Yahoo Sport’ Ben Rohrbach spent some time doing a bit of a “moneyball” deep dive into the metrics of what might comprise a great NBA executive.
According to the full article, here are some of Rohrbach’s mathy/baseball criteria:
“The Danny Ainge System, using baseball’s Sabermetrics to evaluate NBA front offices. It is inspired by Ainge’s stint with the Toronto Blue Jays and the similarities between Daryl Morey’s brand of team-building and Billy Beane’s Moneyball.
The method was originally created to rate draft histories, and we have expanded it this time around to cover an executive’s entire record across three categories: draft picks, trades and free-agent signings.”
And here’s the Tweet that had everyone assuming Yahoo Sports doesn’t know ball at all, because what “NBA Central” didn’t explain below is how weird the full article’s criteria were. It was more of an experiment than the author’s personal rank, I’d imagine. The fact that it didn’t even include Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti or Sixers’ President Daryl Morey in their top 10!? And yes, it even accounts for their full careers. But when you know it’s not just a recent rank but an all-time rank, it starts to look even more bizarre than at first glance:
Yahoo Sports’ top 10 executives in the NBA:— NBACentral (@TheDunkCentral) August 29, 2023
1. Danny Ainge
2. Masai Ujiri
3. Brian Wright
4. James Jones
5. Kevin Pritchard
6. Pat Riley
7. Troy Weaver
8. Koby Altman
9. Brad Stevens
10. Zach Kleiman
So yeah, the idea that there was a “system” that spit out that Brian Wright (post Dynasty Spurs) Kevin Pritchard (Indiana...really?) and Troy Weaver (leading the tank in Detroit) have had better executive careers than say Sam Presti or Daryl Morey is pretty silly. If I crunched the numbers and saw that I’d probably just tell my editor I’m scrapping the idea and trying something else instead. But here we are.
The criteria broke down execs’ career resumes into draft, free-agent signings and trades.
And well, you may not be surprised to see that Sam Presti graded out well for draft picks (dude literally drafted Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden but still came in below Houston’s Rafael Stone who drafted... Jalen Green) or that Rob Pelinka (signed LeBron James) and Pat Riley (signed LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Jimmy Butler) graded out well for free-agent signings.
So the more you dig into the criteria here, and look at who it spits out as the top execs, the harder it gets to take it seriously. Like was it really Rob Pelinka who has the excellent track record signing FA’s, or was it y’know, simply being the Lakers’ GM? I guess Mitch Kupchak (Charlotte, formerly L.A.) was really good at lading free agents in L.A. but not so much for the Hornets, and it all comes down to ole Mitchy simply losing his touch in pitch meetings, right? Shoutout LaMarcus Aldridge.
Morey once executed one of the all-time best trades when he acquired James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder, thereby basically shifting the occurrence of a soon-to-be dynasty from Oklahoma City to Golden State. Many of you reading this in Philadelphia may be down on him now. Sixers fans have been wallowing in apathy since going cold down the stretch of Game 6 vs. Boston. But I don’t think we should be questioning Morey’s standing as an all-time exec among active GMs.
Where would Morey rank today if Presti’s owners in OKC had been willing to pay luxury taxes to keep Harden, or Presti had resisted the temptation to once splurge on bigs like Kendrick Perkins instead of punting center and featuring his KD, Russ, Beard core?
But Morey’s all-time fleecing of another titan of the industry in Presti didn’t land even him higher than (checks notes) Jon Horst, of the Milwaukee Bucks in the “trades” category!
The author explains:
“Pat Riley is the only current executive to hit home runs in each of the three categories, drafting Dwyane Wade (2003) and Bam Adebayo (2017), trading for Alonzo Mourning (1995), Tim Hardaway (1996) and Shaquille O’Neal (2004) and signing LeBron James (2010), Chris Bosh (2010) and Jimmy Butler (2019) for a league-best eight home run decisions in his career.”
The “lesson” for someone like Morey if he wants to improve his OPS: spend less years in the playoffs and more years dwelling at the top of the lottery so you too can find a Joel Embiid and boost your ratings. Oh, and work in a city that is attractive to guys LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Jimmy Butler.
Not to knock Pat Riley and #HeatCulture he’s built from scratch, just to point out that all of the best execs' careers tend to rest on that one massive lucky strike or two they were able to capitalize on.
For Danny Ainge, who should easily be regarded as one of the best execs of all time, he needed an old teammate and friend in Kevin McHale, then running the show for Minnesota, to sign off on the ghastly, one-sided Kevin Garnett Celtics trade. If not for that, he never would have won a championship in Boston and couldn’t have later convinced Billy King and Bobby Marks to give him every single Nets draft pick ever for the by-then aging KG and Paul Pierce.
Bob Myers probably would have placed highly on this list if he were active. But where would he be if he had not inherited a team fully equipped with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and three draft picks to play with way back in 2012?
Then there is the executive duo of Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford. Those two geniuses have been collaborating since the Clinton Administration. Their lucky strike was when David Robinson broke his foot, which torpedoed their season and landed them the top pick where Tim Duncan was waiting.
Later they’d find Tony Parker at the back of the first round, Manu Ginóbili at the back of the second round and traded George Hill to move just outside the lottery to select Kawhi Leonard. They might just be the greatest exec duo of all time. And they might not even have a single championship let alone five if Robinson never breaks his foot. Both things can be true. That’s how intriguing this stuff gets. The best execs are often the luckiest.
But since Buford stepped away to let Brian Wright (third above) run the San Antonio tank show, the best feathers we can put in Wright’s cap are basically fleecing the Hawks for Dejounte Murray and winning the Victor Wembanyama lottery. He really does seem like an up-and-comer but the dude ranks third overall here, lol. Sam Presti literally drafted three eventual MVPs (maybe more to come), he traded for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and 587 picks, and he can’t crack our top 10!?
(Rallies the crowd: Throw away the list! Throw away the list!)
Troy Weaver (7th) in Detroit is comically high. Killian Hayes hasn’t returned value. Cade Cunningham may simply not be the top player in that draft class. Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren are talented. Ausar Thompson is a tantalizing prospect. There’s real potential in Detroit. But their full rebuild, stacking very high lottery picks in multiple, consecutive losing seasons, which is textbook tank 101, could also wind up looking more like a John Wall-Bradley Beal Wizards rebuild than a Golden State Warriors or even Sam Hinkie Sixers rebuild. We just don’t know yet. So what’s causing an otherwise promising young exec to score so high? Ludicrous.
Can you guarantee me that Detroit has any one player better than Tyrese Maxey right now? If not, then Morey may have done better with pick No. 21 in 2020 than Weaver has done with a full handful of cracks at top lottery selections. Just sayin....
James Jones inherited Mikal Bridges, Deandre Ayton, Devin Booker, he’d later draft Cam Johnson, trade for Chris Paul, and then of course, trade for Kevin Durant. He might be a really, really good GM! But it’s difficult to know for sure at this point. I’m sure there’s more than a few execs out there who have “trade for Kevin Durant when he wants to play with your team” tattooed in Latin on their butts.
Anyway, I’ve said enough. Yahoo, get us your real list because this baseball-style one made everyone on Twitter think you guys don’t know ball when it says “Yahoo Sports top 10 executives,” when it should have said “Yahoo Sports top 10 executives using a really silly baseball formula that knows less hoops than any casual.”