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Longest-Tenured Primary Basketball Executives

Determining the longest-tenured executives in the NBA isn’t nearly as straightforward as running down the longest-tenured coaches or each team’s longest-tenured player. Many front offices run chiefly as committees, with a chorus of voices carrying weight. That’s the case for the Warriors, and apparently for the Bucks, where coach Jason Kidd‘s has no shortage of influence. Still, the Bucks clearly value GM John Hammond, having signed him to an extension Monday. Hammond’s job description indicates that he does the bulk of the day-to-day work to construct and maintain Milwaukee’s roster, even if he’s merely on equal footing with Kidd when it comes to player personnel input, as co-owner Marc Lasry indicated to Chris Mannix of in December.

Judgment calls abound when it comes to identifying a single person as each team’s primary basketball executive. Coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders is atop the organizational chart in Minnesota, but he’s away from the team on a leave of absence while he recovers from cancer treatments. So, we’ll go with GM Milt Newton, who’s calling the shots in his stead. Pat Riley is the unquestioned chief executive for the Heat, but he was the team’s coach for much of his tenure in Miami, and Randy Pfund served as GM for several seasons while Riley manned the bench. However, the Heat bestowed the title of team president on Riley the day they hired him September 1995, a title he still holds, and little room for doubt has existed about his level of power over the Heat’s roster since his arrival. Thus, he tops the list below as the NBA’s longest-tenured primary basketball executive.

We’ve given credit to Suns GM Ryan McDonough and Hornets GM Rich Cho for all the time they’ve spent within their respective organizations, even though both of them previously served alongside others who held the title of president of basketball operations. GM Dennis Lindsey gets the nod in Utah despite the presence of executive vice president of basketball operations Kevin O’Connor. Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird and Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace are farther down this list than they could be, since we’re counting only from when they returned to power after an absence, in the case of Bird, and an exile, in the case of Wallace.

It’s a tricky undertaking, but the point is to identify the go-to player personnel decision-maker for each team and the length of time each has served. Here’s the complete list, spanning an even 20 years:

  1. Pat Riley, Heat: September 1995
  2. Mitch Kupchak, Lakers: August 2000
  3. R.C. Buford, Spurs: July 2002
  4. Danny Ainge, Celtics: May 2003
  5. Ernie Grunfeld, Wizards: June 2003
  6. Donnie Nelson, Mavericks: June 2005
  7. Daryl Morey, Rockets: May 2007
  8. Sam Presti, Thunder: June 2007
  9. John Hammond, Bucks: April 2008
  10. Gar Forman, Bulls: May 2009
  11. Billy King, Nets: July 2010
  12. Dell Demps, Pelicans: July 2010
  13. Rich Cho, Hornets: June 2011
  14. Bob Myers, Warriors: April 2012
  15. Neil Olshey, Trail Blazers: June 2012
  16. Rob Hennigan, Magic: June 2012
  17. Dennis Lindsey, Jazz: August 2012
  18. Ryan McDonough, Suns: May 2013
  19. Sam Hinkie, Sixers: May 2013
  20. Masai Ujiri, Raptors: May 2013
  21. Tim Connelly, Nuggets: June 2013
  22. Doc Rivers, Clippers: June 2013
  23. Larry Bird, Pacers: June 2013 (returned to organization)
  24. David Griffin, Cavaliers: February 2014
  25. Phil Jackson, Knicks: March 2014
  26. Stan Van Gundy, Pistons: May 2014
  27. Chris Wallace, Grizzlies: May 2014 (returned to power)
  28. Mike Budenholzer, Hawks: September 2014
  29. Vlade Divac, Kings: March 2015
  30. Milt Newton, Timberwolves: September 2015 (interim)

Which tenure do you think will be the next to end? Leave a comment to let us know.

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5 thoughts on “Longest-Tenured Primary Basketball Executives

  1. Chris Crouse

    Is it too soon to talk about Vlade Divac leaving? The Kings seem to like a decent candidate to have a new front office in a year. I can envision a scenario where the Kings are in the top five of the lottery this year, despite all the moves they made.

    • Chuck Myron

      It’s probably a little early for that. With Sacramento, you never say never, but I think he’ll be there for a while, at least.

  2. Adam

    hard to believe that the last time Pat Riley changed organizations, he quit via fax

    • 3 NBA championships. Yes we are thrilled to have Riles

  3. Arthur Hill

    Of the top four, Riley, Buford and Ainge probably have their jobs for as long as they want them. I’m not so sure about Kupchak. If the Lakers keep turning in non-playoff seasons, he could be part of a front-office purge.

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