Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird is the NBA Executive of the Year, and who can argue after Tuesday night. He’s put together a feisty squad that has the Miami Heat on the ropes. With Chris Bosh out indefinitely, are you ready to say the Pacers WON’T win that series? I’m not.
Bird got 12 of 28 first-place votes cast by a panel of NBA executives.
Sam Presti received none and finished eighth, behind Utah’s Kevin O’Connor, New York’s Glen Grunwald and Miami’s Pat Riley.
All of which leaves me thinking two things:
1) You’ve got to be kidding. Kevin O’Connor? Utah leaked into the playoffs as the eight seed. Yawn. Glen Grunwald? For what, not releasing Jeremy Lin? Pat Riley? Pat Riley?
2) Presti will never win this award. His window of opportunity has closed.
The NBA executives who vote on this award traditionally treat it as a most-improved honor. Only once in the last 10 seasons has the award gone to an executive whose team went on to win the NBA title (Boston’s Danny Ainge in 2008). Clearly it’s based on regular-season improvement.
Since the NBA lockout made this a 66-game instead of an 82-game season, we’ll need to using winning percentages instead of win totals. But let’s look at the Thunder franchise’s annual winning percentage during Presti’s five seasons as GM
– .244 in 2008
– .280 in 2009
– .610 in 2010
– .671 in 2011
– .712 in 2012
Now let’s compare the last four NBA Executive of the Year winners’ improvement in winning percentage to the Presti/Thunder improvement.
Mark Warkentien, Denver (49 percentage-point improvement)
Presti (36 percentage-point improvement)
John Hammond, Milwaukee (146 percentage-point improvement)
Presti (330 percentage-point improvement)
Gar Forman, Chicago (256 percentage-point improvement) Pat Riley, Miami: (124 percentage-point improvement)
Presti (61 percentage-point improvement)
Larry Bird, Indiana (185 percentage-point improvement)
Presti (41 percentage-point improvement)
Clearly, Presti should have won the award instead of John Hammond in 2010. The Thunder went from a 23-win team that had been in the lottery three straight years to a 50-win team that gave the defending NBA champion Lakers all they wanted in a first-round series. Maybe the panel of voting executives included too many execs from the Suns and Jazz — teams Presti fleeced to get Serge Ibaka and Eric Maynor. Maybe they think he got lucky in getting the No. 2 pick the year of Oden/Durant. (He did).
There should have been an investigation after that vote. But it’s hard to make a case Presti got jobbed any other year.
Under Presti the Thunder has improved by 468 percentage points in five seasons to become one of the NBA’s model franchises. He hired the 2010 NBA Coach of the Year (Scott Brooks), used the No. 4 overall pick to take an off guard who is on the verge of becoming a two-time All-NBA point guard (Westbrook) and used a No. 3 overall pick to select an NBA Sixth Man of the Year (James Harden).
He turned deals involving Kurt Thomas into first-round picks coming and going — using one to select NBA blocked shot leader Ibaka. He stole Kendrick Perkins from the Celtics. He horded second-round picks and then dealt them to acquire Daequan Cook, and gain the roster and cap flexibility he used to strike shrewd long-term deals with Perkins, Nick Collison and Westbrook.
All of which has moved the Thunder into serious NBA title contention, and pushed Presti past consideration for the league’s top executive honor.
The front of the sports section of the Dallas Morning News after Josh Hamilton’s four-homer game.
What I’m thinking about a possible Thunder-Lakers series and the story lines we’re likely to pursue for The Oklahoman and NewsOK Sports if the Lakers advance. (I’d love to hear yours):
– Built to Beat L.A.: I think that’s the theme of this series for the Thunder. Sam Presti traded for Kendrick Perkins in February 2011, about 10 months after the Lakers took out the Thunder in 6 games by playing volleyball on the offensive glass. Oklahoma City needed to do something to counter Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. The arrival of Perkins and development of Serge Ibaka have done that. How much of that plan is thrown off if Perkins misses time with a strained hip flexor? A lot. But Berry Tramel made an interesting point in our writer’s meeting Monday: Presti actually started building to beat the Lakers two years earlier when he sent a first-round pick to Chicago for Thabo Sefolosha – Oklahoma City’s counter to Kobe Bryant.
Berry’s started working on an in-depth look at the building of the Thunder through the prism of facing the Lakers, and if Oklahoma City should survive that series there’s the obvious Spurs blueprint angle for a potential Oklahoma City-San Antonio Western Conference Finals….
