Updated NBA Front Office Power Rankings Post-Free Agency
Everyone understands talent on the floor and sound ownership are critical for NBA success, but the organizational layer between those two, the front office, is just as important.
General managers and basketball ops executives are the ones drafting players, swinging deals, signing contracts and setting the overall culture. Here, in the wake of 2018 free agency, we'll judge all 30 front offices on their success in those efforts.
We won't dredge up the distant past in most evaluations, but when regimes made moves that still impact a team's outlook today, that's a relevant consideration.
Front office is a broad term, and in most cases, we'll focus mainly on the general manager or chief decision-maker. Nobody's interested in a ranking that includes the team chef or the ninth-tier intern from the analytics department.
Good front offices make smart deals, use cap space wisely, establish a professional tone and generally operate with an ideologically consistent, coherent plan. Bad ones do the opposite, and it shouldn't be a surprise to note that the worst ones struggle to win games.
30. Sacramento Kings
Improved organizational stability and a beefed up scouting department didn't prevent the Kings from bumbling through yet another curious offseason. The decision to select Marvin Bagley III at No. 2 overall looked foolish from the outset, and Bagley's 33.3 percent shooting in summer league (before a pelvic bone bruise ended his participation) didn't do much to dispel the idea that the Kings reached for the wrong guy.
Luka Doncic was right there waiting for them, and even if he wasn't their preferred target, the Kings could have telegraphed an intent to pick him that would have netted them a sweet trade offer. That's what the Atlanta Hawks did, and they earned a 2019 first-round pick for their trouble.
Instead of using cap space to absorb bad money with assets attached, the Kings took a wild swing at restricted free agent Zach LaVine, only to be bailed out when the Chicago Bulls recklessly matched the four-year, $78 million offer sheet. Sacramento then turned to Nemanja Bjelica and Yogi Ferrell, two players it managed to sign after they'd appeared to reach deals with other teams.
General manager Vlade Divac may bear responsibility for some of the worst trades in modern NBA history, and he's definitely the reason the Kings don't own their 2019 first-rounder, but at least he's shown the ability to woo targets seemingly committed elsewhere. That's something, at least.
29. Memphis Grizzlies
Several figures in Memphis' front office have been around a long time; general manager Chris Wallace's tenure started way back in 2007. Rather than relitigate every move of the last decade, we'll judge this brain trust on the more recent past.
Almost all of which has been bad.
Chandler Parsons' $94 million contract has been an abject disaster, enormous deals for Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are already aging poorly, Tyreke Evans walked for nothing after Memphis failed to trade him, and head coach J.B. Bickerstaff remains in charge after a a 15-48 record as interim head coach.
At least stretchy, defensive-minded big Jaren Jackson Jr. looks like the right pick at No. 4. That means Memphis could have its first star-caliber selection since Conley in 2007.
28. Charlotte Hornets
Mitch Kupchak replaced former GM Rich Cho in April, which gives us yet another limited sample to judge.
Kupchak's biggest move was canning Steve Clifford in favor of former Spurs assistant and one-time Magic head coach James Borrego.
The Hornets are perhaps the NBA's most consistent mediocrity treadmill runners, which means that even after Kupchak moved on from Dwight Howard, the roster is still full of hefty deals for veterans. Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Cody Zeller are all playing on above-market contracts.
None of that is Kupchak's fault. And trading Kemba Walker, which the Hornets should do despite the All-Star guard's professions of commitment, may not be allowed by ownership. Tax-averse and enamored with names (which partially explains the addition of Tony Parker on a two-year deal), Charlotte's ownership group makes life difficult on a GM.
Kupchak, the front-office equivalent of a coaching retread, has a tough job ahead of him. Based on how poorly he ran things at the end of his tenure with the Lakers, it's difficult to be optimistic.
27. Cleveland Cavaliers
We can't penalize general manager Koby Altman for failing to mend fences between LeBron James and Kyrie Irving last summer, but it's fair to knock him for indirectly clearing a path for James to join the Lakers with that ill-fated deadline blockbuster in February.
The Collin Sexton pick was reasonable, but extending Kevin Love for four more years at $120 million feels like a massive risk. At least the Cavs timed the extension in such a way that Love can be traded at this year's deadline.
