Executive of the Year Honors

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R.C. Buford has never won the NBA’s Executive of the Year honors. Morbid college professors who spend their days brooding over the unseemliness of existence begin their lectures with this fact.  And they prattle on and on like a humorless Hitler Rant in search of a meme.

In last night’s Spurs win over the Warriors, Patty Mills put up 34 points and 12 assists. Patty Mills was playing in China earlier this season. Patty Mills is a great example of why the Spurs are the best led franchise in all of sports.

The Spurs and Warriors, in their own ways, each punted their way to victory last night. The Warriors won a lottery pick with their loss and the Spurs not only won a game, but San Antonio secured 50 wins for the 13th consecutive season.

R.C. Buford started with the Spurs as a scout in 1994. He’s put together a nice little run, and his feet have left tracks on each of those 13 50-win seasons.

And if there was ever a season when R.C. Buford really found his stride, it’s this season.

Patty Mills. Gary Neal. Danny Green. Boris Diaw. Tiago Splitter. Kawhi Leonard. Stephen Jackson. 50 wins.

Everybody knows what Buford has done this season, and everybody knows he’s done it for a long time. Timely free agent signings, savvy draft picks, adroitly executed trades, deep scouting of the international player pool, cap management, internal player development, a remarkable ability to match skills with system, and absolutely no trouble in the locker room.  These are the things Buford does well.

And Patty Mills.

Late in this lockout shortened season, the Spurs signed Patty Mills, Stephen Jackson, and Boris Diaw.  Each of these acquisitions corresponds to at least one item from the above list. But they also represent a kind of strategic precision most GMs never achieve.

You’ll remember, of course, that Mills, Jackson and Diaw have prior experience in the Spurs’ system, although only one of them had previously been Spurs.

Spurs assistant coach Brett Brown doubles as the head of the Australia’s national team. Brown uses Spurs sets while coaching the Boomers. Jackson is a former Spur, and one who not only understands San Antonio’s system, but is a proven fit within it. Diaw, along with Tony Parker, is a member of the French national team, which, under Parker’s leadership, also runs Spurs sets.

When the question is asked whether this is a matter of coincidence or an example of design, the smart students will answer “design”.

These players are known quantities who get along well with key members of the Spurs’ locker room. And they’ve been great since joining the team. Some nights, these players have powered the Spurs to victory.

In many ways, there is nothing remarkable about these pre-playoff personnel additions. Rotation players, sure. But it’s not as if, in adding these players, the Spurs added an All-Star to their roster.

But when put in broader perspective, these signings represent the uncommon brilliance Buford never seems to lack. Buford is a master of transforming pawns into knights. He is great at selecting common players and putting them in a position of achieving uncommon things.

Tony Parker deserves much praise for his play this season, but the story of the Spurs’ season comes down to three things: Gregg Popovich, R.C. Buford, and the Spurs’ bench. The last of these is really an extension of the first two.

R.C. Buford has never done a better job of assembling a roster. His work is as important to San Antonio’s success as Kevin Durant’s work is to Oklahoma City’s. That’s not hyperbole. Think about it.

I don’t have a vote in these things, but R.C. Buford is long overdue for Executive of the Year honors. And this season, he’s especially worthy.

  • Hobson13

    No question that Buford deserves big time honors this year. After the first round bust last year, virtually all national media wrote us down as being absolutely finished. However, think of what Buford has accomplished this year:

    Signed Danny Green – a castoff from the Cavs who has started in 38 games with a PER above league average

    Drafted Kawhi Leonard – a legit top 5 talent in last year’s draft, but was picked 10 spots lower in exchange for George Hill (A+ trade for the Spurs)

    Traded RJ for Captain Jack plus 2012 first rounder – Spurs not only got the better player, but also saved at least $12million over the course of the contract in exchange for the 29th pick in the draft.

    Signed Boris Diaw – a big man who knows the Spurs system and can bring yet more diversity to the Spurs front line

    Signed Patty Mills – another cast off who looks like he could be the backup PG we have needed for years.

    In short, Buford has been playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers.

  • Eric

    The big move was including TJ in the Jefferson-Jackson trade. That move was underrated but I think it was huge because it allowed them to get Mills. Moves like those are VERY important and I hope he wins the award.

  • Gomezd

    Problem with this award is that it will always go to the guy who makes the one big splash move. It doesnt really reward the great yet unspectacular, every one knows that RC is the best but it will go to the clippers GM (I dont even know who it is)simply because paul is an elite player. The moves that RC has made under the particular situation and necessities of the spurs are imo just as significant if not more so than the clippers grabbing cp3 but voters will always be blinded by big names and star power.

