Top of the Class: General Managers (2022)

Over the years, we’ve seen how a great front office can be critical to a team’s success. Oftentimes, a great front office can be overlooked since much of the attention goes to the franchise’s star players or head coach. But in reality, it’s the front office that puts together all of the pieces to make a team great.

One of the first teams that come to mind when discussing sustained success in the NBA is the San Antonio Spurs. They have a great organization from top to bottom. It’s no surprise then, that they have had very little change over the years. Teams look to model their success after the Spurs and hope to be as successful as they’ve become.

We continue our ‘Top of the Class’ series today with a look at the league’s best general managers. These candidates have all demonstrated some sort of success to this point and look to continue to build off of that.

6. David Griffin – Cleveland Cavaliers:

Griffin has done a lot since taking over full-time GM duties last year. He came into the job after spending years as one of the most respected executives in the league before finally becoming general manager. Before becoming the GM, he was viewed as one of the best non-GM executives in the NBA, so it should be no surprise that the team has had a very successful first year with Griffin in charge.

Of course, it helps that LeBron James decided to come back home, but to put together the roster he has is impressive. He brought in Kevin Love in exchange for Anthony Bennett, Andrew Wiggins and a first-round pick Cleveland acquired from Miami. Then, the Cavs acquired Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith from the New York Knicks by basically just giving up Dion Waiters in a three-team deal earlier last season. They also acquired Timofey Mozgov from the Denver Nuggets for draft picks. Shumpert, Smith and Mozgov proved to be crucial parts of the Cavs’ run last season.

Both Kyrie Irving and Love would eventually sign long-term deals to give the team a “Big Three” of their own with Irving, Love and James. The team found a gem in Matthew Dellavedova and brought him back for another year on a very cap-friendly $1,147,276 contract. The team also re-signed Iman Shumpert, and they’re expected to re-sign Tristan Thompson, which will keep their core intact for several years to come. Veterans Mo Williams and Richard Jefferson were also added to the team. While James is not officially signed long-term, he’s expected to keep signing one-year deals with Cleveland to take advantage of the growing salary cap. Had it not been for injuries last season, the Cavs may have won its first championship. With their recent moves and the team getting healthy, that seems to be well within reach now.

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5. Neil Olshey – Portland Trail Blazers:

It would be easy to label the Trail Blazers one of the “losers” of the offseason, but Olshey and his team have rebounded nicely after losing many key players. The team lost LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez, Wesley Matthews and Arron Afflalo, but managed to add quality pieces. They brought in Al-Farouq Aminu, Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis, Noah Vonleh, Gerald Henderson, Maurice Harkless, Pat Connaughton and Phil Pressey among others.

While they lost one of the top players in the league in Aldridge, they locked up Damian Lillard on a five-year contract that will keep him in Portland through 2020. Lillard was the first player Olshey drafted for Portland back in 2012 and by keeping him, it ensures the Blazers will remain competitive for the foreseeable future. Lillard, Aminu and Davis are all under contract for at least the next three seasons, which gives the team a solid young foundation they can build around. With so many new pieces, it seems as though head coach Terry Stotts will have his work cut out for him in integrating the new players together, but the Blazers should be back sooner than later.

4. Daryl Morey – Houston Rockets:

Morey has always been known as a general manager looking to make the league’s next big deal. He’s transformed the Rockets into a championship contender after several swing-for-the-fence moves. Of course, he orchestrated the trade to acquire James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder, signed free agents Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza, Corey Brewer and Patrick Beverley among others, and most recently acquired Ty Lawson from the Denver Nuggets.

The Rockets have been in the playoffs five of the eight seasons in which Morey has been in charge, and are coming off of an appearance in the Western Conference Finals. Given the attractive core of players they have, they’ve been in the running to land some of the league’s notable recent top free agents in Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony and LaMarcus Aldridge. While they didn’t ultimately sign those players, they’ve become a destination many free agents are now considering since Morey took over. With the arrival of Lawson this summer, many believe the Rockets can be a serious contender to come out of the West next season since their team is as deep as ever.