Ultimately, running a franchise that includes James (always the most powerful figure in the organization) is almost impossible. Altman and the Cavaliers front office can now start conducting business in a more conventional environment. A year from now, we'll have a much better idea of where this group ranks.
26. Detroit Pistons
Stan Van Gundy and Jeff Bowers were the ones who gave fat deals to Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, and the desperate trade for Blake Griffin (on an awful contract) was a classic "save our jobs" gambit. Almost everything wrong with the Pistons, then, falls at the feet of the failed regime now deposed by owner Tom Gores. Top personnel man Ed Stefanski is running things now.
The Pistons still don't have a team president or a general manager, and the new front office's only moves of note include hiring head coach Dwane Casey, drafting theoretical three-and-D wings Khyri Thomas and Bruce Brown Jr. and signing Glenn Robinson III to an above-market deal.
Stefanski has been in NBA management roles for various teams since 1998, though his track record is spotty at best. Hiring Casey before installing a GM feels risky, but it's ultimately too early to know how this front office will perform. So if this ranking feels low, take heart in knowing it's a lot better than the No. 29 spot that would have gone to the Van Gundy-Bowers pairing.
25. New York Knicks
Credit general manager Scott Perry and team president Steve Mills for plotting a rebuild plan and sticking to it. That's always been tough for the Knicks, who've so often been suckered by shortcuts and reckless pivots toward present success.
New York hasn't fully shaken the habit; Tim Hardaway Jr. and his $71 million contract are proof of that. But for the most part, the Knicks' approach has been measured. Hiring David Fizdale makes sense for a team looking to nurture young talent, and rookie Kevin Knox sure looked like a cornerstone in summer-league play.
The Knicks' decision-making hasn't been perfect. Mario Hezonja's one-year, $6.5 million deal was an overpay, but considering Hezonja's draft pedigree, even that move was defensible. It seems the front office's days as a laughingstock are over—or at least suspended for the time being.
24. Chicago Bulls
Everyone loves Lauri Markannen, and Wendell Carter Jr. might end up being the second-best big man in the 2018 draft. Clearly, vice president John Paxson and GM Gar Forman have done some things right. But the Chicago Bulls got a little too spendy on the wrong kinds of free agents this summer.
Jabari Parker's two-year, $40 million contract is defensible, particularly with a team option on the second year. It's possible Parker, a Chicago product, could handle the role of top scorer on a winning team if he can stay healthy. LaVine's pact is twice as long at roughly the same annual rate, and his more extensive history suggests he's best cast as a scoring sixth man. You just can't pay one-way scorers with blah efficiency like stars.
The Bulls are awash in young talent. They just paid way too much for some of it. And let's also remember we're not so far removed from a time when Chicago's decision-makers thought a Rajon Rondo-Dwyane Wade backcourt was a good idea...
23. Orlando Magic
The Aaron Gordon deal (four years, $84 million) might be a bargain if the 22-year-old forward can just get a full-time shot at power forward. The Orlando Magic's logjam in the frontcourt may make that difficult.
Jonathan Isaac was general manager John Hammond's lottery pick in 2017, and he profiles as a next-generation 4 (or even 5 if the Magic want to get frisky). Plus, there's still Nikola Vucevic and Timofey Mozgov eating up minutes at center ahead of 2018 draftee Mo Bamba.
While it's true that rebuilding teams shouldn't worry as much about positional fits, there's a difference between pure talent accumulation and getting in your own way. Hammond and the Magic's front office need to unclutter this roster to get the most out of Gordon, Isaac and Bamba.
22. New Orleans Pelicans
The best thing you can say for Dell Demps and the Pelicans front office is that they seem to be learning from years of mistakes.
Risking Anthony Davis' contentment, the Pels didn't retain DeMarcus Cousins or Rajon Rondo. That had to have been difficult, but it was still the right decision considering Cousins' injury and Rondo's unreliable, overrated performance over the last several seasons.
The trade for Nikola Mirotic last spring worked out well, and the additions of Elfrid Payton and Julius Randle on one-year deals (Randle's technically has a player option on the second year, one he seems likely to decline) could actually result in the Pelicans improving on last year's 48 wins.
