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The Roles of a General Manager (GM) in Sports (NBA)

The Roles of a General Manager (GM) in Sports (NBA)

by ja on 5/29/2012 4:37:36 PM

I was reading an article the other day on Minnesota's difficulties find the perfect GM for their organization and situation. It occurred to me that while I thought I knew everything a GM was supposed to be responsible for it might be that I was wrong. I mean, what does it take? What does a GM have to do? We fantasy players play the role every year... how close is it to the real thing... if at all close.

Here's some excerpts from an article about GMs. Anywhere there is a blank line with the "..." I have excluded some content. The article was a good read, but was mostly about the difference between coaching and GMs as well as the difference in the hiring processes of the two. We need not include the whole thing. You can just go to the original article.

Hiring an NBA coach is like hiring a tax accountant: By the middle of April each year, you know exactly where you stand. Hiring an NBA general manager is more like hiring a financial advisor: He takes control of your entire portfolio, makes decisions for some distant horizon and assures you during the bumpy times that the plan is sound, that time and patience are your friends and, by the way, that past performance is no guarantee of future results.


"It's harder to find capable GMs than it is coaches because there are so many hats you have to wear as GM," said Pat Williams, a longtime NBA executive who held the GM job in both Philadelphia and Orlando. "It's a leadership position. It's an executive position. You have to judge talent. More so, you have to judge the people you're working with. It requires a level-headed, cool approach. You have to have endless energy, for it's a 24/7 job..."


As difficult as it is to hire a good coach (and downright rare to land a great one), the process is relatively straightforward. The GM, almost always a basketball man himself, sits down with the job candidate and listens to his pitch, probing about overall philosophy, the style of ball the coach wants his team to play, his vision for each roster member. Gauging the potential coach's leadership style, getting a sense of his personality and ambition, the boss does the usual due diligence of talking with others (those offered as references as well as those who know the man from various points in his career -- basketball is a remarkably small industry).


How a future GM works both the board and the phones on draft night, how he (or heck, she) builds consensus or resolves disputes, how he navigates free agency within his owner's budget or demands, and how he pounces or pulls back at the trading deadline can't fully be known until he actually does it. And doing it in one place doesn't mean replicating it in a second; even Jerry West, who built multiple champions across a couple of generations with the Lakers, didn't get the same results in Memphis, trading away Kendrick Perkins, procuring Troy Bell and building a club just good enough to get swept 12-0 from three consecutive first rounds.

Everything about a GM is once removed, even twice or thrice removed, compared to coaching. NFL honcho Bill Parcells once said, if he was going to have to cook the meal, he ought to be able to shop for the groceries. But that level of power and control is rare in the NBA -- Gregg Popovich has it, Pat Riley had it, Mike Dunleavy recently got it. Candidates for these front-office jobs have basketball philosophies, but they're mere architects, dependent on the contractors (coaches) and the laborers (players) to actually enact the plans. In Hollywood terms, the coach is Spielberg or Scorsese; the GM is more like the screenwriter.

Also, they're typically hired not by basketball people but by businessmen, by owners, who then entrust or meddle to varying degrees. The criteria by which they choose the GM vary, too. A number of GMs are former players, though not nearly as many (12) as coaches (18). Some are reputed capologists, experts in understanding and finagling the NBA salary cap. Others are numbers crunchers, dedicated to the type of statistical analysis that has swept through baseball's front offices.

Basically, GMs are responsible for designing the team. The GM normally chooses the coach (the style the team will play) and chooses the players that the coach will have available to utilize. The GM does contract negotiations and is responsible for drafting, trading, adding, and dropping players. Sometimes coaches and GMs are on in the same. It's rare, but certainly not unheard of for this to be the case. In college the coach and the GM role is filled by the same person (the head coach), but in the pros they are typically seperate.

With most fantasy sports sites the participants get to wear a little bit of each hat. They get to draft their team (GM), add/drop/trade (GM), and choose who to play (coach). At SignAndTrade the participant gets the same and gets to do a little more of the GM thing by having to also deal with a salary cap, long term contracts, trade rules regarding salaries, and more. If you really want to try to get a feel for being an NBA GM, give's fantasy basketball game a try. It's the closest thing to an actual GM most of us will ever actually want to be a part of.

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Article has 4 comments.
#19 by Anonymous posted on 9/19/2012 6:02:32 PM
As Charlie Sheen says, this atircle is "WINNING!"
#79 by Anonymous posted on 10/10/2015 10:07:11 AM
Hey Calvin!I also have some catching up to do, but not for the reoasn that I spent time for a vacation. I was busy doing other things that does not involve blogging.Good to see you back.
#80 by Anonymous posted on 10/10/2015 10:07:12 AM
Hey Calvin!I also have some catching up to do, but not for the reoasn that I spent time for a vacation. I was busy doing other things that does not involve blogging.Good to see you back.
#83 by Anonymous posted on 10/10/2015 10:07:23 AM
Hey Calvin!I also have some catching up to do, but not for the reoasn that I spent time for a vacation. I was busy doing other things that does not involve blogging.Good to see you back.

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