From First to Worst: Five NBA Hall of Famers who failed as GM

More often than not, the NBA superstar athlete is unable to translate the success he had on the floor onto either the sidelines or front office. There are exceptions to this rule, such as Pat Riley, Bill Russell, KC Jones or Rudy Tomjanovich, but for the most part, top-tier players have had difficulty leading their teams from the bench as easily as they did when they were in uniform. Imagine Coach Jordan condemning a player for not dropping forty a night. It’d be like Mozart asking a pupil to compose the perfect symphony. They simply expect too much.

phil-jacksonThe best coaches are generally the more cerebral, fringe players, if they ever even played at all. Phil Jackson averaged seven points and four rebounds over his career but he’s the winningest coach of both the Chicago Bulls AND the Los Angeles Lakers. Red Auerbach never played a minute in the league.

One would think the greatest players ever would be able to at least scout talent, yet time and again they’ve proven woefully inadequate when it comes to building a championship franchise.

Five perennial all-stars come to mind, ferocious on the court but inept in the front office. Accordingly, here’s’s list of Five Best (Players) to Worst (GM’s).

5 – Joe Dumars

I know what you’re saying. Joe Dumars built a championship franchise, but this is the NBA and fans want to know what you’ve done for them lately. This year, the Pistons are 23 games out of first place and a shell of their former selves. Joe D is largely to blame.

On the court, Joe Dumars was a silent assassin, a key cog to Detroits’ run of back-to-back championships. On a team loaded with Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman, Mark Aguirre and John Salley, it was Dumars who won the 1989 Finals MVP.

As GM, he helped build another Pistons dynasty, drafting Tayshaun Prince and trading for Ben Wallace, Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups. He also hired Larry Brown.

Then came the 2003 NBA Draft and a decision that will haunt Joe Dumars forever. With Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh still on the board, Dumars drafted Darko Milicic which rivals Portland’s selection of Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan as the biggest basketball blunder of all time.

56110603After six consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearances but only one NBA title, Dumars decided to blow up the team. He drafted Jason Maxiell and Rodney Stuckey but Dumars also presided over the failed Allen Iverson experiment. After three full seasons and a .715 winning percentage, Dumars fired Flip Saunders for not being able to deliver another title. He hired Michael Curry, who finished 39-43 and fired him after one year. This year, he hired John Kuester over Avery Johnson. The Pistons are currently fifteen games under .500 and having their worst season in decades.

Dumars will always be a legend in Detroit. But he may be on thin ice if they can’t turn things around quickly.

4 – Isiah Thomas

Recently Isiah Thomas has been recognized more for bashing Magic Johnson and ruining both the Knicks and the CBA but younger fans forget just how dominant he was. There was Michael, Magic and Larry and Isiah Thomas as a not so distant fourth. He was a 12-time all-star. He averaged 20 points and 9 assists per game for his career. Then there was that Finals game where he scored 25 points… IN ONE QUARTER.

isiah-thomasIsiah was the leader of the Bad Boys yet as GM, he’s just been bad. Sure, he drafted Damon Stoudamire, Marcus Camby and Tracy McGrady but was unable to build the Raptors into a successful franchise. The Continental Basketball Association went bankrupt under his ownership.

After a brief and relatively successful coaching stint with the Indiana Pacers, Thomas became President of Basketball Operations for the New York Knicks. His teams consistently had the highest payrolls and the worst records, never a good combination. He traded for Michael Curry and Zach Randolph which is about 700 pounds of bad decision-making. He was also sued for sexual harassment.

Isiah now finds himself in an entirely new challenge: coaching college kids at Florida International University. With failed stints in Toronto, Indy and New York, it’s highly unlikely any other NBA franchise will give Thomas a chance to run, or ruin, their franchise.

3 – Michael Jordan

Most basketball fans agree that MJ was the best player to ever grace the hardwood. Unfortunately for his Airness, that excellence has not carried over into the front office. Far from it.

michael-jordan-benchIn 2000, MJ took over as President of Basketball Operations for the Washington Wizards. He was fired two-and-a-half years later, probably the first time he had been fired from anything. That was about as long as his baseball career with a similar amount of success.

Jordan was the brain trust behind drafting high schooler Kwame Brown first overall. Brown is currently coming off the bench for Detroit, averaging under four points and four rebounds a game. Jordan would have been better off drafting Sam Bowie. Jordan also drafted Jared Jeffries and Juan Dixon in the 2001 draft. Those two didn’t fare much better.

