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Portland Trail Blazers' Robin Lopez (42) and Nicolas Batum (88) battle with San Antonio Spurs' Tim Duncan (21) for a rebound during the first half of Game 1 of a Western Conference semifinal NBA basketball playoff series, Tuesday, May 6, 2014, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
NBA: Spurs’ Buford named Executive of Year
First Published May 07 2014 11:14 am • Last Updated May 09 2014 11:56 pm

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.

At a glance

NBA Executives of the Year

2014 — R.C. Buford, San Antonio

2013 — Masai Ujiri, Denver

2012 — Larry Bird, Indiana

2011 — Gar Forman, Chicago and Pat Riley, Miami

2010 — John Hammond, Milwaukee

2009 — Mark Warkentien, Denver

2008 — Danny Ainge, Boston

2007 — Bryan Colangelo, Toronto

2006 — Elgin Baylor, L.A. Clippers

2005 — Bryan Colangelo, Phoenix

2004 — Jerry West, Memphis

2003 — Joe Dumars, Detroit

2002 — Rod Thorn, New Jersey

2001 — Geoff Petrie, Sacramento

2000 — John Gabriel, Orlando

1999 — Geoff Petrie, Sacramento

1998 — Wayne Embry, Cleveland

1997 — Bob Bass, Charlotte

1996 — Jerry Krause, Chicago

1995 — Jerry West, L.A. Lakers

1994 — Bob Whitsitt, Seattle

1993 — Jerry Colangelo, Phoenix

1992 — Wayne Embry, Cleveland

1991 — Bucky Buckwalter, Portland

1990 — Bob Bass, San Antonio

1989 — Jerry Colangelo, Phoenix

1988 — Jerry Krause, Chicago

1987 — Stan Kasten, Atlanta

1986 — Stan Kasten, Atlanta

1985 — Vince Boryla, Denver

1984 — Frank Layden, Utah

1983 — Zollie Volchok, Seattle

1982 — Bob Ferry, Washington

1981 — Jerry Colangelo, Phoenix

1980 — Red Auerbach, Boston

1979 — Bob Ferry, Washington

1978 — Angelo Drossos, San Antonio

1977 — Ray Patterson, Houston

1976 — Jerry Colangelo, Phoenix

1975 — Dick Vertlieb, Golden State

1974 — Eddie Donovan, Buffalo

1973 — Joe Axelson, K.C./Omaha

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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."

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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.


Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter: http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski

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