Demps' longer history is still relevant. He repeatedly dealt away young players and picks in an effort to surround Davis with immediate help rather than building a team that could grow with its generational superstar. That the Pels are a playoff contender anyway says much more about Davis' brilliance than anything else.
If you consider the whole picture, New Orleans is a competitive team in spite of Demps and the front office.
21. Minnesota Timberwolves
Anthony Tolliver is a respected vet who also happened to shoot 43.6 percent from deep last year. By giving him just a shade over the mid-level exception, the Wolves limited themselves to minimums for the rest of their roster spots. That's hardly fatal, but it was a bit strange when Nemanja Bjelica could have occupied the same spot without triggering the hard cap.
Moving on from Jamal Crawford was wise, but it would have been nice if Minnesota had added more wing depth. Rookies Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop are both promising, but Tom Thibodeau figures to bury them on the bench, as is his custom with youth.
The Wolves are one of the last holdouts on the coach-exec front, as Thibodeau is both coach and president of basketball ops. This is not unrelated to Derrick Rose getting a minimum deal to stay in Minnesota.
20. Phoenix Suns
There's a case to be made that GM Ryan McDonough should have waited a year to commit to Devin Booker, rather than handing the high-scoring guard a five-year, $158 million extension. Booker could stand to prove a bit more before cashing in; his defense remains suspect, and it's worth noting the Suns sacrificed significant cap space next summer by converting what would have been a $9.9 million cap hold to a $27.3 million salary.
Booker may wind up being worth his contract, but the timing could have been better optimized.
Deandre Ayton was a fine selection at No. 1 overall, a welcome addition to a talented core that also includes Josh Jackson and Mikal Bridges—two modern-NBA wings.
McDonough's longer track record—which includes recent draft whiffs on Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, along with ill-advised deals for Brandon Knight and TJ Warren—have to be considered as well.
The Suns are more promising than they've been in years, but McDonough also bears some of the blame for zero playoff trips in his five seasons as GM.
19. Portland Trail Blazers
It's never a good sign when teams burn calories undoing self-inflicted damage, but that's how the Blazers spent the last couple of summers in the wake of ridiculous contracts for Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard and Allen Crabbe. When the trade exception Portland got from the Nets in the Crabbe deal expired this past week, it meant the Blazers gave Crabbe away for nothing but financial relief.
Portland didn't just dump money this offseason, which was a plus.
General manager Neil Olshey paid $48 million to keep Jusuf Nurkic, a quality old-school center whose potential exit would have rankled All-NBA first-teamer Damian Lillard. Nurkic's deal may be above market, but it illustrates the auxiliary concerns execs have to consider. Nobody wants a ticked off star.
Seth Curry could outproduce the departed Shabazz Napier if he's finally healthy, but Nik Stauskas will struggle to match Pat Connaughton's modest production. Olshey didn't meaningfully alter the roster, though Ed Davis' exit might hurt morale a bit.
There wasn't much "wow" in Portland's free-agency transaction log, but Olshey's prior moves contributed to the relative inaction. If Zach Collins develops into a third star alongside Lillard and McCollum, two Olshey draftees, the Blazers front office will deserve a nudge up the rankings.
18. Washington Wizards
Nothing says desperation like signing Dwight Howard and Jeff Green in the same offseason.
GM Ernie Grunfeld has been in charge of personnel since 2003, and the Wizards have made the playoffs eight times in his 15 seasons, including four of the last five. It's clear he's willing to disturb already fragile chemistry to make a run at a top-four seed with LeBron James leaving the conference.
Washington's personnel mix feels combustible, but you have to credit Grunfeld for drafting the current core of John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. There have been rough times (the Wizards failed to win 30 games in every season from 2008-09 to 2012-13), but Grunfeld has the team poised to chase 50 wins right now.
That's good enough for a mid-pack ranking.
17. Miami Heat
Andy Elisburg is the Heat's general manager, but everyone understands team president Pat Riley calls the shots.
Miami found itself stuck this offseason—lacking any picks and unable to move the theoretically tradeable deals it handed out last summer. As such, the Heat will head into 2018-19 with roughly the same roster that won 44 games and got bounced in the first round.
Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo are promising, but the Heat are a veteran outfit—one that could take a dive if Goran Dragic loses a step at age 32 or Hassan Whiteside completely turns the locker room upside down. Josh Richardson is a stud, but he's better suited for a supporting role, and that leaves the Heat without a clear star.
Nothing disastrous is afoot in Miami, but there's a staleness creeping in that may be hard to rectify. That's the fault of the front office.
16. Philadelphia 76ers
This might seem low for a Sixers team poised to contend in the East for years, but remember: The current braintrust didn't build this.
Sam Hinkie's Process netted Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and virtually every asset on the roster can be traced back to the previous regime's calculated losing. Former GM Jerry Colangelo's resignation ended an uninspiring tenure and pushed the Sixers' front office into uncertain territory. There's still no GM in place.
Trading down down for Zhaire Smith (plus an unprotected 2021 first-rounder) and effectively cutting JJ Redick's salary in half were sound moves, but there's room for disappointment in Philly's failure to add a star free agent over the summer. Of course, when your head coach, hastily installed as de facto GM, is collaborating with three other executives in Colangelo's place, it's easy to understand the lack of decisive action.
Absorbing Wilson Chandler and a couple of second-round assets into cap space made sense, and Mike Muscala could replicate a lot of what Ersan Ilyasova brought down the stretch last year. Both were solid moves.
Ultimately, though, it's not that the jury's out on the Sixers' front office; it's that we don't yet know whom to judge.
15. Milwaukee Bucks
Bucks GM John Horst took over in 2017, so there's not much in his transactional history just yet. Notably, he fired Jason Kidd (good), hired Mike Budenholzer (good), avoided overpaying for Jabari Parker (very good), added Ersan Ilyasova on a three-year, $21 million contract (wut?), and signed Brook Lopez for only $3.4 million (great!).
The Bucks feel more stable and sensible than they have in a long time, and it wouldn't be a stunner to see them climb into the East's top three—even with the Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers looking like the clear upper tier in the conference.
Horst and the current front office won't deserve all the credit if that happens, but the moves Milwaukee's made over the last year have been broadly rational.
14. Dallas Mavericks
Trading up to grab Luka Doncic was a bold move that several other teams should have tried to make, so kudos to the Mavs for getting it done. Additional kudos (HOLY SMOKES, TWO KUDOS!) for adding DeAndre Jordan without a second hostage situation ensuing.
Dallas' free-agent legacy is mostly swings and misses, but there's something endearing about its tireless pursuit and outsized ambitions. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
President and GM Donnie Nelson has presided over a long run of winning basketball in Dallas, albeit one deeply scarred by recent revelations of a toxic attitude toward female employees. That's real-world stuff, and it's difficult to know how much Nelson and the rest of the basketball operations types knew or didn't know.
On the floor, the Mavs are prepared to transition into a new era with Dennis Smith Jr. and Doncic while still doing right by Dirk Nowitzki. That's a hard two-step to pull off.
13. Atlanta Hawks
General manager Travis Schlenk sent a message when he discarded Dwight Howard last summer, taking on bad money to do it. The Hawks were going to build the right way, with a deliberate timeline and character as a priority.
Dennis Schroder, facing a felony assault charge, is now also gone following a trade to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Lloyd Pierce, a first-time head coach, will preside over a knucklehead-free roster that'll have more than enough cash to chase a max free agent and/or take on unwanted contracts in 2019.
There's a lot to like about Schlenk's approach, but he's effectively tied his fate to the Trae Young trade. If Young flops and Doncic becomes a star, it'll be hard to view the Hawks front office positively. The first-rounder from Dallas that came with Young provides insurance, but any time you swing a blockbuster deal on draft night, it tends to stick in people's minds.
If the Hawks stay the course and Young works out, we'll have to consider a top-10 spot next time around.
12. Denver Nuggets
We have to start with the rampant cash-dumping this summer, as the Nuggets, led by team president Tim Connelly, got rid of Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur and Wilson Chandler to duck the luxury tax. Current GM Arturas Karnisovas wasn't responsible for the deals those players signed, but Connelly has been making decisions as executive VP and GM since 2013.
