Why we're ranking NBA owners

A pro sports franchise remains one of the world's great toys -- and some people take better care of their playthings than others.

We asked our ESPN Forecast panel to rate the NBA's 30 ownership groups on how well each performs the task of feeding and caring for its team.

The exercise answered several questions -- and prompted a few others:

How important is an owner?

Not nearly as much as a team's executives and coaches, according to our panel. Asked to weigh the relative importance of ownership, front office and coach, panelists assigned only 26.5 percent to ownership (front office and coach came in at 40.3 and 33.2 percent, respectively).

This finding fueled discussion among editors. Were panelists undervaluing the significance of a quality owner, or should we price that into the front office, which, after all, is generally assembled by ownership?

Which owners rate high?

The San Antonio Spurs' Peter Holt, the Dallas Mavericks' Mark Cuban and the Miami Heat's Micky Arison rank 1, 2 and 3, respectively.

Each has a distinct leadership style. Holt is very much a hands-off delegator who entrusts Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford to build and maintain the team. In contrast, Cuban is aggressively active in his franchise's day-to-day activity. Arison is somewhat of a hybrid.

Rounding out the top five are the Boston Celtics' ownership group led by Wyc Grousbeck and the Houston Rockets' Leslie Alexander.

Which owners rate low?

To nobody's surprise, New York Knicks owner James Dolan came in at a distant 30th. In fact, there was a greater margin between Dolan and No. 29 (Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald T. Sterling) than between No. 29 and No. 21 (Philadelphia 76ers owner Joshua Harris).

His Airness, Michael Jordan, might be one of three best players in basketball history, but he currently ranks as one of the NBA's three worst owners.

Mr. Comic Sans, Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, and Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl claimed the final two slots in the bottom five.

Are the league's newer owners paying for the crimes of their predecessors?

Not really.

For instance, Vivek Ranadive and Robert Pera had recently purchased the Sacramento Kings and Memphis Grizzlies, respectively -- two franchises whose owners were regarded as detriments to their franchises.

Both Pera and Ranadive seem to be sincerely interested in innovation, a quality that influenced voters into slotting them at No. 12 and No. 15, respectively. The Philadelphia 76ers group led by Harris has pledged a similar commitment, but the team's tank job this season clearly sullied its perception among our panel.

What happened to the Lakers?

For years, Dr. Jerry Buss was regarded as the gold standard of NBA owners. But since his death in February 2013, the team has teetered under the direction of his children.

Voters on our panel now rank the Lakers an unexceptional 14th. Given the turmoil surrounding the organization, the team's performance on the floor and the enormous contract granted to Kobe Bryant this past fall, it's fair to ask if that ranking is generous, imbued by the halo effect of history.