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NBA Twitter is an…interesting place. Yeah, let’s say interesting. That works. Once and while, amid all the incessant GOAT talk, blatant player stanning and outright name-calling, a really good point emerges from the muck. In the afternoon of Monday, June 19, one of those good points found its way to the surface.

Sean Highkin of The Rose Garden Report (great independent coverage of the Portland Trail Blazers) noted that Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans linked up on a high-profile trade in recent years when C.J. McCollum was trades to the Pelicans. This came up amidst the rumors that New Orleans is attempting to trade up to get the third overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft that Portland currently owns.

Matt Moore of Action Network noted in a quote tweet of Sean’s original tweet that pre-existing relationships between front office decision makers and teams matters more than most realize. Here’s the interaction from Sean and Matt:

We’ve noted here on Spotrac before that some teams are more regular trade partners than others. But the interaction between Sean and Matt got us wondering: Just how often do certain general managers trade together?

We pulled the list of all of the current primary front office decision makers and examined how often they’ve traded with each other. The results were pretty interesting, so we’re sharing them here.

A few notes on the data:

  • From this point forward, we’ll refer to the primary front office decision maker as the GM. NBA titles range from the traditional GM title to Vice President to President, and probably eventually Supreme Overlord of Basketball Ops. For simplicity’s sake, we’re going with GM from here on out.

  • We compared GMs in their current job only. For example, Danny Ainge was the GM of the Boston Celtics from May of 2003 to June of 2021. But in this sample, we’re only looking at Ainge’s tenure running the Utah Jazz front office starting in December of 2021.

  • We only looked at current GMs who have made trades together while in their current roles. For example, Danny Ainge and Pat Riley hooked up for a handful of deals while running the Celtics and Miami Heat, respectively. However, the two have yet to make a deal during the time Ainge has run the Jazz front office.

  • This data set includes a lot of three-team trades, several four-team trades and even a five-time trade. In that situation, we gave credit for each of the teams as having traded with each other, even if they didn’t directly send something to one of the other teams in a multi-team deal. The reason is that the trade likely falls apart without the participation of all parties involved.

  • The Golden State Warriors and Washington Wizards are both working with new front office leaders. The Warriors have no trades in the set, but we went ahead and connected the Wizards with the Phoenix Suns, because of the pending Bradley Beal-Chris Paul trade.

  • We only went back as far as 2013, as we figured a 10-year sample was enough for these purposes.

  • All the data is courtesy of the amazing executive records on Basketball Reference. For example, here’s Sam Presti of the Seattle SuperSonics and Oklahoma City Thunder’s long and extensive transaction record. (If you think that just an excuse to include the Seattle SuperSonics, you would be correct!)

With all those notes called out, here is our GM list and the month and year they started in their current position:

  • Landry Fields – Atlanta Hawks – December, 2022

  • Brad Stevens – Boston Celtics – June, 2021

  • Sean Marks – Brooklyn Nets – February, 2016

  • Mitch Kupchak – Charlotte Hornets – April, 2018

  • Arturas Karnisovas – Chicago Bulls – April, 2020

  • Koby Altman – Cleveland Cavaliers – June, 2017

  • Nico Harrison – Dallas Mavericks – June, 2021

  • Calvin Booth – Denver Nuggets – May, 2022

  • Troy Weaver – Detroit Pistons – June, 2020

  • Mike Dunleavy Jr. – Golden State Warriors – June, 2023

  • Rafael Stone – Houston Rockets – October, 2020

  • Kevin Pritchard – Indiana Pacers – May, 2017

  • Lawrence Frank – LA Clippers – August, 2017

  • Rob Pelinka – Los Angeles Lakers – April, 2019

  • Zach Kleiman – Memphis Grizzlies – April, 2019

  • Pat Riley – Miami Heat – September, 1995

  • Jon Horst – Milwaukee Bucks – June, 2017

  • Tim Connelly – Minnesota Timberwolves – May, 2022

  • David Griffin – New Orleans Pelicans – April, 2019

  • Leon Rose – New York Knicks – March, 2020

  • Sam Presti – Oklahoma City Thunder – June, 2007

  • Jeff Weltman – Orlando Magic – May, 2017

  • Daryl Morey – Philadelphia 76ers – November, 2020

  • James Jones – Phoenix Suns – October, 2018

  • Joe Cronin – Portland Trail Blazers – December, 2021

  • Monte McNair – Sacramento Kings – October, 2020

  • Brian Wright – San Antonio Spurs – July, 2019

  • Masai Ujiri – Toronto Raptors – May, 2013

  • Danny Ainge – Utah Jazz – December, 2021

  • Michael Winger – Washington Wizards – May, 2023

Most Common Trade Partners

Of our 30 GM set (really 29 because Mike Dunleavy Jr. hasn’t swung his first deal yet), there were 12 teams that have hooked up with another team (under their current GM) for at least three trades. The GMs and teams that have been trade partners the most are:

  • Sean Marks (Nets) and Kevin Pritchard (Pacers) – 4 times

  • Kevin Pritchard (Pacers) and Jon Horst (Bucks) – 4 times

  • Leon Rose (Knicks) and Sam Presti (Thunder) – 4 times

  • Brad Stevens (Celtics) and Brian Wright (Spurs) – 3 times

  • Mitch Kupchak (Hornets) and Leon Rose (Knicks) – 3 times

  • Troy Weaver (Pistons) and Leon Rose (Knicks) – 3 times

  • Kevin Pritchard (Pacers) and James Jones (Suns) – 3 times

  • Rob Pelinka (Lakers) and Jeff Weltman (Magic) – 3 times

Some commonalities that group shares are length of time in role. Marks, Pritchard, Horst, Presti and Weltman have all been in their role since at least 2017. That helps with building relationships across the league with a lot of the other GMs. Kupchak, and Jones have held their spots since 2018. Only Rose, Stevens, Wright, Weaver and Pelinka have been running their front offices for less than five years, but they’ve all been around the NBA in other capacities for years.

You probably noticed that Pritchard and Rose showed up three different times. They clearly like doing business with the same partners. As a matter of fact, of Pritchard’s 24 trades, nearly half have been done with the combination of the Nets, Bucks and Suns. In Rose’s three-plus years leading the Knicks, he’s done 17 trades and 10 of them have been with the combination of the Thunder, Hornets and Pistons.

Probably not surprisingly due to tenure in their role, the GMs with the most deals made within their current peer group are:

  • Sam Presti – 27 total trades with 18 different teams

  • Sean Marks – 25 total trades with 15 different teams

  • Kevin Pritchard – 24 total trades with 13 different teams

  • Lawrence Frank – 22 total trades with 16 different teams

A handful of GMs have done relatively few deals within their current peer group. Most have been in their current role for two or fewer years, with a few notable exceptions:

  • Arturas Karnisovas – five total trades with five different teams

  • Daryl Morey – eight total trades with seven different teams

  • Masai Ujiri – eight total trades with six different teams

Now, it’s fair to point out that some GMs who have had led several different teams, probably have wider-ranging common trade partners from previous roles. And those who were assistant general managers have also built relationships across the league, especially since a lot of the actual trade talks start with the assistant GMs.

This wasn’t meant to be a be-all, end-all analysis. The idea was to see if there is anything to the idea of GMs linking up with the same peers for multiple trades. Considering 12 GMs have gone back to the same well at least three times, it’s fair to say it’s a theory that holds water.

So, when you hear a rumor that the Pacers and Nets or Pacers and Bucks or Knicks and Thunder are talking trade together, it’s probably fair to put a bit more stock in something getting done.

However, it’s also important to note that the list of common trade partners also includes some front offices that are notoriously leak-proof. Which is likely a big part of why they keep finding their way back to each other to get deals done. They know they won’t be negotiating through the media, because they can trust their partner on the other side.