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NBA general managers are already some of the most scrutinized professionals in the sport, so which ones have done the best and worst at their jobs?
While examining a “what have you done for me lately?” role, we’ll only grade GMs on their performance over the past three years (or less, if newly hired).
Did your favorite team’s GM pull off a blockbuster trade in 2009? Won’t be considered here. Did that 2014 first-round pick turn into a bust? The selection will be granted immunity for this exercise. We’re only concerned with recent job performance.
GMs often share duties with other members of the front office, such as team presidents and assistant GMs. While the general manager might not have put the finishing touch on a transaction, all moves by the team will be treated as if they were responsible, for better or worse. Only draft picks, trades and other moves from the summer of 2017 until now count.
Here’s how every GM grades out over the past three seasons.
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Three teams—the Chicago Bulls, Denver Nuggets and Detroit Pistons—all either hired GMs after the league went on hiatus or are searching for one.
With Arturas Karnisovas transitioning from GM of the Nuggets to executive vice president of basketball operations with the Chicago Bulls in April, both teams have had to add new front-office members.
The Nuggets replaced Karnisovas with Calvin Booth, the assistant GM in Denver who spent 10 years as a player in the NBA with seven teams.
In Chicago, Karnisovas hired Marc Eversley, most recently the senior vice president of player personnel with the 76ers, to be the Bulls’ newest GM.
The Pistons are searching for a general manager, with senior advisor Ed Stefanski handling most of the duties in the process.
Since neither Booth nor Eversley has had the opportunity to make a transaction, all three teams receive incomplete grades.
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- Traded No. 3 overall pick in 2018 (Luka Doncic) to Dallas Mavericks for No. 5 overall pick (Trae Young) and 2019 first-round pick (Cam Reddish) in 2018
- Drafted De’Andre Hunter No. 4 overall in 2019
- Drafted John Collins No. 19 overall in 2017
- Traded for center Clint Capela in 2020
The former assistant GM of the Golden State Warriors, Travis Schlenk has begun molding the Atlanta Hawks into a mini-version of his former champion teams.
Trae Young has flashes of Stephen Curry in his game with his incredible range and tight handles, and shooting guard Kevin Huerter has a similar 6’7″, 190-pound frame to that of Klay Thompson (6’6″, 215 lbs).
Collins was a brilliant pick outside the lottery in 2017 and is already averaging over 20 points and 10 rebounds per game and shooting 40.1 percent from three, with a hefty contract extension likely coming.
We’ve yet to see Capela play a game since a trade from the Houston Rockets, but Hunter and Reddish look like quality starters at least.
Schlenk will ultimately be judged on his passing on Doncic in favor of Young and the draft pick that became Reddish. While Doncic is the greater talent, Young is already an All-Star starter in his second year.
There’s a lot of young talent on this team, but the Luka swap and a poor 20-47 overall record this season hurt his grade a little.
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- Signed Kemba Walker to four-year, $141 million deal in 2019
- Traded Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, 2018 first-round pick (via Brooklyn Nets) and 2020 second-round pick (via Miami Heat) for Kyrie Irving in 2017
- Traded No. 1 overall pick in 2017 for No. 3 overall pick (Jayson Tatum) and 2019 first-round pick (Romeo Langford)
- Signed Gordon Hayward to four-year, $128 million deal in 2017
Danny Ainge has been the GM of the Boston Celtics since May 2003 and probably has the most job security of any front-office employee in the league given his experience in Boston as both a player and executive.
While his tenure has resulted in a 2008 championship and one of the greatest trades of the past few decades (getting four first-round picks from the Brooklyn Nets for an aging Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce), only moves from the past three years count here.
Trading for Irving in 2017 seemed like a home run, even with giving up the Nets’ unprotected first-round pick. Irving battled injuries and displayed poor leadership, resulting in his leaving in free agency just two seasons later. Getting Walker as a replacement in 2019 certainly helped make up for it, however.
Dealing the first overall pick to the Philadelphia 76ers in 2017 couldn’t have turned out any better, as Boston still got its guy in Tatum at No. 3 with an additional first-rounder to show for it.
Hayward was having a fantastic 2019-20 season following his devastating ankle injury in 2017-18 and will most likely pick up his player option next season as well.
While this is still a backcourt-heavy team with holes at power forward and center, Ainge has done a great job of signing big-name free agents and pulling off trades when needed.
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- Traded D’Angelo Russell (sign-and-trade), Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham to Golden State Warriors for Kevin Durant (who agreed to four-year, $164 million deal) and 2020 first-round pick in 2019
- Signed Kyrie Irving to four-year, $142 million contract in 2019
- Traded Brook Lopez and 2017 first-round pick (Kyle Kuzma) for D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov in 2017
- Drafted Jarrett Allen in 2017
Sean Marks has turned a broken franchise with few draft picks into a team with a real chance to win an NBA title next season.
