While the players receive all of the attention on the court, it is the general managers who construct the teams off the court, in hopes of leading their organizations to great success. Without these executives, it is difficult to fathom how professional franchises would properly function.
At the end of each season, the NBA gives out the Executive of the Year award, which is voted on by executives of the league’s 30 teams. The season is now closer to completion than it is to its start, and the race this year is certainly tight.
Below are the top five candidates for the Executive of the Year Award:
5. Bob Myers
Bob Myers continues to improve the Golden State Warriors. Hired as the team’s GM in April, 2012, the former sports agent improved the Warriors’ record by 24 wins in his first season on the job. This year, he has turned the roster into one of the most exciting squads in the league.
Led by All-Star Stephen Curry, the Warriors (35-23) are currently the seventh seed in the Western Conference but sit just four games back of the fourth seed Los Angeles Clippers (40-20). In July, Myers lured Andre Iguodala to the Bay Area, which may have appeared easier than it actually was. California’s highest earners are taxed more than 12 percent, which is extremely high, especially when compared with other states like Florida, where there is no income tax at all.
Also, top talent prefers attractive locations to build their brands. Places like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago are generally high on lists of players who seek fame and fortune–not San Francisco.
Myers also had to maneuver pieces to ensure Iguodala was able to join the Warriors under the salary cap. The Warriors cleared more than $24 million by dealing Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins and Brandon Rush to the Utah Jazz, along with four future draft picks and cash considerations. Due to these moves, the Warriors inked Iguodala to a four-year, $48 million deal.
While the 30-year-old has had his fair share of struggles this season, Golden State is on the verge of making consecutive postseason appearances–a feat accomplished just one other time in the last 35 seasons of the franchise’s history. Iguodala is certainly helping them get there, and Myers can be thanked for that.
4. Masai Ujiri
Masai Ujiri is gunning for consecutive Executive of the Year awards. The Nigerian native captured the award as Denver Nuggets GM in 2013, before leaving the team for more of a lucrative deal with the Toronto Raptors. He became the first non-American to take home the honor.
Ujiri has been with his new team less than one year, but has already made multiple moves that have propelled the Toronto Raptors to near the top of the Eastern Conference. Last summer, he shipped off former No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani to the New York Knicks in exchange for future draft picks. Less than six months later, he dealt the face of the franchise–Rudy Gay–in exchange for three role players, at best. But, somehow, the plan worked. Maybe there is a method to his madness?
At 32-25, the Raptors boast the Eastern Conference’s third-best record. Ujiri has accomplished this by dumping contracts of two of the team’s leading scorers in recent years and forcing young, undeveloped players to step up into big shoes. You may not believe in Masai, but I certainly do.
(Skip to 2:22)
3. Daryl Morey
After missing out on the playoffs for three consecutive seasons, the Rockets GM acquired James Harden in 2012 to bring promise back to Houston. The young, budding star helped but still, the team finished 45-37 as the eighth seed in the Western Conference and was bounced in the first round of the playoffs. The Rockets needed more.
Last summer, Morey lured the league’s best center away from Los Angeles after a chaotic season with the Lakers and signed Dwight Howard to a four-year, $88 million contract. Despite his rough season with the Lakers, many within the league believed Howard would remain with the team–players don’t just leave Los Angeles, they thought. But Howard did. Morey pulled it off.
Now, the Rockets are 39-20 and trail the Oklahoma City Thunder by just four games for the conference’s top spot. With Harden and Howard, they have one of the NBA’s most lethal inside-outside duos. Howard is averaging 18.9 points on 58.7 percent shooting, and 12.5 rebounds–all improved from last season’s numbers.
2. Ryan McDonough
Ryan McDonough has transformed the Phoenix Suns from a sure-fire cellar dweller into a playoff contender. Numerous basketball heads predicted the team was going to be one of the Western Conference’s worst teams, but it has turned out to be the league’s biggest surprise of the season.
McDonough was hired as the Suns GM in May 2013 and quickly began making moves. He landed budding star Eric Bledsoe for cheap, sending away Jared Dudley and a second-round pick for the young guard. He also dealt veteran Luis Scola, who wasn’t in Phoenix’s future plans, and received a second-round pick in exchange.
Aside from Bledsoe and All-Star snub Goran Dragic, the Suns’ support is made up of young misfits and role players who were given up on too quickly or overlooked too early in their careers by most–but not by McDonough.
The team is sixth in scoring, averaging 105 points per game–ahead of the Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, among others. Below is the Suns’ season shot chart:
1. Neil Olshey
The Portland Trail Blazers are another team that began this season’s campaign shocking the NBA. While they have cooled down after a sizzling start, the Blazers have emerged as a serious contender in the Western Conference. Neil Olshey made it happen.
Just last season, the Blazers finished in 11th place with a record of 33-49. Franchise player LaMarcus Aldridge wanted out and the team seemed headed for a downward spiral. The second-year GM turned the organization around. He met Aldridge’s request by acquiring Robin Lopez, a big man to play the center position which has allowed Aldridge to move back into the power forward position and shoot his vintage midrange shot. He signed veterans like Mo Williams and Dorell Wright to add depth to the team, which lacked a solid bench last season, and drafted C.J. McCollum, whose ceiling is extremely high.
Olshey, who began his professional career as an aspiring actor, chose the right career path. He’s on the threshold of becoming the NBA’s next Executive of the Year.
Who do you think should win it?
Follow Matt on Twitter at @MatthewHochberg.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.