With every offseason, NBA executives are tasked with finding ways to improve their respective teams via free agency, trades and the draft. Contenders hope they can add the missing pieces that’ll lead them to a title, while Lottery teams hope they can add the appropriate young talent to vault their teams forward. Regardless of a team’s situation, executives are looking to improve their team’s standing.
Now that we are over a quarter of the way through the season, many of the decisions these executives have made are being spotlighted. Here are some of the top candidates for Executive of the Year.
Rob Pelinka – Los Angeles Lakers
It’s very rare that a team coming off a championship season can say they definitively got better. After winning their 17th championship in franchise history in one of the most unique seasons in NBA history, The Lakers can do just that.
The Lakers made a rather dramatic shift to their roster. They traded away their starting shooting guard and center in Danny Green and Javale McGee. They also decided against bringing back key contributors in Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard and Avery Bradley.
General manager Rob Pelinka decided to retool instead, adding the top candidates for Sixth Man of the Year last season in Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schroder. On top of that, he also signed future Hall of Famer Marc Gasol and a proven 3-and-D guard in Wesley Matthews. These signings raise both the ceiling and floor for the Lakers. It also relieves the load that superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis have to carry during the regular season.
However, no move was as important or as consequential as re-signing Davis to a five-year, $190 million extension and James to a two-year $85 million extension. This guarantees that the Lakers will have the duo on the roster at least through the 2022-23 season, which should keep them in the title hunt for the foreseeable future. Overall, Pelinka has to be in the lead for Executive of the Year.
Rafael Stone – Houston Rockets
Rafael Stone deserves a ton of credit for what he’s been able to do, considering he inherited what was the most toxic situation in the NBA. When Daryl Morey left for the Philadelphia 76ers, Stone was left to pick up the pieces of an organization that seemed to be crumbling.
The hiring of Stephen Silas and the signing of Christian Wood appears to have been a home run. Trading away disgruntled former MVP Russell Westbrook for John Wall has proven to be a steal for Houston too. Stone was also able to acquire a war chest of picks from Brooklyn along with Victor Oladipo for Harden, who made it clear he wasn’t happy in Houston. Replenishing the Rockets’ draft assets was something they desperately needed.
While navigating those muddy waters about as well as one could hope, Stone did a great job of filling out the roster. Jae’Sean Tate was an amazing find. Sterling Brown has provided valuable minutes and signing undrafted guard Mason Jones seems like it was another smart move. DeMarcus Cousins has also shown he can still be a rotation big.
Rafael Stone has dealt with more in a quarter of a season than some general managers do over the course of a few seasons.
Sean Marks – Brooklyn Nets
Sean Marks has not only shifted the culture in Brooklyn but parlayed it into a situation that has brought in multiple superstar talents. Adding James Harden to a team that already has Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving immediately makes the Nets one of the favorites to win the NBA title.
It’s a move that comes with risk, but it’s a calculated one. This thought process was similar when Marks decided to bring in a rookie head coach in Steve Nash. So far, it has seemed to work out as the players clearly respect him. The real test for Nash comes in the playoffs, where even the smallest decisions will be under a microscope.
Marks also did a good job of re-signing sniper Joe Harris. Bruce Brown, who was acquired by Marks in a trade with Detroit, has played key minutes. The Jeff Green signing is already paying dividends. The one deal that hasn’t panned out was his trade for Landry Shamet, who has really struggled hit shots this season. Also, letting go of Garrett Temple seems like it was a mistake.
Marks has put the Nets in a strong position to end the season as NBA champions. For that reason alone, Marks’ name has to be in the discussion.
Jon Horst – Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks decided to overhaul their roster after coming up short in last year’s playoffs. This led to Jon Horst pulling the trigger on a trade for Jrue Holiday, giving the Bucks another reliable scorer who can defend.
What’s even more important than the Holiday trade was that it was apparently enough to convince two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo to re-sign on a five-year $228 million supermax extension. For a small-market team to keep a star of his caliber is a massive win.
Horst has also done a good job with some of the smaller signings, especially considering the failed deal for Bogdan Bogdanovic, who would’ve been an amazing fit. Bobby Portis has been excellent off the bench, Bryn Forbes has been deadly in dribble hand-offs with Antentokounmpo, while DJ Augustin is a solid backup point guard. There are still questions as to whether that depth will be good enough come playoff time.
Daryl Morey – Philadelphia 76ers
When Daryl Morey left for Philadelphia, he was tasked with improving the spacing for his two stars, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. With no cap room and massive contracts, making the right moves would not be an easy task.
Morey was able to ship out the ill-fitting Al Horford and bring proven shooters in Seth Curry and Danny Green. Dwight Howard was signed to man the paint when Embiid sat. The reunion of Doc Rivers and Tobias Harris is even paying off. Drafting Tyrese Maxey already looks like one of the draft-day steals.
Morey has come in and made changes to a team that badly needed it. The results are showing immediately, as the Sixers are first in the Eastern Conference and Joel Embiid looks like the early favorite for MVP.
There are plenty of good candidates for Executive of the Year – but who might have the early edge? With the Trade Deadline and buyout market coming in March, the race should continue to clear up.
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