– Did David Stern save the Lakers from themselves? For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over NBA commissioner David Stern rescinding the Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers trade because it was as bad deal for the Hornets, has anyone considered how badly it would have damaged the Lakers? Gasol gets knocked a ton for being soft, but would Bynum be breaking out the way he has the last month or so without Gasol? And how well would the Lakers have weathered Bynum’s bouts with immaturity without Gasol? It’s easy to think about how much better the Lakers would be with CP3. You don’t hear too much about how much worse they’d be without Gasol.
– Perk vs. Pau: Obviously Perkins’ hip is the great unknown. John Rohde addressed it in a story today and Darnell Mayberry blogged on it. It’s topic No. 1 for the Thunder, especially given Perkins’ history — and success — vs. the Lakers’ twin towers. There are more than a few Celtics fans who swear Boston would it all in 2010 had Perkins’ not gone down with a knee injury in Game 6 of that NBA Finals with the Lakers. Digging into Perkins’ history with the Lakers should be interesting.
– The Derek Fisher Factor: I wonder when the last time a player dumped during the season wound up facing his former team in a playoff series. The story of why the Lakers traded Fisher and how the Thunder managed to sign him might seem obvious, but I think there’s more to it. From the start I’ve said the Thunder signed him with the postseason and mind and now even some critics of the move are coming around. Any chance Fisher’s performance in the Mavericks series has Mitch Kupchak squirming a bit? I think it’s also time we looked at Fisher’s five biggest postseason moments — and it’s possible we could stretch it to 10. He’s had a tone of them. If the Lakers advance, having our staff in L.A. for Games 3-4 should give them a chance to write more about his place in Laker lore and among the L.A. fans.
– The Thunder’s L.A. guys: Last year at the NBA All-Star break Darnell did a really good story on Russell Westbrook’s Los Angeles roots and took us to the neighborhood where Russ developed his game. Feels like time to do the same for James Harden and in the process write about who the Thunder’s young L.A. natives were during the current Laker dynasty. I wonder if either of them ever attended a game at Staples Center. Who their favorite Lakers were? Wonder if they ever had a brush with Shaq or Kobe or Phil Jackson? Imagine growing up loving the Lakers and then coming back to face them?
– Metta World Peace returns: If you’re read this far it’s fair to wonder why I took so long to get to the most dramatic angle of a potential Thunder-Lakers series. You’re also probably wondering how often we’ll use it as an excuse for word-play headlines on MWP. (Jenni Carlson is steamed and I do mean steamed that we didn’t use PEACE OUT when the NBA suspended him for seven games for elbowing James Harden). If the Lakers wrap up their series with Denver late Tuesday, the Lakers forward formerly known as Ron Artest would miss Game 1 in Oklahoma City. If the Lakers have to win at Denver in Game 6, he would play Game 1 in Oklahoma City. That probably won’t be a good time for the local chamber of commerce to run ads on what a friendly place Oklahoma City is.
Lots of good angles coming out of MWP-Harden, but one of the best is this: Is James Harden about to play his way out of being known to the rest of the world as the guy MWP elbowed — and do it in two short weeks? What if the NBA presents Harden with the Sixth Man of the Year Award before Game 1 and two minutes later MWP gets introduced with the other Laker starters?
– Reintroducing the 2008 Pac-10 Conference Defensive Player of the Year: When the Thunder took Westbrook with the fourth overall pick in 2008, conventional wisdom was that Presti had drafted a defensive wiz who could shutdown opposing point guard in the NBA’s new no-handchecking era. Westbrook built his collegiate reputation by shutting down O.J. Mayo in some big UCLA-USC clashes. But until the Mavericks series, Westbrook’s NBA star has soared with his considerable offensive gifts. What he did to Jason Terry the last couple weeks still hasn’t been properly tallied or appreciated. Is there any chance the Thunder will sic him on Kobe? Jenni is planning something on this the next couple days.
– First-round flashback: Remember the euphoria around town back in the spring of 2010 during the Thunder-Lakers first-round series? I’m hearing a lot about how that’s when the casual OKC fan really bought into the Thunder. My wife, who no one who knows her would mistake for a big sports fan, went to Game 6 with my oldest son, sat up in Loud City, and ever since has been requesting a ticket to one Thunder playoff game every year for a Mother’s Day gift. I gave up trying to turn her into a sports fan years ago, and probably would have even earlier if I knew it was going to be this expensive. But if they don’t set the series soon she may backslide. I’m told she’s wavering between a ticket to Game 1 and a blender, which could be even more expensive.