Championships and GM Stability

Joe Dumars may be the longest tenured GM in the NBA, but he’s got the most to prove. Is he our best option for another chip?

I did a little research to evaluate the relationship between Championship teams and their GM stability. It covers the last 30 years, back to the 1983-1984 season when the playoffs expanded from 12 to 16 teams.

Year Champion GM Years as GM Years with Organization
2013 Heat Pat Riley 5 18
2012 Heat Pat Riley 4 17
2011 Mavericks Donnie Nelson 6 13
2010 Lakers Mitch Kupchak 10 24 (+5 as player)
2009 Lakers Mitch Kupchak 9 23 (+5 as player)
2008 Celtics Danny Ainge 5 5 (+8 as player)
2007 Spurs R.C. Buford 5 17
2006 Heat Randy Pfund 10 10
2005 Spurs R.C. Buford 3 15
2004 Pistons Joe Dumars 4 5 (+14 as player)
2003 Spurs R.C. Buford 1 13
2002 Lakers Mitch Kupchak 2 16 (+5 as player)
2001 Lakers Mitch Kupchak 1 15 (+5 as player)
2000 Lakers Jerry West 18 24 (+14 as player)
1999 Spurs Gregg Popovich 5 9
1998 Bulls Jerry Krause 13 13
1997 Bulls Jerry Krause 12 12
1996 Bulls Jerry Krause 11 11
1995 Rockets Bob Weinhauer 2 2
1994 Rockets Bob Weinhauer 1 1
1993 Bulls Jerry Krause 8 8
1992 Bulls Jerry Krause 7 7
1991 Bulls Jerry Krause 6 6+
1990 Pistons Jack McCloskey 11 11
1989 Pistons Jack McCloskey 10 10
1988 Lakers Jerry West 6 12 (+14 as player)
1987 Lakers Jerry West 5 11 (+14 as player)
1986 Celtics Jan Volk 2 15
1985 Lakers Jerry West 3 9 (+14 as player)
1984 Celtics Red Auerbach 18 34

GM turnover is surprisingly high; about a third of the league on average has had their GM 2 years or less. Of the 4 teams that make the conference finals every year, an avg of 3.1 of them have a GM with 3+ years. And the last 30 Champions have had a GM with 4+ years on the job, with the exception of 5. Most of those GMs had a substantial history with their organization

  • R.C. Buford (Spurs) – Won his 1st year as GM, but was with SA for 13 years.
  • Mitch Kupchak (Lakers) – Won his 1st year as GM, but was with LAL for 20 years.
  • Jan Volk (Celtics) – Won his 2nd year as GM, but was with BOS for 15 years.
  • Jerry West (Lakers) – Won his 3rd year as GM, but was with LAL 23 years.

Bob Weinhauer with the ’94 & ’95 Rockets is the only exception here, winning his first year with the organization. He actually took over during the '94 playoffs. It was a strange time for basketball…no Magic, no Jordan, no Kobe, and no Lebron. It was a big man’s league with the likes of Robinson, Ewing, Shaq, and ’94 MVP-winner Olajuwan. [Piston Connection: Weinhauer was assistant to Chuck Daly at University of Pennsylvania.]

So in general, a characteristic of a championship team is stability in the front office. Of course, that’s no guarantee of success. Many GMs have a long history of failure. The question is whether Joe will even have a chance to turn it around or not.

Joe D.’s proven successful, but what’s the longest gap between championships? Only the Lakers GMs have had gaps comparable to Joe, should he win another. They never sank to the depths that the Pistons have though.

General Manager Years Between Rings Coaches During Gap Playoffs Missed During Gap
Jerry West 11 7 1
Joe Dumars 9 & counting 5 & counting 4 & counting
Mitch Kupchak 6 3 1

The following table shows how GMs fared after logging 5 straight years of sub-.500 basketball. All but Elgin Baylor were gone within two years.

General Manager Team 5-Yr-Streak Win % Remaining Yrs
Joe Axelson Kings .388 0
Bryan Colangelo Raptors .386 0
Joe Dumars Pistons .381 TBD
Elgin Baylor Clippers .371 17
Isiah Thomas Knicks .368 0
Jim Paxson Cavaliers .349 1
Mike Dunleavy Bucks .342 0
Geoff Petrie Kings .334 2
Billy Knight Hawks .327 0
Lewis Schaffel Heat (expansion) .320 2
Jerry Reynolds Kings .317 0
John Nash Wizards .298 1
Ernie Grunfeld Wizards .297 TBD
Norm Sonju Mavericks .268 1
Garry St. Jean Warriors .257 2
Jerry Krause Bulls .254 0
Stu Jackson Grizzlies (expansion) .206 0

Given the recent change in ownership, that only hurts Joe’s chances of retaining his position. Of the 49 ownership changes, 36 of the GMs were replaced in 3 years or less. Since Joe’s contract is ending on the third year, I wonder who Gores might have in mind as a replacement. (Note: I excluded ownership changes lasting 3 years or less, and ignored minority ownership transfers).

Given the history of what’s worked for past champions, pursuing the likes of a Phil Jackson or prying away the next Executive of the Year may not be the best option. Unless Detroit’s willing to blow it all up and wait another 5 years or more, my guess is an internal hire.

One such example is Detroit’s new assistant GM, George David. There is a similarity worth noting. When Joe Dumars was hired as Vice President of Player Personnel in 1999, he had this to say about General Manager Rick Sund:

I'm not after the GM's job. I would always want to work with somebody else. That's why having Rick is perfect for me.

Joe was hired as President of Basketball Operations the next year. CNN Sports Illustrated wrote the following about the move:

After winning the NBA championship in 1989 and 1990, the Pistons somehow lost their competitive edge. Some of the blame for the slide fell on the front office, which has hired six coaches in the past nine years.

Now we have George David, who has been with the Pistons for 15 years. He was made Director of Scouting in 2002, Director of Player Personnel in 2007, and Assistant GM in 2012. He’s certainly in a position to take over the reins. Much like the last GM change, Detroit will also have their seventh coach in twelve years. Vince Ellis has this quote from David about becoming a future GM candidate:

It would be a goal of mine to eventually do it, but I can honestly say that if the rest of my career path is simply being the No. 2 person to Joe Dumars, in a lot of ways I can honestly tell you that would be a complete career.

If George David takes over the big chair, I’m willing to bet there's room for Chauncey in the front office as well. Personally, I want Joe to be the one to get us back on top, and he’s got one year left to prove himself. It’s rare that GMs are allowed to learn from so much misfortune. Perhaps, adding those experiences to his championship history makes him the most valuable choice.

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