An NBA front office is the brain behind the operation. You often hear about front office executive positions such as President of Basketball Operations or General Manager. To the untrained eye, these positions are similar, but in reality, they’re not. Although a GM and PBO work hand-in-hand behind the scenes, their job descriptions vary. So, what does the President of Basketball Operations do, and how does he differ from a General Manager?
What is the President of Basketball Operations?
What is President of Basketball Operations in an NBA setting? Well, the role of the President of basketball operations is extremely particular in the NBA.
For many, this is just a mere title and can be handled by the General Manager, but most NBA organizations hire separate persons to do the job. The President of Basketball Operations oversees all areas of the basketball program, such as player development, travel arrangements, training, roster building, and so on. In short, they are the top executives of an NBA front office.
That said, NBA teams have their own management structure and can have different titles for their top basketball executive.
For instance, the Golden State Warriors previously employed Bob Myers as their General Manager and President of Basketball Operations. When Myers stepped down from his role on June 2023, his job descriptions were replaced by two people. Mike Dunleavy, Jr. took over as the new GM, while Chuck Hayes was hired as the new President of Basketball Operations.
On the other hand, the Lakers technically do not have a President of Basketball Operations. Rob Pelinka is their top executive but does not hold that title. He is technically the VP of Basketball Operations and General Manager of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Another example is the Spurs’ management structure. Gregg Popovich is the organization’s President and coach of the team, but R.C. Buford is the general manager.
What are the Responsibilities of the President of Basketball Operations?
As previously stated, the duties of the President of Basketball Operations vary from team to team. However, their primary role revolves around making strategic decisions for the team. Some of the typical responsibilities of a President of Basketball Operations are as follows:
- They make player personnel decisions. If the PBO and the GM responsibilities fall into one person’s lap, it’s easier. Since that’s not the case for every team, the President may confer his vision with the General Manager, and the latter makes it happen. He may also collaborate with the GM and scouting department to identify and sign players who fit the team’s needs and long-term goals.
- To help him make personnel decisions, the President must work with the scouting department and analytics team to identify talent and assess player performance and potential. This data-driven approach helps him make informed decisions on team strategies, perhaps identifying players who can fill a role on the cheap and diamonds in the rough.
- The President is in charge of putting together and molding the team’s roster, taking into account the team’s playing style, chemistry, and potential areas for improvement. He may have to set Plans B, C, or D if Plan A does not materialize and assemble a competitive, cohesive team capable of competing for titles. If the team doesn’t work as well as he envisioned, he must return to Bullet 1.
- The President is responsible for creating a long-term vision for the team and implementing a plan to achieve success over multiple seasons. Hence, he must deeply understand the nuances of the salary cap and the subtle art of contract negotiations.
- As a high-profile executive, the President represents the team in various public events, media interactions, and press conferences. Thus, he must be amicable and comfortable around people.
Difference Between a GM and President of Basketball Operations
It is previously mentioned that a team may hire one person to be the President and the GM, while others have different individuals fill the roles. In the case of the latter, the President is the General Manager’s boss, to put it simply. That means the former has a much larger scope of responsibilities, and in theory, he could fire the GM, as Magic Johnson did to Mitch Kupchack in 2017.
Therefore, in the traditional team structure, the GM reports directly to the President of Basketball Operations or directly to the team owner. They are responsible for implementing the basketball decisions made by the higher-ups. The President is at the top of the basketball operations hierarchy. They often report directly to the team owner and are in charge of the GM and other basketball-related staff.
To put it simply, their roles can be summarized this way. The GM is usually more concerned with the finer points of the team’s success, such as player and contract negotiations. On the other hand, the President oversees the GM and has to manage on a large-scale level. Again, this power and responsibility structure varies from team to team, but that’s generally what the best President of Basketball Operations does.
5 Qualities of a Successful President of Basketball Operations
A top executive in any organization, much less an NBA team, is always a handful. It can break the spirit of a strong-willed man, which is why an NBA President of Basketball Operations must have these essential qualities:
1. Hoops Expertise
You can’t be a president of a basketball team and not know a lick about the game. The President is required to mold a team and have a long-term vision and should have a comprehensive knowledge of player evaluation, team strategies, coaching techniques, and other basketball-related aspects.
He must be an empowering and inspiring leader capable of motivating and uniting the team’s basketball operations staff around a common objective. The key to a positive working environment is the leadership skills of the President of Basketball Operations.
3. Knows how to nurture relationships
The President must build and nurture relationships with the players, coaches, and team personnel. And that’s not just the people in his team; it also involves having friendly relationships with other executives and players. You just don’t know who you need to call down the road. In other words, sometimes it’s a “You scratch my back, I scratch yours” scenario.
4. Ethical Conduct
One way to nurture relationships is by being honest. No one likes a person who backstabs or does not have the integrity to tell the truth to someone’s face. If a player asks if he’s being shopped or traded, it’s in everyone’s best interests if the President tells the truth rather than denies it. People respect honesty, and it builds up the reputation.
5. Does Not Wilt Under Pressure
In the Internet and social media age, higher-ups may get trolled and bashed relentlessly. If this stuff gets in a President’s head, he has no business being in that position. He must be able to handle pressure, criticism, and demanding situations, as this contributes to a more stable and effective leadership style.
How Much Does a Basketball President of Operations Make?
The President of Basketball Operations salary varies from team to team, but the below-market wage is $2 million annually. That’s how much the Cavs offered Chauncey Billups in 2017 to take on the role of team president.
That said, the highly-experienced executives command salaries way more than that, especially the ones with dual roles. For example, Pat Riley’s compensation as the Heat’s President and General Manager is $11 million a year. Rob Pelinka of the Los Angeles Lakers also acts as the VP and General Manager, earning $5 million annually.
Wrapping Things Up: What Does the President of Basketball Operations Do?
Two of the most critical front office roles for any NBA team are President of Basketball Operations and General Manager. Some organizations prefer one person to handle both roles, while others compartmentalize the tasks and hire different individuals.
What does the President of Basketball Operations do? He oversees all of the basketball stuff and is essentially the boss of the General Manager. The GM reports to him, while the President directly reports to the owner. The specifics and dynamics of these roles may also vary from team to team, but in the most basic sense, that’s the role of an NBA president of basketball operations in a nutshell.