Winning in the NBA goes far beyond the players and the coaches. The GMs and front office executives are the logistical leaders behind these supply chains of talent -- the generals that breathe life into rosters.
Pat Riley helped usher in the Big Three era and beyond. Daryl Morey brought Morey Ball to the NBA. Jerry West helped keep the Golden State roster together. Danny Ainge fast-tracked a Celtics rebuild like it was a strip mall. Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri is talked about like he’s a 25-point per game scorer. And then there’s Sam Hinkie. He’s like all of these other basketball minds. They just make decisions, but those decisions have led to star-studded rosters and 50-plus-win seasons.
The NBA is the players’ sport: Fans get familiar with the players’ faces and idiosyncrasies, unlike other leagues, and the players get guaranteed contracts. A single superstar can alter the course of a franchise — but what’s been propelling the current basketball superpowers into winning, are the minds behind them.
There’s a sort of axiom about the battle, and it goes something like: Amateurs worry about tactics, professionals focus about logistics.
The NBA has become a league of logistics. If you are the Los Angeles Lakers, hypothesizing how to best guard the pick-and-roll when Brook Lopez is your best player isn’t your biggest worry. How you can get more assets, so you can worry about how to best guard a pick-and-roll, is.
Look at the LA Clippers since Jerry West has joined the front office. In the wake of a franchise-altering Chris Paul deal, the future seems, well, bright-ish, if you look past the injury-riddled history of Blake Griffin and his 5-year, $173 million deal. Griffin might still be one of the best players in the league if he can stay healthy; the last time Griffin played 80 games, he put up 24, 10 and 4, while finishing third in MVP voting. Still, that was three seasons, a right hook, and three injuries ago.
In addition, the Clippers also got the wing player in Danilo Gallinari that they’ve been seeking since the dawn of the Chris Paul era. They also added Milos Teodosic, a dime-dropping former EuroLeague MVP, to their roster. All of the sudden, Clippers stock went from sell to — at least — sell slower.
Then there’s Danny Ainge and his Celtics; Hinkie and his used-to-be 76ers — the leaders behind the logistics. While everyone was worried about how to better use their weapons (players), they built another, better weapon. One that was designed to win the war, not the battle.
Unless you have a LeBron James or Kevin Durant, there’s an argument to made that the best asset in the modern NBA is a logistical leader. Unless there’s a brain behind an NBA team’s supply chain of talent, success can only be fleeting. Even having a singular talent like LeBron James is not enough; the Heat still needed Pat Riley to secure a return from Dwyane Wade, sign Chris Bosh to form the Big Three, and surround their stars with the right supporting talent. Without that type of organizational planning, there are no Chris Paul trades, no Gordon Hayward-Brad Stevens reunion, no Big Three era, and no “Process” to trust.