Everyone always talks about coaches being fired and hired at this time of year. What I find funny is that the men who pull the trigger on those hires and firings — the general managers, VP’s of Basketball Operations, or whatever other title teams have for their top basketball decision makers — often are the ones that need to go. Here are five top-level executives that need to hand over the keys, especially in this all-important summer of 2010:
1. Michael Jordan (Bobcats)
Now that he’s the majority owner, obviously Mike isn’t going anywhere, but he needs to hire someone else to have the final say in Charlotte’s basketball decisions. Jordan has a horrible track record in the front office, dating back to his Washington Wizards days when he took Kwame Brown with the No. 1 overall pick in 2001, and traded a young Rip Hamilton for Jerry Stackhouse. In Charlotte he has made even more mind-boggling moves, like trading Matt Caroll for Desagana Diop and taking on the little-used Diop’s 6-year, $32 million deal. He also drafted Adam Morrison ahead of Brandon Roy, and used a first-round pick on Alex Ajinca, who averaged under 5 points per game in France and is on the fast-track to full-blown bust status. Bottom line, MJ needs to remove himself from basketball operations if he wants his team to win.
2. Ed Stefanski (76ers)
As a Nets fan I watched Stefanski develop into one of the premiere basketball scouting guys in the NBA, but in his first job as GM in his hometown of Philly, he’s turned the Sixers into a mess. His first major move was trading Kyle Korver to free up cap space, and Korver has proven to be one of the best shooters in the NBA. With that cap space Stefanski signed Elton Brand to a 5-year, $79 million contract, and Brand has yet to fit in with the Sixers and has yet to return to the star form he showed with the Clippers. Stefanski also overpaid to keep Andre Igoudala, giving him $80 million. Stefanski also signed Allen Iverson last year, which did nothing. (Though that move was probably forced upon him by the Sixers marketing department.)
3. Ernie Grunfeld (Wizards)
Grunfeld is a basketball lifer who knows his stuff, but the way he dismantled the Wizards, his hiring of Flip Saunders, and his strained relationship with Gilbert Arenas (who is still the team’s best player) signal it’s time for Grunfeld to go. I agree with his decision to gut the team and trade Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, but the return he got for those two players was terrible: Troubled and injury-prone Josh Howard in exchange for Butler and Brendan Haywood, and only Al Thornton plus a late first-round pick for Jamison’s 20 points and 10 boards a night. Hiring Flip Saunders and his complicated offensive schemes was a bad idea from the start and proved terrible once the season started.
4. John Paxson (Bulls)
As VP of Basketball Operations, Paxson has been making the calls in Chicago for a while now. He got off to a good start, trading for Luol Deng‘s draft rights and drafting Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich, but recently he’s made some terrible moves. His first really bad one was swapping the rights to LaMarcus Aldridge to Portland for Tyrus Thomas. Now Aldridge is beginning to realize his All-Star potential and is a great sidekick for Brandon Roy, while the Bulls dealt with three and a half years of inconsistency from Thomas before trading him to Charlotte. Paxson also signed an over-the-hill Ben Wallace for 4 years and $60 million, while letting an up-and-coming Tyson Chandler go. Another stain on Paxson’s resume is his decision to hire Vinny Del Negro, who had no prior coaching experience, opening up relentless questioning of Del Negro’s ability and hastening his eventual firing.
5. Larry Bird (Pacers)
I don’t see Bird being fired, but he’s made some very questionable decisions in Indiana. While Bird has been put in a tough position — simultaneously trying to build a good basketball team and rebuild a once loyal fan base — he still hasn’t done enough on either end. The Pacers, despite bringing in a team of “good guys,” are still at the bottom of attendance in the League and their play on the court leaves much to be desired. Bird traded talented scorers Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington away for Mike Dunleavy Jr., who is injured more often than not, and Troy Murphy, a four who likes to shoot threes. He also acquired T.J. Ford, who turned out to be a disaster, and gave Dahntay Jones a 4-year deal at $17 million. The team has a proven star in Danny Granger, but Bird has yet to put the talent around him that will allow the Pacers to get to the playoffs. It’s time to get rid of him.