In all the history of the NBA, there has never been a worse time for general managers than right now. Maybe some of that is being in the moment and the mass of hysteria and hyperbole in today’s media. But a lot of that has to do with the fact that there are a lot of terrible teams in the NBA right now and it goes all the way to the top.
The NBA has never been a particularly diverse league. The same handful of teams (read: Lakers, Celtics) seem to win just about every year, but now even those teams are terrible. It’s like the NBA forgot how to evaluate talent. From ridiculous strategies like intentionally losing to get better draft picks to stocking up on foreign players who might not ever play in the NBA, there have been some historically bad decisions by GMs lately.
Which isn’t to say there haven’t been bad GMs in the past. There certainly have been, in fact some of the worst GMs of all time have come from the 70s and 80s. But there just happened to be more terrible GMs now, so it’s a tradeoff.
There are just so many bad executives out there that we feel compelled to show you the 20 Worst NBA GMs in History.
20 Kevin O'Connor
Kevin O’Conner of the Utah Jazz seems to be one of those guys who just happens to have good things happen to him. He took advantage of Jim Paxson’s terrible decisions and stole Carlos Boozer away from the Cavs. He also drafted Deron Williams and Paul Millsap, both great moves. But there have been even more questionable moves.
O’Connor is mediocre when it comes to the draft and he isn’t a big spender in free agency. He drafted busts like Raul Lopez in 2001 and traded for Curtis Borchardt in 2002.
During his last two years, the team went 75-73, losing their only playoff appearance. He stepped down in 2012, but his moves towards the end continue to haunt the team to this day, like the Deron Williams trade to the Nets.
19 Rod Higgins
Rod Higgins was the General Manager for the Charlotte Bobcats (now the Hornets) from 2007 to 2011. During that time the team went 145-183, and missed the playoffs all but one year. The only good move he ever made was hiring Larry Brown, but Brown only coached the team for less than two and a half years.
During that time, Brown had to make do with one of the worst rosters in the NBA. He drafted guys like DJ Augustin over Brook Lopez and Roy Hibbert in 2008. In 2010, they had no draft picks at all because of a terrible trade with the Nuggets that saw them get the 20th overall pick in 2008. With that pick, they selected Alexis Ajinça, again skipping over eventual great players like Serge Ibaka and DeAndre Jordan.
Higgins made a great decision trading for Tyson Chandler, but gave him up too after only a year in a trade to Dallas for Matt Carroll, Erick Dampier and Eduardo Nájera. The final nail in the coffin came when he hired Paul Silas as head coach, who ultimately went 32-88 during his tenure.
18 Steve Mills
Steve Mills is the first of many former players who made the not-so-smooth transition from star player to general manager. Mills was named Executive Vice President and General Manager of the Knicks in 2013.
He fired coach Mike Woodson after having posted two winning seasons in three years. But his biggest move was facilitating the hire of Phil Jackson as President of the team, who really took over GM duties by appointing Derek Fisher as head coach.
It’s hard to say who has control over the team right now, Mills or Jackson, but the 86-160 record since Mills took over, including a 17-65 campaign in ’14-’15 speaks for itself.
17 Rob Babcock
Rob Babcock was GM of the Toronto Raptors for all of two minutes (years), but that was more than enough time to sink the franchise for years.
The biggest thing he did which pretty much got him fired and sunk the team whether he knew it or not, was trading All-Star Vince Carter to the Nets for basically nothing. The Raptors picked up an aged, over the hill Alonzo Mourning who refused to play for the team. They also got Eric Williams and Aaron Williams who did next to nothing, and two draft picks that he would of course screw up.
He ended up taking Rafael Araujo 8th overall earlier that year, skipping Andre Iguodala and Josh Smith. After winning just 33 games that year, he picked Charlie Villanueva and Joey Graham in the first round ahead of players like Andrew Bynum and Danny Granger.
Because of these catastrophic mistakes, Babcock was fired after less than a year and a half as GM. Years later, the Toronto Star would say Babcock’s time as GM was the franchise’s “darkest days.”
16 Dave Twardzik
Dave Twardzik deserves a spot on this list if only for the incredible talent he passed up in the draft. Yeah, the draft is always difficult and it’s a crap shoot most of the time, but once you hear some of the guys he passed up, you might be more inclined to agree.