Despite those financially-driven moves (which wouldn't be necessary if a cash-flush ownership group would fork over a few tax bucks), the Nuggets front office has built something promising. Jamal Murray and Gary Harris are a dynamic young backcourt, and Nikola Jokic is the best offensive center in basketball. The decision to pay him a year before it was technically necessary was a good move by Connelly and Co. There's no sense in kicking the can down the road if it risks upsetting the franchise cornerstone.
Denver's sub-contender status has as much to do with a brutally tough conference and stingy ownership as anything else. The front office has generally avoided bad deals, though the new one for Will Barton (four years and $53 million) may change that. But Isaiah Thomas' minimum signing is a worthwhile risk, and the youth corps is strong.
11. Brooklyn Nets
Despite inheriting a team crippled by absent draft assets in 2016, GM Sean Marks has used every tool at his disposal to rebuild the Nets. Virtually everything Brooklyn has done since could be described as creative, shrewd or sneaky—all are positives in the world of NBA transactions.
Marks has fired offer sheets at restricted free agents, inhaled draft picks attached to bloated contracts and traded for distressed former lottery picks. Basically, he's accumulated value in every way available, which is what has to happen when help isn't coming in the draft.
Brooklyn tabbed Kenny Atkinson as head coach two years ago, and his three-heavy style puts the Nets at the vanguard (alongside Houston) of NBA offensive trends.
When Marks finally gets to use his own first-rounder in 2019, he may keel over from shock. The idea of simply drafting the talent he wants will seem alarmingly simple after the gymnastics he's performed since taking over.
It's also a testament to Marks' long-term vision that after so many moves, Brooklyn is in line to have upward of $65 million in cap space next summer.
10. Los Angeles Lakers
While it's tempting to credit Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka for landing LeBron James, easily the biggest move of the offseason, we can't know how much their sales pitches and roster preparation had to do with it. James picked the Lakers despite the existence of several destinations boasting better fits and far clearer paths to a title.
There's no "basketball only" argument for James picking Los Angeles. Lakers exceptionalism, SoCal weather, media opportunities and post-hoops career options probably had more to do with James signing up than anything Johnson or Pelinka did.
I'm still in on Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram could become a star, and Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart look like rotation players (at worst). So credit the front office with solid scouting and player development.
Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Michael Beasley are all on one-year deals, which minimizes their negative impact on the Lakers' success and 2019 cap space, but they're also the NBA equivalent of the Bad News Bears. This collection of personalities feels like a perverse experiment designed to test the limits of James' leadership.
The Lakers may not have been championship contenders anyway, but this roster effectively wastes a year of James' prime...and we don't know how many more of those he's going to have.
So despite landing the biggest available free agent, the Lakers front office barely cracks the top 10.
9. Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers' staunch refusal to bottom out means they operate with a higher degree of difficulty than most front offices. Tanking is easy; staying competitive while building for the future isn't.
Victor Oladipo outplayed Paul George last season, vindicating general manager Kevin Pritchard's decision to deal PG for what seemed like a poor return. Now, with Oladipo achieving stardom, Indy has a young cornerstone on a team-friendly deal. That makes it easier to pay free agents a bit of a premium—something the Pacers have historically had to do because they've never been a major destination for talent on the open market.
Deals for Doug McDermott, Tyreke Evans and Kyle O'Quinn add depth to a roster that finished fourth in the East last year. McDermott's shooting and Evan's creation should ease the burden on Oladipo, who was tasked with facilitating just about everything in 2017-18.
Oladipo, McDermott and rookie Aaron Holiday are the only players with fully locked-in salaries for the 2019-20 season, which means the Pacers will have heaps of cap space to spend next summer if they want to. They'll surely retain Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis and several others by extending qualifying offers and picking up team options, but that doesn't change the fact that Indy has preserved obscene flexibility while improving in the short term.
8. Los Angeles Clippers
When Jerry West arrives, practical decisions come with him, and sentiment departs.
It's no coincidence that since West took a consulting role alongside executive VP of basketball operations Lawrence Frank and GM Michael Winger, the Clips have cut ties with the past and set themselves up for a bright future.
