Debate: NBA front-office rankings

Our ESPN Forecast panel has spoken and ranked every NBA front office from best to worst. What were the biggest surprises? Our 5-on-5 panel weighs in.

1. Which team's front office rated higher overall than you expected?

Amin Elhassan, ESPN Insider: Celtics. We often deride the "RINGZZZ = better" soapbox, but it seems like the panel did just that! I'm not saying they should be in the cellar, but better than Oklahoma City? Better than Houston?

Curtis Harris, Hardwood Paroxysm: Mavericks. Judging front offices can be tricky since you have to balance acumen with results. After winning the NBA title in 2011, the Mavericks have done a good, not great, job of staying competitive. Those results don't warrant consideration as the third-best front office in the NBA.

Ethan Sherwood Strauss, TrueHoop: Mavericks. I was shocked to see them at No. 3. Didn't they blow up a championship squad when they let Tyson Chandler leave? The 2011 run was incredible and they deserve credit for it, but it's 2014, and this team has some of the worst defensive talent in basketball. One wonders how esteemed their front office would be without Dirk Nowitzki papering over mistakes year after year.

David Walker, Roundball Mining Co.: Bulls. Tom Thibodeau is certainly worthy of such a high ranking, but I'm not sure even he can drag Jerry Reinsdorf and Gar Forman to the Bulls' top-10 ranking. Reinsdorf, despite owning a team in one of the NBA's biggest markets, has paid the luxury tax only once, and it was to solidify a far inferior version of the 2011 bench mob they didn't care to pay for.

Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: Mavericks. Mark Cuban's decision to tear down his title team was questionable, and his rebuilding attempts (mostly through free agency) have not been successful. I respect Cuban and Donnie Nelson, but there's a decent chance they're going to miss the playoffs for a second consecutive season, so how can they be third?

2. Which team's front office rated lower overall than you expected?

Elhassan: Thunder. I was shocked to see them not place near the top. Sam Presti is one of the brightest minds (and pretty much the blueprint for every GM hire over the past half-decade), Scott Brooks is an adequate (if unimaginative) coach, and the Thunder ownership I feel get a bad rap for the James Harden thing. As I said on TrueHoop TV, as an exec, you want your ownership to be low-key, even-keeled and consistent. Give me a number not to go over and let me do my job within those parameters!

Harris: Timberwolves. They're middle-of-the-pack in management, not bottom-of-the-rung. Considering the miserable hand dealt by David Kahn, I think the Wolves have done well to construct a playoff-worthy roster. Unfortunately, being in the super-tough West dampens the feeling of success.

Strauss: Hawks. I thought they deserved to be higher than 17th. They've made some slick moves since Danny Ferry took over. Any squad that somehow gets Paul Millsap as a cheaper replacement for Josh Smith deserves a higher ranking than 17. It's not Atlanta's fault that its best player got hurt this season.

Walker: Clippers. It's understandable that Donald Sterling is still viewed as toxic, but lately, it seems as though he's taken a necessary step back into the shadows. His ownership of the team didn't deter either Chris Paul or Doc Rivers from joining L.A., and he seems willing to pay the price of contention.

Windhorst: Nets. I understand that because of their payroll, they get dismissed as having too big of an advantage. But, um, they've made some very prudent moves. The Pierce/Garnett deal was hugely in their favor, but their small moves have been strong, too. Alan Anderson and Shaun Livingston at the minimum were excellent signings. The Mason Plumlee pick looks pretty good. Billy King has had a reasonably good season for the Nets to be ranked only 15th.

3. What was the biggest surprise in the entire front-office rankings?

Elhassan: That the panel gave ownership the least weight, and by a good margin. Having worked for a couple of teams and dealt with people who work with other teams and compared notes, we all know that all success (and failure) happens through the leadership and support at the top. It's no coincidence that most of the best-run teams have excellent ownership groups (and the opposite is also true).