  • DorieStreet

    @ Gomezd: If you are right about the Clippers guy (VP of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey), it is tainted because of the voided trade by the league office (Stern) between the Hornets and Lakers.
    If the Spurs go all the way and get the fifth championship, the kudos will come for RC, but the award will have already been given out.
    Buford won’t be the first person to be wrongly overlooked by the NBA when it comes to recognizing accomplishment- former Utah Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan never won Coach of the Year.

  • lvmainman

    R.C. Buford has done a good job. But, I would still like to know when Capt Jack was on the trading block back in ’09, I believe, from the Warriors, what prevented him from pulling the trigger then??? The Warriors settled for expiring contract-never going to play because he’s injured-Raja Bell and 2 years left on his deal-Vlad Radmonvic.

    Sure the offseason saw the free agent signing of McDyess, trading for Jefferson, and the drafting of Blair. Why not add Jackson to the mix??? Of course, the signing of Ginobili was up in the air, but so what?? Why not go all in back in ’09?!?

    The Spurs had I believe 5 expiring contracts at the time. FIVE !!! The Spurs couldn’t offer a combo of Mahinmi or Bonner and Finley/Bogans/Mason to facilitate a deal to a desperate team looking to unload Jackson for table scraps and cap space??? Of those 5 players, the Spurs only kept Bonner. The main reason that the Jackson for Jefferson deal got done in the 1st place is because the Warriors knew the Spurs were interested in Jackson from ’09!!!

    R.C. Buford has done well, but his failure to acquire Jackson in ’09 in the 1st place can’t be overlooked.

  • Vermont Spurs Fan

    lvmainman -

    I am sorry that you have had such a bad day or month or year or whatever it is. You may be the person who sees a rainbow and says, “I could have used this rainbow yesterday” and decides not to look at it today just out of spite. Honestly, you want to criticize RC Buford???? What next Gandhi was not holy enough for you?

    I hope tomorrow is a better day for you and I sincerely hope that you are as good at what you do as RC and Pop are at what they does.

  • ThatBigGuy

    @ lvmainman

    That’s cool and all, but how about we focus on the current year, 2012, and the current situation that Buford has put the Spurs in, shall we?

  • Melbourne Spur

    I think Brett Brown had more to do with signing Mills than RC, but I don’t want to take away the good work I think RC has always done. I think Patty coming was also a way in which Brown could watch over him before London this year. With Bogut out of the Olympics, Patty becomes one of Australia’s most important players, so the coach keeping him close to be able to work with him was added incentive to get him with the Spurs, and I am sure Brown would have pushed for his signing.

    Also the connections with Brown run deeper in our moves this year, as I may be wrong, but I believe when Stephen Jackson was playing in Australia before his NBA days, he played with the Sydney Kings whose coach was Brett Brown (may be wrong on the timing, but they were both definitely there). So bringing Jack back was even easier given his history with our core players, head coach, and an assistant coach.

    Loved this season so far, so fingers cross for a better playoffs than last year.

  • DorieStreet

    @ Melbourne Spur: Had to look at Captain Jack’s bio– didn’t see it in NBA.com but Wikipedia notes that he played for the Sydney Kings in 1998. (Jackson also played in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.)

  • spursjustice

    I echo Melbourne Spur’s sentiments about the Spurs’ decision to sign Patty Mills. I too am a long time Spurs fan based in Melbourne and I think Brett Brown has given some insight to RC when he is making his decisions. This however, is not taking anything away from what RC has built for the Spurs this season. In the end, it is RC who makes the call. He is obviously a genius at what he does and I glad he is building our team. To pull together Capt Jack, Boris and Patty before the playoffs is just amazing. However, what I think goes to show that RC deserves the award is this simply this: since 1990, as a Spurs fan, I have never felt so surprised. This season really shocked me! I mean, I predicted that the Spurs would make the top 8 (6th place) but to finish 50-16? No way! We can rightfully argue that it could be due to Parker’s elevated play or Pop’s coaching but just look at our roster. It has “RC” written all over it.

  • cr0w

    “Tony Parker deserves much praise for his play this season, but the story of the Spurs’ season comes down to three things: Gregg Popovich, R.C. Buford, and the Spurs’ bench.”

    Tony Parker actually recruited our starting PF (for the minimum), the one that was instrumental in the Lakers mini series in April (mini series that saw us go from pretenders humiliated at home to actual contenders).

    Danny Green was a recommendation of Ferry who drafted him.

    What did Pop and RC did alone? Give Jefferson an absurd contract extension (that made the Jackson trade look so good).

    Everyone did a good job but if you want to take the team angle saying that the bench is more important than anyone this year, don’t do the exact opposite when it comes to the FO.