while basketball writers were bowing down to Morey after he traded McGrady and Carl Landry for Kevin Martin, Jared Jeffries, Jordan Hill, the Knicks first-round pick in 2012 (top 5 protected through 2015) and the right to swap picks with the Knicks in 2011 (top 1 protected), I'm not so sure that Morey made the best long-term move for his club.

I've never been that big of a Kevin Martin fan. Even when healthy, as rare as that is, it's still an awful lot of money to give to a guy who will be counted on to be the Rockets second-best player for at least the next two seasons.

That would be the case if Yao Ming, as has been reported, decides to opt out of his deal and sign a new long-term deal with the club this summer.

Don't get me wrong. I like Yao. I just don't know if signing him to a long-term contract is worth banking the future on in light of his injury history. But Yao means so much to the team in terms of dollars that I can't see the Rockets not locking him up should he do it.

You can't convince me that the Rockets couldn't have done better this summer had they kept Landry and let McGrady's contract expire instead of taking on the additional $21 million they'll be paying to Martin, Jeffries, and Hill next season.

3) Chris Wallace, Memphis Grizzlies

Wallace, Decker's pick as the league's worst GM, is still taking punches for his trading of Pau Gasol. Decker does point out in his follow-up piece that Wallace also drafted Hasheem Thabeet when he could have and should have drafted Evans.

The drafting of Evans, a Memphis Tiger, would have gone a long ways toward bringing back the fanbase that had abandoned the team after years of supporting them.

While I won't defend Wallace for drafting Thabeet I will defend the Gasol trade. I'm not going to say that it's just because Marc Gasol has turned out to be a heckuva player. I'm going to use the same rationale I used at the time of the trade.

Wallace didn't want to trade Gasol. It's funny how people forget that Gasol asked the team to trade him.

Even though the Grizzlies owner, Michael Heisley, later admitted that his GM might not have received the most value, Wallace was just acting on orders.

Chad Ford of ESPN.com wrote an article in the aftermath of the Gasol trade exploring all of the other packages the Grizzlies could have received instead (ESPN Insider required).

The problem with the deals that Ford listed is that trades that involve such a large number of players rarely go down mid-season.

For example, Ford writes that the Warriors could have offered Mikael Pietrus, Matt Barnes, Austin Croshere, Patrick O'Bryant, Brandan Wright, Kelenna Azubuike, and a first-round pick for Gasol.

What would the Grizzlies have done with a 19-man roster in the middle of February?

The Lakers made off like bandits because they had something in Kwame Brown that few teams had and that was a huge expiring contract. The Lakers had failed in their pursuit of both Baron Davis and Ron Artest because they didn't have the large expiring contract of a Dale Davis or Peja Stojakovic to help the deal get done.

Wallace used the cap space from the Gasol trade to acquire Zach Randolph for Quentin Richardson last summer and made Randolph and Marc Gasol part of the nucleus of a team that up until just a few weeks ago was headed towards the playoffs.

The Grizzlies also have the Lakers first round pick in this summer's draft—an asset that gave Wallace the freedom to move a conditional first-round pick to the Jazz to acquire the talented Ronnie Brewer.

So when it's all said and done, Wallace used Pau Gasol to obtain Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Darrell Arthur, Ronnie Brewer, and a first-round pick in this summer's draft.

In hindsight that wasn't so bad considering where the Timberwolves are in the aftermath of trading Kevin Garnett.

2) Kevin Pritchard, Portland Trail Blazers

If the rumors are true that Kevin Pritchard will be replaced as GM of the Blazers I hope he won't just be remembered as the guy who drafted Greg Oden over Kevin Durant.

Blazers fans have an affinity for Pritchard that is unlike any relationship between an executive and a team's fanbase.

Since being promoted to Blazers GM back in 2007, Pritchard bought the pick from the Suns that became Rudy Fernandez, traded for the draft rights to Nicholas Batum and Jerryd Bayless, re-signed Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Martell Webster, and made the trade that saved the Blazers season when he traded the expiring contracts of Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw for Marcus Camby.

After Oden and Joel Pryzbilla went down with season-ending knee surgeries many believed the Blazers might miss the playoffs in the elite Western Conference. Instead they finished with the sixth-best record in the Western Conference (50-32) thanks to Camby's 30 points and 13 rebounds in their most important game of the season against Oklahoma City on Monday night.

Even when life gave Pritchard lemons last summer he found a way to make lemonade. After Hedo Turkoglu changed his mind at the 11th hour and the Jazz matched the Blazers offer sheet for Paul Millsap, Pritchard signed point guard Andre Miller to a three-year contract with the last year being a team option.

Early on in the season Miller looked to be a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. But as the season progressed he began to blend in much better with the team. He averaged just a half-point fewer than his career average of 14.5 ppg and even though his assists were down from 7.2 apg to 5.4, he managed to do it in four fewer minutes per game.

Pritchard won't have much room to work with the summer once the extensions for Roy and Aldridge kick in. He might not have a choice but to keep Camby around with a lucrative extension.

Oden, who is eligible for an extension this summer, will probably have to prove to the Blazers he can play an entire season before they commit to him long-term. Camby would provide them the type of insurance that would allow them to ease Oden back into the lineup by bringing him off the bench.

If Pritchard did want to make a splash he could try to move the rookie contract of Rudy Fernandez and the extremely cap-friendly contract of Webster for another missing piece.

Or he can just let these guys grow and see what happens if the team can stay healthy and mature as a unit.

1) Sam Presti, Oklahoma City Thunder

Presti took over as GM of the Seattle Supersonics and with savvy drafting and strategic trades has put together a team that up until two weeks ago was still in the hunt for the two-seed in the Western Conference.

Presti, like Ferry, is a disciple of Spurs GM R.C. Buford but the two have completely different objectives as far as what would make them successful this season.

Presti's goal this season was to lay the foundation for a team that could position itself to compete for championships over the long haul.

After winning 23 games all of last season the Thunder surpassed that total nearly a month before the All-Star break.

He now presides over a 50-win team that not only has the league's youngest roster but also is third-lowest in payroll.

The only challenge for Presti and owner Clay Bennett will be in deciding which of the lottery picks they drafted will be re-signed when they become eligible for their first big contracts and which ones might be traded to bring in a veteran that would allow them to compete for a championship as soon as next season.

Kevin Durant and Jeff Green are eligible for extensions this summer, Russell Westbrook will be eligible next summer, and James Harden, Eric Maynor, Serge Ibaka, and Byron Mullens the summer after that.

There isn't a team in the league that could benefit more if the league's next CBA, as expected, greatly favors the owners. Presti might be able to sign each of his young studs to long-term contracts that would at least be competitive with what other teams could offer if the league does away with the soft cap and the luxury tax.

 

Andrew Ungvari is a Senior Writer for Bleacher Report and co-lead blogger for basketball website SirCharlesInCharge.com .

Follow him on twitter .

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