Trading for Russell in 2017 was a tremendous move, as it gave the team a go-to star who helped lead Brooklyn back into the playoffs. Moving him for Durant was something Marks had to do.
While a run to the Finals next year with a healthy Durant and Irving would solidify Marks’ grade as a perfect A+, there’s still some crash-and-burn potential.
Irving lasted just 20 games this season before undergoing shoulder surgery, and we’ve yet to see what Durant will look like post-Achilles injury.
For now, Marks has made all the right moves, but his financial commitment to two injury-prone stars will decide his success.
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- Signed-and-traded Kemba Walker and 2020 second-round pick to Boston Celtics for Terry Rozier (who signed three-year, $56.7 million contract) and 2020 second-round pick in 2019
- Drafted P.J. Washington No. 12 overall in 2019
- Traded 2019 and 2023 second-round picks to Atlanta Hawks for 34th overall pick, drafted Devonte’ Graham in 2018
- Traded Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for Miles Bridges, 2020 and 2021 second-round picks in 2018
- Signed Tony Parker to two-year, $10 million deal in 2018
While P.J. Washington and Devonte‘ Graham have proved to be tremendous picks for Mitch Kupchak, there’s been some obvious mistakes in his two years running the Charlotte Hornets.
Bridges has been fine, but Gilgeous-Alexander would have been a franchise-changing type player at point guard.
The biggest mistake here was low-balling the best player in franchise history, Walker, while agreeing to give a career 38.0 percent shooter in Rozier almost $19 million per year.
Charlotte is 23-42, has the 28th-best offense in the NBA and is without an All-Star or even a player who looks like a lock to become one.
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- Traded John Henson, Brandon Knight and 2023 second-round pick to Detroit Pistons for Andre Drummond in 2020
- Drafted Darius Garland No. 5 overall in 2019
- Drafted Kevin Porter Jr. No. 30 overall in 2019
- Signed Kevin Love to four-year, $120 million extension in 2018
- Traded Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, a 2018 first-round draft pick (Collin Sexton) and a 2020 second-round draft pick in 2017
Cleveland Cavaliers GM Koby Altman was thrown into a tough situation in 2017, managing a trade request from Irving while trying to keep LeBron James happy in the final year of his contract.
While the Irving trade was mostly a disaster, it did lead to Collin Sexton, the team’s leading scorer at age 21.
Signing Love to a mega-extension was a mistake. The rebuilding Cavs don’t want to trade the 31-year-old Love just to get off his contract, but it’s clear both sides know a split is for the best.
Darius Garland was OK as a rookie coming off a major knee injury in college, although Kevin Porter Jr. looks like he could become a star.
Getting Andre Drummond was an odd move, but the NBA’s rebounding leader is still just 26, and Altman didn’t give up anything of value to get him. Hitting on a 2020 lottery pick and moving Love this summer for anything significant would help Altman’s case.
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- Signed Kristaps Porzingis to five-year, $158 million deal in 2019
- Traded DeAndre Jordan, Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, 2021 and 2023 first-round picks to New York Knicks for Porzingis, Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee in 2019
- Traded No. 5 overall pick in 2018 (Trae Young) and 2019 first-round pick (Cam Reddish) to Atlanta Hawks for No. 3 overall pick in 2018 (Luka Doncic)
- Drafted Dennis Smith Jr. No. 9 overall in 2017
The Dallas Mavericks have done a brilliant job of restocking the talent base following Dirk Nowitzki’s 2019 retirement.
While Young and Reddish would have been exciting, Doncic looks like a future MVP who already has the Mavericks in playoff position in just his second season. Taking the risk to trade up to get him could go down as one of the best moves in franchise history.
Porzingis looks like a great second option next to Doncic, and at age 24 he should only continue to get better.
Donnie Nelson has also done a great job of filling out the roster around the two stars, with Seth Curry, Maxi Kleber, Dorian Finney-Smith and Boban Marjanovic playing their roles perfectly.
Even with some future firsts tied up from the Porzingis trade, Nelson has this team in line to make the playoffs now and compete for championships in a few years.
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- Traded D’Angelo Russell, Omari Spellman and Jacob Evans to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Andrew Wiggins, 2021 first- and second-round picks in 2020
- Signed Draymond Green to four-year, $100 million contract extension in 2019
- Signed Klay Thompson to five-year, $190 million deal in 2019
- Signed-and-traded Kevin Durant and 2020 first-round pick to Brooklyn Nets for D’Angelo Russell (who signed four-year, $117 million deal), Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham in 2020
- Signed Stephen Curry to five-year, $201 million deal in 2017
Bob Myers was the Executive of the Year in 2016-17 after adding Kevin Durant to a 73-win team but has since been hamstrung by KD’s decision to leave and a roster that’s gotten considerably more expensive.
