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Comparing NBA Front Offices & Chain of Command (Part 2)

In the past 2 seasons, there is an unprecedented level of front-office shake-up, ranging from coaching changes, to our own silent transition. Looking at last 2 seasons, we can see that 2 finals team (Spurs and Heat) clearly have uniquely organized Front Offices. This inspired me to look at the different style of FO organization, and analyze strength and weakness. In Part 2, I want to categorize the different styles of FO organization, and debate on the merit and flaws for each.

(For those who missed it, see Part 1 - Comparing NBA Front Office to Military Ranks)

Comparing Front Offices

By categorizing the types of FOs, we can highlight the strength/weakness by providing historical reference. Most NBA teams will fall-into one category, but may exhibit signs of another.

GM-Driven FOs

This is the norm of most NBA teams. GM makes the long-term decision on team building (tank or contend?). To execute the long-term decision, they control the personnel decision (player and coaches), and investment in support staffs (Med, stat, scouts). Coaches mostly concerned with development and game-planning. Coaches may be involved with personnel decision at various level, but the final decision lies with GM. Owners usually steps out of the way, and will limit themselves to only making budget decisions (pay salary tax?).

Advantage - Clear Distinction of Duty

Example: Atlanta Hawks

GM can make significant player moves (usually trades) without input from coach, and the coach has plausible deniability. (I didn't sign off on Joe Johnson trade, and my team sucked after).

Disadvantage - Conflicting Interest

Example: Utah Jazz

Let me tell you a story, about the the 2013-14 Utah Jazz, and their magnificent unicorns...

Advantage - Stability, No Single Point of Failure

Example: Boston Celtics

Doc Rivers had significant influence in Boston, and GM Danny Ainge wanted Doc to help the Celtics rebuild the team. Doc Rivers ultimately left and it was a serious blow to the Celtics, but with Ainge still in charge they quickly entered rebuild mode and hired a new promising head coach. The result is different from the Jazz/Sloan model, where the devastation was felt for years.

Coach-Driven FOs

The coach is involved in the FO, and is the ultimate authority in all decisions. The FO becomes the vehicle for executing the coach's vision. The most famous example being the Spurs/Popovich model, which in turn is based on the historical Jazz/Sloan model. Recently, Clippers and Pistons are looking to form new Coach-Driven FO with Doc Rivers and SVG.

Advantage - Harmony of Strategy and Tactics

Example: San Antonio Spurs

A critical component to Spur's success is their flawless translation of their strategic moves to on-court tactics. Buford and Spurs FO always finds the perfect role players required for Popovich's offensive system, which allows Pop to swap parts in and out of the #SpursDeathMachine. In turn, Popovich implemented the innovative strategy of minutes rationing for his primary players; the result of which we saw in the 2014 finals.

Disadvantage - Single Point of Failure

See Sloan, Jerry

Figurehead-Driven FOs

A figurehead will dictate strategic vision, and delegate the FO and coaching staff to execute it. The figurehead represents the team, and act as their top salesman (to free agents). Usually the figurehead will have the title of "President of Basketball Operations" (translates to - I tell people what to do basketball). It is basically a requirement for these figureheads to command extreme amounts of respect.

Advantage - Influence

Example: Heat (Pat Riley), Pacer (Larry Bird), Knicks? (Phil Jackson)

If Pat Riley says he wants to have a chat, nobody in the NBA will say no (well, barring collusion rules). If Phil says Melo should take a pay cut, Melo is not going to publicly rebuke him (while still taking max offer). These guys have so much influence that they warp the normal parameter of doing business, which is why they are the figurehead.

Disadvantage - Requires Transcendent People

You need to be basketball legend, as well as a savvy basketball mind for this model to work. There is simply not enough resources for more teams to do this.

Disadvantage - Loss of Respect

See Jordan, Michael.

What type of FO do you think the Jazz should build in the next era?

All comments are the opinion of the commenter and not necessarily that of SLC Dunk or SB Nation.

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