In 2006, Jordan became partial owner and managing member of basketball operations for the Charlotte Bobcats. In that time, they chose Adam Morrison third in 2006 when Brandon Roy was still on the board. Jordan selected Brandan Wright from his alma mater, then traded him to Golden State for Jason Richardson who turned out to be a bust. This year the Bobcats have finally proven to be worth a damn, currently hovering around .500 in a weak Eastern conference.

It’s tough to come down too hard on MJ since the Bobcats are somewhat decent but prior to this season, they finished 20 games behind Orlando in 2007-8 and 24 games behind them in 2008-9. This year, they’re 7-19 on the road.

We’ll see if the Bobcats can make the playoffs this season or if their current success is just a flash in the pan.

2 – Elgin Baylor

Elgin Baylor was the Minneapolis Lakers’ number one draft pick in 1958. An 11-time all-star, Baylor has tallied 23,149 points and 11,463 rebounds over his career. After a brief coaching stint in New Orleans, he was hired on as the Clippers VP of basketball operations in 1986. That move secured their mediocrity for decades.

81648321JO001_Marcus_Camby_While Baylor cannot be held solely responsible for the Clippers’ woes, he certainly pulled the strings. He drafted Danny Manning first in 1988 which was a no-brainer but then drafted Danny Ferry second overall the following year. Ironically, Ferry has turned into a pretty good GM.

In the 1990s, Baylor drafted Loy Vaught, LeRon Ellis, Elmore Spencer, Randy Woods, Terry Dehere, and Lamond Murray. In 1996, he drafted Lorenzen Wright when Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Jermaine O’Neal were still available. In 1998, he drafted Michael Olowakandi over Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce. Feeling nauseous yet? Add drafting Chris Wilcox one spot ahead of Amare Stoudemire in 2002 and that should do the trick.

The Clippers have been the laughing stock of the league. In Baylor’s 22 years, the Clippers have won one playoff series and had only two winning seasons.

In 2009, he filed an employment discrimination lawsuit against the Clippers citing he was fired based on age and race. Had they discriminated against him for his management inadequacies, he might have had a case.

In a two-team town, the Clippers have always played second fiddle to the Lakers but even the New York Mets have won the World Series, probably because Baylor wasn’t making their personnel decisions. Baylor finally won the league’s Executive of the Year award in 2006, meaning it took him 15 years of playing and another 20 in the office to be able to assess talent. I guess some people are just slow learners.

Baylor was fired in 2008 and replaced with Mike Dunleavy meaning the Clippers should still suck for a long time to come.

1 – Kevin McHale

McHale was a beast in the post for the 1980s Celtics. Charles Barkley called McHale the toughest cover in the game. McHale’s teammates dubbed him the Black Hole, knowing he could score any time he got the ball on the low blocks. Little did they know that moniker would also refer to his decision-making as a GM. The only thing worse than Kevin McHale’s taste in sweaters was his taste in draft picks.

kevin-mchaleDespite his success with the Celtics, McHale will forever be known as the man who could not surround Kevin Garnett with talent. Garnett was ultimately traded to Boston where he won a championship in his first year.

Things got off to a promising start for McHale when he was hired in 1995. He drafted Garnett who would become the face of the franchise. McHale also signed Tom Gugliotta and Stephon Marbury. The only problem was, he drafted Ray Allen and traded him to get Marbury. Whoops! Years later, he would trade Marbury for Terrell Brandon. Ray Allen for Terrell Brandon? You’d get kicked out of your fantasy league for even suggesting such a trade.

McHale would later sign William Avery, Andrae Patterson, Sharone Wright, Felipe Lopez, Gary Trent, Robert Pack, Ricky Davis, Kendall Gill, Rod Strickland… shall I continue? Not only did McHale master surrounding the Big Ticket with small talent, Minnesota was later penalized for illegally signing Joe Smith. Breaking league violations to acquire Joe Smith is like getting caught stealing a Yugo.

Want more bad decisions? McHale drafted Brandon Roy then traded him for Randy Foye. McHale replaced Randy Wittman as the T’Wolves head coach on Dec 8, 2008 and went 20-43 the remainder of the season. He was not invited back. You can now find McHale doing analysis on NBA TV where he’s not destroying franchises.

McHale could score at will for the Celtics but as a GM, he was pretty much held scoreless.

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21 Replies to “From First to Worst: Five NBA Hall of Famers who failed as GM”

  1. Chris

    I’d put Baylor above McHale in this particular category. The Clips have been mired in mediocrity for the better part of almost two decades. And you have also got to take into account ownership as well. If they’re not allowing the purse strings to be opened then of course the ‘team’ will be mired in mediocrity.

