In news announced yesterday, Pacers president of basketball operations, Larry Bird, was named Executive of the Year. We report this here on ClipperBlog because many considered Clippers vice president of basketball operations, Neil Olshey, a — if not the — favorite. Instead, he finished third, behind the Spurs’ R.C. Buford.
One could easily write 3,000 words on the award in general and this decision specifically — and for extended analysis, be sure to check out what Steve Perrin wrote over at Clips Nation. Or, a simple argument could begin and end with: “he got Chris Paul.”
Somewhere in between, here are a few thoughts:
- The criteria for this award are perhaps the most nebulous of any award out there, and that’s saying something. How do you isolate the “performance” of an executive over the course of one season? Larry Bird assembled a very good team, one that has a shot to upend the presumptive Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat, thanks to years of smart decisions. He has famously built it without the advantage of any top picks, and has managed the salary cap beautifully, which allowed him to go out and sign key contributors like David West when other contenders were tapped out. No question, this was a move that has been integral to the team’s success. But how much of this do we attribute to work done this year? It occurs to me that the West addition, while crucial, was set up by moves made before the season began. (The same argument might be used in Olshey’s case, that previous moves set the Clippers up to trade for Chris Paul. Again, tough to say how this should factor into the decision, but if you want to include it, then Olshey deserves some credit for those moves. Plus, David West ain’t Chris Paul.)
- Aside from West, Bird’s biggest acquisition was George Hill, and that came at the expense of Kawhi Leonard via a draft day trade. Leonard, as you probably know, is the one draining threes and playing lockdown defense for the best team in the Western Conference. At best, this trade was a wash.
- There has been some talk about the fact that Neil Olshey’s crowning achievement of this year (trading for Chris Paul) was made possible by an earlier trade that the league vetoed, and then helped even further by Paul “choosing” or “forcing his way to” the Clippers, depending how you look at it. While both of these things did happen to some degree, the fact remains that he got Chris Paul. As ESPN.com NBA editor Royce Webb reminded me when I suggested that, had they been more patient, the Clippers might have been positioned to acquire a top point guard without giving up as much as they did: getting a superstar is really, really hard. It’s something you can never take for granted. The Clippers made a bigger improvement this year than the Pacers, and no one can question that they did so because they got Chris Paul. When you get a player of that caliber and the move works as planned, history says you get rewarded with the Executive of the Year award. It doesn’t matter how it happened, when LeBron James signed with the Heat, Pat Riley won the Executive of the Year award. In my mind, when you get Chris Paul, every other executive has to top that.
- In addition to Paul, Olshey also made the type of peripheral moves that would garner executives that didn’t acquire Chris Paul some attention. No one here needs to be reminded of the contributions of Chauncey Billups, Reggie Evans, Kenyon Martin, Nick Young and Solomon Jones. If you do, then I’ll remind you that the first four of those guys each made significant contributions to the best team in franchise history.
- One quick note: I would have voted for Olshey for this award. But can we please stop listing the signing of Caron Butler to a 3-year, $24 million deal as a point in Olshey’s favor? No doubt, Butler has had his moments, and we can all be thankful for some “stability” at the small forward spot, but we should keep in mind the concept of “replacement level.” Caron Butler ranked 34th among qualified small forwards in Player Efficiency Rating. Like any basketball metric, there are things this number does not tell us, but one thing it does say is that he shouldn’t be used to tout the man who signed him as Executive if the Year. We can agree that if his signing helped lure Chris Paul, then it was worth it. But he wasn’t “good” by any objective measure this season, and next year he’ll be 33 years old and still on the books for $16 million through 2013-14.
- For those who ask why we bother to discuss award voting that has proven over and over to be flawed, I’d say that if it exists, it’s probably worth doing “right.” Not that Larry Bird winning was “wrong,” in any moral sense, but I believe it was the wrong decision, because there was a better choice. I, like many of you, lost no sleep over this decision, but based on what we perceive to be the standards of this award, think that Olshey was deserving. But he didn’t even finish second, which I think is ridiculous.