The NBA is a fun league. Tune in any night and you can see All-Stars or young prospects racing up and down the court for both teams. If you look at the stands, you’ll see movie stars, singers, and former players all cheering for their teams. With some teams, you’ll even see owners sitting court-side, jumping up and down and clapping just like everyone else. This level of community is why being a fan of an NBA team is so enjoyable.
Unfortunately, not every owner is capable of building this unifying atmosphere. Some of them aren’t even able to fully control their own organizations. Then there are owners who blatantly lie and fail to deliver on premises of championships and stardom. Thanks to free agency, it’s become very clear who the worst owners in the league are right now. So, I can comfortably sit back and say these are the five worst owners in the NBA today.
#5 Jeanie Buss, Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the two most storied franchises in NBA history. Yet, the team was the laughing stock of the league just a few months ago. Before the end of the season, Magic Johnson stepped down as president of basketball operations. Johnson didn’t tell LeBron James, who he recruited to Los Angeles the previous offseason, he was stepping down. He didn’t tell head coach Luke Walton he was stepping down. And he didn’t tell Buss he was stepping down. There had been tension between Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka, but Buss was entirely in the dark.
When Walton was no longer the coach, the Lakers whiffed on the top available coaches, who chose to take other jobs. The Los Angeles Lakers coaching job was made a mockery of because of how dysfunctional the organization is. While James has taken a lot of heat for issues in the past, this is all on Buss. The prestige of the team was damaged by Buss failing to take charge of her organization and employees.
#4 Dan Gilbert, Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavaliers went to four of the last five NBA Finals. However, the Cavaliers were lifted that high because James returned to deliver a championship to his home. If he hadn’t come back, the team would’ve continued losing. Gilbert has burned through general managers and coaches during his time as owner of the Cavaliers. He has failed to set up an organization capable of holding itself up without the presence of James.
Gilbert has shown he can be brash and emotional in the past. Remember that letter he posted about James after the star left for the Miami Heat back in 2010? While Gilbert removed the letter from the team’s site when James returned years later, ESPN was kind enough to post a copy of it. In the letter, Dolan calls James a coward and narcissist and accuses him of betraying his home region. Keep in mind, this is an NBA owner posting this to a team’s official website, not some raging fan on Twitter.
My favorite part of the letter is where Gilbert wrote,
“I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE”
I guess the caps lock button got stuck on his keyboard. James did win a championship before the Cavaliers, leading the Heat to back-to-back titles and four consecutive Finals appearances. During those four seasons, the Cavaliers never made the playoffs and went a combined 97-215. James returned to Cleveland for the 2014-15 season. He brought the team to four straight Finals appearances and won the franchise its only championship. This past season, the Cavaliers went 19-63.
#3 Vivek Ranadive, Sacramento Kings
The Kings actually have a handful of promising young players on their roster. However, we’ve seen talented young Kings rosters fall apart before. The organization used to have DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, and Isaiah Thomas as its three leading scorers. In fact, those three players all averaged over 20 points per game during the 2013-14 season. The team’s coach was Mike Malone, who coached the Denver Nuggets to a 54-28 record this past season. The 2013-14 Kings went 28-54. Malone was fired 24 games into the following season. It was just his second season as the team’s coach.
There was also that time when Ranadive believed he could form a big three with Cousins, Gay, and Russell Westbrook. A CBS Sports article by Ananth Pandian recalls the ludicrous idea. Basketball in Sacramento got so bad that when head coach George Karl arrived in 2014 Gay, according to ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz, told the coach “welcome to basketball hell”. That’s the kind of greeting that reflects how Ranadive has interfered with and run the Kings.
#2 Michael Jordan, Charlotte Hornets
Usually, I like to sit back and bask in the glory of another team’s shortcomings. However, I don’t even feel comfortable writing this section. Jordan is without question the greatest basketball player of all-time. Things have just gone so poorly for him as an owner though.
Jordan’s decisions with the franchise have been so bad that Bleacher Report released an article back in 2012, retracing all the mistakes. USA Today released an article on May 14, 2018 calling Jordan the worst owner. He’s failed as a talent evaluator, drafting many busts with high first-round picks. Adam Morrison was taken with the third overall pick in 2006. He’s now known as one of the biggest draft busts in league history. The team has also used high picks on D.J. Augustin, Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, Frank Kaminsky, and Malik Monk.
The only All-Star Jordan landed with a high pick is Kemba Walker, who recently left Charlotte in favor of Boston.
#1 James Dolan, New York Knicks
I think this was the obvious selection that everyone saw coming. Dolan’s antics are well known. Famously, he banned a fan from Knicks games for life for yelling “sell the team” as the owner was walking past. While somewhat insulting, “sell the team” is hardly worth a ban. Players deal with far worse insults all of the time, but Dolan lost it after three words. Dolan later went on to tell “The Michael Kay Show” the “confrontation” was planned. Then there’s that time he ejected Knicks legend Charles Oakley. Feuding with former players is just another way Dolan has alienated the team’s fan base.
His most recent sin against Knicks fans came when he promised that New York would be a major destination for free agents on The Michael Kay Show. Dolan claimed the Knicks would come out winners in 2019 free agency. That was back in March. The better part of free agency has come and gone. The Knicks signed six players, and not one of them were stars. Dolan failed to deliver on his promise. Now, the Knicks are pretty much waiting for free agency in 2021. Could it be that no star players want to work for one of the worst owners in the league?
Back in 2007, then commissioner David Stern was critical of the Knicks when he told ESPN the team’s’ failure to handle harassment allegations, “It demonstrates that they’re not a model of intelligent management.” That’s the commissioner of the league calling out a team for poor management. Yikes.