General Managers and Front Offices on the Hot Seat
Now that teams have around ten games left in the regular season, most organizations can evaluate the states of their front offices as we near the offseason. While the majority of general managers and front office personnel from playoff teams should feel safe, the same can’t be said about the lottery teams. Here are the teams with a management group on the hot seat:
There is no GM in the NBA with a hotter seat than the Magic’s Rob Hennigan. Hennigan’s tenure started with the difficult task of trading Dwight Howard in 2012 and rebuilding a franchise. It was understandable that the team wouldn’t be a quick fix, but it has now been five years and the team hasn’t finished better than 11th in the conference. Orlando doesn’t have a clear direction and hasn’t turned any of its assets into true franchise building blocks. In a 14-month span Hennigan managed to turn Tobias Harris, Victor Oladipo, and the 11th pick of the 2016 draft into Terrence Ross; the less favorable of the Clippers and Raptors 2017 1st round pick (likely somewhere between pick 20-25); and the cap space to overpay Jeff Green, DJ Augustin, and Bismack Biyombo this past summer. Hennigan’s draft record has also been pretty poor. He traded Domantas Sabonis (2016 1st round pick) and Victor Oladipo (2013 1st round pick), and got little contribution from Andrew Nicholson (2012 1st round pick) before his departure in free agency. His only 1st round picks remaining on the roster are Aaron Gordon (4th pick in 2014), Elfrid Payton (10th pick in 2014), and Mario Hezonja (5th pick in 2015). Payton is an okay point guard at best, but his lack of shooting will make it hard for him to ever be an above-average starter. Gordon is one of the NBA's premier athletes, but he has yet to find his place in the pros. The Magic couldn’t seem to figure out where to play him (he is a power forward!) until after the Serge Ibaka trade. He is another player that seems like he could be a star if he learned to shoot, but he is about to finish his third NBA season and has made little progress in this area. For some reason Hezonja can’t find time on the court despite this horrific roster. It’s hard to feel good about his future prospects when he can’t get minutes over the likes of Jodie Meeks and Jeff Green. Given his track record it seems that it is time to move on from Hennigan.
New York Knicks
Phil Jackson doesn’t appear to actually be on the hot seat, but I’m including him here because he should be. There have been very few positive decisions mixed in with a slew of mistakes during his tenure as team president. First, Jackson managed to turn Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert, and J.R. Smith into almost nothing of note. Then Jackson agreed to give Carmelo Anthony a near max-deal with a no-trade clause, only to want to trade him midway through the extension. The trade clause not only gives Melo the ability to pick what team he goes to, but what comes back in the trade. If he doesn’t like the pieces leaving his potential new team in a deal with the Knicks, he can use his no-trade clause to stop the trade. In other words, the Knicks either have to trade Anthony for little in return or keep him and continue this awkward relationship. This past summer represented a great opportunity for the Knicks since it was the first time in years they didn’t have any horrendous long-term deals on the books AND owned all of their future 1st round picks. In classic Knicks fashion Jackson signed Joakim Noah to a four-year, $72M contract. The second the Knicks signed that deal they made Noah the worst and most untradeable contract in the NBA. Noah has proceeded to have yet another injury-riddled campaign with a steep decline on the floor. To top it off, Noah was recently suspended for 20 games. Just as a reminder, the Knicks are stuck with him for three more years. For that alone Jackson should be fired.
Vlade Divac has made some (very) questionable moves in his time as the Kings GM, but it seemed as if he was safe with ownership. That was until reports said the team was reaching out to former 76ers GM Sam Hinkie. Sacramento has thus far denied these reports, but it is certainly a situation worth monitoring this summer.
New Orleans Pelicans
It only seems right to talk about the Pelicans after the Kings. Most fans and NBA personnel seemed to applaud Dell Demps for the acquisition of DeMarcus Cousins, but Demps isn’t out of the fences yet. The Pelicans have a great core with Anthony Davis, Cousins, and Jrue Holiday. Unfortunately, the rest of the team is filled with average- to below-average players and some terrible contracts (I’m looking at you Omer Asik). Davis is locked up on a long-term deal, but Holiday is a free agent this season and Cousins the following year. Holiday will likely demand a max contract and the Pelicans will have little choice but to give it to him. They wont have the cap space to replace Holiday and they will not have a 1st round pick (unless it falls in the top three). The Pelicans will then have up until next season’s trade deadline to see how Cousins fits with Davis and to determine whether or not they believe both sides will come to an agreement on an extension. If they keep him past the deadline, they risk losing him for nothing. If this situation doesn’t work out in the Pelicans' favor, don’t expect to see Demps around too much longer.
This organization is simply a mess. People love to hate on the Kings, Lakers, and Knicks lately (and rightfully so), but it’s not hard to argue that the Bulls have been just as dysfunctional. The crazy thing is this team might somehow still make the playoffs. Nikola Mirotic, Michael Carter-Williams, and Rajon Rondo (only $3M guaranteed next season) are sure to be playing elsewhere next season. Dwyane Wade has a $23.8M player option, and it remains to be seen what he will opt to do. The Bulls main pieces moving forward are young players like Jerian Grant, Cameron Payne, Denzel Valentine, and Bobby Portis — as well as veterans Robin Lopez and Jimmy Butler. The Butler situation will be especially interesting to follow given all the rumors that have circulated around him. Team culture is an aspect of an NBA organization that is always talked about as being very important and influential. However, there is no real way to measure it. Nonetheless, it doesn’t take an expert to see from afar that the Bulls, as currently constructed, are a toxic organization, and it all starts with their front office. Ownership might give current management one more shot at either rebuilding around Butler or post-Butler, but I believe that someone new should be handed this task.
The Pacers are caught in a crossroads with Paul George that many small/mid-level markets have been in with their star players: keep George and risk losing him for nothing in summer 2018 free agency or trade him to recoup some of his value. It’s unclear whether the Pacers would actually fire Indiana legend Larry Bird, but what happens with George will have a huge impact on Bird and the franchise’s future.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers might have the biggest summer of any of the 30 NBA teams. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and JJ Redick are all free agents this summer, and their decision to re-sign could heavily hinge on the outcome of this postseason. In his first three seasons with the Clippers, L.A. has yet to reach the Conference Finals. If they fail for a fourth time under his leadership, it wouldn’t be surprising to see at least one of their core free agents feel the need for a change of scenery. As of today the Warriors, Spurs, and Rockets all appear to be superior teams, making it hard to imagine the Clippers reaching the Western Conference Finals. The Clippers may have a difficult time getting past the Jazz, likely their first round opponent, in the opening round of the postseason. Doc left Boston because he didn’t want to stick around for a rebuild so it’s entirely possible that he would do the same in this situation. There have already been rumors that Doc is targeting a reunion with Orlando if the Clippers collapse in the postseason and in free agency.