The current landscape of the NBA is one in which owners are showing their willingness to spend big in hopes of winning an NBA championship. Where does Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta rank amongst the league’s best owners?
For many reasons, this season the NBA is going to be significantly different from it’s been in recent years. One of the main reasons is because there will actually be parity in the NBA, which hasn’t been the case in a long time. This past NBA off-season saw several players change teams and several others sign new contracts, as teams other than the Houston Rockets were willing to spend big money due to the Golden State Warriors being dismantled.
One of the things that makes the NBA different from the NFL is the fact that it’s a player’s league, whereas the NFL is about the owners. The players in the NBA hold the power, as their contracts are fully guaranteed upon signing, with the exception of a buyout, which the players still ultimately have to agree upon. Not only that, the players have the option to use the player option clause in the contracts and opt out, which puts pressure on the owners to spend the necessary money on roster improvements with the hope of retaining star players.
What’s gotten lost in the shuffle as it pertains to the NBA is the fact that the owners are the ones signing the checks. Although they go largely unnoticed, it’s not because they aren’t as equally important as the players. The reason the owners seem to always stay under the radar is because more often than not, they generally allow their administration to manage the team’s affairs.
It’s not often you see a list of the top owners in the NBA, as the focus is generally solely on the players. But there are many “power owners” in the league and it’s worth seeing where Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta ranks amongst the league’s best. Let’s get started!
Next: No. 6
6. Mark Cuban-Dallas Mavericks
Although the Dallas Mavericks haven’t made the playoffs since the 2015-2016 season, it’s not been due to owner Mark Cuban’s unwillingness to spend big. The Mavs’ power owner is always big game hunting and looking to add key pieces to the team. The most recent example of this was the contract he issued to the newly acquired Kristaps Porzingis, who missed all of last season rehabbing a torn ACL.
Despite not seeing a fully healthy Porzingis and not even knowing whether or not he’ll be the same player he was before suffering the gruesome knee injury, Cuban signed Porzingis to the largest contract ever issued in Dallas Mavericks history, which was a five-year deal worth $158 million.
It shouldn’t be a surprise however, as Cuban and the Mavericks have always chased the biggest fish in free agency, going back to 2012 when they were trying to land then All-Stars Dwight Howard and Deron Williams. Not only that, the Mavericks signed former Rockets forward Chandler Parsons in 2014 to a three-year contract worth $46 million. Sure, part of the intention behind that was to cripple the Rockets and force them to part ways with the young, rising Parsons, but nonetheless Cuban was willing to write the check with the hopes of improving the Mavs to contending status.
In the following off-season of 2015, Cuban and the Mavs pursued DeAndre Jordan in the summer of 2015, and even got the center to verbally agree to join the team. Ultimately Jordan would go back on his word and re-sign with the Los Angeles Clippers. Despite Cuban’s willigness to spend big, the Mavs haven’t been past the first round of the NBA playoffs since they won the NBA championship against the super team Miami Heat in the 2010-2011 season. But as the owner, it’s Cuban’s job to write the checks, which he’s always shown to be willing to do.
Another element of being one of the league’s best owners involves taking care of the team’s best players, which is exactly what Cuban and the Mavs did with former MVP Dirk Nowitzki. In 2018, Cuban agreed to sign then 40-year-old Dirk Nowitzki to his record 21st season with the Mavs. This is something players around the league surely notice, and is something Cuban should also be commended for.
Next: No. 5
5. Micky Arison
Micky Arison’s place on this list may draw questions by some, but Arison has never been unwilling to put his money where his mouth is. Obviously he was willing to spend big on the “Big Three” of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, which was transcendent and certainly a power move. Prior to that point, the league had never seen such a power move by an owner, as each of the Big Three were all signed as free agents in the same year. This obviously worked out, as it led to the first two championships of LeBron James’ stellar career. Not only that, it also led to four consecutive NBA Finals appearances.
In addition, the Heat have even been rumored to have interest in taking on former Rockets guard Chris Paul‘s contract, as they’ve been looking for a star to pair with former Houstonian Jimmy Butler, who Arison also agreed to a four-year deal worth $142 million after being acquired in a sign-and-trade.
This should come as no surprise considering Arison’s willingness to spend big and is the ultimate example of how Arison is wiling to put his money where his mouth is. John Wall is signed to a super-max contract and is owed $171 million over the next four years. He may never be the same player following the ruptured Achilles injury he suffered in February of 2019. But Arison knows from previous experience that there’s a price to pay in order to contend and compete.
Although the Heat aren’t viewed as legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference this season, don’t expect that to continue for much longer as Arison is willing to foot the bill to put together a championship contender.
Next: No. 4
4. Holt Family-San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs have been a playoff team year after year despite playing in a small market. In fact, you’d have to go back to the 1996-1997 season to find the last season in which the Spurs weren’t in the playoffs. Interestingly enough, 1996 was the year in which former owner Peter M. Holt purchased the team. Under Holt’s ownership, the Spurs won five NBA titles and made six total NBA Finals appearances.
Holt retired in 2016, and ultimately passed on the franchise to then wife Julianna Hawn Holt, which seemingly had no impact on the team’s success on the court. This past season, Peter J. Holt, who is the son of Peter M. Holt and Julianna Holt, was named the owner of the Spurs.