His first year as GM of the Warriors in 1995 was drafting Joe Smith #1 overall. Good old Joe Smith, who went on to be mediocre at best. The next four picks turned out to be Antonio McDyess, Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace and Kevin Garnett, who all turned out to be All-Stars and a likely Hall of Famer in Garnett. The next season he infamously drafted Todd Fuller 11th overall, passing on Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.
He also hired Rick Alderman as head coach in 1995, who finished 66-98 after only two seasons. He helped hiring Alderman’s replacement, PJ Carlesimo, but was fired after the search. You could say he got the last laugh though, as Carlesimo left Golden State with a record of 46-113.
15 Kevin McHale
Kevin McHale is a good coach, but he’s a terrible front office executive. Named Vice President of Basketball Operations of the Timberwolves in 1995, he was on his way to becoming a double-edged sword in no time.
McHale really is the two-face of GMs. On one hand, he drafted Kevin Garnett and hired Flip Saunders as his coach, two integral pieces of many of their teams. On the other hand, he violated league rules to sign the same bust, Joe Smith, the Warriors whiffed on a few years earlier, costing the team several first round draft picks and $3.5 million. He also gave Kevin Garnett a bloated contracted which made it impossible for him to sign anyone else for years before trading him away to the Celtics for as close to nothing as you can get in the NBA.
His first few years with the team were disastrous, but eventually they managed to turn things around thanks in no small part to the great combo of Saunders and Garnett. That is until he decided to fire Saunders and named himself coach, where he went 39-55.
14 Doc Rivers
Like McHale, Doc Rivers is a hell of a coach, but a truly horrendous GM. He currently serves as the LA Clippers head coach and President of Basketball Operations (he hired a GM, but everything goes through Rivers) and if it weren’t for his skills as a coach and Chris Paul, he would have been fired years ago.
Taking a look at the free agent signings Rivers has brought on during his tenure is sad. It includes washed up talent like Hedo Turkoglu and Danny Granger and busts like Byron Mullens and Antawn Jamison. That’s not to even mention trading for his son, Austin Rivers, in 2015, who has showed some promise but not very much else.
Rivers also traded away a promising looking Eric Bledsoe for an aging J.J. Redick and journeyman Jared Dudley. It might be hypocritical to say Rivers is stockpiling possibly talented guys while trading another way, but the difference is Bledsoe is now a great player, while the Clippers young talent has stagnated for years.
13 Jim Paxson
Jim Paxson drafted LeBron James during his time as the Cavaliers GM. James was obviously the best player in the draft that year and had a ton of hype surrounding him, so you can argue how much of an impact he had on the decision. Other than that though, Paxon made one terrible mistake after another during his six year run.
He also drafted Jamal Crawford in 2000, but immediately traded him to the Bulls for Chris Mihm, who was a bust. He also drafted other busts like Dajuan Wagner, Luke Jackson, and Trajan Langdon.
He was also responsible for losing Carlos Boozer for nothing. The Cavs claimed they reached a deal with the soon to be free agent Boozer and that if they released him from his current contract with only a year remaining, he’d resign with the team for a longer deal worth more money. The Cavs cut him and Boozer immediately signed with the Utah Jazz. For his part, Boozer claims he never made that deal, but regardless, it was a pointless risk to begin with.
12 Ernie Grunfeld
Ernie Grundfeld has stumbled into a lot of great picks. John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter were all of his doing. But in the decade or so that he’s been the GM of the Washington Wizards, he’s made more bad decisions than good ones. Wizards fans hate him so much they’ve even created a website dedicated to getting him fired and list all the bad decisions he’s made.
One of his biggest mistakes came in 2006, when he drafted Oleksiy Pecherov with the #18 pick ahead of Rajon Rondo and Kyle Lowry. Or, you could say his biggest mistake was in 2009 when he traded the team’s #5 pick for Mike Miller and Randy Foye, forgoing a chance to draft Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings, and Ricky Rubio.
What really takes the cake though came in 2008. He signed Gilbert Arenas to a six year, $111 million contract. This ignored Arenas’ multiple knee injuries and attitude problem that saw him using a firearm to threaten a teammate just a year later. His NBA career was over by 2012.
11 Jim Brewer
Jim Brewer was a general manager in the NBA for only two seasons from 1990 to 1992. During those two seasons, his Minnesota Timberwolves went 44-120, including a 15 win season in ’91-’92.
