Not all great NBA players make great NBA executives. With Michael Jordan’s Charlotte Bobcats in line to finish this season with perhaps the worst record in NBA history, a list of five executives who dazzled as players and baffled as decision-makers:
1. Isiah Thomas
It’s easy to forget that Thomas, a Hall of Fame player with the Detroit Pistons, had moments of brilliance in his career as an executive. In Toronto, he drafted Tracy McGrady, Marcus Camby and Damon Stoudemire. Of course, most of those successes were completely overshadowed by his failures as president of the New York Knicks _ most notably marked by giving big contracts to marginal players and acquiring Stephon Marbury and Eddy Curry, followed by a sexual harassment scandal, clashes with players and the scorn of fans. “One of the biggest regrets of my life” is how Thomas described the inability to make the Knicks a winner. They never won a playoff game with Thomas as coach or president. And this doesn’t include his tenure owning the now-defunct Continental Basketball Association.
As a player, his 1995-96 Chicago Bulls set an NBA record by winning 72 times in one season, and Jordan played in every single one of those victories. Now the owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, the six-time NBA champion player is enduring the other side _ maybe the worst season in NBA history. At 7-58 entering their final game of the year Thursday against the New York Knicks, the Bobcats are on the cusp of futility. And all this comes a decade or so after Jordan flopped when he was running the basketball operations for the Washington Wizards, his biggest misstep there being drafting Kwame Brown No. 1 overall out of high school in 2001. Two years later, after Jordan returned to play for the Wizards, he questioned Brown’s effort on the court more than once.
3. Kevin McHale
Great player, coach who almost got Houston into this season’s playoffs, but made one of the most costly mistakes in league history. As an executive with the Minnesota Timberwolves, McHale was linked to a mess where the team entered into an under-the-table deal with Joe Smith, agreeing to give him a series of one-year contracts and then reward his patience with a longer-term big-money agreement _ a move that gave the team flexibility to get other players under the salary cap. The NBA voided the last year of Smith’s deal with Minnesota, fined the Timberwolves and took away three first-round picks. It bears noting McHale wasn’t all bad: Sure, he traded the rights to Brandon Roy for Randy Foye, but he also picked a high schooler named Kevin Garnett in 1995.
4. Elgin Baylor
The NBA’s executive of the year in 2006 still finds his way onto this list. Baylor _ who once scored 71 points in a game and was the league’s No. 1 pick in 1958 _ was hired by the basketball operations office of the Los Angeles Clippers in 1986. In 22 seasons, the Clippers finished over .500 only twice, and won just one playoff series on Baylor’s watch. Over that span, the Clippers posted a record of 619-1,153, the most losses and the third-worst winning percentage in the NBA over that stretch, further magnified by the fact that the Los Angeles Lakers were the league’s best team (1,134-638) in those years. Baylor also struggled as a coach, going 86-135 with the New Orleans Jazz in the 1970s.
5. Chris Mullin
At Golden State, they loved Mullin as a player. As an executive, not so much. Mullin was the team’s executive vice president of basketball operations for five seasons from 2004 through 2009, the team’s winning percentage of .456 ranking 19th in the NBA over those years. The team and Mullin parted ways in a breakup that appeared to be foreshadowed when the smooth left-handed shooter lost much of his authority in a power struggle. Mullin was rarely even seen publicly at the team’s arena during the final year of his tenure. He’s returned a few times since, including last month when his No. 17 jersey was retired _ a ceremony marred by Warriors fans booing team owner Joe Lacob.