The current power structure has been exceedingly busy, but the highlights include: stripping personnel power from Doc Rivers, dealing Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, letting DeAndre Jordan walk, adding roughly 57 quality players at reasonable salaries, drafting Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and preserving maximum flexibility for 2019.
You'd better believe that when Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving and the rest of next year's star-studded free-agent class hit the market, the Clippers will be there with clean balance sheets and blank checks.
It can be dangerous when teams try to have it both ways; the Clippers look like they're planning to chase a playoff spot this year while simultaneously looking down the road. This is an ambitious plan that appears poised to work, though.
And anyway, do you really want to bet against the Logo?
7. Oklahoma City Thunder
General manager Sam Presti may have given up too much in the trade for Paul George last summer, but nobody thought so at the time. And even if pairing George with Russell Westbrook only yielded 48 wins and a first-round exit, the fact that the Oklahoma City Thunder convinced George to stay warrants a ranking this high.
The George retention is a clear win for OKC's culture.
Carmelo Anthony is gone, Dennis Schroder is aboard as an overqualified backup spark plug who might finish games, Nerlens Noel is in the fold on a make-good minimum deal, and Jerami Grant stuck around on a three-year contract.
The Anthony deal not only netted Schroder and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, but it also trimmed $61 million off Oklahoma City's tax bill. The Thunder could have saved more by stretching Melo's salary, but moving on from him via trade underscored the organization's commitment to winning—even at great financial cost.
Presti's longer track record includes highs and lows. He identified elite talent in the draft—Kevin Durant, Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka—but lost three of the four. And the one remaining, Westbrook, is on a deal that'll pay him over $46 million in 2022-23. That's...not ideal.
Still, the Thunder always stay aggressive, add talent and maintain a professional environment. Few organizations could weather the loss of so many stars over the years, but the Thunder keep finding ways to compete.
***Bonus Points: Presti has the tightest fade of any top executive and also kind of looks like Benedict Cumberbatch.
6. San Antonio Spurs
How do you weigh the Kawhi Leonard fiasco against two decades of uninterrupted professionalism and success?
Yes, the rift that developed between the Spurs and their All-NBA superstar calls much into question. But it'd be ridiculous to view it as anything but an outlier. Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford have built too much credibility, erected too sturdy of a culture and produced too many wins to lose much ground because of one conspicuous failure—and it's only a failure if we assume San Antonio was at fault for losing touch with Leonard. It's entirely possible Leonard bears the vast majority of the blame for this breakup.
San Antonio tends to spend too much when retaining its own, and it's refusal to rebuild has lately resulted in some pretty boring, low-ceiling (by San Antonio standards) basketball. But it's difficult to quibble with that practice when the Spurs have finished in the West's top three 15 times since 2000.
This organization adapts constantly, changing styles in ways that set trends while sometimes running against the grain as personnel dictates. Despite the illusion of rigidity, the Spurs may actually be the most flexible organization in the NBA. That's a credit to the front office.
5. Utah Jazz
Not only do the Utah Jazz struggle to sign free agents, but they also tend to lose the ones they draft (see Gordon Hayward). That makes the job done by GM Dennis Lindsey all the more impressive.
The Jazz's cornerstones, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, came aboard via draft-day trades but still count as homegrown commodities. As inside-outside tandems go, you won't find many better than the one Lindsey has created in Utah.
Quin Snyder's egalitarian offense doesn't necessarily count as a positive for the front office, but it does reflect the workmanlike, unassuming tone that defines the organization. It's all part of the same unified ethos.
Lindsey, in charge since 2012, finds value where others fail to see it (Joe Ingles), excels with reclamation projects (Ricky Rubio) and clears the way for emerging stars—even when that means pivoting away from guys who seemed like they were supposed to occupy those roles. The decision to demote Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors when Gobert ascended stands out as one example.
Utah toils mostly in obscurity, but under Lindsey, it's doing consistently good work despite difficult small-market circumstances.
4. Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors' win totals since Masai Ujiri returned to the team as general manager (he's also now president) in 2013: 48, 49, 56, 51, 59.
On Ujiri's watch, the Raps drafted Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl and OG Anunoby while also signing undrafted free agent Fred VanVleet. Poeltl, selected ninth, was the highest pick in that crew, and all of them are, at worst, rotation players. Anunoby and Siakam may quickly become quality starters with star potential, and VanVleet looks like an obvious heir apparent to Kyle Lowry.
