Should he have?
Unlike the other postseason awards, Executive of the Year is voted on by fellow executives, not the media. So it’s difficult to question the validity of the winner when he has been chosen by his peers.
The Spurs won 58 games last season. In the offseason, Buford added Marco Belinelli and Jeff Ayres. During the season, he swapped Nando de Colo for Austin Daye.
Belinelli was an exceptional pickup. He clearly was an upgrade over Gary Neal, enhancing the offense with his passing and cutting ability in addition to his shooting. But Ayres and Daye were deep reserves who played limited minutes with negligible impact.
You can argue that Buford has added players such as Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills, Danny Green, Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter in recent years. All of those players have shown improvement in their individual games since joining the Spurs, and Buford deserves some credit for envisioning that improvement in Gregg Popovich’s system and the team’s culture.
But the name of the award is Executive of the Year, not Executive of the Last Several Years. Over the last several years, Miami’s Pat Riley (who finished fifth) has transformed the Heat from a first-round out into a dynasty. Over the last several years, Portland’s Neil Olshey (who finished third) has built two ITAL teams into contenders – the Blazers and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Perhaps the NBA’s GMs should have grudgingly taken a harder look at one of the new kids on the block. Ryan McDonough of Phoenix spent his first offseason wheeling and dealing, collecting multiple first-round picks and players with promise in an effort to rebuild a 25-win team with a dysfunctional coaching staff.
I’m pretty sure Turner analyst Greg Anthony was the only oracle who wasn’t forecasting 55-plus losses for the Suns. And even Anthony’s boldness didn’t have them chasing a playoff spot in the gauntlet of the Western Conference into the season’s final week.
Despite a rookie coach and a budding star who missed half the season with injuries, the Suns won 48 games, primarily because virtually every player he acquired – Miles Plumlee, Gerald Green, Eric Bledsoe – got better.
McDonough’s draft picks of Alex Len and Archie Goodwin weren’t awesome. But he has five more shots at it over the next two years, acquiring most of those picks since the end of last season.
Maybe McDonough was just the new hotshot with the spreadsheets. Maybe there’s an unspoken probationary period to become a fully vested member of the GM club. Or maybe it was time for Buford to get a lifetime achievement award because he never had won during San Antonio’s 15 years of sustained excellence while guys like John Gabriel, Elgin Baylor and John Hammond did.
And that’s fine. Just call the award Executive of the Last Several Years.