There isn’t a lot to cover over with Brewer since he didn’t last long, but there are a few lowlights. Like hiring head coach Jimmy Rodgers in 1991 who went 15-67 that year and 6-23 the following year. He then named assistant coach Sidney Lowe head coach, who didn’t do much better.
He also signed and traded for a series of cheap, not very good players. He traded Tyrone Corbin for Thurl Bailey, signed Tellis Frank and drafted bust Luc Longley 7th overall in 1991.
10 Scott Layden
Hired in 1999, Scott Layden was supposed to turn things around the New York Knicks coming off their championship loss to the Spurs. That’s exactly what he did, though probably not in the way fans thought.
He got started by trading Patrick Ewing in 2000, one of the best big men of all time. Trading away him was actually a good idea, as the aging Ewing only played two more seasons and was clearly over the hill. However, getting nothing but Glen Rice and the terrible aforementioned Luc Longley was a disaster. In 2001, he signed Allan Houston to a $100 million dollar deal that tied the team up financiall, and in 2002 he traded away Marcus Camby and the 7th overall pick for Antonio McDyess.
Worst of all, after getting fired in 2004, he was replaced with Isiah Thomas. Don’t worry, we’ll get to him.
9 Wes Unseld
Wes Unseld is yet another former player who had no business being a GM in the NBA. As GM of the Bullets/Wizards, Unseld made many bad decisions as coach and later as GM of the team.
His biggest mistake came when he traded a young and talented Chris Webber to the Kings for Mitch Richmond and Otis Thorpe. Richmond had a few good years with Washington, but Webber had a long stretch in the NBA as a truly great player and outplayed Richmond easily. He also traded Ben Wallace and other players for Isaac Austin and Rasheed Wallace for Rod Strickland. Needless to say those trades were busts.
During his time with the team, he made the playoffs once, but didn’t go far and was eventually fired.
8 Bernie Bickerstaff
Nothing is worse than when a GM decides to name himself head coach. But that’s exactly what Bernie Bickerstaff did during his last three years with the Denver Nuggets, resulting in a miserable 25 win season.
Bickerstaff kicked off the awful ’96-’97 season by drafting the good but often injured LaPhonso Ellis. He also spent a #3 overall pick on Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and signed mediocre player Tom Hammonds in 1993.
His crowning achievement though came in the ’94-’95 season, when he fired then head coach Dan Issel and replaced him with Gene Littles. Littles won only 3 out of 16 games before he too was yanked and Bickerstaff decided to put himself in charge. He remained the head coach (getting a worse record each year) until that disastrous ’96-’97 season when he was fired after starting the season 4-9.
7 Billy King
Billy King is, according to respected NBA analyst Chad Ford, one of the worst GMs in NBA history. While King certainly is up there, he’s in no way the worst. King is unique on this list in that he’s actually been a GM twice, once for the 76ers in the early 2000s and again with the Nets in 2010.
Let’s start with his time as 76ers GM. King was responsible for the Allen Iverson trade, which sent the star player to the Nuggets for Andre Miller and two draft picks. With the picks, King selected Daequan Cook and Finnish player Petteri Koponen. In the 1998 NBA Draft, he picked bust Larry Hughes ahead of Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce.
He was hired as Nets GM in 2010 by equally terrible owner Mikhail Prokhorov. The Deron Williams trade is what really cements his legacy. King gave up Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, two first-round draft picks and $3 million. The trade looked good at first, but Deron was a shadow of his former self by his second season and trading that many valuable pieces for an under-performing player is always a disaster. He's also responsible for the horrible Garnett/Pierce trade, where the Nets gave up way too much for two aging stars and they've yet to recover from it.
6 Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan is the best player in NBA history, but he’s a terrible evaluator of talent. Okay, so Jordan might not technically be GM, but he’s been the owner for the Bobcats/Hornets for years and acted as Director of Basketball Operations of the Wizards before that, so this totally counts.
Famously he took himself out of retirement in 2001 to play for the Wizards. He donated his salary to a September 11th relief fund that season. The 39 year old Jordan was the best player on the team, attesting to how great a player he is, but also how terrible he was at acquiring talent.
He drafted Kwame Brown when he was with the Wizards, one of the biggest busts in NBA history. It’s also believed he traded Rip Hamilton for Jerry Stackhouse, a trade that left the Wizards with nothing after just two years. When he took over the Bobcats, he traded away vital players like Gerald Wallance and Emeka Okafor and drafted busts such as Adam Morrison and DJ Augustin.
