Every summer each NBA front office is tasked with shaping their respective roster. Some teams are looking for that big trade or free agent acquisition that could vault them into contender status. Those who are already contenders seek to add complimentary pieces to their already established core. And yet others rely on the draft for a much needed influx of talent across the roster. Whatever the motivations are for a front office, the hope is always to make a positive step forward and to execute on a vision that will lead to a high level of success now or in the near future.
Not every team’s moves pan out, however, and some teams end up in a perpetual state of mediocrity. In this regard, the Sacramento Kings come to mind. On the flip side, there are always a handful of teams that make home run moves that vault a team into contention or catch the league by surprise. Often times, these executive are rewarded with the annual Executive of the Year award.
With the 2016-17 NBA regular season approaching the finish line and the playoffs right around the corner, the contenders long ago separated themselves from the pretenders. And with enough of a sample size to judge each team’s roster and success thus far, there are a few general managers who have separated themselves from the rest of the pack this season.
Daryl Morey, Houston Rockets
Morey’s offseason moves have not only produced a major turnaround for the Houston Rockets but has elevated them into contender status.
Morey’s first move last offseason was signing Mike D’Antoni to a four-year deal to become the team’s head coach. D’Antoni, who was then an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers, has always been regarded as one of the more brilliant offensive minds in the NBA. One of the knocks on him since his Phoenix days has been his inability to make it deep into the playoffs. While it remains to be seen how Houston fares in the postseason, there’s no questioning the wonders D’Antoni has done for the Rockets this season.
His move to make James Harden a full-time point guard has resulted in Harden being one of the front-runners for the MVP award as well as making the Rockets the second-best offensive team in the league (115.5 points per game), falling behind only the Golden State Warriors.
A few of Morey’s free agent signings last summer, most notably Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Nene, have also helped catapult the Rockets’ offense this season. It wasn’t too long ago when all three players had a hard time staying healthy and staying on the floor. Morey took a chance on them, using cap space that was freed up with the departure of Dwight Howard, and the result has been tremendous.
Gordon has emerged as a top contender for the Sixth Man of the Year award, averaging 16.4 points per game while on pace to play the most number of games since the 2013-14 season. Anderson has played in the most number of games since the 2012-13 season and has become one of the Rockets most reliable three-point threats at just about 40 percent. While Nene is averaging close to career-lows in points (8.6) and rebounds (4.1), he has been a valuable contributor off the bench and is shooting 61.3 percent from the field, just shy of his career-high of 61.5 percent from the the 2010-11 season. The only other time he came close to that was an 11-game stretch after he was traded to Washington in 2012.
Still not done, however, Morey traded for Lou Williams at the trade deadline. In his first three games with the Rockets, Williams averaged 24 points per game on 48.7 percent shooting from the field, and 47.4 percent from three. He has since cooled down a bit but with Williams and Gordon, the Rockets have the two best bench scorers in the league now. Sitting solidly in third place in the Western Conference, it appears as if Morey’s acquisitions are working out.
Bob Meyers, Golden State Warriors
Another possible contender for the Executive of the Year award is Bob Meyers, the general manager of the Golden State Warriors. Meyers won the award for the 2014-15 season, and while the Warriors haven’t been quite as dominant as they were last season, Meyers still made some fantastic acquisitions during the offseason that have allowed the Warriors to remain the favorites out West.
Meyers pulled off the top move of the summer with the signing of Kevin Durant. While much has been made about the Warriors players’ recruitment of Durant, it was still Meyers who made sure the Warriors had the cap space to fit Durant’s salary. Prior to his injury, Durant fit seamlessly into the Warriors offense and was shooting a career high 53.7 percent from the field while leading the team in scoring at 25.3 points per game.
The Warriors did have to sacrifice some of their depth to sign Durant, losing Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli, but Meyers looked to free agency and the draft to address those concerns. Picking up both Zaza Pachulia and David West on relatively cheap contracts were great moves. Pachulia has started all 59 games he’s played this season and while his numbers don’t jump out (6.4 points and six rebounds per game), he is shooting a career-high 54.1 percent from the field and has provided the Warriors with a solid inside presence. West, on the other hand, is long past his peak New Orleans days, but the veteran big man is still a nice option to have off the bench as the playoffs approach.
