PBT Awards: Executive of the Year

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Though none of us have a ballot for the NBA’s official awards, we’ll be presenting our choices and making our cases this week for each major honor.

Kurt Helin

1. David Griffin, Cleveland Cavaliers

2. Bob Myers, Golden State Warriors

3. Mike Budenholzer (Danny Ferry), Atlanta Hawks

It’s not for getting LeBron James last summer; LeBron decided that. It’s not for the Kevin Love/Andrew Wiggins trade; LeBron pushed to make that happen, too. No, it was for the smart mid-season change of
course to get Timofey Mozgov and J.R. Smith in while sending Dion Waiters out. That and not panicking with David Blatt.

Officially the Hawks submitted Budenholzer — the acting GM — for this award, but Ferry deserves credit here, too. Even Budenholzer recently said it was Ferry, currently suspended, who constructed most of the East’s top team.

Brett Pollakoff

1. David Griffin, Cleveland Cavaliers

2. Mike Budenholzer (Danny Ferry), Atlanta Hawks

3. Danny Ainge, Boston Celtics

While Griffin may not have had much to do with the Cavaliers landing LeBron James or Kevin Love, bringing in Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith (while jettisoning Dion Waiters at the same time) makes him worthy of the honor. It was tempting to consider the Hawks for the top spot, but Dan Feldman laid out a pretty solid case of why it wouldn’t be appropriate, no matter what moves may have been made by those in Atlanta’s front office.

Sean Highkin

1. David Griffin, Cleveland Cavaliers

2. Danny Ferry, Atlanta Hawks

3. Danny Ainge, Boston Celtics

Yes, your job is a lot easier when you’re gifted LeBron James and Kevin Love in the offseason. But Griffin deserves a lot of credit for the Iman Shumpert/J.R. Smith/Timofey Mozgov trades in January that filled every need the Cavs had and were the catalyst for their transformation into the team to beat in the East.

I realize that Ferry wasn’t officially on the ballot, and that was just about the only thing the Hawks could do given the circumstances around his leave of absence. But Ferry’s done a phenomenal job since taking over the Hawks, and this was the best season in franchise history.

Ainge did a good job collecting assets, picking up a potential long-term piece in Isaiah Thomas, and getting decent value for Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green.

Dan Feldman

1. David Griffin, Cleveland Cavaliers

2. Bob Myers, Golden State Warriors

3. Danny Ainge, Boston Celtics

Of course, LeBron James is primarily responsible for transforming the Cavaliers, and hometown pride guided his decision. But he was not leaving the Heat for Cleveland under just any circumstances. Credit Griffin for making the Cavaliers appealing enough and creating the necessary cap space to lure LeBron. From there, Griffin did right to cash in assets to maximize Cleveland’s chances of winning now. Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith have rounded out the roster, and getting a first rounder for Dion Waiters was impressive. The verdict is still out on the Kevin Love-Andrew Wiggins trade, but Griffin had the right idea.

On that same front, Myers gets most credit for the trade he didn’t make – Klay Thompson for Kevin Love. Myers did most of his heavy-lifting with the roster in previous years, but keeping the group together was a decision, just like breaking it up would have been a decision. This year, the Warriors hired Steve Kerr and surrounded him with excellent assistant coaches – building a collaborative culture that really works. Myers is the front-office face of it.

Ainge successfully tore down the Celtics, probably getting the best haul of draft picks as possible in the process. Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green and Brandan Wright (who was acquired for Rondo) were the prominent outgoing players this year, but Ainge even got a pick for Austin Rivers. Ainge also wisely reversed course somewhat when Boston stayed in the playoff hunt and Isaiah Thomas became available for good value. Best of all, Ainge has created an environment where Brad Stevens has the resources and support to successfully make the college-to-NBA jump.

Gar Forman (signing Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic), Daryl Morey (plenty of mid-level roster tinkering after striking out on star free agents) and John Hammond (acquiring a first-round pick for taking quality contributor Jared Dudley, getting along well enough with Jason Kidd) also drew consideration.

LeBron James, Anthony Davis combine for 49 points, Lakers beat Knicks

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NEW YORK (AP) — LeBron James scored 19 of his 21 points early, cutting into Kobe Bryant’s shrinking lead over him for the No. 3 scoring spot in NBA history, and the Los Angeles Lakers beat the New York Knicks 100-92 on Wednesday night.

Anthony Davis led the Lakers with 28 points in his second game back after a five-game absence, after the Western Conference leaders were handed their worst loss of the season Monday in his return.

James’ quiet second half left him with 33,599 points, 44 back of Bryant.

That keeps James in good shape to catch the former Lakers star Saturday at Philadelphia, where the five-time NBA champion was born. Los Angeles has a game in between Thursday in Brooklyn.

Davis scored eight points in the final 3:45 and finished 13 of 13 from the free throw line. He played 30 minutes after going only 23 in his return from a bruised gluteus maximus on Monday in Boston, where the Lakers were routed 139-107.

