NBA Asset Rankings: Which Front Offices Mismanaged Their Assets Most in 2016-17
“One of the great responsibilities that I have is to manage my assets wisely, so that they create value.” – Alice Walton, heir to the Walmart inheritance.
If Ms. Walton were to take her philosophies to an NBA front office, she would be a welcome addition to the staff. Ask yourself right now: Who is the Boston Celtics’ general manager? Who holds the same position for the Houston Rockets?
A decent number of you probably know the answers: Danny Ainge and Daryl Morey. Now, without looking it up, tell me who the general manager is for the Memphis Grizzles, or even the Phoenix Suns.
The answers: Chris Wallace and Ryan McDonough, respectively. But you may not know that unless you’re a fan of either of those teams. And that’s because those two aren’t as lauded for their body of work.
Capable front offices, and more specifically, expert asset management, can make a good team great, a great team a title contender and a bad team rebuild more effectively. Shoddy front offices have the opposite effect. They bring teams down a peg and can slow a rebuilding process to a halt, often binding franchises to a treadmill of mediocrity.
And yet, many squads still end up in that exact situation. That got me thinking: Which front offices are worst at Ms. Walton’s self-defined greatest responsibility—managing assets so they create value?
For Part 2 of my asset series, we’ll look at front offices who were least skilled at managing their top commodities. If you haven’t read Part 1, I ranked every player in the NBA from best to worst as an asset. Using these same rankings, I also ordered each front office from best to worst, and then created a scatter plot that compares a team’s asset ranking to its win total. In this portion of the series, we will focus on the teams that fared worst.
Here is something that shouldn’t shock anyone: Of the 13 squads that finished the season under .500, nine placed in the bottom half of the league in asset management. The four that finished worse than .500 and in the top half were the Philadelphia Sixers, New Orleans Pelicans, Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves. Though they each tallied unimpressive records, this is mostly because they deployed a lot of exceptional young players who haven’t yet reached their primes (Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic, Karl-Anthony Towns, etc.).
The other nine sub-.500 teams have front offices that need a reality check: the Charlotte Hornets, Phoenix Suns, Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks, Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, Brooklyn Nets and, coming in last, Orlando Magic. They had the worst front offices—regimes that overpaid players and assembled suboptimal talent, which isn’t conducive to winning.
This becomes undeniably obvious when noting how the Kings, Lakers, Nets, Magic and Knicks have all recently implemented personnel changes at the top. All nine of these teams, meanwhile, have at least one player being paid way more than they should. Some even own one or more of the league’s worst contracts.
Lets go through just a modicum of the terrible decisions made by these non-winners.
The Hornets gave Nicolas Batum the max (five years, $120 million) last summer. It wasn’t even close to the biggest overpay of this article, but that’s still more than he’s worth. As a result of this contract, the Hornets are now close to paying the luxury tax this season, yet are fielding a roster that is far from a luxury.
The Suns are paying both Tyson Chandler and Brandon Knight too much money ($28.2 million combined in 2017-18). Between Leandro Barbosa, Devin Booker, Eric Bledsoe and Tyler Ulis, it’s hard for the underwhelming Knight to get minutes. Additionally, Phoenix is flush with interior players; Alan Williams, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, Alex Len and even Jared Dudley played post minutes last year, which makes it hard for Chandler to get burn. Now, they are at an impasse in contract negotiations with the aforementioned Len because they have neither the playing time nor incentive to pay him.
Los Angeles Lakers
Timofey Mozgov (four years, $64 million) is on perhaps one of the two worst contracts in the NBA. The Lakers had to trade D’Angelo Russell, the No. 2 pick in the draft only two years ago, just to get another team to take the big man’s deal, and they now have one fewer asset going forward.
Brooklyn Nets and Sacramento Kings
The Nets and Kings have recently made countless mistakes, but the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce and Nik Stauskas trades are possibly the two worst in the NBA over the last decade. As a direct result of these transactions, both of these teams are slogging through rebuilds that have spanned a half-decade and counting, and both franchises have needed to overpay free agents just to get them to come play for them.
The Pistons paid Jon Leuer, Andre Drummond, Boban Marjanovic and Aron Baynes about $50 million dollars to basically play the same position. Now, like the Hornets, they are up against the tax and unable to add any difference-makers to the roster, which is a huge problem after notching a sub-.500 record and missing the playoffs.
The Mavericks get a pass. They blew $25 million on Dirk Nowitzki, but he earned that legacy deal through past performances and pay cuts.
On to the team that truly showed the league what happens when you poorly handle your assets.
The Magic went into the 2016 offseason with Victor Oldadipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the No. 11 pick in the draft (eventually Domantas Sabonis). What do they have to show for those assets? Terrence Ross (a player who finished lower in the asset rankings than Sabonis and Oladipo, as well as tied with Illyasova), a top-20-protected 2020 first-rounder and a 2020 second-rounder.
General manager Rob Henningan has since been fired, and it’s no wonder why. Trading away three assets for one mediocre player and two underwhelming picks is a good way to hamstring the flexibility of your team. Oh, and thats just one bad thing the Magic did. They also paid Bismack Biyombo $17 million per season and gave Jeff Green, C.J. Watson and Evan Fournier a combined $37 million—a combination of overpays and poor talent evaluation that could leave this team stuck in the mud for years.
New York Knicks
The Knicks have shackled themselves to a similar situation. They traded Jerian Grant and Robin Lopez for Derrick Rose, when the former two both profiled as better assets. Then, to make matters worse, they massively overpaid Joakim Noah (four years, $72.6 million) and slightly overpaid Courtney Lee (four years, $50 million). These moves will make it nearly impossible for the Knicks to compete in the near future.
Take this summer: Thanks to the Noah contract, the Knicks only had $16 million in cap space while keeping 10 guys on the roster. They fired team president Phil Jackson as a result, but the new regime isn’t faring much better after paying $71 million for Tim Hardaway Jr.
Asset Management is Crucial to Team Success
Winning and asset management clearly had a correlation in my calculations. Smart front offices can make teams; bad, impulsive and clueless infrastructures can break them. Playoff droughts, like the ones the Kings, Knicks and Timberwolves continue to endure, are based more on asset management than luck. Ditto for the crummy salary-cap sheets in Detroit and Orlando.
Franchise outlooks, both good and bad, can almost always be traced back to a front office’s competence—or lack thereof. Hopefully, those highlighted here can give their fanbases something, anything, to root for soon.
Follow Tony on Twitter @SuperDuperTone.