Watching the KP debacle unfold, I got to thinking about how much power a GM really has. There's been a mythology built around the "horse trader". You know, the guy who hoodwinks or bullies other GMs into lopsided deals. Somehow, through Jedi mind tricks or startling charisma, stealing valuable players and picks from naive teams.
Gets one to thinking. An NBA trade is a contract with provisions that are generally only a few lines. At any one time, a GM can target a particular player (to stay or go), have a flunky run a cap analysis, and generate a report of possible trades. Cross off ones that aren't win-win in at least some remote capacity. Float these trades to the applicable GMs.
On the receiving end, as a GM, you evaluate these trade proposals for merit, choose a couple to consider, and negotiate. At this point, the negotiating room isn't usually that wide.
So, what's the skill of the GM? Not to communicate the value of his players. Who would bother to listen? To float rumors? I doubt GMs are reading the paper to see where teams stand. To squeeze the best deal? Sure, but it's a fair competition between your offers and the offers of other teams.
At the end of the day, it seems like the good GMs balance "culture", style of play, injury risk, etc. But how much of this comes from the GM? GMs come and go, while scouts, trainers, team surgeons, etc. outlast them. Is a GM watching thousands of hours of NCAA games? Going to Spain? Learning to read an MRI?
I'd submit that a GM doesn't matter as much as we think. They're at the mercy of the roster, draft position, owner's whims, pressure to win now, and most of all, the staff they rely on.
At the risk of combining two unrelated topics, I'd like to postulate that some poor player PR is the fault of management. Greg Oden not coming to games, for instance. Of all the people who determine where Greg is on game day, I'd think Greg himself would be down the list. "Greg, we're paying you $8M this year, we need you to sit courtside with the team". Do you think they really care what he thinks about it? Similar issue with perceived intensity. How many agents have really sat their clients down and said "I can get you $10M extra on your next deal in exchange for two fist pumps and one towel wave a game"?