Breaking Down 2011-12′s Top Executives
The voters have chosen the NBA’s 2011-12 Executive of the Year – congratulations to Larry Bird of the Indiana Pacers – but what exactly did each of the top vote getters do to earn votes? Is this an award really tied to a single season, or is really an honor recognizing the results of many moves over the previous few years? Or is it a little bit of both?
Let’s take a look at the top five receiving votes in this year’s voting and see what we can glean. Taking into account all transactions – draft picks, signings and trades – since the end of the 2010-11 season, what has each executive overseen?
1 – Larry Bird, Indiana Pacers
There are three major transactions Bird presided over since the end of last season. The first was trading a draft pick, Kawhi Leonard (with two others) to the San Antonio Spurs for reserve guard George Hill. Hill picked up steam over the season and at the end supplanted starter Darren Collison at point guard. The second was signing power forward David West, a decision that was a no-brainer. Indy had money to spend and needed a starter at the four; West was the best fit by any sort of calculation. The final piece was acquiring Leandro Barbosa’s ending contract at the trade deadline for a draft pick. Barbosa has provided a nice spark off the bench, though all his numbers are down except his three-point percentage. Last, the Pacers kept interim head coach Frank Vogel on, removing the interim tag after the season.
Verdict: Indiana’s success this season had as much to do with the growth of center Roy Hibbert and swingman Paul George as it did about the new additions. Hibbert was traded for right after he was drafted and George was an Indy pick. Did Bird’s decisions within the last year have more impact? Maybe, maybe not, but the culmination of the moves together have turned Indy into a surprise contender in the Eastern Conference.
2 – R.C. Buford, San Antonio Spurs
Here sits the exec on the other end of the George Hill trade. Kawhi Leonard made a huge impact on the Spurs as a rookie, making that trade last June one that worked out very well for both teams. Considering Buford’s Spurs also posted the best record in the Western Conference and haven’t lost a game since April 21st – including eight straight playoff wins – they’ll take it. In addition to bringing in Leonard Buford once again worked his magic on the waiver wire, bringing in rotational players like Boris Diaw and Patty Mills. In truth, few teams work the end of their bench like San Antonio, constantly looking for the right players who fit exactly what they need to stick. Oh, right, and the Spurs also managed to dump Richard Jefferson’s bad contract for the disgruntled Stephen Jackson at the trade deadline.
Verdict: Every year people say the Spurs are finally finished. Done. Too old. Every year the moves around the edges to help support the core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker keep them at or near the top of the conference. None of the moves the Spurs made this past season on their own were earth-shattering, but they were the RIGHT ones to make. The Spurs don’t panic; they continuously analyze the roster and address any deficiency swiftly, before it becomes an issue. This is why the Spurs will not go away.
3 – Neil Olshey, Los Angeles Clippers
We all know exactly why Olshey earned third-place: Chris Paul. Despite giving all their trade assets to the New Orleans Hornets (Minnesota’s draft pick, Chris Kaman and Eric Gordon) in order to get Paul, the Clips didn’t rest. They also brought in Caron Butler to start to start and matched a large offer sheet for young center DeAndre Jordan. Perhaps the most underrated move was signing veteran power forward Reggie Evans to teach and give rest to Blake Griffin. Not enough? The Clippers saved their “room exception” from getting under the cap and used it to sign Kenyon Martin when he returned from China, giving the team another physical presence in the frontcourt. They used 10-day contracts to bring back veteran Bobby Simmons to provide defense off the bench. Then, at the trade deadline, they acquire Nick Young and his shooting from the Washington Wizards.
Verdict: All of these players contributed to pushing the Clippers to the second round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs. The Clippers made a decision to do whatever it took to make this team relevant now around Griffin. In the process they became the talk of the league and suddenly became a place players wanted to play and a team fans wanted to watch. Without a doubt Olshey’s high finish was all about 2011-12.
4 – Gar Forman, Chicago Bulls
This is where the voting for the Executive of the Year award begins to break down. Yes, the Chicago Bulls were a very, very good team this season, even with Derrick Rose’s very unfortunate injuries – and that deserves recognition – but what did Forman actually DO? Their only draft pick, Jimmy Butler, wasn’t part of the regular rotation. Their one free agent signing of note, guard Rip Hamilton, played only 28 games and posted the lowest numbers since his rookie season. And that’s it. John Lucas was signed last season. Joakim Noah was extended last season. No other rotation player was added.
Verdict: Forman has done a very good job turning the Bulls into a contender. Rose, Noah and Taj Gibson have been excellent draft picks. Previous free agent signings of Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver have helped fill out the team into one of the league’s best. However, a fourth-place finish here is difficult to support.
5 – Kevin O’Connor, Utah Jazz
The Jazz this past season surprised many by making the Western Conference playoffs. True, they were swept by the Spurs, but most expected to see them in the lottery again. The problem is none of the major changes impacting Utah’s roster happened during this past season. Deron Williams was traded last season, for Devin Harris, Derrick Favors and the draft pick that became Enes Kanter. Coach Ty Corbin replaced the legendary Jerry Sloan last season, too. Both first-round picks, Kanter and Alec Burks, combined for 29.1 minutes a game and 11.8 points. Utah did sign a slew of free agents: Josh Howard, Earl Watson, Jamaal Tinsley, DeMarre Carroll and Blake Ahearn. Of that group only Howard averaged more than 4.5 points a game.
Verdict: The Jazz deserve credit for exceeding expectations in 2011-12, but it’s very difficult to attribute the success to the moves of management. We’ll learn more about the Jazz front office in the coming year as they decide what to do with $37.6 million in expiring contracts (Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Harris, Watson and Raja Bell).
The top three on this list are very deserving and a case could be made for each one of them to win the 2011-12 Executive of the Year award. After that the voting starts to make little sense. New York’s Glen Grunwald, who picked up Steve Novak and Jeremy Lin off waivers after working an acquisition of Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler undoubtedly deserves a boatload of credit for his work – he finished sixth. Miami’s Pat Riley added only Shane Battier to last year’s team, which did little to move the needle. Orlando’s Otis Smith earned a single third-place vote for…that’s unclear. Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti earned a single first-place vote, but the Thunder really didn’t make any moves at all; that was a vote for how the team was built over four years.
What makes an executive of the year is fairly vague, but it’s clear things like unexpected success, volume of successful additions, and the body of work over a period of time play into the voting. Is that how it should be? The criteria could be more clear, but then again all voting is, by its very nature, subjective to the minds of the voters. This season the voters did a good job at the top.