3. Pat Riley – Miami HEAT:

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Much like the situation in Los Angeles with the Clippers, the HEAT are in a similar position. While it’s Andy Elisburg that handles the day-to-day general manager duties, it’s Riley that ultimately makes the final roster decisions. The HEAT have had perhaps the best run of their history under Riley. They’ve made the playoffs in 16 of the 20 seasons that Riley has been in charge. They landed LeBron James and Chris Bosh in 2010, pairing them with Dwyane Wade to form one of the best “Big Three” groups we’ve seen in recent memory. Riley was named the Executive of the Year after that season, despite losing in the NBA Finals to the Dallas Mavericks. During that run in the playoffs, they made four-straight Finals appearances and ultimately won the championship in two of those years.

Riley has done an excellent job with the HEAT in the post-LeBron era. After losing a player of his caliber, it would have been easy to see the team fall out of contention, but the HEAT remained in the playoff hunt all season long. Had it not been for a freak blood-clot injury to Bosh, the team likely would have made the playoffs. Riley added Josh McRoberts and Luol Deng last summer, and then executed a trade for Goran Dragic at last season’s trade deadline. One of the biggest signings in recent years was adding Hassan Whiteside last November, as he quickly became one of the best young players in the league and is a key member of their core.

To further add to his recent luck, the team was handed a gift in the draft when Justise Winslow fell to the 10th pick. Winslow was considered by some to be a top-five pick, but ultimately landed in Miami at No. 10. Then, they re-signed Wade and Dragic this summer and added Amar’e Stoudemire and Gerald Green on minimum contracts to bolster its second unit. Just one year after losing James, Riley has the HEAT back in the mix and ready to seriously compete in the Eastern Conference.

2. Bob Myers – Golden State Warriors:

The Warriors have become the best team in the league, and it took just three years for Myers and his group to put it all together. Prior to taking over in 2012, the Warriors had missed the playoffs in five consecutive seasons, but have now made the postseason three years in a row and are coming off of their first championship since 1975. For his efforts, Myers was named the 2014-15 Executive of the Year. Of course, inheriting a roster with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson helped, but Myers is responsible for taking the team to the next level.

Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli were all drafted under Myers’ watch, and all figure to be part of the team’s long-term plans. Re-signing Green this summer was perhaps the most important objective Myers had to do, and by retaining him it means the team’s core will remain intact for at least another season. They felt strongly about their championship roster and elected to only make a few minor moves after trading David Lee, adding Jason Thompson and drafting Kevon Looney. Myers will surely have his work cut out for him next summer as the team will only have six players under contract and he’ll be forced to make decisions on several players, including Shaun Livingston, Barnes, Marreese Speights and Ezeli. But by then, we could be talking about how the Warriors just wonback-to-back championships.

1. R.C. Buford – San Antonio Spurs:

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There should be no question as to which general manager is the best in the league. Buford and the Spurs just landed arguably the top free agent of the summer in LaMarcus Aldridge, and re-signed several key players to the team. They re-signed Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to long-term deals and brought back Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili for at least one more season as well. Given their successful summer, some have labeled them as the favorites to win the Western Conference this year.

The Spurs organization is one of the best in the league (and all of professional sports). They have made the playoffs 18 years in a row, and have only missed the playoffs seven times since 1980. They’ve had some of the best players in NBA history with David Robinson, Duncan, Ginobili and Tony Parker, and have one of the best coaches of all time in Gregg Popovich. There’s a reason they’re described as the model sports franchise. This team is one of the best destinations each year for free agents given its rich history and championship-caliber rosters. The Spurs have won four out of their five championships under Buford and are potentially looking at a sixth next year. It almost seems too easy for Buford at this point.

Honorable Mention:

Danny Ainge – Boston Celtics:

Ainge has been with the Celtics since 2003 and has guided them to a very successful run. They’ve missed the playoffs in just three seasons since Ainge took over and won the championship in 2008. Following the “Big Three” era with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, Ainge has done a masterful job of acquiring young players and assets. It seems if there’s a trade happening involving assets, the Celtics are somehow involved. It’s paid off for the Celtics and the team seems poised for big things. They have a really young core in Jared Sullinger, Marcus Smart, Tyler Zeller, Isaiah Thomas, James Young and Jae Crowder, and have added veteran pieces in David Lee and Amir Johnson. It remains to be seen if Ainge is done piecing together the roster, but he’s put them in a great position to achieve success.

