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From Bad Boys to Bad GMs

Current Pistons GM, Joe Dumas(Left), possibly being replaced by former backcourt mate, Isiah Thomas(right)

Let me start this off by saying – I’m addicted to sports news. I cannot get enough of ESPN and RealGM.com. So as I was doing my daily internet sweep, one headline stood out among the rest: a report that Isiah Thomas could potentially replace Joe Dumars in the Pistons front office as General Manager (the report has since been denied by team officials). After I was done convulsing, I started to think. “How could any sane person hire Thomas as the GM of a team after his stint in New York? You have to be making some good money to own a professional basketball team. Doesn’t that require intelligence?”

Joe Dumars has a decent resume – a championship without the prototypical “superstar” and a second NBA finals appearance – both with teams that he constructed. But the days in which Dumars is anything but a running joke are long gone, and the Pistons have since been run deeper and deeper into the ground. The darkest timeline might be coming to fruition in Detroit because apparently someone thinks Isiah Thomas is the answer to their problem. In a league where teams are looking for the best cut filet mignon, the Pistons are upgrading from Burger King to Wendy’s. Thinking about the two made me curious about GMs and their winning percentage. We always judge coaches by wins and losses, but rarely do we see the GMs themselves make headlines for a team’s woes. Just a couple of weeks ago Detroit Pistons head coach Mo Cheeks was fired, but was he really the problem? Joe Dumars constructed a roster full of mismatched pieces with no real future in mind.

Longest reigning General Managers
General Manager GM Winning % Total Head Coaches During Stint as GM
R.C. Buford (2003-Present) 70.53% 1
Mitch Kupchak (2003-Present) 60.84% 7
Danny Ainge (2003-Present) 54.69% 4
Joe Dumars (2003-Present) 52.95% 7
Kevin O’Connor (2003-Present) 52.67% 2
Ernie Grunfeld (2003-Present) 39.16% 4

Going back as far as the 2003-2004 season, there are only six GMs that are still with the same team*: Dumars, Boston’s Danny Ainge, the Lakers’ Mitch Kupchak, Utah’s Kevin O’Connor, San Antonio’s R.C. Buford, and Washington’s Ernie Grunfeld. As much as Joe Dumars is at fault for the construction of this mediocre Pistons squad, he did manage to win a championship in 2004, and three of the other five have also accomplished this feat. O’Connor and Grunfeld are the only two ringless GMs on that list. O’Connor boasted a winning percentage of 52.67% during that time span, while Grunfeld’s teams have won 39.16% How many coaches do you think survived with those numbers? The answer is zero.

Only one head coach has remained employed every year since the 2003-2004 season: the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich. In that time frame we have seen a total of 157 head coaches pass through the NBA as opposed to just 96 general managers.** That’s just over five coaches per team compared to three general managers. Among those aforementioned  general managers, ten had a record below .500 for five or more seasons. Too often you have the media pestering guys likes Stan Van Gundy for the answers to why a team isn’t doing better than it is. Let Stan Van enjoy his Diet Pepsi in peace. The media should be focusing on the main culprit, the GM.Coaches can only do so much with the players they have, but here you have the people responsible for acquiring those players sitting pretty.

In a world where Rod Thorn, Ed Stefanski, and Billy King have all managed the Sixers and Nets in this time frame (For the Nets, Thorn-Stefanski-Thorn-King. For the Sixers, King-Stefanski-Thorn) nothing should really be surprising. But somehow when you hear reports about Isiah Thomas returning as GM… you’re left wondering whether they should start testing the owners for concussions too. People complain about parity and blame finances, players, and the CBA… anything but the man heading the front office.

I hope you are all looking forward to the 2017 lockout as much as I am.                                                                                                             
* Some of these general managers were hired prior to the 2003 season but for this article we are only going as far back to the 2003-2004 season.

** Is based off Basketball-Reference’s database.

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