Getting Russell was a big win, especially since the Golden State Warriors didn’t have enough cap space to sign him or any other big free agent outright. While swapping Russell for Andrew Wiggins’ massive contract didn’t make sense, the first-rounder acquired from the exchange could turn out to be quite valuable, especially if it’s moved in a deal for another star player.
Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Thompson’s contracts are more or less rewards for their years with the Warriors and likely won’t match their production by the end of the deals, but Myers didn’t really have a choice but to re-sign all three.
If the Warriors can flip Wiggins and the Timberwolves pick for another star, the Russell deal will look brilliant. For now, Myers’ performance over the past three years alone has just been OK.
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- Traded Clint Capela, Gerald Green, Nene and 2020 first-round pick in four-team deal to acquire Robert Covington and Jordan Bell in 2020
- Traded Chris Paul, 2024 and 2026 first-round picks with 2021 and 2025 first-round pick swaps to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Russell Westbrook in 2019
- Signed James Harden to four-year, $170 million contract extension in 2017
- Traded Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, Sam Dekker, Lou Williams, DeAndre Liggins, Darrun Hilliard, Kyle Wiltjer, 2018 first-round pick and $661,000 in cash to Los Angeles Clippers for Chris Paul in 2017
Daryl Morey has been one of the more active GMs in the league since he took the job in 2007, and his trade for James Harden in 2012 was one of the decade’s best.
While locking Harden into a $170 million extension kept his centerpiece out of trade rumors, Morey has spent the past few years trying to find the perfect co-star.
Chris Paul and Harden went as far as the Western Conference Finals, and moving the veteran point guard for Russell Westbrook proved costly. The Houston Rockets have just one more first-round pick they can trade (2022), meaning there are few other means of upgrading the team around Harden and Westbrook.
This is just another really good team in the West that probably still isn’t talented enough to win a title.
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- Signed Domantas Sabonis to four-year, $77 million deal in 2019
- Traded 2020 first-round pick, 2021 and 2025 second-round picks to Milwaukee Bucks for Malcolm Brogdon in 2019
- Traded cash considerations in three-team deal to acquire T.J. Warren, 2022, 2025 and 2026 second-round picks in 2019
Getting Domantas Sabonis locked into a deal for $19.3 million per year was good value for Chad Buchanan and the Pacers given the 24-year-old big man is averaging 18.5 points, 12.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game.
The trade for T.J. Warren was one of the best of the past few years that rarely gets mentioned, as the 26-year-old forward is leading the Pacers in scoring (18.7 points per game) and is on a good four-year, $47 million contract, and Indiana collected a trio of picks simply for taking on his salary.
While the Pacers had to give up three selections (including their first-rounder this year) for a restricted free agent in Malcolm Brogdon, he’s performed well this season with 16.3 points and 7.1 assists per game.
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- Signed Kawhi Leonard to three-year, $103 million deal in 2019
- Traded Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, 2022, 2024 and 2026 first-round picks, 2021 and 2023 first-round picks (via Miami Heat) and 2023 and 2025 pick swaps to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Paul George in 2019
- Traded Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott to the Philadelphia 76ers for Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, Landry Shamet, 2020 and 2021 first-round picks and 2021 and 2023 second-round picks in 2019
- Traded Miles Bridges, 2020 second-round pick and 2021 second-round draft pick to the Charlotte Hornets for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in 2018
- Traded Blake Griffin, Brice Johnson and Willie Reed to Detroit Pistons for Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, 2018 first-round pick and 2019 second-round pick in 2018
The Los Angeles Clippers have undergone quite a makeover over the past few years, trading franchise star Blake Griffin and loading up on draft picks before cashing them in to land Kawhi Leonard and George.
The Griffin trade was painful at the time but has turned out great for L.A. As the Detroit Pistons look to offload the remainder of his $171 million contract, the Clippers used the picks to help reshape the roster.
Giving up that massive haul for George was necessary to get Leonard, moves that could backfire should both opt out of their deals and leave via free agency in 2021. Still, the Clippers have set up an incredible roster and are one of the most desirable locations in the league, meaning there’s little risk either leaves his home city.
Getting quality role players like Ivica Zubac, Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson have been positive moves as well. The Clippers are only a title away from Michael Winger, Lawrence Frank and the rest of L.A.’s front office getting an A-plus.
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- Traded Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, 2019, 2021 and 2024 first-round picks and 2023 pick swap