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Nuggets Ujiri wins NBA Executive of the Year, Clippers Sacks finishes second

Masai Ujiri of the Nuggets was named the NBA Executive of the Year Award today. Gary Sacks of the Clippers came in second.


The NBA today announced the results of the NBA Executive of the Year voting and Masai Ujiri of the Denver Nuggets won the award. Gary Sacks, first year VP of Basketball Operations for the Los Angeles Clippers, finished second.

Name Team 1st-place votes 2nd-place votes 3rd-place votes Total
Masai Ujiri Nuggets 8 6 1 59
Gary Sacks Clippers 3 4 1 28
Daryl Morey Rockets 4 1 2 25
Glen Grunwald Knicks 2 4 3 25
R.C. Buford Spurs 4 1 1 24
Pat Riley Heat 4 1 1 24
Bob Myers Warriors 1 4 6 23
Sam Presti Thunder 1 1 4 12
Danny Ferry Hawks 1 1 -- 8
Rob Hennigan Magic 1 -- 2 7
Billy King Nets -- 2 1 7
Donnie Walsh Pacers -- 1 4 7
Kevin O'Connor Jazz -- 2 -- 6
Jason Levien Grizzlies 1 -- -- 5
John Hammond Bucks -- 1 1 4
Dell Demps Pelicans -- -- 1 1
Gar Forman Bulls -- -- 1 1

There are many NBA awards where the voting baffles me. A couple of weeks ago one confused sportswriter voted for Jordan Crawford for the Sixth Man Award, presumably believing he was voting for the Clippers Jamal Crawford. But Executive of the Year is generally the most baffling.

Not that Ujiri isn't a good choice. He's done a great job building a unique NBA roster, and the Nuggets had their most successful NBA season ever, just a few seasons after Carmelo Anthony forced his way to New York.

Part of the problem is that the 30 NBA front offices are the only people who vote for the award (and who knows who's actually filling out the form -- it could be an unpaid intern, since it's hard to imagine R.C. Buford putting a lot of time or energy into his ballot). With such a small number of votes, the data is likely to be skewed in strange ways.

The other problem is that the criteria are vague. The award is called "Executive of the Year." Are we recognizing the executive that did the best job shaping this year's roster, or the executive that did the best job shaping a roster this year? Because those are two very different things.

If you look at the Denver Nuggets from the 2012 playoffs and the Denver Nuggets from the 2013 playoffs, you won't see a whole lot of differences -- Andre Iguodala is the only new addition in the team's nine-man rotation. Ujiri and the Nuggets clearly won the blockbuster trade of the off-season, the trade where they acquired Iguodala while giving up Arron Afflalo, while three teams involved in the deal all got significantly worse. But unless you're a big fan of Evan Fournier or Anthony Randolph, that's the one thing Ujiri did this year. Clearly the seasonal lines are a little blurry for the voters -- Ujiri won this award for the things he's done stretching back to the Anthony trade, not just for transactions since June of 2012.

But all one has to do is look at the voting to see how arbitrary this award is. In a league of 30 teams, 17 different executives got votes; and that doesn't include the guy who snagged the Rookie of the Year with sixth pick in the draft! Eleven different executives -- 37% of the league -- got first place votes. It's a far cry from LeBron James being chosen MVP with 120 out of 121 first place votes.

R.C. Buford of the Spurs and Pat Riley of the Heat are great general managers -- but let's face it, those teams are more or less the same this year as they were last year. Yet they each received four first place votes for Executive of the Year. If this is a lifetime achievement award it makes sense -- otherwise, come on.

The Spurs have the same starting lineup they had last year. Their most significant addition from last season is Nando de Colo, 13th on the team in minutes per game. Buford is a front office legend, but this team is completely status quo. The Heat added Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis and Chris Anderson to their roster, but is having veterans flock to your team to chase rings really worthy of first place votes for Executive of the Year?

Meanwhile, the fairly obvious choice to my thinking would be Daryl Morey of the Houston Rockets. The Rockets made the playoffs for the first time in several years with new starters at four positions -- and a 2012 second round pick as the fifth starter. Morey completely transformed the Rockets roster, made them better, and also gave the team incredible flexibility moving forward. He's signed major free agents, pulled off multiple big trades, and collected four 2012 first round draft picks all since June 2012. If the award is for an NBA executive who has been bold, active and successful within the year, then Morey is the clear choice. I would have also given serious consideration to Jason Levien of the Memphis Grizzlies, a team that cut payroll while winning a franchise record 56 games -- Levien got exactly one vote.

Of course, this is all familiar territory. I wrote more or less the same column last year when Neil Olshey finished third in Executive of the Year voting.

As for Sacks, it's great that a relative unknown in front office circles got some much-deserved recognition from his peers and it bodes well for Sacks and the team moving forward. Sacks' name appeared on nine ballots -- only Ujiri and Bob Myers of the Warriors appeared on more -- which says that he has the respect of other front offices for what he accomplished. Sacks would be the first to point out that it was a group effort in Playa Vista this off-season to put together this Clippers team. After Olshey's departure to Portland, Sacks and head coach Vinny Del Negro and team president Andy Roeser collaborated to fill out the roster (with a little help from Chris Paul, too). But Sacks is the basketball ops guy, so he gets the recognition here.

Sacks and his compatriots traded for or signed seven new Clippers this off-season, including every player on the second unit except for Eric Bledsoe. Jamal Crawford was the runner up in the Sixth Man Award voting and Matt Barnes and Lamar Odom were both on the floor at the end of games for the Clippers more often than not. The Clippers had one of the deepest benches in the league this season, with fully 13 players who made significant contributions at some point, and basically the front office went seven-for-seven on their off-season acquisitions. It was certainly a good job of strengthening the roster, and Sacks would have probably been second on my ballot after Morey (who finished third in the actual vote).

Of course, Sacks gets to do it all over again this summer. With the exception of Crawford, most of those bench guys were on one year deals. The Clippers head into this off-season needing first and foremost to re-sign Paul, but beyond that they again have seven or eight roster spots to fill, not to mention an obvious trade chip in Eric Bledsoe. Some of those open roster spots could go to returning players -- Barnes and Odom and Chauncey Billups are all pretty good bets to be back -- but Sacks certainly has his work cut out for him, particularly if he's going to do this while staying under the luxury tax.

Overall, the Clippers' front office has been on a roll. Olshey was third in Exec of the Year voting in 2012 (and should have been first) while Sacks was second this year. Here's hoping Sacks can keep the hot streak alive this summer.