Marcus Morris scored 20 points and Damyean Dotson had 17 for the Knicks, who put up a much better effort after losing by 30 two weeks ago in Los Angeles. But they just couldn’t come up with timely shots to really threaten the Lakers in the fourth quarter.

James shot 8 of 10 in 17 minutes of the first half, but the Knicks held the rest of the Lakers relatively in check and the game was tied at 48 at halftime.

The Lakers led by six after three quarters, then opened the fourth with Dwight Howard‘s dunk, a 3-pointer by Rajon Rondo and a basket by Kyle Kuzma to extend it to 83-70.

New York hung around and was within six again late but the Lakers prevailed despite only two baskets, both by Davis, in the final four minutes.

 

Zion Williamson’s first NBA basket a putback

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
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In his first NBA action, Zion Williamson looked like what he is: A rookie trying to find his way.

At least Willaimson didn’t force the issue and tried to blend in, making smart basketball plays, which led to a first-half bucket and assist in his 8:11 minutes of action.

Zion’s first bucket in the NBA came in the second quarter of his debut game, a putback off a Nickeil Alexander-Walker miss.

In his first quarter run, Zion looked to be unselfish with the ball and made the right basketball play a  few times, passing out of soft doubles and picking up an assist to Brandon Ingram cutting down the lane (but Zion was 0-of-1 shooting).

It was a good start if a bit tentative, something to be expected of a guy who missed 44 games and is now trying to come into the rotation midseason.

As he grows more comfortable, New Orleans needs Zion to attack the rim. The Pelicans have shot creators and shooters — Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, J.J. Redick — and a rim-running, attacking threat that forces defenses to collapse a little will make things easier for the Pelicans’ perimeter players.

San Antonio was sharp in the first half and led by double-digits for much it. That came in part because New Orleans started 0-of-9 from three (despite some clean looks). San Antonio led 60-51 at the half. If the Pelicans are going to make a playoff push, this is the kind of game they need (at home against another team in the mix for one of the final playoff spots in the West).

NBA games still not on China’s state run television

Yanshan Zhang/Getty Images
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In the wake of the backlash from China after Rockets GM Daryl Morey Tweeted out support for the protestors in Hong Kong — the kind of political statement the NBA takes in stride domestically but found it stirred a hornets’ nest in this case — Chinese state television stopped showing NBA games.

That is still the case today, according to Nets’ owner Joeseph Tsai.

Tsai — one of the co-founders of the Alibaba Group, which runs the Chinese equivalent of Amazon — is a billionaire with his feet in both the United States and China. He spoke to Bloomberg News recently about where things stand now in the NBA/China relationship (hat tip Nets Daily).

Tsai is eager to see NBA games back on [state run] CCTV. Although [streaming service] Tencent has begun showing them again, the state-owned broadcaster has yet to budge. A person familiar with the matter says the league is optimistic the network will relent, beginning with the All-Star Game on Feb. 16—there’s no ready replacement, after all, for LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“Once you are on the air,” Tsai says, “everything will come back.”

For now.

The NBA, like any American group doing business in China, is caught up in geopolitical forces well beyond its control, from trade wars to protests in Hong Kong. Morey’s Tweet touched on what Tsai called a “third rail of Chinese politics” but he spoke of the Hong Kong protestors as separatists when they would argue they simply want what was promised them in the agreement that transferred control of the city from Brittish to Chinese rule. (And that last sentence itself is a gross oversimplification of a complicated situation.)

NBA games likely will end up back on Chinese television soon (although it will be longer for Rockets’ games), and the business of the NBA in China will continue. Both sides want to make money (and in China, keep a younger generation happy with a sport they have grown to love). However, the underlying issues that caused the last flare-up are not going away — things may be just simmering on the back burner, but the flames are not turned off.

When things do flare up again, Tsai will end up fight back in the middle of it.

Cavaliers: Ante Zizic out indefinitely with vestibular condition

Ante Zizic
Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images
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Kyrie Irving left the Celtics for the Nets after two seasons. The Cavaliers flipped Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder their first season in Cleveland.

The last player remaining with his team from that monumental-looking Cavs-Celtics trade, Ante Zizic might not be long for Cleveland, either.

In fact, it’s unclear whether he’ll play again for the Cavs.

Cavaliers release:

Center Ante Zizic, who has missed the team’s last five games after being diagnosed with a vestibular condition, will be OUT indefinitely. After experiencing symptoms of nausea and dizziness, it was determined by the Cavaliers medical team that Zizic requires a period of vestibular rehabilitation to evaluate those symptoms further. His return to basketball activities will be updated as appropriate.

“Indefinitely” always sounds scary. That’s especially so with an uncommon basketball medical update.

If the Cavaliers unload veterans like Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love before the trade deadline, Zizic could be in line for more playing time down the stretch. He could use a showcase entering unrestricted free agency this summer.

Hopefully, he’s healthy enough to be up for it.