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Head to Head: NBA Executive of the Year?

Who should win Executive of the Year? Ben Dowsett and Jesse Blancarte debate.

Basketball Insiders

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It’s not always easy to determine which general manager should win Executive of the Year. Unlike player comparisons (where we can look at things like statistics), we need to consider factors like whether a team is rebuilding or contending, whether they exceeded expectations and whether the players that were added during the offseason and throughout the season have paid off, among several other things. In today’s Head to Head, Ben Dowsett and Jesse Blancarte debate who deserves to win the 2015-16 NBA Executive of the Year award.

Ben Dowsett: R.C. Buford

Becoming elite in the NBA is obviously very difficult, but staying there for extended periods is even tougher. Maintaining both the talent and drive year after year in the most competitive league in the world, particularly with the true peaks of the game’s best players often lasting only a few seasons, is a careful balancing act.

It’s no wonder, then, that Spurs General Manager R.C. Buford is so frequently mentioned as a viable candidate for Executive of the Year honors – and he should be among the frontrunners, and perhaps at the top, again this season.

The additions San Antonio has made in the last nine months are impressive enough in name value alone. LaMarcus Aldridge is the headliner, of course, and bringing in veteran David West to come off the bench behind him while retaining superstar Kawhi Leonard and mainstays Tim Duncan, Danny Green and Manu Ginobili was an excellent haul. Around the margins, Buford also found roster spots for Boban Marjanovic and Jonathon Simmons, both of whom have done well in depth roles, and added Andre Miller and Kevin Martin in buyout season.

The numbers involved make the additions even more impressive – Aldridge got big money, but West came for a paltry fraction of what his option in Indiana would have paid him, and Green’s extension was downright criminal. Duncan took what’s become his standard hometown discount, and Ginobili surely could have squeezed several million extra out of a few other GMs somewhere.

The true value of Buford’s (and Gregg Popovich’s, among others) carefully developed culture, though, manifested itself in the gymnastics the Spurs were able to perform under the cap due to the trust between themselves and several incumbent players.

Leonard, a legitimate full-max superstar, sacrificed security and dutifully waited his turn for his big deal. Had he demanded the money immediately (or the previous summer) or threatened to sign elsewhere, San Antonio’s ability to bring in a name like Aldridge would have been damaged or even destroyed. Green and Ginobili likewise waited to sign until after Aldridge inked his deal, with the wink-wink knowledge that San Antonio’s Bird Rights would allow the team to retain them over the cap after using their space on Aldridge.

There are very few other organizations league-wide where this sort of thing is even moderately realistic, and almost certainly none where the number of moving pieces could have been this expertly coordinated. That the moves facilitated one of the most dominant teams of the last decade only hammers home how effective the plan was from day one. It may not be the hip vote given his candidacy seemingly every year, but R.C. Buford deserves recognition for mastering this chessboard so thoroughly yet again.

Jesse Blancarte: Neil Olshey

Towards the end of July of last year, Portland Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey had a good sense that LaMarcus Aldridge would not be coming back to the Blazers. Rather than sitting around and hoping things would work out, Olshey started his aggressive plan to rebuild his team around his star point guard, Damian Lillard.

From the end of July until the February trade deadline, Olshey worked aggressively to clear out the roster, add in young talent and restock the Blazers’ assets. Here is a basic outline of what Olshey did, excluding some other minor moves:

  • Traded Nicolas Batum for Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh.
  • Traded Steve Blake and the rights to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (2015-23rd) to Brooklyn Nets for Mason Plumlee and the rights to Pat Connaughton.
  • Renounced the rights to LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Alonzo Gee and Earl Watson.
  • Signed Al-Farouq Aminu to a four-year, $30 million contract.
  • Signed Ed Davis to a three-year, $20.0 million contract.
  • Signed Damian Lillard to a five-year, $120.4 million extension.
  • Traded a protected (top-55) 2020 second-rounder to Portland Trail Blazers for Mo Harkless.
  • Traded a Cleveland Cavaliers 2020 second-rounder back to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Anderson Varejao and a protected 2018 first-rounder.

Other general managers may have tried to salvage the roster by adding some veteran players in free agency and through trades. Instead, Olshey opted to tear things down, bring back assets by trading away guys who would likely leave eventually (like Batum) and add young, affordable free agents who still have room for substantial improvement (like Aminu and Davis). While not every move is, or has been a clear slam dunk, each was made strategically and with the bigger picture in mind.

The idea was that the Blazers would grow together organically, reserve flexibility and in a few seasons, cash in that flexibility to turn the team into a contender. However, like the Phoenix Suns a few seasons back, the Blazers have found more success this season than anyone reasonably anticipated. The Blazers are now 41-36, sixth in the Western Conference standings and on track to face the Oklahoma City Thunder in the postseason.

Some may fear that the Blazers, like the Suns, may get caught up in their success and try to skip a few steps in the rebuild process, which could ultimately backfire, as it did in Phoenix. However, Olshey is a big-picture general manager that understands the importance of maximizing assets and cap-flexibility, but doing so in a time-frame that makes sense both short-term and long-term. Unlike other general managers, Olshey is a proven forward-thinking executive who won’t easily be caught up in the moment.

Now, because of Olshey, the Blazers have 12 players that are 25 or younger, along with a few other players that are still relatively young and still have some room to keep improving. The Blazers can also generate as much as $42 million in cap space this offseason.

With a young core of talent (that is already very competitive), cap flexibility and a top-notch head coach in Terry Stotts, the Trail Blazers are well-positioned to become one of the better all-around teams in the NBA over the next few seasons and Neil Olshey is the reason why, which is why he should be the 2015-16 NBA Executive of the Year.

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics

Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.

Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.

In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.

Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.

“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.

“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”

The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.

“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.

“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”

Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.

“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”

The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.

“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”

Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.

“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.

“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”

Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.

“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.

“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”

While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.

“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.

“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”

Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.

Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.

Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.

“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.

“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”

You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.

Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.

“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?

“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”

Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.

“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”

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