The Spurs have been a staple of how to run an organization, considering the changes that have taken place behind the scenes. Not only that, they’ve ALWAYS done a great job of locking up their best players, which is what kept Tim Duncan in a Spurs uniform for over 19 years. In addition, the Spurs extended Kawhi Leonard back in 2015, agreeing to a five-year contract worth $90 million.
The Spurs were surely going to give Leonard another long-term contract up until the point where “The Board Man” and the team grew distant over the handling of an injury Leonard sustained. This was really unusual for a Spurs franchise that never has any bad publicity regarding their handling of the team’s best players. The team’s handling of former Spurs legend Manu Ginobili is yet another example of the team taking care of their own, as the then 41-year-old had the option to return to the Spurs.
Not only do the Spurs take care of their own, they’ve also proven to have been able to land the biggest free agents when they pursue them, as they did in 2015 upon signing LaMarcus Aldridge, who was largely viewed as the biggest free agent of the summer. This is a testament to the stable ownership by the Holt’s as the Spurs are obviously a much smaller market team.
Although the Spurs aren’t title contenders today, they were just playing in the Western Conference Finals in 2017 against the Golden State Warriors, and won a championship as recently as 2014. It surely can’t be ignored what the Spurs have been able to accomplish under the watch of the Holt family.
Next: No. 3
3. Steve Ballmer-Los Angeles Clippers
One could argue Clippers’ owner Steve Ballmer should actually sit atop this list, simply due to the situation he inherited. The former Microsoft CEO bought the Clippers in 2014, after former owner Donald Sterling was deemed mentally unfit to make the necessary decisions of an owner. Sterling had made derogatory comments towards former Los Angeles Lakers superstar turned businessman Magic Johnson, and even was recorded making additional controversial comments towards African-Americans. The situation had become so bad that the Clippers players staged a silent protest against their owner in advance of their playoff game against the Golden State Warriors in 2014.
Despite that, Ballmer was willing and able to purchase the team with confidence that he would be able to reverse the state of the franchise. He made the decision to extend coach Doc Rivers and was able to re-shape the Clippers into the top spot in Los Angeles, due in part to the demise of the Lakers.
That wasn’t the only rebuild Ballmer pioneered however. He also survived the blow up of the Clippers following the departure of former Rockets guard Chris Paul, which proceeded the trade of star forward Blake Griffin. In addition, the Clippers traded away All-Star Tobias Harris last season and still made the playoffs. Not only did they make the playoffs, but the scrappy Clippers took the eventual Western Conference champion Warriors to six games in the opening round of the playoffs.
In the offseason, the Clippers were able to land the biggest fish in free agency by signing two-time Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, in addition to acquiring 2019 MVP finalist Paul George. In addition, Ballmer decided to pay former Rockets guard Patrick Beverley to a long term extension in the same offseason. Due to each of the moves made over the course of the offseason, the Clippers are being viewed as the favorites to win the title next season.
Clippers fans should be grateful to have an owner like Steve Ballmer.
Next: No. 2
2. Tilman Fertitta-Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets have gone 118-46 in the two years Tilman Fertitta has been the owner. During that span, they were only eliminated by the Golden State Warriors, who they publicly made known was the team they were gunning for. Fertitta was the owner at the time the Rockets re-signed Chris Paul to a four year $160 million dollar contract, which was a deed that rewarded CP3 for the player he had been during his first year in the Space City.
Although many have expressed frustration with the Rockets’ unwillingness to pay the luxury tax, the reality is that they would be willing to pay the tax for the right player. It seems unusual because they made a flurry of moves at the trade deadline to get them below the tax threshold, which has made many think they really aren’t willing to hand over the extra money.
But the fact remains that they did extend their core in addition to making the decision to trade for superstar and former MVP Russell Westbrook, in attempts of increasing the team’s title chances. Most owners remain uninvolved and out of the spotlight, whereas Fertitta’s approach has been quite different, as evidenced by his interview with ESPN’s First Take.
Although Ferititta made the right decisions in regards to paying Capela and Gordon, he’s also got a few more decisions regarding PJ Tucker and Mike D’Antoni‘s extensions, the latter of which he also addressed on First Take. In fact, he essentially said he plans on keeping D’Antoni around for the long haul as well.
The only thing Fertitta is lacking at this point amongst the league’s best owners is a title, and many believe this could/would be the year that changes.
Next: No. 1
1. Peter Guber-Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors have been viewed as the league’s super-team ever since they added Kevin Durant at the conclusion of the 2015-2016 season. But they had actually won a title at the conclusion of the 2014-2015 against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, which was two years prior to when they landed Durant.
Warriors owner Peter Guber has been willing to spend big to win a title, as the Warriors have been luxury tax payers in three of the last four years and in each of the last two seasons. The Dubs were able to avoid the tax in 2017, thanks to Kevin Durant taking less than the max for the sake of the team. However they paid the tax in 2018 and 2019, which caused them to pay $51 million over the cap as they were repeat tax payers, which owner Peter Guber had no problem doing.
Despite being over the tax apron, the Warriors have found a way to lock up Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green during their reign as the league’s best. What also can’t be ignored is the fact that the Warriors were willing to extend Kevin Durant even this past offseason, but ultimately Durant opted instead to join Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets.
The willingness of Guber to consistently pay the necessary costs to legitimately contend year after year is what makes him the best owner in the NBA. In fact, the Warriors gave Klay Thompson a max contract despite knowing he will likely miss the majority of this season, and were willing to do the same with Kevin Durant without knowing whether or not he’ll get back to his previous self.