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Head to Head: NBA Executive of the Year

Who is the NBA’s Executive of the Year for the 2014-15 season? Our experts discuss.

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Who is the NBA’s Executive of the Year for the 2014-15 season? Moke Hamilton, Ben Dowsett and Lang Green discuss in this week’s Head to Head:

David Griffin

Sometimes, when we are asked to answer these kinds of inquiries, the answer is not always clear. In this case, in my opinion, it certainly is.

After going just 33-49 over the course of last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers have re-emerged as a championship contender and that is no accident. While many may credit LeBron James and his decision for opting to return to Cleveland, general manager David Griffin deserves an immense amount of credit for what he has done to surround James with the appropriate level of talent to compete at the highest level.

Entering play on March 28, the Cavaliers have amassed a 28-7 record since they were 19-20 back on January 15.

The play of James and Kyrie Irving has been integral in rescuing their season. However, it was the acquisitions of J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov that have turned the Cavs into a contender. The late addition of Kendrick Perkins also fills what was probably the final hole on the roster heading into the postseason.

So while James does deserve a lot of credit for single-handedly altering the fortunes of the franchise, it is important to not overlook the contribution that his front office has made, as well. And that front office is capably led by Griffin.

One other area where Griffin should be praised, in my estimation, is his handling of David Blatt. On a dime, things changed for Blatt after he signed on to become the head coach of the Cavaliers. He thought he was walking into a rebuilding situation only to quickly have the pressure of leading a title contender thrust upon him.

Despite the rocky beginning to their season, Griffin never seriously considered replacing Griffin with a coach that many thought would be better suited to help the Cavaliers “win now.” While firing a head coach into his first year would have raised eyebrows, it is not a move that is unprecedented, as Terry Porter can attest.

The argument can be made for a number of front offices that they have the Executive of the Year, but after winning just 33 games last season, the Cavaliers are poised to have a 20 to 25 win increase and will be favored to win the Eastern Conference when the playoffs begin.

That they have done it all on Griffin’s watch, in my estimation, makes him the Executive of the Year.

– Moke Hamilton

Pat Riley

When it comes to annually naming the league’s top executive, most eyes jump to the flashiness of summer free agency acquisitions or blockbuster trade deadline deals. While those aspects are certainly worthy of admiration, they lack context viewed individually. Was the general manager facing adversity? Did they craftily create the necessary cap room to make the impossible deal, possible? Were they able to find a diamond in the rough?

While the Miami HEAT aren’t a .500 team this season after running off four consecutive Finals appearances, the 2014-15 unit might be some of team president Pat Riley’s best work.

When four-time MVP LeBron James decided to “go home” last summer, he essentially put Riley and the HEAT organization in a desperate scramble.

The first order of business, once James left town, was re-signing All-Star Chris Bosh. The veteran had a max offer on the table from the Houston Rockets and he grew up in Texas. Plus, the Rockets were in a much better shape in regards to contention with James Harden and Dwight Howard already locked up long term. Of course Miami could offer more money, thanks to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and Riley put all of his chips into Bosh.

Next, Riley secured former All-Star forward Luol Deng’s signature on a bargain two-year, $20 million deal. It had been rumored before the start of free agency that Deng’s demand was much higher than what he ultimately signed on the dotted line for to join the HEAT.

The next portion of Riley’s rebound could be scripted for a Disney movie.

The veteran executive signed former second round pick Hassan Whiteside off the scrap heap early in the season. Whiteside didn’t play in the league in 2013 and 2014 and most expected his run as a professional was over after two underwhelming seasons in Sacramento. Fast forward and Whiteside has developed into one of the better young big men in the game today while averaging 11 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.

Lastly, to bring things full circle Riley was able to unexpectedly acquire talented point guard Goran Dragic at the trade deadline from Phoenix. Dragic has averaged 16.4 points and 5.5 assists on 52 percent shooting since arriving in Miami.

Miami might not have the glossiest record this season, but the veteran savvy of Riley behind the scenes has the franchise eyeing another playoff berth with some strong building blocks for the future already in the fold.

