San Antonio Spurs general manager RC Buford is finally being honored the way he deserves to be, and the first Executive of the Year award of his well-respected, under-the-radar career might actually be the result of what he didn't do.
In the wake of a devastating loss to Miami in the NBA Finals last season, Buford didn't panic. He didn't give up on an aging Manu Ginobili. He didn't let Tiago Splitter get lured away by big money elsewhere.
Buford's approach was the embodiment the Spurs' creed: Stay the course. Believe in the system. Never give in. While other teams chased huge stars and made big splashes, Buford quietly re-signed Ginobili and Splitter and added second-tier free agent Marco Belinelli. The moves weren't flashy, but were exactly what the Spurs needed to recover from that bitter defeat and post the best record in the NBA.
In each of his first 11 seasons as GM in San Antonio, Buford was overlooked come awards season. Not this time. Buford was — finally — voted the league's top executive by his peers. "I'm extremely happy for RC Buford to have won this award, which is both absolutely deserved and long overdue," Spurs Gregg Popovich said Wednesday in a statement issued by the team. "His knowledge of the rules, basketball expertise and keen eye for talent have served the Spurs organization well for a very long time. It has been a personal pleasure to be at his side during this period."
Buford received nine first-place votes and 58 total points to win the award. Phoenix's Ryan McDonough (47) finished second for his superb job in turning the Suns from an afterthought into a 48-win team that just missed the playoffs.
Portland's Neil Olshey, who added Robin Lopez, Dorell Wright and Thomas Robinson to bolster the Trail Blazers' depth and get them into the playoffs, finished third in the voting with 34 points. Toronto's Masai Ujiri and Miami's Pat Riley rounded out the top five.
Popovich, who was named coach of the year, and Buford have been by each other's side for more than two decades, assembling one of the most uniquely stable systems in professional sports built around Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Ginobili, who have won three championships together and keep coming back for more.
"They have a really good idea about who they want to fit in around those guys," former Minnesota Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said. "They pick certain talents and they've been able to find guys, young guys, who have done that. But those three guys have been the glue. ... They've done a great job of identifying young guys that are going to fit the system and are going to grow in it."
Popovich gets more of the credit for making the Spurs machine go, and that's just fine with Buford, who much prefers to work behind the scenes and let his coach and players get the attention. The two have put the Spurs at the forefront of the influx of international players, opening the franchise's doors to players from around the globe. The Spurs started this season with 10 international players on the roster, an NBA record.
The depth this season was directly attributable to Buford's vision. Six Spurs players averaged double figures in scoring and eight played at least 20 minutes per game during the regular season, which was the 15th in a row with at least 50 wins.
After surviving a seven-game slugfest with Dallas in the first round, the Spurs lead the Blazers 1-0 in the Western Conference semifinals heading into Game 2 on Thursday.
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