In the draft, Meyers selected UNLV’s Patrick McCaw in the second round with the 38th overall pick. McCaw saw sporadic playing time early in the season, but since getting more consistent minutes in the latter half of the season, he’s looked more and more like a second-round steal. He’s started the last nine games for the Warriors and he’s looking like a guy who could eventually become a major cog in the rotation both offensively and defensively.
Perhaps the most underrated move Meyers made in the summer was the signing of JaVale McGee. On the verge of being out the league, Meyers took a chance on McGee, who made the team out of training camp on a non-guaranteed contract. Despite his on-court antics, which have made him a permanent fixture on TNT’s Shaqtin’ A Fool, McGee has emerged as a solid contributor for the Warriors front court while shooting a career-high 64.5 percent from the field.
Dennis Lindsey, Utah Jazz
Another possible candidate for the award is Dennis Lindsey of the Utah Jazz. The Jazz missed the playoffs last season, but this season they are fighting for home court in the first round due in large part to the additions made by Lindsey.
Lindsey’s first move of the offseason was to trade Utah’s lottery pick to the Atlanta Hawks in a three team trade with the Indiana Pacers that netted veteran point guard George Hill. Hill has been a solid addition, averaging a career high 16.9 points per game on 47 percent shooting to go along with 4.1 assists. Hill’s provided the Jazz with a much needed floor general and tw0-way impact from the point guard position.
Lindsey followed that up by trading the draft rights to 2015 draft pick Oliver Hanlan to the San Antonio Spurs for Boris Diaw, another veteran who has added needed leadership and guidance to the young Jazz. He also managed to bring in veteran Joe Johnson to bolster the bench and give the team yet another veteran mentor and contributor.
He also signed Rudy Gobert to a contract extension right at the beginning of the season, and Gobert responded by having a near All-Star season while possibly becoming Utah’s best and most important player.
Masai Ujiri, Toronto Raptors
Another executive who deserves consideration for this year’s award is Masai Ujiri, the president of the Toronto Raptors who won the award in 2013 when he was working for the Denver Nuggets. Ujiri deserves serious consideration due to a couple of late additions he made at the trade deadline, as well as his offseason re-signing of DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan has helped lead the Raptors to an 11-5 record while fellow All-Star Kyle Lowry remains sidelined due to a wrist injury. That stretch includes three 40 point games, each of which resulted in a win for Toronto. DeRozan is also averaging a career-high 27.1 points per game, which is good for fifth in the league.
But perhaps it was Ujiri’s acquisitions of Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker at the trade deadline that has really bolstered the Raptors, specifically on the defensive end. Prior to the All-Star break, the Raptors were in a free fall, dropping to fourth in the Eastern Conference and in danger of losing home court in the first round of the playoffs. Currently on a five game win streak, the Raptors have been doing their damage on defense, holding their opponents to 91.2 points per game during this stretch. The Raptors have a lot of competition in the Eastern Conference, but with these trade, Ujiri addressed the team’s biggest weakness and has given Toronto the tools it needs to make a strong push in the upcoming playoffs.
R.C. Buford, San Antonio Spurs
A case could probably be made for San Antonio’s R.C. Buford, the winner of last year’s award. Buford brought in Pau Gasol and David Lee, who for the most part have revitalized their careers a bit after stagnating last season. Buford also brought in Dewayne Dedmon, a seldom used reserve in Golden State, Philadelphia and Orlando, who is now the Spurs starting center and is enjoying a career-year.
One name who does not appear on the list is David Griffin of the Cleveland Cavaliers. While Griffin has made attempts to bolster the Cavaliers by adding Kyle Korver, Derrick Williams, Deron Williams, and now Larry Sanders, the Cavaliers have under-performed this season and now appear in danger of possibly losing the top-spot in the East to the up and coming Boston Celtics. Griffin has made some nice moves with little flexibility, but the results have not been as significant as some of the marquee moves made by the executives listed above.
