R.C. Buford is named NBA Executive of the Year, and it’s about damn time

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The league announced Wednesday morning that San Antonio Spurs general manager R.C. Buford has been named the 2013-14 NBA Executive of the Year for the first time, which is both long overdue and a bit surprising all in the same frame of thought.

San Antonio brought in Marco Belinelli and Jeff Ayres to replace Gary Neal and DeJuan Blair last summer, and only a few months ago traded Nando De Colo to Toronto for Austin Daye at the final bell of the February trade deadline. These transactions hardly moved the needle when they were initially executed, but that’s typical of the way the Spurs do business.

Other G.M.’s around the NBA have certainly made splashier moves than these, too. Ryan McDonough brought Eric Bledsoe and a plethora of first-round draft picks to Phoenix, not to mention the underappreciated former Pacers Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee, and nearly helped put a playoff team on the floor despite cellar-dwelling preseason predictions. Neil Olshey’s Portland Trail Blazers found a way to pry Robin Lopez from New Orleans and sneak Thomas Robinson out of Houston to give LaMarcus Aldridge some help up front, and now they’re in the Western Conference Semifinals against Buford’s Spurs. Masai Ujiri, the general manager/magician that orchestrated the Carmelo Anthony deal in Denver, now presides over a Toronto Raptors team that miraculously found a way to move Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay … and got better (imagine that).

Buford’s Spurs went on to top the NBA during their 62-win regular season, and now find themselves up 1-0 after a convinving blowout of Portland on Tuesday night. And while the name of the award suggests it’s honoring the top executive for that year only, this almost certainly feels like a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for a man who deserved this recognition long ago.

“I’m extremely happy for RC Buford to have won this award, which is both absolutely deserved and long overdue,” Gregg Popovich said in a press release from the team. “His knowledge of the rules, basketball expertise and keen eye for talent have served the Spurs organization well for a very long time. It has been a personal pleasure to be at his side during this period.”

Still, the moves made in San Antonio this season haven’t had the same individual impact as many others. Belinelli, Ayres and Daye have all had their moments, especially Marco, but his signing wasn’t exactly what you’d call sexy, relatively speaking. This award, and specifically its title, is somewhat ridiculous anyway, as team-building is a process that takes years to accomplish. Isn’t it shortsighted to judge a general manager based on only one string of moves? Around the Spurs organization, it’s that time, dedication and continuity that’s made all the difference in the world. And now, with the Popovich/Buford tree branches extending so deep into the league, this GM is getting the recognition he deserves, and that he’s sure to deflect.

“It is what it is, I don’t know that I think that,” Buford said of the difficulty in gauging an award that reflects long-term accomplishment. “(There are) quite a few programs right now that are doing internal remodels and rebuilds, and I think you recognize how difficult that is and how fortunate we’ve been that an ownership group has allowed us to stay together and have the opportunity to survive through the growing pains, to have a group of players that have wanted to be a part of what the community of San Antonio and our fans mean to them, in order to stay with an ownership group, the sacrifices that they’ve made to make this a unique environment, and then how they’ve handled themselves, that presents a platform that other players want to come join.

“Again, we’re not in this to win awards, we’re in this to try to win a championship. So that’s the reward that we’re all hoping for.”

What Buford and his front-office team have managed to accomplish in an effort to preserve the core of the franchise’s success is nothing short of spectacular. Nevermind the title-winning seasons; the wheels carrying the roster you see now were set in motion long ago.

Tiago Splitter was drafted with the 28th overall pick in 2007 before eventually being signed and brought stateside. Now he’s the team’s starting center on a long-term deal, battling the opposition’s best big man on a night-to-night basis. Neal was scooped up out of a scorching Las Vegas Summer League performance in 2010 after going undrafted, and was eventually named to the NBA’s All-Rookie First Team before going on to play a crucial part in the Spurs’ 2013-14 Finals run. Danny Green was signed off the NBA scrap heap after being waived by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010 — he spent a brief time in San Antonio before being cut prior to the lockout, but the Spurs would eventually bring him back the following season — before becoming the team’s starting shooting guard and setting shooting records in the NBA Finals. Patty Mills and Boris Diaw were both signed not long before the 2012 playoffs after bouncing around the basketball world and are now perfect fits for the Spurs’ high-scoring second unit. And in his biggest move since drafting Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili at the ends of the first and second rounds, respectively, Buford traded George Hill, another late first-round pick, for the rights to Kawhi Leonard in the 2011 draft. And that’s before naming superstar Aussie big man Aron Baynes!

With all the moves that have produced fruitful contributors to this team, it’s certainly a surprise he’s a first-time winner of the award.

“I was just asking the same question because I wasn’t sure (if it was his first). But sometimes things happen — Durant is a first-time MVP — sometimes there’s always somebody that brought a team from way down to mid- or the surprise of the year and he gets it,” Ginobili said. “But with these types of results for so long, it sounds awkward that he never got it before. But for sure, well deserved.”

All of these moves have been hugely important in keeping Duncan, Parker and Ginobili in silver and black for as long as they have been. The trio has played 675 games together and racked up 498 wins, second in NBA history behind the Celtics trio of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish (540 wins). Furthermore, the Spurs roster was made up of 10 international players to start the season, the most in NBA history. The trade of De Colo dropped that number to nine, which would still be an NBA record.

Buford totaled 58 points and received nine first-place votes from a panel of his fellow team basketball executives throughout the NBA. McDonough finished second with 47 points (five first-place votes) votes and Olshey finished third with 34 points (five first-place votes). Executives were awarded five points for each first-place vote, three points for each second-place vote and one point for each third-place vote.


  • The Kawhiet Storm

    Well deserved, and almost insultingly long overdue. The influence of the San Antonio Spurs, as a Dynasty, will not only be measured in terms of hardware, or records, or even wins. The true measure of thus organization and its impact on the league will be it’s fingerprints on the success of other teams, particularly those smaller markets not named LA,MIA,or NY. OKC is a perfect example. A team that was modeled on the way the Spurs do things, smart drafts, savvy contract negotiation, propensity for international and overlooked talent, the emphasis of an established and well defined culture and identity. These are all things the Spurs mastered at the onset of the 21st century. I truly believe that in a generation this organization will be viewed as a sort of an “Adam” franchise, the genesis of a revolutionary way of building and running a modern American pro Sports team.