Credit (or blame, depending on your perspective) esteemed former colleague Michael Lee, now of the Washington Post, for planting this seed. We were sitting next to other another in the crowded Philips Arena press room after the Atlanta Hawks had beaten Oklahoma City for their 15th consecutive victory, and Mr. Lee said, “Danny Ferry should be Executive of the Year.”
He was half-smiling as he spoke, but it got me to thinking: Why shouldn’t the man who assembled the team with the NBA’s second-best record be considered? Never mind that he has been on a leave of absence since Sept. 12. All these players were in place by then. Does the NBA have a rule that its Executive of the Year has to be a fully functioning executive throughout the entire season? Would any professional league have thought such a rule was even necessary?
It’s true that much of Ferry’s heavy lifting — signing Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll after letting Josh Smith leave, hiring Mike Budenholzer, matching Milwaukee’s offer sheet to Jeff Teague — was done in the summer of 2013. The favorite for this season’s award is probably Bob Myers of Golden State, which has the league’s best record. (Washington’s Ernie Grunfeld would be in the discussion, too.)
Regarding personnel, the Warriors didn’t make a major move last summer. Their coup came by stealing coach Steve Kerr from Phil Jackson and the Knicks. Still, the Warriors were 51-31 last season under Mark Jackson; the Hawks were 38-44. A lot of folks expected big things from Golden State. Nobody expected this from the Hawks.
And here’s the weird part: The Hawks wound up not signing free agent Luol Deng, who was described in a report that Ferry read aloud as having “some African in him.” That characterization led Ferry to take the leave of absence, and the GM remains in limbo, waiting to see if the Hawks’ new owner — whoever that might be, whenever the sale is consummated (assuming it ever is) — wishes to retain his services.
Deng signed with Miami, where he’s the third-leading scorer (averaging 14.3 points) on a 20-25 team. But imagine if the Hawks had landed Deng and installed him at small forward ahead of Carroll. Would this exquisitely balanced starting five have been quite so exquisite without its best perimeter defender? Probably not.