    And now with Jordan on the cusp of buying the Bobcats. Does that mean he’ll now go and make the franchise a complete mess ?

    Alan Parkins

  2. I was going to mention that about Jordan, Al. I’m not so sure Bobcat fans are ready for His Airness’ total control of that franchise.

    It’s definitely a toss-up between McHale and Baylor for 1 and 1A.

    They were both horrible. But I don’t think Baylor was ever reprimanded by the league for illegal maneuverings.

  3. Thinkin’ may be a tossup between 1 and 2 and I’d probably rank Baylor first…
    Interesting concept and list though man – solid effort put in on this one.

  4. Chris

    Would Baylor even know what an illegal maneuver would be ? He more likely than not would’ve thought that it had something to do with a team’s on-field play more than anything else. Certain ex players know their limitations when it comes to the managerial or executive’s offices in the NBA . That’s why Magic has amassed a $750 million fortune as an astute business entrepreneur.

    Courtesy of The Business Insider

    Magic Johnson Wants To Be The Next Publishing Mogul With Ebony Magazine

    Magic Johnson, the 50-year-old former LA Lakers basketball star, is in discussions to buy Johnson Publishing Co., which prints Ebony and Jet magazines and owns an archive of powerful photographs documenting black like in America.

    Although no final agreements have been announced, “there have been discussions,” Eric Holoman, president of Magic Johnson Enterprises, which already works with Starbucks Corp., 24 Hour Fitness Worldwide Inc. and T.G.I. Friday’s Inc., told Bloomberg.

    Ad revenue at Ebony, one of the oldest and most successful black magazines, declined 38% to $35.5 million in 2009, according to Publishers Information Bureau. So Johnson surely won’t be making millions more if he acquires the company. But bringing Ebony into the fold will help boost his image as a monied mogul willing to scoop up an ailing magazine that has powerful, cultural significance.


    He’s done far more than most of his peers in and outside of his sport when it comes to his philanthropic efforts.

    Alan Parkins

  5. Chris

    It looks as if the Cavs are shying away from an Amar’e deal and supposedly looking at the Wizards’ Antawn Jamison.

    As to your response on your chatroll , that may not be the case if the NBPA acquiesce and agrees to a 20% pay cut across the board. It becomes retro-active as part of all negotiations from what Stern and the NBA hierarchy is trying to elicit.

    Alan Parkins

  6. So what you’re saying in defense of the McHale-Joe Smith situation is if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying?

    I’m pretty sure Magic could build a team better than both those guys.

    I’m pretty sure Barkley and Kenny Smith could too.

  7. I’m not sure whether that’s all good or all bad for the Cavs.

    While landing Amare would be huge, upsetting the applecart might be a bigger gamble.

    After all, you already think they’ve got the Eastern Conference wrapped up.

  8. Chris

    I deal in reality not make belief when it comes to sports. Do you honestly believe that at this late a stage the Cavs won’t end up with the best record in the conference when it’s all said and done? Or are you merely saying this all to keep your nerves from fraying because of your wager ?

    I think that they’ve learned a great deal from last year and the Magic still haven’t lived up to potential. Dwight continues to flitter in and out of games. Hardly what you come to expect of the game’s alleged best center. At the height of his game the Diesel use to play flat out. Not so with Dwight ! So I ask you again , can the Magic derail the Cavs this season ?

    Alan Parkins

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  10. I think the Magic have that potential, Al.

    It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Cleveland ended up as the number one seed in the East, but that in and of itself doesn’t guarantee a Finals appearance.

    I wonder how the addition of Twan will affect things.

  11. Chris

    So T-Mac gets his wish to become a Knick ? What’s next Sarah Palin declares that she’s staunch Liberal at heart ?

    Alan Parkins

  12. Al, I think more than anyone… the Knicks get their wish. They’ll have 30 mil in cap room to chase after BronBron and/or Bosh and/or Amare and/or DWade to eventually compete.

    I’m not totally convinced they have the brainpower or desire to commit to building a championship.

    So we’ll see what happens.

  13. Chris

    Is no one listening to what Stern is saying ? Maxed contracts may well become a thing of the past if the cba goes the way the NBA hierarchy wants it. Holy sh_t read his lips.

    You still think LeBron will go to the Big Apple for 20 % less than usual ?
    Please !

    You’re Sick ? Go To Your GP ….. You Want Funny ? Go See A Comedy Show ……….. You Want Sanity In Sports ………. Well , That’s Something Else ……….. I Ain’t Got No Answer For That ………….

    Alan Parkins

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