The President of Basketball Operations, or POBO.
The title is meant to be all encompassing, to preside over everything that happens on an NBA team. As, for a basketball team, to be in charge of all basketball operations is essentially a mandate to lead on all fronts. Even the shortened title, POBO, hearkens to the Presidency of the United States, or POTUS.
When the Wolves were searching for a new coach, they quickly came across a match made in heaven with Tom Thibodeau, who was fresh off his year sabbatical after an acrimonious departure from the Chicago Bulls. Thibs was, and still is, one of the most highly respected coaches in the NBA and has recently been participating with Team USA at the Olympics. It was a big deal for the Wolves to land him.
However, there was just one catch, he wanted to be President of Basketball Operations, thereby being the Head Coach as well as the de facto General Manager. This was a position that was held by few in the league at the time, Gregg Popovich, Stan Van Gundy, Doc Rivers, and Mike Budenhoizer.
Today, the league is moving away from this short trend. Budenhoizer resigned from the POBO position to remain simply the Head Coach and Doc Rivers was just relieved of his GM duties.
Many believe that the POBO position is simply too much responsibility and work for one person. How can someone be focused on the day-to-day of coaching responsibilities as well as the long-term financing, scouting of draft picks, and relationship building with agents?
Like many trends in the NBA, teams have been trying to copy the Spurs model. However, this is likely another component of their franchise that is simply unable to be replicated, as the relationship between Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford is well-documented to be one of mutual respect and trust. Pop lets Buford do his thing.
That is not clearly the case in the other POBO situations. The fear that many have of coaches taking on POBO responsibility is that coaches are not the most effective at judging long-term planning and have a tendency to go after “their guys.”
Stan Van Gundy and Doc Rivers certainly lived up to (or created) these stereotypes. The Pistons seem to be a mess with a full roster and limited flexibility all in order to barely miss the playoffs. They continuously overpay for free agents and have made a few baffling moves.
The Clippers, well, Roc Divers (Doc River’s GM alter-ego) is notorious for being unable to fill out the bench and focusing on bringing in veterans who are usually washed by the time they reach the Clippers. Then there the infamous, depending on which stories you believe, focus that Rivers has placed upon trading for, keeping, and developing Austin Rivers (related).
When Tom Thibodeau came on board, many of us were wary of what type of POBO he would be. Scott Layden was also brought on at the same time as the General Manager, but his reputation is mixed, to say the least, as his time with the Spurs was promising (again, copying the Spurs model) but his time with the Knicks was disastrous. Considering how tight-lipped this front office has been, it is also hard for us to judge exactly how much influence he has been able to exert over Tom Thibodeau.
If we were to simply judge Thibodeau as a GM, it’s tough to say that it would be a sterling record. Of course, everyone has a few misses. As much as Flip Saunders did a great job in setting up this Wolves team that Thibodeau has cashed in on, there are still a few disasters like the Adriean Payne trade, which again was the result of a coach having too much power! Flip, like Thibs, was the POBO for the Wolves. Flip bought into the Payne trade based upon the word of his buddy, and former coach of Payne, Tom Izzo. If there was someone who had as much power as Flip over personnel, maybe that trade would not have happened.
But it sure seems that the Wolves have been overpaying for free agents throughout the Thibs tenure. Of course, the other side of this is that it is fair to wonder if the Wolves would have been able to get Jimmy Butler (and feel confident they could retain him) without Thibs.
An interesting thought is if Thibs would have been so dead-set on becoming POBO if things had not gone so disastrously with the Bulls. The Gar-Pax combo is, let’s just say, doing less than a good job and has been subject to some criticism about fostering an unhealthy work environment.
But we are down to three POBOs in the league. One is certainly not going well, the Pistons, and the other is the Spurs. It’s likely that the Wolves’ success will never truly be able to follow the Spurs model, but we can still hope that we won’t fall to the level of the Pistons or the disastrous resource allocation of the Clippers.