Bulls unfairly split Executive of Year award


May 10

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The Bulls received the most votes for NBA Executive of the Year.

But they did not win.

Perhaps the NBA figured with the MVP and Coach of the Year that already was too much.

Actually, Bulls general manager Gar Forman and Miami’s Pat Riley Tuesday were named co-winners of the NBA’s Executive of the Year award.

But in a distortion in NBA voting, Bulls executive vice president John Paxson, the former general manager, received three votes.

Or perhaps it was a failure to understand the Bulls organization chart.

Had all the votes gone to Forman as they should have, then Forman would have been the outright winner.

But perhaps given that Riley was the only other team executive to retire Michael Jordan’s number — yes, the Heat has done that — then maybe Forman prefers to share the award with Riley.

This is all speculation, which in NBA parlance these days could also mean information derived from an NBA source.

Actually, this sort of split vote is not unprecedented as in 2008-09 when Denver’s Mark Warkentien won, Rex Chapman from the Nuggets basketball operations also received a vote. But the Nuggets’ Warkentien did win, so there was no issue.

Actually, the NBA really is scrupulous about its postseason awards voting.

The obvious thing to do would have been to combine the Forman and Paxson votes and name them co-executives of the year. Actually, it could really have turned out unfair if they had split the vote and Riley had won.

As it was Riley and Forman each received 11 votes and Paxson in third with three.

But the NBA doesn’t tinker with vote totals unless the vote is for someone out of the category. I assume my old votes as Jerry Krause’s Monday morning executive were thrown out.

The instructions to team executives, who vote for the award, is to vote for the general manager and it must be someone in basketball operations. But since organizations now have all sorts of fancy titles for their general manager and various split duties for team executives it can get complicated and unclear.

Obviously, it was to three team executives who voted for Paxson.

Paxson has made it clear all season he was not the general manager and has made a point as a result of not doing media interviews, not negotiating contracts with agents and generally being a background figure. Although his role is not specifically delineated, he is more involved with scouting, long term planning for the organization and advisor to managing partner Jerry Reinsdorf. Forman handles the traditional general manager duties.

I’m not fully sure how decisions are sorted out. Obviously, Reinsdorf has the final say as all owners do for every team. But Forman, Paxson and Reinsdorf along with president Michael Reinsdorf seem to be sort of a commission involving team decisions. Forman and Paxson seem to operate in sort of a partnership as they have worked together for more than a decade and seem to come to decisions in a form of compromise.

But there is no question within the organization that Forman operates as the general manager and has taken over the internal staff duties at the Berto Center that Paxson had when he was general manager.

For the NBA’s part, since they have instructed executives to vote for an executive of the year, it never was made clear within an organization who that executive is. So, the league also didn’t want to change votes as it could have been accused of manipulating the votes.

The assumption would be this would be reexamined after this season, though no decision has been made yet. The obvious solution would be to have each organization identify whom their executive is given the qualifications for the award and then have general managers vote for that person.

Because, really, Executive of the Year is a team award with the expansion of basketball operations staffs throughout the NBA. The issue this time seemed to be it still was viewed as an individual award, so three executives decided Paxson was still the Bulls general manager even though he wasn’t.

Lucky Jerry Krause, who did win it twice, didn’t get any votes.

Though it does go to show you why some team decisions are so poor. If they don’t even know whom they are dealing with on other teams, how can they tell who are the right players to acquire?

Riley did score the coup of free agency by signing LeBron James and Chris Bosh. But the voting by colleagues for Forman and Paxson does demonstrate that winning does matter.

Meanwhile, they were furious in South Florida about the voting. Ira Winderman, the respected writer covering the Heat for the Ft. Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, offered these tweets about the voting:

“Will 14 NBA executives now be fired because they would rather have Boozer, Korver, Brewer than LeBron, Wade and Bosh? Who’s in charge here?

“Or did the Bulls win the honor for winning the 2008 NBA Draft lottery and landing Derrick Rose instead of (sigh) Michael Beasley?’

“The Bulls courted Wade, James and Bosh. The Heat landed them. So the Bulls get more votes in Executive of the Year voting. How?”

Riley never has been all that popular among colleagues, and there has been a lot of talk in team executive suites this season about tampering in free agency last summer and actions taken surreptitiously before the July 1 deadline. There never has been a league accusation or action, though team executives are hardly immune from their own wild conspiracy theories as well.

And many around the Bulls wondered how sincere was Wade’s courtship with the Bulls or was it his fact finding mission about the Bulls’ free agency plans when Wade met with the Bulls twice in the first week of July.

Yes, the Bulls did pursue James and Wade, like everyone else who had the wherewithal. But they recovered to put together a team that matched the coach they hired, a lesson in team building that is a workable alternative to recruiting star talent. It’s why John Calipari doesn’t win every season in college. He scoops up the most talent, but basketball also is a team game. Perhaps that was one element of the decisions made by the voters, even if not all were quite sure just who was doing so. Though they seemed to believe it was someone on the Bulls.

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