Longest-Tenured NBA GMs/Presidents

When we examined the NBA’s longest-tenured head coaches earlier this week, we noted that it has been over a year since any team has made a coaching change, an improbable and impressive run of league-wide stability. However, the same can’t be said for teams’ front offices. Since the 2016/17 season ended, seven NBA clubs have named new heads of basketball operations, and that list doesn’t include the Lakers, who re-shaped their front office earlier in the year.

Although there have been more recent changes in front offices than on NBA sidelines, the same name tops the list of longest-tenured head coaches and GMs/presidents: Gregg Popovich actually became the Spurs‘ president of basketball operations two years before he took over as the club’s head coach. Still, his place in San Antonio’s hierarchy is one of a handful of situations around the league that’s somewhat difficult to pin down.

While just one person holds a team’s head coaching job, that same team could carry a variety of front office executives with titles like general manager, president of basketball operations, or executive VP of basketball operations. In some cases, it’s not always which clear which executive should be considered the club’s head of basketball operations, or which one has the ultimate final say on roster decisions. That distinction becomes even more nebulous when taking into account team ownership.

For our list of the longest-tenured GMs/presidents in the NBA, we’ve done our best to identify the top exec in each front office. In the case of the Spurs, we’ve listed Popovich as the club’s top man, since he has the final say on basketball decisions, even though GM R.C. Buford plays a huge part in that process too. If there’s any ambiguity in a front office, we’ve added a note below to explain our thinking.

Without further ado, here’s the list of the NBA’s longest-tenured heads of basketball operations, along with their respective titles and the dates they were hired or promoted:

  1. Gregg Popovich, Spurs (president): May 31, 1994
    • GM R.C. Buford has had a significant voice in personnel moves since becoming GM in 2002, but Popovich still has final say on those decisions.
  2. Pat Riley, Heat (president): September 2, 1995
  3. John Paxson, Bulls (executive VP): April 14, 2003
    • GM Gar Forman has played a major part in personnel decisions since his hiring in 2009, but Paxson is believed to still be the head of basketball operations, reporting only to ownership.
  4. Danny Ainge, Celtics (president): May 9, 2003
  5. Ernie Grunfeld, Wizards (president): June 30, 2003
  6. Donn Nelson, Mavericks (GM/president): March 19, 2005
    • Owner Mark Cuban is also heavily involved in basketball decisions and ultimately has final say.
  7. Daryl Morey, Rockets (GM): May 6, 2007
  8. Sam Presti, Thunder (GM/executive VP): June 7, 2007
  9. Dell Demps, Pelicans (GM/senior VP): July 21, 2010
    • Executive VP of basketball operations Mickey Loomis is also in the picture here, but Loomis – who is also the top man in the New Orleans Saints’ front office – seems to let Demps handle basketball decisions for the most part.
  10. Rich Cho, Hornets (GM): June 14, 2011
  11. Bob Myers, Warriors (GM/president): April 24, 2012
  12. Neil Olshey, Trail Blazers (president): June 4, 2012
  13. Dennis Lindsey, Jazz (GM): August 7, 2012
  14. Ryan McDonough, Suns (GM): May 7, 2013
  15. Masai Ujiri, Raptors (president): May 31, 2013
  16. Tim Connelly, Nuggets (GM/executive VP): June 17, 2013
  17. Stan Van Gundy, Pistons (president): May 14, 2014
  18. Chris Wallace, Grizzlies (GM): May 19, 2014
    • Initially named the Grizzlies’ GM in June 2007, Wallace was demoted in 2012 as Jason Levien assumed control of basketball operations. Wallace regained his front office power in May 2014.
  19. Vlade Divac, Kings (GM): March 3, 2015
  20. Sean Marks, Nets (GM): February 18, 2016
  21. Bryan Colangelo, Sixers (president): April 10, 2016
  22. Tom Thibodeau, Timberwolves (president): April 20, 2016
  23. Magic Johnson, Lakers (president): February 21, 2017
  24. Kevin Pritchard, Pacers (president): May 1, 2017
  25. Jeff Weltman, Magic (president): May 22, 2017
  26. Travis Schlenk, Hawks (GM): May 25, 2017
  27. Jon Horst, Bucks (GM): June 16, 2017
  28. Koby Altman, Cavaliers (GM): June 19, 2017
    • Initially the Cavaliers’ interim GM, Altman had his role made permanent on July 24, 2017.
  29. Steve Mills, Knicks (president): June 28, 2017
    • Initially the Knicks’ interim president, Mills had his role made permanent on July 14, 2017.
  30. Lawrence Frank, Clippers (executive VP): August 4, 2017
    • Frank was given control over the Clippers’ front office on August 4, 2017, but it’s not clear if he received a new title or if he’s still the executive VP of basketball ops.

Information from Basketball-Reference was used in the creation of this post.

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