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.