Sam Presti – Oklahoma City Thunder:

Presti has been key behind the Thunder transitioning from a new franchise to championship contender. It started with his ability to draft well. Presti drafted players like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, James Harden, Reggie Jackson, Steven Adams and Mitch McGary among others. While some of those players are no longer on the team, he acquired future assets in return, which have helped shape the team as it is today.

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The Thunder figure to return completely healthy next season and should easily be in the playoff hunt this season after missing the playoffs last year. Presti added Enes Kanter at the trade deadline last season and opted to match a max four-year, $70 million deal for him this summer. Cameron Payne was drafted with the 14th pick in the draft and is a player who can contribute immediately, which further adds to the Thunder’s depth. It’s clear that Presti will greatly need the Thunder to do well this season in hopes to persuade Durant to re-sign in Oklahoma City next summer when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. If he can get Durant to re-sign, he could become one of the most important people in Thunder history.

Dennis Lindsey – Utah Jazz:

The Jazz have one of the best up-and-coming cores in the league and have a real shot at returning to the playoffs next season. They’ve acquired young players at every position and stockpiled valuable assets under Lindsey, and they’re beginning to see those moves pay off. Perhaps one of the best moves Lindsey made was acquiring Rudy Gobert from the Denver Nuggets. Last year’s move to hire Quin Snyder seems to be really paying off as well, since the Jazz achieved great second-half success last season. They played some of their best basketball toward the end of the season and figure to keep it going heading into next season.

Doc Rivers (President) – Los Angeles Clippers:

Dave Wohl holds the title of general manager for the Clippers, but it’s Rivers who has the final say on personnel moves so we’re evaluating him instead of Wohl (who does the day-to-day work). Rivers had a redeeming summer in which he provedinstrumental in the team retaining DeAndre Jordan and signing Paul Pierce. He’s made some questionable moves in the past like trading away draft picks, parting ways with players after only a season on the team and drafting players that didn’t pan out.

It seems as though this is the first year he’s finally turning things around. The Clippers went from having one of the worst offseasons (after it was thought Jordan was leaving) to one of the best. While the additions of Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith appear to be great on paper, both players bring a lot of baggage and could ultimately not work out. However, if Stephenson and Smith fit well into the system and can contribute well enough, the moves could pay off and make Rivers look great.

Rob Hennigan – Orlando Magic:

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Hennigan certainly hasn’t accomplished as much as the other names on this list, but he seems to be an executive on the rise. He inherited a team full of uncertainty with a disgruntled Dwight Howard and a number of pricey contracts. He began shuffling things around and has since acquired a number of draft picks and assets. In three seasons, he has put together a young core full of talented players in Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris, Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon, Mario Hezonja and Evan Fournier among others. After hiring a new head coach in Scott Skiles, this next season could be the one in which the team takes the next step in their development.

Who did we leave out? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!


Who is on top of general manager? ›

Tip. The general manager in the hierarchy usually falls below the vice president of operations. Vice presidents stand below the C-suite executives. Below the vice presidents come directors and then managers.

Is general manager top level? ›

In small companies, the general manager may be one of the top executives. In hierarchical organizations, GMs rank above most employees but below corporate-level executives. The responsibility and importance associated with the position may vary among companies and often depend on the organization's structure.

Who is bigger GM or DGM? ›

They have different designations starting from clerk, PO, assistant manager, manager, deputy general manager, general manager, and managing director. Starting from the managing director being the highest post and the clerk being the lowest post.

Is general manager top level or middle level? ›

  1. Top Level Management: Top level management consists of Chairman, Board of Directors, Managing Director, General Manager, President, Vice President, Chief Executive Officer (C.E.O.), Chief Financial Officer (C.F.O.) and Chief Operating Officer etc. ...
  2. Middle Level Management: ...
  3. Supervisory Level/Operational Level:

What level is a general manager? ›

General manager and boss have been thought of synonymously. Yet, increasingly, corporate organizations are providing for general management positions at levels below the chief executive; and, as a result, the number of general managers at the middle level is rising.


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