When the good times are rolling anyone can ride the wave of momentum, but adversity builds character and Pat Riley has risen to the challenge for the HEAT.

– Lang Greene

Gar Forman

Each end-of-season NBA award is subjective to a point; with no specific set of guidelines and criteria that are often left mostly up to voters who take in varying levels of information to guide their process, this is a natural byproduct.

But Executive of the Year has perhaps the least objectivity, and almost certainly the fewest set “standards” that can at least serve as rough benchmarks for voters. Grading front-offices is such an imprecise science – how to weigh a move made several years ago that finally paid off big time this season versus one made this past summer or during the season itself? How to properly separate moves that actually distinguish a given executive from his peers, such as nailing a late draft pick or getting the better end of a lopsided trade, versus those that turned out well but were relatively standard and would have been expected of any competent thinker? All this is intertwined with our generally limited knowledge on the day-to-day ins and outs of an NBA front office.

It seems the fairest way to approach a vote, then, is to include all relevant information, past and present, which lends itself to answering the following question: Which executive has done the most above and beyond their peers to put their franchise in the best possible position? And through this lens, this writer’s choice is Chicago Bulls GM Gar Forman.

The more likely frontrunner will be David Griffin in Cleveland or perhaps even Bob Myers in Golden State, but it’s not all that hard to puncture either man’s candidacy.

Griffin has likely the strongest case outside of Chicago, with a series of moves from the Kevin Love deal to Timofey Mozgov to J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, all of which have helped turn the Cavs into title contenders almost overnight. But the trigger event that made any of this possible was LeBron James’ return, for which it’s hard to give Griffin any real credit at all. And what’s more, Griffin hasn’t been perfect. Just look at Anderson Varejao’s three-year extension, which looked comical even before he got hurt yet again. The world’s greatest player fell into his lap and incited a series of solid moves. Griffin has certainly done a good job this year, but the level to which much of it was outside his own control keeps him from the top spot.

Myers is receiving as many plaudits for the moves he didn’t make as those he did – Steve Kerr was a smart addition as a head coach, but Myers’ most significant action outside this was the decision not to trade Klay Thompson in a blockbuster Kevin Love deal. This wasn’t a bad move, of course, as Thompson has shined while Love has had his share of issues in Cleveland, but to this eye, holding onto already-known assets comes up a tad short of Forman’s work.

Forman, along with VP of basketball operations John Paxson, checks nearly every available box. They preside over a team with seemingly worse injury luck for top players than any other in the league on a yearly basis, and have gotten as little production from a max-level contract player (Derrick Rose) over the life of said deal as any other management team in the NBA. And yet, their Bulls teams continue to succeed on the back of hard-nosed coaching and, though more under-the-radar, consistently good work in the front office.

Chicago’s vaunted incumbent frontcourt has unsurprisingly succumbed to the injury bug this season, with Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson missing a combined 33 games so far, but Forman’s offseason moves have covered their absence and then some. Pau Gasol joined up on an incredibly team-friendly contract, and has played the most minutes on the team to date while appearing as an All-Star starter. He’s been a great fit, and is a big part of Chicago’s first top-10 offense since 2011-12 despite Rose’s woes and a number of other maladies across the roster.

But the crown jewel is Nikola Mirotic, making a strong late-season push for Rookie of the Year. Forman was at the helm when the Bulls sent a pittance (Norris Cole, Malcolm Lee and cash) to Minnesota for the former Spanish star in 2011, and bringing him over this season is looking like a masterstroke. He’s fit at both forward positions and injects spacing to a Bulls team that badly needs it, and could be a cornerstone for the franchise going forward.

It was this management group who nailed Jimmy Butler with the 30th pick back in 2011, and who got Gibson on an extremely team-friendly deal up through 2016-17. They’ve made multiple moves that distinguish them from their competition, rather than those that mostly fell into their laps. For a franchise to continue to succeed consistently while handicapped so heavily by Rose’s $18+ million contract is a true accomplishment, and Forman and the rest of Chicago’s font office deserve recognition for keeping the ship righted and on track, with a Gasol/Mirotic cherry on top.

– Ben Dowsett

Who do you think is Executive of the Year? Leave a comment below.

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