Harris: The mind-bending disconnect of Mikhail Prokhorov being a top-10 owner despite employing the third-worst GM. I really can't fathom approving that highly of Brooklyn's owner when his chief basketball executive is basically a laughingstock.

Strauss: I was surprised to see Mikhail Prokhorov with a strong owner ranking of 8th. While he's certainly willing to spend money, he'd gained the reputation for profligate spending. Also, he's been viewed as an absentee owner. I suspect that his ranking would look a lot worse had we done this earlier in the season, when Jason Kidd was so desperate for a victory that he was intentionally spilling his own drink. The Nets (and Prokhorov) have recovered quickly.

Walker: Hawks GM Danny Ferry placing 17th among top executives seems to be borne of a lot of recency bias. Atlanta's poor luck with injuries this season shouldn't cloud the fact that he was responsible for perhaps the most prudent signing of this offseason in Paul Millsap and that he was able to magic away Joe Johnson's contract from their cap sheet last year.

Windhorst: Boy, are teams in the middle of rebuilds ranked much higher than they should be. I know that many people think that tanking and trading for future draft picks is smart and all, but frankly if you put me in charge and I can take a team apart -- that is easy. It's building the team up that's hard and challenging -- that's what Houston and Portland and Golden State have done. Those teams all should be higher.

4. Which team is most likely to rise in the overall rankings next season?

Elhassan: Jazz. This probably could have been my answer for most underrated, but I think the Jazz have excellent management, strong ownership and, shall we say, "flexibility" at the head coaching position.

Harris: Bobcats. Michael Jordan is apparently ceding more authority to Rich Cho, which bodes well for roster improvement. Furthermore, a playoff appearance this season along with the name change will provide feel-good momentum for the franchise.

Strauss: Raptors. They have a young core and a savvy GM in Masai Ujiri. They're going places. I'd imagine they'll surge up the rankings after winning some playoff games.

Walker: Pelicans. The win-now mentality the Pelicans had going into last offseason may have been a misfire, but Anthony Davis' development into a burgeoning superstar at 21 is a panacea for all past mistakes. A rising tide lifts all boats, and Davis might as well be the wave that does it.

Windhorst: Bobcats. They've made some pretty good moves over the last year -- heck, Al Jefferson has been one of the best big-ticket signings of the last few years. The Steve Clifford hiring looks really smart. They re-signed Gerald Henderson to a good number. And they have more cap space coming, plus a rebranding.

5. Which team is most likely to drop in the overall rankings next season?

Elhassan: Nets. Had we conducted this poll in January, there's no way they'd rank as high as 15. I think when reality sets in with the lack of ability to improve themselves, the goodwill will dissipate.

Harris: Warriors. The Bay Area has its winningest basketball team in two decades and yet turmoil is already afoot. I really don't expect this team to remain coherent and positively stable, so long as the coach and ownership remain at odds.

Strauss: Pacers. They are high up there at No. 4, based mostly on moves that did not include the recent acquisitions of Evan Turner and Andrew Bynum. I expect the Pacers to be a good team going forward, but people will also start to notice their mistakes. Trading Kawhi Leonard for George Hill (and giving Hill an expensive contract) will likely look worse as time goes on.

Walker: Celtics. For the simple fact that the losing isn't really going to stop anytime soon. Even if they can re-sign Rajon Rondo at a reasonable price and nab an All-Star in the draft, Boston isn't going to jump back into the playoff race right away, much less into contention. They're on the right path, but immediate success seems to be the thing rewarded the most in these rankings.

Windhorst: Celtics. I don't see how the Mavs can't drop since I'm stunned at their ranking. But the Celtics are also pretty high up there for a team that isn't good, doesn't have much cap flexibility and is just waiting for a chance to turn all the picks they have into something concrete. I guess they got bonus points for being one of the hosts of the MIT Sloan Conference. I'll wait until their big move actually happens before putting them so highly.

ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Brian Windhorst writes for ESPN.com. Amin Elhassan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. Curtis Harris, Ethan Sherwood Strauss and David Walker are part of the TrueHoop Network.
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