How to Become an NBA General Manager


May 21

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So you want to be an NBA general manager. How do you get that job if you are not a former NBA player and star?

You could do what I do and propose trades. Of course, the guys who actually make them then say to me, “And you are? Sorry, I forget the name.”

Or you could do what Gar Forman did, a guy like you and just about all of us with little or no real athletic talent but just a dream and the work ethic to back it up.

“I loved the game,” Forman said Thursday after a press conference at the Berto Center announcing his promotion. “I knew from when I was a junior in high school I wanted basketball to be my career. It didn’t take long to figure out it wasn’t going to be as a player. I knew I wanted to coach.

“If you’ve got the passion for it and you are willing to persevere and go wherever you need to go and do whatever you have to do to get your foot in the door (you can succeed),” says Forman, whose highlight as a player was as a reserve for Lassen Junior College. “My first seven years coaching I never made as much as $10,000. I moved wherever I had to, Logan (Utah), Palm Desert, Pomona, wherever I could go to get experience.”

It culminated Thursday as Forman was introduced as the Bulls General Manager in the team’s long expected reorganization. John Paxson will retain the senior role as Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations.

But Paxson will be a less visible public figure with Forman and coach Vinny Del Negro playing more public roles. The fun of the job isn’t in submitting to interviews with people like us in the media and engaging in negotiations with mostly venal agents. Paxson wants to concentrate on basketball and basketball decisions, and who can blame him.

Yes, Forman now gets to be the guy who tries to keep from rolling his eyes at the questions from reporters and talk show hosts.

And goofy trade ideas from columnists.

Forman was introduced by Paxson at Thursday’s press conference, and has audio of the Forman press conference and an interview by Bulls broadcaster Chuck Swirsky with Paxson. There wasn’t much team news from the press conference other than Forman said it is the Bulls intention to resign Ben Gordon and he believes it is Gordon’s intention to remain with the Bulls.

At this point with trades not permitted until after the Finals has concluded and teams just beginning draft workouts, there’s little direction to read for the Bulls.

They have the Nos. 16 and 26 picks in the first round. They have the expiring contracts of Brad Miller, Jerome James and Tim Thomas totaling about $25 million. Those could be used in trade this summer to teams looking to dump long term contracts or held until the summer of 2010 to go into the free agent market. There are sign and trade possibilities regarding Gordon and trade possibilities for Tyrus Thomas and Kirk Hinrich, which have previously been discussed.

The Bulls are beginning draft workouts Friday with Taj Gibson of USC, Mac Koshwal of DePaul, Leo Lyons of Missouri, B.J. Mullens of Ohio State, Luke Nevill of Utah and Scott Vandermeer of Illinois/Chicago.

Though there shouldn’t be much read into any of that.

The NBA this season is starting group team workouts. When teams have workouts and invite another team, the workouts must be opened to all teams. So Bulls’ staffers will be attending numerous workouts at the facilities of other teams and easily could be drafting or targeting someone they see at another team’s facility. There’s the draft camp in Chicago the end of next week and then a big workout in Minnesota with numerous teams attending that will kick off many of these workouts. It wouldn’t be a surprise for the Bulls to see some 50 or 60 players, especially given the likelihood that so many teams in the top 10 will make their picks available given the general weakness of this draft after No. 1 pick Blake Griffin.

So Forman comes in at perhaps one of the most crucial times in franchise history.

The Bulls have a potential young star in Derrick Rose and considerable expectations now after going seven games in the opening playoff round with the Boston Celtics. No, they didn’t have Kevin Garnett. But Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are both probably top 15 players in the NBA with good supporting talent.

Plus, the Bulls have to decide whether to pursue a potentially high risk/reward option of looking toward 2010 free agency, or try to cash in their assets now and perhaps make a major deal this summer while deciding whether they can afford or afford to lose their leading scorer for the last four seasons. The only players in franchise history to lead the team in scoring four consecutive seasons were Michael Jordan and Bob Love. And both have their jerseys retired.

But Forman does know the hard way.

He was the kid who worked hard and it never was going to matter.

“I just loved the game,” Forman recalled. “I worked on my shot 12 hours a day seven days a week.”

It got him as far as two years at Lassen in Northern California near where he was raised and then at a small San Francisco area private school, the College of Notre Dame, now known as Notre Dame de Namur. It had Division 2 non scholarship sports.

“I always like to kid with John that we both played at Notre Dame,” Forman laughs.

Forman’s coach at Lassen had a friend at Utah State, who helped Forman hook on as a graduate assistant and jv coach. That meant working with the guys like Forman who weren’t going anywhere. So then you make yourself available, apply for every job that comes up and take what you can get with no basketball playing portfolio. So Forman went to places you never knew had basketball or even where they were.

College of the Desert. What Desert? Pomona. I think that was from a Peanuts comic strip. Eventually, Forman hooked on doing some recruiting and assisting at New Mexico State and somehow—even he doesn’t know for sure—someone who knoew someone who liked him mentioned him to Tim Floyd.

Forman was at a Final Four and out of nowhere Floyd, whom he didn’t know, said he was in line for an SEC job and if it came through was Forman interested in joining his staff. Sure. It didn’t, and Forman didn’t hear from Floyd again.

“Then one day I’m watching ESPN and there’s a report Tim was getting the Iowa State job,” Forman recalled. “My wife (Leslie) says, ‘I wonder if Tim will call? Maybe you should call him.’ I’m not comfortable with that. I said, ‘If he wants to call he will. He knows what he wants.’

“So at 1 a.m., the phone rings, and it’s Tim,” laughs Forman. “Tim is like that. I wake up and answer the phone and he offers me a job to go with him to Iowa State.”

Tim, as we know, got to know Jerry Krause, and became Krause’s choice to succeed Phil Jackson in 1998. Forman came along as a scout in personnel and did what he always did: Kept his head down, worked and worked, didn’t look for credit or publicity and did whatever he could.

You can become an NBA general manager by being a nine-time All Star. But then you need guys like Gar Forman to help you do the job. There’s always a place for hard work, passion, commitment and sacrifice. If you have a goal, try that. If Gar Forman can get there, so can you. No offense, Gar. It’s a good teaching tool for us all.

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