Ultimately, Morey should be considered the favorite based on how significant of a turnaround the Rockets have made this season. However, these other candidates are deserving of consideration as well.
#16 – Zhaire Smith- Phoenix Suns
The Philadelphia 76ers reportedly traded the rights to Mikal Bridges to the Phoenix Suns for the 16th overall pick, which was used to select Zhaire Smith, as well as a 2021 first round draft pick.
Smith was a freshman small forward out of Texas Tech who has plenty of athleticism. Last season, Smith averaged 11.3 points, five rebounds and 1.8 assists per game. Where Smith stands out is on the defensive end. He has the size, speed, mobility and instincts to be a plus-defender, which is rare among players at this stage in their respective careers. The downside is that Smith doesn’t necessarily have the size to reasonably guard most power forwards, though he can certainly hold his own in limited situations.
Smith should be a nice addition for Philadelphia, which already has several big wing players. The team is built around Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, but Smith adds even more athleticism and upside for the young up-and-coming squad. Smith is also a solid passer and he can take the ball off of the dribble. However, Smith’s jumper can be a bit inconsistent at times, which is something he will need to work on moving forward. He also needs to work on becoming a more effective player in pick and roll situations. However, with his elite athleticism and notable skill set, it’s not hard to undestand why the 76ers had interest in making a deal for him.
This is a nice grab for the 76ers, who saved some cap space and acquired a future first rounder in the deal.
#14 – Michael Porter Jr. – Denver Nuggets
With the No. 14 pick in the NBA draft, the Denver Nuggets selected forward Michael Porter Jr. from the University of Missouri.
Leading up to the draft, there was much speculation that Porter could have gone as high as the second overall pick, but after teams got a look at his medical records, his perceived value began to fall. Porter slid all the way to the Nuggets, who record-wise, were the best team that missed out on the playoffs.
Porter measures in 6-foot-10.75, 211 pounds. The sample size was very small since Porter had to miss the majority of his freshman season, but the potential is definitely there for the Missouri alum. Porter’s scoring prowess makes him have one of the highest ceilings in a loaded draft class this year, which could make him one of the greatest draft-day steals of all time if he reaches it.
If Porter reaches his ceiling, then he is undoubtedly a perfect fit in Denver. The Nuggets, who were arguably a healthy Paul Millsap from making some noise out West, desperately need a go-to scorer to pair with their young core. Porter’s ability to score from anywhere on the court should make him the perfect complement to Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris.
His ability to put the ball in the bucket should make him a keeper, but his athleticism is what could make him a potential franchise cornerstone. Porter has a fair amount of quickness for a guy his size, which could make him one of the league’s best two-way players.
Unfortunately, Porter’s question marks make him as much of a high risk as he is a high reward. His medical records evidently turned teams off after he was believed to be selected in the top 10, and there has been a lot of chatter that he may not be the most motivated basketball player. Perhaps falling all the way down to 14th could give him all the motivation he needs.
The Nuggets received a lot of flak when they traded Donovan Mitchell’s draft rights for Trey Lyles and the rights to Tyler Lydon at last year’s draft, but now they may have made up for all of that by getting Porter.
#13 – Jerome Robinson – Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers have drafted Jerome Robinson with the No. 13 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
After trading for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Los Angeles Clippers selected Boston guard Jerome Robinson with the 13th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
Count the Clippers among lottery teams that passed on Michael Porter, Jr. and looked elsewhere. Robinson is versatile guard thatcan score from all over the court. Robinson can score from the outside and has a strong handle allowing him to play either guard position. Robinson put up 20.7 points and 3.3 assists per game and 40.9 percent from three-point range. Like any standout scorer, Robinson can score from distance and around the rim. While he can score at a high level, Robinson is not known for his defensive abilities and will need to improve in this area to be a true impact player at the next level.
Robinson is a bit undersized (listed around 6-foot-5) to play the small forward position. However, the Clippers, under Doc Rivers, have never been shy about using undersized wings at the small forward. For example, the team has gotten away with playing Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford at small forward over the years. According to reports, the team may have already decided to move on from guard Milos Teodisic making Robinson a capable player offensive player to place besides defensively minded point guard Patrick Beverley.