It is easy to look at the drastic refurbishment the Portland Trail Blazers underwent last summer and arrive at the conclusion that General Manager Neil Olshey was more active than San Antonio Spurs General Manager R.C. Buford. After all, the Spurs look nearly identical to each of their previous successful iterations, with only minor tweaks to their bench. However; it is important to examine the amount of work that went into keeping the San Antonio roster not only intact, but improving.
First off, integral part of San Antonio’s “Big 3” and perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate Manu Ginobili was an unrestricted free agent last summer. Coming off a strong season in which the Spurs reached the NBA Finals, Buford convinced Ginobili to stay. Big whoop, right? Who doesn’t want to stay with the championship caliber team they’ve played for their whole career? The crux of the contract lies in the dollar amount. Ginobili was paid over $14M last season, but re-signed for two more seasons at $7.5M and $7M respectively. Accepting roughly half of his previous salary opened the door for what happened next.
Two days after Ginobili re-signed, Buford inked the contract of restricted free agent center Tiago Splitter. The contract locked the 6’11” Brazilian in for four more seasons on a sliding scale, starting at $10M this year and gradually decreasing to $8.25M in 2016-2017. That is about the best price you’ll get when signing a talented big man, and one that the Trail Blazers would be lucky to manage with Robin Lopez when his contract is up after next season. Portland even put in a bid on Splitter while he was pseudo-available, but was beaten by the San Antonio front office.
Backtracking to July 11th, when Ginobili signed, brings us to the biggest bargain of all. Buford signed free agent 3-point specialist Marco Belinelli for two years at the low, low price of $2.8M per season. For the Spurs, Belinelli has averaged 11.4 points per game, making him one of six Spurs to average double-digit scoring in under 30 minutes per game in 2013-2014. The efficient and reliable production he provides allows San Antonio to keep their aging stars fresh – perhaps the most important aspect of the Spurs’ success.
Trading 6’5” small forward Nando De Colo to the Toronto Raptors for 6’11” small forward Austin Daye gets an honorable mention, as it appears to be a smart transaction for the future of the team. In the same vein, we have to look back at Buford’s foresight that helped make the Spurs what they are today. No, the following moves did not occur this year, but they have begun to pan out and must be acknowledged.
- March 16th, 2011
Signed Danny Green to a long term deal for pennies on the dollar.
- March 23rd, 2012
Signed Boris Diaw for under $5M a year through the 2013-2014 season.
- March 27th, 2012
Signed Patty Mills after the Trail Blazers did not re-sign him.
Although we are unwaveringly grateful for Neil Olshey’s instant impact in Portland (drafting Damian Lillard in 2012, drafting C.J. McCollum in 2013, trading second round draft picks and cash for Lopez and Thomas Robinson, and signing free agents Mo Williams, Dorell Wright, and Earl Watson), he is just beginning to lay foundation. There will be more opportunities for him to win NBA Executive of the Year in the future, I promise. This is essentially a lifetime achievement award for the previously unsung Buford who has been the Spurs GM through three championships.
It may seem odd to factor tenure into awarding a yearly accolade, so let’s reel it back in to just this season and look at record. The Spurs finished at the tip-top of the league with 62 wins and 20 losses. The Trail Blazers finished with 54 wins and 28 losses. Although Portland won 21 more games than they did last season, sometimes maintaining a legacy deserves attention over starting one. That is why Buford received the most votes for Executive of the year and Olshey received third-most. How Phoenix Suns GM Ryan McDonough snuck in between them is a whole ‘nother article.