Five NBA General Managers Feeling Heat
They make the trades, draft the players, and sign the free agents that set the stage. They can make or break a season long before it actually begins. The winning and losing generates the enthusiasm or leads to the apathy that surrounds your favorite team, but it's the executive decisions now that can give you a glimpse into the future.
The general managers usually sleep well during a season while the coaches fret every minute. In the summer, the GMs don't sleep at all, and with good reason today. When the economy is booming, NBA owners can be a little forgiving when things don't go their way. In an era of economic hard times, dwindling ticket sales and shrinking salary caps, there is no room or patience for mistakes. Here are five GMs on the hot seat in a very hot summer.
Steve Kerr, Phoenix Suns
Kerr, who played on five NBA championship teams, looks like he is captain of the Titanic now.
Although the Suns were 60-game winners when he arrived two years ago, their window of opportunity already was starting to close. He acquired the ominous contract of Shaq in a last-ditch effort to win a championship, but that gamble turned sour.
Now he must preside over a tough rebuilding project. That means clearing salary cap space by finding someone to take O'Neal. He also must decide now whether to tie his own hands for the future by rewarding a beginning-to-slow, but still- immensely-popular Steve Nash to a lucrative extension.
His wisest choice might be clearing the decks for that bonanza 2010 free-agent class. He can do it by trading Amar'e Stoudemire now (with two years remaining on his contract) for a one-year guy, then let both Shaq and Nash finish their contracts next season in Phoenix.
Of course, Kerr would have to endure a dreadful upcoming season, sending firestevekerr.com into overdrive, but Phoenix might become the destination of choice for 2010 free agents.
Danny Ferry, Cleveland Cavaliers
Kind of unfair to put the GM of the league's best record on trial, but no one stands more to lose than Cleveland if he can't keep LeBron James from leaving town in 2010.
James really has been treated like a King in Cleveland, but getting upset in the Eastern Conference finals – and exposing all the Cavs' weaknesses – really got James to wondering if the grass would be greener somewhere else.
Ferry thought that acquiring Ben Wallace and Mo Williams the last two years would solve his problem and give James the supporting cast he needed, but it hasn't worked out so well. Wallace has broken down physically and Williams was overrated.
Now with no room under the salary cap, Ferry must spend his summer figuring out a way to add a second fiddle for James. If he does nothing, the Cavs still can win 60 games next season, but if they can't get into the Finals, James will look elsewhere in free agency.
Ernie Grunfeld, Washington Wizards
The Big Three Offense of Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler might not survive this summer after winning only 19 games in an injury-riddled season. They make too much to be so bad (the three combined almost reach the salary cap).
Their window of opportunity is closing and they've never won more than 45 games together. If Grunfeld decides to give it one final year, he needs to trade his draft pick (No. 5) and hit the jackpot with a productive veteran who can score in the post, defend and rebound.
If Grunfeld makes the pick Thursday, it likely means he will trade at least one of the Big Three and begin to rebuild, which will be painful for a franchise that hasn't been better than mediocre for many, many years.
Donnie Walsh, New York Knicks
Anyone who has driven in the city, or even visited the city, knows that New Yorkers don't have any patience. And that includes Knicks fans.
Walsh has been on the job for only a year, but New Yorkers are wondering why he hasn't won two championships already. Unfortunately, he's still trying to clean up the mess left by the last regime, which included a $94 million payroll, largest in the NBA.
They missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year, which is something you would expect for the Kings or Clippers but not the once-proud Knicks.
Walsh had hoped that luring coach Mike D'Antoni out of Phoenix last summer with his high-octane offense would buy him time, but that was like putting a lipstick on a pig. It was still the same bad team.
If he can grab a gem with the No. 8 pick in the draft Thursday, and dump the rest of the bad contracts, then he can try and lure James and another star in the summer of 2010. Until then, it's going to be tough to find his way out of another bad year in New York.
Chris Wallace, Memphis Grizzlies
The best thing about basketball in Memphis has been those Elvis look-a-like contests. And the barbecue.
This is the franchise -- going into its 15th season -- that never has been beyond the first round of the playoffs. They won 24 games last season, the most in the last three years. And no one goes to the games, proof that the product on the floor is more important than a new building.
But that should start to change now. The Grizzlies have no more excuses. They have enough salary cap room to lure good players. They also have the No. 2 pick in the draft. It's tough to mess up that combination.
Maybe now people can start caring about NBA basketball in Memphis.