R.C. Buford Wins Executive of The Year, For Some Reason
USA Today Sports
On Wednesday, San Antonio Spurs General Manager R.C. Buford was named NBA Executive of The Year. It was his first time winning the award, which, frankly, is rather preposterous. Since he was named team President in 1999 (he shifted laterally to General Manager in 2002), the Spurs have won four championships and have the best winning percentage of any team in North American professional sports, and Buford, along with Gregg Popovich, has been one of the architects of their great success over the last decade and a half.
So it’s only fitting that Buford is finally getting recognition for his great work over the last fifteen years. It’s just that the timing is rather, well, curious. Historically, the award has been given to executives who have made big splash moves, or teams that made great improvements. Last season, Denver’s (now Toronto’s) Masai Ujiri won the award after trading for Andre Iguodala. In 2011, Chicago’s Gar Forman and Miami’s Pat Riley split the award after both teams made huge leaps – Chicago after hiring Tom Thibodeau and surprising with 60+ wins, Miami after signing LeBron James and Chris Bosh. In 2008, Danny Ainge won the award after trading for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. That’s what makes Buford’s win a bit confusing. Here are his relevant moves from the last year that impacted the team this season:
1. Signed Marco Belinelli
2. Whoops, that’s the whole list
Yes, it’s an incredibly carefully structured roster, and yes, Buford has pulled off some master strokes over the years (drafting Tony Parker at the end of the first round, pulling Manu Ginobili out of a hat at the end of the second round, swapping George Hill for Kawhi Leonard on draft day), but none of the moves of consequence happened this year, which is kind of relevant because the award is “Executive of The Year,” not “Most Outstanding Executive” or anything fungible enough that it can be construed as an award not specifically for one season. Signing Belinelli was certainly a strong move, but it doesn’t compare to, say, signing Dwight Howard (like Houston’s Daryl Morey did) or clearing cap room to absorb Andre Iguodala in a sign-and-trade (like Golden State’s Bob Meyers did), or acquiring three first-round picks shipping out superfluous players while maintaining a competitive team that nearly made the playoffs and is set up for possibly the brightest future in the league (like Phoenix’s Ryan McDonough did).
Really, I can’t see any rational argument for R.C. Buford being the best executive in the league this season. The award was given as a kind of Lifetime Achievement award, as Buford has been one of, if not the smartest executive in the league throughout his tenure. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that – MVP voting has time and again gravitated towards players who haven’t won when they’re in a close race against a past winner, and we just finished a season where there was no Earth-shattering move like the Garnett trade or LeBron signing to tip the scales. It seems like a majority (or at least a plurality) of league executives decided “eh, what the hell, let’s give it to R.C. He deserves it,” and that was that (Executive of The Year is voted on by the executives themselves, not the media).
In the long run, none of this matters, for two reasons. First, Buford probably DOES deserve to have one of these awards from one of his previous seasons (I mean, Bryan Colangelo has two of these things), so all we’re doing is fixing a previous injustice. And second, it’s the [expletive deleted]ing Executive of The Year Award. It doesn’t matter. Have you ever found yourself in a heated debate regarding the merits of R.C. Buford versus Jerry Krause as NBA Front Office heads and found yourself scrambling for a retort after your opponent dropped the “Krause won EOY in 1996” hammer? Yeah, me neither.
That being said, if you’re the type of person who gets bent out of shape at the slightest injustice, you might argue that Morey or Meyers or McDonough (big year for M-named executives) are more deserving. My response would be that you (a) are probably right by the letter of the law, but (b) should probably get out more.