2011 year was an interesting year for NBA executives. Are executives merely the pawns of NBA superstars (as Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh seemed to suggest)? Is their impact relegated to adding key pieces to already established teams (see: Gar Forman and Sam Presti)? Or are they GMs who make the best out of bad situations (Masai Ujiri)?
Without further adieu, the 2011 NBA Executive of the Year is…
The NBA Realist: Dwyane Wade and Gloria James
An unprecedented occurrence……
Never before in the history of the NBA have both a Scheme Teamer and a MILF teamed to earn Executive of the Year honors, but their feats did not go unnoticed by this writer. I could care less that neither Wade nor Lebron’s Mom are technically eligible for the award – extraordinary accomplishments merit unconventional responses and as such, I vote that the NBA approve a similar exception to 1992 when a retired Magic Johnson was permitted to participate in the 1992 NBA All-Star game.
Dwyane Wade served as Pat Riley’s minion and broke every tampering rule in the book during his 3-year recruitment of LeBron James and Chris Bosh, while teasing his hometown Bulls with a free agency dalliance that fooled absolutely no one. Gloria James on the other hand not only changed the history of the NBA, but also that of Mankind. Moreover, specific to 2011, James evidentally cast that last vote that swayed her son to “take his talents to South Beach”, thereby allowing herself to participate in the time honored tradition of slapping valet parking attendants upside the head at upscale hotels.
Both of their efforts resulted in a core foundation of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh that will allow the Miami Heat to compete as a perennial NBA Championship contenders for years to come. For that, both Dwyane Wade and Gloria James deserve to be honored as the runaway winners of the 2011 Executive of the Year Award.
Honorable mention: Pat Riley
Brown Mamba: Pat Riley
Ok — I hear all you Dwayne Wade lovers, yes, he pulled the ultimate coup in getting Lebron and Bosh to come to HIS team (and living in South Beach didn’t hurt either). That being said, giving primary credit to Wade would be shortsighted. It was Riley who cleared out the space, dumped Beasley, and still had enough left over to construct a reasonable support cast consisting of Mike Miller, James Jones, Mario Chalmers, and Big Z. Riley further boosted his playoff experience by adding veteran point guard Mike Bibby mid-season. The result? A team that never reached its true potential but still won 58 games. Riley does what he always does — he found a way to get things done.
Close runner-up is Gar Forman, who despite losing out on the D-Wade and Lebron James, managed to make lemons into lemonade by signing Tom Thibodeau, Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, and Ronnie Brewer to round out an overachieving Chicago Bulls team.
Lifetime achievement award goes to Donnie Walsh for nearly completing his rebuilding act in just 3 years and turning the Knicks into a team that can actually contend for years to come.
Honorable Mention: Gar Forman
Dave Sheridan: Masai Ujiri
Is anyone going to argue that Dwyane Wade is the 2011 NBA Executive of the Year? And should we allow the matter of a small technicality, which is that Wade isn’t an NBA executive, to deny his rightful claim to this honor?
If you want to play by the rules, Wade can’t win. Alright, you got me, but if he isn’t the NBA Executive of the Year, he should be given something to signify the recruiting success he managed to achieve in 2010, which dwarfed even Coach Cal’s recruiting efforts at Kentucky.
Nixing Wade, Sheridan names Denver Nuggets Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, Masai Ujiri, as his NBA Executive of the Year. The Nuggets entered the season dealing with Carmelo Anthony’s desire to play somewhere other than Denver – and Melo made it known less than discreetly that the New York metropolitan area would be an ideal fit for him and his wife – which significantly reduced Denver’s potential trading partners.
Throughout the long slog to Carmelo’s eventual move to the Big Apple, Ujiri and Nuggets boy wonder/owner’s son, Josh Kroenke, kept the deal afloat with Mikhail Prokhorov’s New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets and James Dolan’s New York Knickerbockers. As we all know, the Knicks won the bidding war and brought Carmelo and LaLa Anthony to the Big Apple.
In return, the Nuggets received point guard Raymond Felton, forwards Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari, rookie center Timofey Mozgov, two second-round draft picks (2012 and 2013) and a first-round pick in 2014. Before the trade was consummated, Nuggets management had withstood the withering criticism that suggested their approach could be best described as amateurish. After the deal, Coach George Karl’s newly constituted Nuggets ran off a record of 18-7.
Not only were Ujiri and Kroenke able to deal Melo for the guts of a winning Knicks team, but they saw their team achieve a record of 50-32, finish fifth in the Western Conference and earn a date with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first-round of the playoffs.
The Nuggets were able to deal their superstar problem child, reload for now and the future, and remain a competitive team for the 2010-11 season. If you’re still not convinced that Masai Ujiri is the NBA Executive of the Year, please direct yourself to the state of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Honorable Mention: Pat Riley, John Paxson, Rich Cho
Marcas Grant: Donnie Walsh
Walsh overcame the handicap of the incompetent James Dolan and a meddling Isiah Thomas to make the Knicks relevant once again. The Amare Stoudemire signing and the Carmelo Anthony trade are significant highlights to Walsh’s season, but he deserves just as much credit for drafting Landry Fields in the second round and adding a rejuvenated Raymond Felton. It’s also helped a lot of New Yorkers to calm down after missing out on LeBron James in the offseason. Even better, it’s left the Knicks in position to pursue a guy like Chris Paul to add one more piece to a potentially very dangerous puzzle.
E-Dog: Sam Presti
This year, the Executive of the Year award doubles as a morality play. At the beginning of this season, it was presumed that Pat Riley already had this award locked up, not just by landing Lebron and Bosh in last summer’s free-agency derby, but by building what appeared at the time to be a better supporting cast than anyone had expected. But Miami’s supporting cast has disappointed over the course of the season (although the impact of the Haslem injury cannot be underestimated). Then, of course, there are the persistent rumors (which, in the minds of many, are much more than just rumors) that the Big Three had planned their South Beach union well in advance (perhaps as early as the summer of ’06), which if true would, among other things, greatly diminish Riley’s impact in putting them together. On top of all that, Riley’s approach to putting the Heat together (if one can assume that the Big Three hadn’t already arranged it themselves) offended basketball purists who noted the glaring flaws (starting point guard, starting center, overall depth) that remained and who viewed the Heat’s roster assembly as simply collecting talent without regard to fit (and their play for various parts of the season seemed to bear that out), as opposed to building a true team whose players (and their accompanying talents and skill sets) complemented each other.
In light of this, two other candidates deserve the spotlight. Within months of assuming command of personnel decisions in Denver, Masai Ujiri faced probably the defining challenge of his career with Carmelo Anthony. Perhaps it would have had an even greater impact if he had pulled the trigger on the Carmelo trade sooner, but the trade that he did pull off with the Knicks provided the Nuggets with a promising core of young talent and revitalized the franchise instead of dragging it down the way that so many franchises have gone down after their star left town. Still, in terms of making moves with a major long-term effect, Ujiri (in my view) was outdone by Presti. His trade for Kendrick Perkins shifted their starting frontcourt into balance, enabling Serge Ibaka to wreak havoc at power forward instead of often being overmatched at center. The trade not only improved their prospects for contending in the playoffs this year, it also enabled the Thunder to solidify their prospects for the future, as Perkins, for all the experience, physicality and savvy that he brings to the table, is still just 26. Doing both at the same time is perhaps the hardest and rarest feat imaginable for a basketball executive, but Presti did just that, so he gets the nod here.