A decisive triumph awaits a happy CEO
Phoenix general manager James Jones was the guy who regularly held court in his locker half an hour before games and engaged in all manner of conversations during his playing days. The books he read, this what were the financial markets doing, current events, political issues, the nuances of the NBA collective agreement. Everything was good game.
He was smart. He also knew it.
These days, the rest of the NBA – if they didn’t know it before – got it too.
The remaining eight general managers in the NBA playoffs all had success stories to tell long before the start of their 2021 playoffs. For the team that ends up winning the NBA title, it will be a breakthrough since none. of the remaining franchises have not won a championship since 1983. And for the winning GM, it will be another breakthrough – as none of them have won a ring in their current capabilities either.
“I accepted this job saying it would be a challenge for me to help the kids who are here in Phoenix doing their best to see success and live their dream,” Jones, three-time NBA champion as as a player in Miami and Cleveland, recently said on former NBA goalie Rex Chapman’s podcast. “It became my motivation. So when we started working to change the culture, it was more like, “Hey, it’s not about trying to find the players who can bring us back. It’s about taking the players we have and helping them move forward.
The structure of the front offices differs a little from one team to another; GMs simply have more power in some places than others. But the role is vital, no matter how it is defined in each city.
Atlanta’s Travis Schlenk built himself up throughout the draft and then moved on to free agents last summer and this season has made the call tough to fire Lloyd Pierce and promote Nate McMillan. Now the Hawks are in the second round.
Brooklyn’s Sean Marks swung for the fences and landed Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving, then had Steve Nash coach them. Elton Brand in Philadelphia is with a team that kept Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons together, surrounded them with shots, brought in Daryl Morey to deal with issues, and hired Doc Rivers as a coach. Justin Zanik of Utah was the right-hand man of Jazz Executive Vice President Dennis Lindsey for a time, and now has a more practical role in decisions like the Mike Conley trade – a key part of this team ending with the best of the NBA regular season record.
Michael Winger of the Los Angeles Clippers, a team for which Lawrence Frank heads the front office, has been widely regarded in the league for a decade for his techniques in managing salary caps. Jon Horst in Milwaukee has already been an executive of the year, and that was before signing Giannis Antetokounmpo his supermax and acquiring Jrue Holiday. Denver general manager Calvin Booth has worked for years with Nuggets president Tim Connelly and is ending his first year with a club that now has an MVP in Nikola Jokic and is clearly in a championship aspiration window that should last a few years.
And Jones, all he did was hire Monty Williams as a coach and then make a deal for Chris Paul. As a result, the Suns are on their best run in 11 years.
“It’s so important for a coach to have a really good relationship with the front office because if it’s not there then whatever you try to do is not going to work,” said the 76ers coach. Doc Rivers this season.
There are 22 teams already in their offseason, so for the last eight teams and their GMs things are apparently working.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. They all received a good education along the way.
There are ties to Pat Riley; Schlenk, like Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, started in the Miami video room and Jones has been with the Heat for years. There are links with Gregg Popovich; Marks won a title as a player in San Antonio and another there as an assistant.
Some have learned from the best in their field; Brand went to Duke where he learned from Mike Krzyzewski, Winger broke into the sports world learning from renowned agent Ron Shapiro and Zanik’s first job out of college was with the agent. Mark Bartelstein. And there are stories that move up the ranks; Horst won a pair of national titles at the relatively unknown USCAA level in college, and Booth was a 3.3-point-per-game scorer but still carved out a 10-year NBA playing career.
In about a month, one of them will get their hands on the Larry O’Brien Trophy. If the Suns are successful, Jones – who must be a favorite for Executive of the Year – would have his fourth championship in 10 seasons, for three different franchises, in two different jobs.
Logic. After all, his nickname is Champ. Kevin Love called Jones in an Instagram post after the 2016 Championship with the Cavaliers “the best teammate I’ve ever had.”
“To lead,” Love wrote, “sometimes you have to learn to follow.”