Have you ever wondered what an NBA general manager actually does and how much responsibility he carries in the hierarchy of a team?
Milt Newton, general manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves, explains, “The overriding aspect of my job is putting a product on the floor that can be perennial playoff contenders,” he says. “We’re all in this to win a championship.”
While the Timberwolves may not have won a championship for a long time, or even come close, the job is no different for the manager of a losing team than a winning one. “Every day you have decisions to be made,” says Newton. “Managing your staff, managing the players, talking on the phone with other teams and, when a deal is made, it’s not just that we made a deal on Thursday and spoke about it on Wednesday. It may be months in the making, circling back to other teams. You know: ‘Are you guys making any moves? Who do you like on our team? We’ll tell you who we like on your team.'”
If this does not sound like the goings on at your corporate job’s offices, that’s because, unlike many businesses, the NBA does not actually produce any physical goods. It’s a business about relationships and performance. How does one define success in this atmosphere? Much like academia or the art world, it can often be difficult to define what a good coach – or a bad one, for that matter – looks like.
“We’re on the phone every day, seeing what’s out there, what you’re willing to do,” continues Newton. “If I notice that your team went down with an injury last night, I’m calling you maybe the next day to find out if there’s any way we can help you in regards to getting a piece that you may need.”
The relationship between owners and general managers can often be fraught with tension and rivalry. The NBA is, at its core, a minimally-populated, self-contained ecosystem. Arranging trades or changing a team in any way is a protracted, leveled process. Team building is not an easy job.