As we noted earlier this week when we listed the NBA’s longest-tenured head coaches, there were several changes in the coaching ranks this spring, but none of those changes impacted the 10 head coaches who had been employed the longest. There hasn’t been quite the same level of continuity in NBA front offices, however.
Since we put together last summer’s list of the league’s longest-tenured heads of basketball operations, Wizards president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld and Pelicans general manager Dell Demps are among the top executives who have been replaced.
Grunfeld had been the NBA’s fifth longest-tenured head of basketball operations, having been Washington’s top decision-maker since 2003. Demps had been in his position since 2010 and ranked in the top 10 too. Other displaced top execs such as Ryan McDonough (Suns), Chris Wallace (Grizzlies), and Tom Thibodeau (Timberwolves) had also held their jobs for several years.
In other words, this year’s list of the NBA’s longest-tenured heads of basketball operations features some new faces.
While only 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, but if a situation isn’t entirely clear-cut, we’ve made a note below.
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:
- Gregg Popovich, Spurs (president): May 31, 1994
- R.C. Buford has had a significant voice in personnel moves since becoming GM in 2002 (he was promoted to CEO this year), but Popovich still has final say on those decisions.
- Pat Riley, Heat (president): September 2, 1995
- 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 still viewed as the head of basketball operations, reporting only to ownership.
- Danny Ainge, Celtics (president): May 9, 2003
- Donn Nelson, Mavericks (GM/president): March 19, 2005
- Owner Mark Cuban is also heavily involved in basketball decisions and ultimately has final say.
- Daryl Morey, Rockets (GM): May 6, 2007
- Sam Presti, Thunder (GM/executive VP): June 7, 2007
- Bob Myers, Warriors (GM/president): April 24, 2012
- Neil Olshey, Trail Blazers (president): June 4, 2012
- Dennis Lindsey, Jazz (GM): August 7, 2012
- Masai Ujiri, Raptors (president): May 31, 2013
- Tim Connelly, Nuggets (president): June 17, 2013
- Vlade Divac, Kings (GM): March 3, 2015
- Sean Marks, Nets (GM): February 18, 2016
- Kevin Pritchard, Pacers (president): May 1, 2017
- Jeff Weltman, Magic (president): May 22, 2017
- Travis Schlenk, Hawks (GM): May 25, 2017
- Jon Horst, Bucks (GM): June 16, 2017
- Koby Altman, Cavaliers (GM): June 19, 2017
- Steve Mills, Knicks (president): June 28, 2017
- Lawrence Frank, Clippers (president): August 4, 2017
- Mitch Kupchak, Hornets (GM/president): April 8, 2018
- Ed Stefanski, Pistons (senior advisor): May 24, 2018
- Elton Brand, Sixers (GM): September 18, 2018
- Tommy Sheppard, Wizards (GM): April 2, 2019
- Sheppard assumed the job on an interim basis on April 2, 2019. He was named the permanent GM on July 22, 2019.
- Rob Pelinka, Lakers (GM): April 9, 2019
- Pelinka has been the Lakers’ GM since February 2017, but was below Magic Johnson in the front office hierarchy until Johnson resigned on April 9, 2019.
- James Jones, Suns (GM): April 11, 2019
- Jones began serving as the Suns’ co-interim GM alongside Trevor Bukstein in October 2018, but was named the lone, permanent head of basketball operations on April 11, 2019.
- Zach Kleiman, Grizzlies (executive VP): April 11, 2019
- Jason Wexler was named team president on April 11, 2019 and oversees both the basketball and business operations. However, Kleiman is viewed as Memphis’ primary basketball decision-maker.
- David Griffin, Pelicans (executive VP): April 17, 2019
- Gersson Rosas, Timberwolves (president): May 3, 2019
Information from Basketball-Reference was used in the creation of this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.