The role of an NBA general manager, or a team's lead basketball operations executive, evolves every year. Just look at the growing variety of titles atop front offices around the league. Whether you're a president, executive vice president or plain old GM, each organization's top basketball mind wears more hats than ever.
Team bosses are no longer solely tasked with making trades, signing free agents and executing the draft process. There are egos to stroke, public relations appearances to perfect and support staffers to hire—from nutritionists, chefs and doctors to off-court player-development leads and entry-level video coordinator interns.
"As a player, you don't know what this is," said Philadelphia 76ers general manager Elton Brand. "You don't know you're responsible for people with dreams, aspirations, raises, who want to feel safe. You don't know about the actual management of people."
Nailing that balancing act requires a unique blend of characteristics and skills. Can you communicate effectively with your team's governors and convince the majority partner (or their spouses, or their children) to make a trade or signing that may enrage your fanbase in the short term? Can you equally relate to your team's best player, who is likely one to three decades your junior?
Competing for a championship means finding creative workarounds for the league's salary cap and incorporating feedback from some of the most intelligent data analysts in the world, while still listening to basketball lifers who know the game like Stevie Wonder knows a piano.
Few humans prove they can handle all that and more, thus the high turnover rate of top executives. There will likely be openings ahead of the 2022-23 season. So from coast to coast, the search for the next elite executive is ongoing. Bleacher Report consulted with over two dozen league personnel to compile a list of the most rumored candidates who could become your team's next general manager…or whatever your team calls that post.
The Usual Suspects
Success in the NBA breeds opportunity across the board. Team governors always become intrigued by executives from franchises that stole headlines in the postseason. Personnel from the most recent year's contending teams—such as former Phoenix Suns assistant Willie Green, hired as the New Orleans Pelicans' head coach in July—can cut the line of other qualified candidates. "It all depends on which team wins, and it can even help if you make a surprising run," one assistant general told B/R.
With that in mind, sources around the league wonder if Milt Newton will get his next opportunity after a successful stint as the Milwaukee Bucks' assistant general manager. Newton helped run the Minnesota Timberwolves from 2013 to 2016, assuming the lead chair after Flip Saunders died in 2015. Newton played an integral role in drafting Zach LaVine and Gorgui Dieng while helping to construct the megatrade that shipped Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers, brought Andrew Wiggins to the Wolves and positioned Minnesota to land Karl-Anthony Towns with the first pick in the 2015 draft.
Newton was one of many let go when Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden assumed control of the Wolves. Since then, he's been a key element within the Bucks' brain trust, assisting general manager Jon Horst in orchestrating Milwaukee's trade for Jrue Holiday and the creative deal to land P.J. Tucker. Newton was in the mix to join Philadelphia's front office before the Sixers brought in Daryl Morey above Elton Brand, and he was linked to Chicago's opening ahead of the Bulls' hiring of Arturas Karnisovas. "Milt's a veteran and as respected as they come," said one longtime Eastern Conference executive.
Executives around the league continue to speculate about when and where former Utah Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey could reemerge at the helm of another front office. Rumors suggested Lindsey had an interest in joining the Houston Rockets, and then the Dallas Mavericks under new president Nico Harrison, but those conversations appear to have ceased, sources said.
Longtime Boston Celtics assistant general manager Mike Zarren and Miami Heat general manager Andy Elisburg will always be mentioned at the top of any list of candidates.
"If I have an opening, those two guys I'm calling first," said one veteran league official.
Yet there's little expectation that Elisburg would entertain parting ways with the Heat and president Pat Riley. Miami assistant general manager Adam Simon was another name involved in the Bulls' recent search, as well as a candidate for the Charlotte Hornets' general manager post that ultimately went to Mitch Kupchak. Even with the growing whispers that head coach Erik Spoelstra could one day succeed Riley in the front office, few league executives believe Simon would take a position outside Miami in the near future either.
There is far less certainty about Boston's front-office nucleus under Brad Stevens, but the Celtics' rumored search for a general manager appears to have slowed, sources told B/R. It now seems unlikely Boston will make an external hire this late in the offseason with less than a month before training camp.