5 David Kahn
A report came out a few years ago claiming former Timberwolves GM David Kahn thought Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn reminded him of Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe. That’s really all you need to know about Kahn’s tenure as the T’Wolves GM, but let’s go a little further.
Kahn’s biggest mistake was gross mishandling of super star Kevin Love. He refused to re-sign Love to a max contract, even though Love deserved it with his play and for even wanting to stay in Minnesota at all. But Kahn refused, not wanting to spend the money, which enraged Love so much he demanded to be traded years later.
Kahn was terrible at drafting. He took Johnny Flynn in 2009 ahead of Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings, Ty Lawson and Jrue Holiday. Hell, even Jordan Hill is better than Flynn. He followed that marvelous draft up in 2010 by selecting Wesley Johnson ahead of DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George. And again, even lesser players taken near the same time performed better than Johnson, like Greg Monroe and Al-Farouq Aminu.
4 Elgin Baylor
There’s just something about NBA players becoming GMs that makes you wince. Elgin Baylor is probably why. He also perfectly explains how bad the Clippers have historically been. He was their GM for 22 seasons and finished his tenure with a remarkable 607-1153 record, making the playoffs only four times and winning only one series.
Where do you even start in 22 years of failure? Passing up Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant, and Vince Carter for Reggie Williams, Lorenzen Wright, and Michael Olowokandi respectively? How about drafting busts Loy Vaught, LeRon Ellis, Elmore Spencer, Randy Woods, Terry Dehere, and Lamond Murray? How about hiring coaches like Gene Shue, Don Casey, and Mike Schuler?
The year the Clippers won their only playoff series with Baylor, 2006, he was named Executive of the Year. It’s hard to imagine that being anything other than an honor “Lifetime Achievement Award” or something like that.
3 Don DeJardin
You may be unfamiliar with Don DeJardin, as he doesn’t come up on these kinds of list very often. But DeJardin is easily in the top three of worst GMs ever (you could tell because he’s #3 here). Who is he? He’s the man responsible for putting together the single worst team in NBA history: the 9-73 Philadelphia 76ers in the 1972-73 season.
His first move when he was hired in 1970 was to trade Darrall Imhoff and a first round draft pick to the then Cincinnati Royals for two players who’d only play in Philadelphia for one season. But maybe those old names don’t mean much to you. How about when he hired a coach, Roy Rubin, and fired him less than a year later. You can’t blame him, as Rubin was 4-47 during that time.
One of the more bizarre moves was his trade for Bob Rule, in which DeJardin gave up two draft picks to get him, only to trade Rule a year later for a bench player.
2 Isiah Thomas
Isiah Thomas was a great player, but he’s the worst player turned executive in NBA history. There are a ton of horrid moves we can look at with Thomas, but let’s keep it to a minimum, as the truly atrocious moves that really highlight how bad he was.
Named President of Basketball Operations by the Knicks in 2003, Thomas set to work sinking the franchise for decades. He consistently traded away draft picks and young talent in an attempt to bring on veteran players, but the veterans he brought on were mostly benchwarmers getting max contracts thanks to Thomas. By the end of 2006, the Knicks had the highest payroll in the league, but the second worst record.
After firing Larry Brown in 2006, he agreed to become Head Coach himself, because why not? Kicks owner James Dolan told Thomas that “evident progress” needed to be made or he’d be fired. But midway through his first season as coach the team stunk, yet Thomas was signed to an extension anyway. Throw in a sexual harassment lawsuit in 2006 as well as you have a terrible person as well as an executive/coach.
1 Sam Hinkie
As if Sam Hinkie wouldn’t be #1 on this list, there was no other option. But even Hinkie would admit to it, because, probably according to him, he didn’t get enough time to put his plan in motion. What was his plan? Only the worst, most toxic idea an NBA team can possibly come up with.
Hinkie took over as 76ers GM in 2013 and immediately implemented what would become known as “the process.” The idea was simple in its disgustingness: trade away or release the best players on the team, sign scrubs for cheap, and lose as many games as they could on purpose. Hinkie was betting on tanking every season so they could get high draft picks and thus better players via drafting. But Hinke was terrible at the draft, selecting guys who were injury prone and busts, and trading most of them anyway.
Things got so bad that in late December 2015 the NBA had to step in. They practically forced 76ers owner Joshua Harris to hire Jerry Colangelo to an executive position, who would later go on to fire Hinke.