So I was trying to think, who would the best NBA front offices be? First, I'll admit to not being a full expert on all of the other teams. I don't expect this list to be "correct", but I thought it was a great idea to try and figure it out anyway.
Tier #1: The elite front offices
1: San Antonio - They've had a great core in place for a long time, but their move to get Kawhi to reinvigorate the whole team was great, and they've always moved on from role players and replaced them with other great role players. They're an elite team year in and year out. They've won five titles with effectively three very different teams and three different finals MVPs and built a culture where guys would take less to stay.
2: Golden State - They built a title team through the draft without a pick higher than #7. They were smart in letting some guys who looked like great players and helped them earlier go (Ellis, Davis). They were bold in firing Jackson to bring in Kerr despite some pretty good seasons. They didn't trade Klay for Love despite many people thinking they should. Lots of bold moves and earned a title without any of the traditional luck most teams need to do so.
3: Miami - Pat Riley has found ways to create windows to build two different title teams, and though they're struggling now, he's been able to put together big plans and pull them off to bring 3 titles to Miami which is a damn impressive effort. He had some luck on his side to get Wade initially, but he's really made the most of it.
4: Dallas - Cuban has had them on a long sustained run of success and stuck with it long enough to win a title when virtually all fans felt he should rebuild. He's aggressive in what he tries to do and it doesn't always work, but he keeps working it. I'm interested to see how he approaches life without Dirk. Everything he's done so far has still been built around that one lucky strike early.
5: Boston - Ainge has been aggressive about everything he's done. When his team looked like one of the worst in the NBA, he found a way to add two superstars to it and get a title. Not that he's awful again, he's not hung on to assets too long and has given his team a ton of bullets to attempt to improve. It remains to be seen if he can hit in the draft with all these picks, so far the results are possibly better than expected (and possibly better than wanted keeping them out of the elite draft area this year).
Tier #2: The very good, but some gaps front offices
It don't mean a thing without that ring, and the front offices above all found a way to do it while the ones below haven't.
6: Chicago - The ranking this high gives them a lot of benefit of the doubt of where they could be without Rose's injury. They've built a team that should have been competing for the title for the past five seasons. They've done great drafting guys, but there are concerns about hanging on too long with some of them and overpaying at times, but they've found star talent in unexpected places.
7: OKC - They accumulated a ton of great players with their draft picks to build a potential elite team. They've got two potentially top five guys. That said, they traded Harden for crap, and choose Perkins/Ibaka over him. Presti's still made some great moves since then (picking up Kanter for pennies on the dollar), but injuries have derailed them overall and possibly kept them from winning a title they might otherwise have. I put them behind the Bulls because besides the injuries, they also traded away the player that might have gotten them a title (for crap) whereas the Bulls made no similarly stupid trade.
8: Atlanta - They got rid of the guy who deserves all the credit, but fleecing the Nets on Joe Johnson was absurdly good. Getting Paul Millsap in cheap was incredible. Lots of other great value signings panned out for them. They've also been a good team for a really long time without a true star to ever hang their hats on. I think they'll struggle with the next step, but this is a team that has been consistently despite having virtually nothing going for it to help it out in the luck department.
9: Houston - I'm less certain on these guys. Their ability to get Harden/Howard was incredible and deserves a lot of credit to bring in a big name FA and a big name player via trade. That said their handling of Parsons this year potentially cost them a title and makes you wonder WTF they were thinking. Morey strikes me as a guy who despite his "analytics" has really largely achieved success only on his big name players. If his analytics really paid off he should be building out tremendous role players out of nowhere and really isn't.
10: Memphis - A team that has become a consistently great team without a traditional superstar or players who are great in the new NBA style. Memphis has found a way to make it all work in a different mode, and I think that's been pretty impressive. They've been generally shrewd with their contracts, not overpaying, and keeping together a quality team in a non money rich market.
Teams I considered but ultimately left off (in no particular order, but would probably be my next tier):
Cleveland - They screwed up their moves the first time LeBron was there so badly that he left. They were gifted a ridiculous number of high draft picks and ultimately created enough upside for LeBron to return. That said, they don't seem like they picked the right coach and I think they're well on their road to screwing the whole thing up again.
Clippers - Doc Rivers has been a mad scientist, and it feels like all his small moves have made things worse. They're a really good team, but they're built upon two great moves which were both no brainers (trading for Paul and drafting Griffin) and outside of that, not much impressive has really been done here.
Washington - They've put together a really nice team here, but it's all been done via a pretty straight forward way. I'm not sure I've seen much creativity or great value from unexpected places. Their stars are guys drafted at the top of the draft whom most of us would have taken and expected to be stars.
Toronto - They've been a bit better in the standings lately, but have a long history of just treadmilling through mediocre players and haven't found special talents in the draft even when they've had good opportunities.
Portland - They've had tons of high draft picks and lots of times where people thought they'd be the next big thing. They've made some great trades (picking up Lillard through a traded pick is a great example) and good signings (Matthews), but they also took Oden over Durant and despite their good moves have never been able to get anywhere. It's tougher to give them the benefit of the doubt with injuries since they routinely drafted high guys with big injury red flags, but they're still definitely good.
General thoughts on difficult decisions:
Picking #2. I ultimately liked GS a bit more than Miami because their decisions were far less obvious and required more foresight. Riley pulled off the big coup twice, but I think GS had a much more difficult and narrow margin for error path to get where they got.
Whether Boston/Dallas should be in an a tier onto themselves or not. I eventually decided that in five years, there's a really good chance that what Miami and GS did will look similar to what Boston and Dallas did, so that they belong together.
Picking between Chicago and OKC. I ultimately put Chicago ahead of OKC because OKC seemed more directly responsible for its failures than Chicago by making a really awful trade, but they've also had more success in a tougher conference, so I could go the other way.
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