It's almost unheard of to win as much as Toronto has while still filling the cupboard with tons of young talent through the draft.
And now the Raps also have Kawhi Leonard, acquired for DeMar DeRozan, Poeltl and a pick.
Parting with DeRozan stings, and it may hurt Toronto's credibility with players around the league. But Ujiri was wise to rent a top-five player however possible (and this was a no-brainer considering the modest outgoing package) and bet on the city and organizational culture turning the partnership into a long-term thing.
The Raps could easily win 60 games, make the Finals and still be set up to contend for years to come if everything breaks right.
3. Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets are always good, always in the mix for marquee free agents (regardless of their cap situation, somehow) and still probably the second-best team in the West after replacing Luc Mbah a Moute and Trevor Ariza with James Ennis and Carmelo Anthony, who will join Houston after clearing waivers, per the New York Times' Marc Stein.
That those moves, seemingly such a talent downgrade, haven't soured many on Houston's offseason speaks to the benefit of the doubt GM Daryl Morey has earned though years of slick dealing.
The Rockets are at the forefront of the NBA's stylistic evolution, have two superstars acquired via trade and have still managed to draft effectively, despite winning enough to generally make selections well outside the lottery. Clint Capela is one of the top young centers in the NBA (though he's still technically on the restricted market), and Houston grabbed him at No. 25 after winning 54 games in 2013-14.
Generally speaking, it's best to assume Morey and the Rockets' analytically driven, relentlessly ambitious front office are always a step ahead.
Long live Dork Elvis.
2. Boston Celtics
Danny Ainge was on the right side of one of the biggest heists in modern NBA history, getting three first-rounders and swap rights on a fourth from the Brooklyn Nets for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in 2014.
That deal alone might be enough to warrant the No. 2 spot in our rankings.
But Ainge also hired Brad Stevens, easily the best young coach in the game—and maybe the best, period. Additionally, he's hit on tons of the picks he earned via trade, notably snagging Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum while also boldly surrendering lottery position for more future assets when the situation presented itself.
In terms of free agency, Al Horford has delivered, and Gordon Hayward will once he's healthy. More recently, Ainge managed to retain Marcus Smart on a four-year, $52 million deal that figures to age well if the top-flight defender becomes anything close to average on the other end.
Trading for Kyrie Irving was an opportunistic swing that didn't wind up costing Boston much, as Isaiah Thomas never regained his form. The Thomas deal offers a fair knock on Boston's front office, which dealt the guard following a career year that ended with a severe hip injury. Ainge will never be accused of sentimentality.
Boston is rife with young talent, should compete for a Finals berth next season and beyond, and remains ideally positioned to trade for the next disgruntled superstar seeking a new team.
Only one organization's front office deserves more praise.
1. Golden State Warriors
You don't build a dynasty without a lot of luck.
The cap spike allowed the Warriors to sign Kevin Durant in 2016 without gutting the roster, Milwaukee could have traded for Stephen Curry instead of Monta Ellis in 2012, Steve Kerr could have signed with the New York Knicks, the Rockets could have gone 1-of-27 instead of 0-of-27 from three during a critical stretch of the 2018 conference finals...the list is long.
But you also don't build a dynasty without nailing the draft, free agency and trades. And you definitely don't do it unless you cultivate one of the most laid-back, inclusive, collaborative organizational cultures in the league—one still defined by rampant hunger for more.
General manager and team president Bob Myers is preternaturally charismatic and unassuming; the former player agent has shown a repeated knack for winning the trade negotiation and the press conference.
Though he doesn't get credit for drafting Curry, Myers was on board for the selections of Klay Thompson (11th), Harrison Barnes (seventh) and Draymond Green (35th). He also negotiated the deal for Andre Iguodala and signed Shaun Livingston. On the lower-profile front, Myers and Golden State's front office repeatedly added talent on the margins that contributed to the team's three titles in the last four years.
This summer, DeMarcus Cousins signed up for the mid-level exception.
You can't argue with across-the-board success and a trio of titles. Myers and the Warriors front office are a cut above the rest.