Earlier this summer, it was rumored that Donnie Walsh was grooming Allan Houston to become the next general manager of the New York Knicks. Not long after that, team owner James Dolan (briefly) re-hired Isiah Thomas as a part-time consultant, and rumors began to fly that Isiah was being set up to eventually take over for Walsh, who is 69 years old. And as recently as earlier this week, when the Knicks were the subject of NBA TV’s “Real Training Camp,” Houston was interviewed and mentioned as Walsh’s possible successor.
Today, the New York Daily News is reporting that not only is Brooklyn native Chris Mullin in the mix to run the Knicks, he is the guy Walsh wants to get the job. Isiah, Houston and Mullin would have made a nice PG-SG-SF trio in the 1990s — maybe they can play a game of “21” to decide the New York job.
There are a lot of former players who now old high-ranking front office positions in the NBA. John Paxson is making the basketball decisions in Chicago. Larry Bird is with the Pacers. Michael Jordan is the new majority owner of the Bobcats. Many of them were better players than executives, but that’s not always the case. Here are five front office execs whose accomplishment in the boardroom are just as impressive as what they did on the hardwood:
JOE DUMARS — He was Isiah’s right-hand man during the Detroit Pistons’ “Bad Boys” era and has a spot in the Hall of Fame as a player, but Dumars has far exceeded Isiah as an executive. The Pistons’ President of Basketball Operations since 2000, he put together the teams that won an NBA championship in ’04 and ran off six straight Eastern Conference Finals appearances. He brought in Chauncey Billups and handed him the keys at PG when Chauncey was still considered little more than a journeyman, he brought in Ben Wallace when he had next to no profile, and he added the volatile Rasheed Wallace to Detroit’s harmonious mix and saw it result in a ring, among other moves.
DANNY FERRY — The No. 2 overall pick in the 1989 NBA Draft, Ferry had a forgettable NBA career before he went to the other side of the telephone and started drafting and acquiring players himself. In Cleveland he helped build multiple 60-win teams that LeBron James nearly led to a championship, and now he’s in San Antonio as the VP of Basketball Operations.
PAT RILEY — Some people only know Riley the basketball player because he was on the Kentucky team that lost to Texas-Western in the historic NCAA title game recounted in the film Glory Road. But Riley was a 1st-round NBA draft pick (as well as a NFL draft pick) in 1967, and as a player helped the Lakers win a ring in ’72. He then won five more chips as L.A.’s coach in the ’80s, and as part-owner and president of the Miami Heat, he has a championship from 2006 and this summer put together the D-Wade, LeBron and Bosh triumvirate.
DANNY AINGE — As a player, Ainge was a contributing piece for the Celtics in the ’80s. In the front office, Ainge was named NBA Executive of the Year after the ’07-08 season, when he traded for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett and put them with Paul Pierce and draftee Rajon Rondo to bring the Celtics another title. The Celtics were down as an organization for a while, but Ainge has played a big role in bringing back to the NBA’s elite.
JERRY WEST — The 1969 Finals MVP (on a losing team) was “Mr. Clutch” in his playing days, simply one of the greatest ballplayers of all-time. As an exec, West is famous for pulling off the Draft-night trade for Kobe Bryant in ’96, plus luring Shaq to sign with the Lakers in free agency, and building L.A.’s three-peat teams from 2000-02.