Lawrence Frank was the joke of the NBA in 2013.
Brooklyn had just hired him as an assistant coach with a jaw-dropping six-year, $6 million contract. The former Nets and Pistons head coach was supposed to help Jason Kidd transition into coaching.
Instead, Kidd kicked Frank off the bench and assigned him to write daily reports.
Kidd resurfaced as a Clippers assistant coach, hired by Doc Rivers. A couple years later, L.A. promoted Frank into the front office. Then, the Clippers stripped Rivers of his presidency and put Frank in charge. Frank even outlasted Rivers in L.A.
Now, Frank has won the NBA’s Executive of the Year.
Full voting with first-, second- and third-place votes and total voting points:
1. Lawrence Frank (Clippers) 10-3-2-61
2. Sam Presti (Thunder) 4-6-3-41
3. Pat Riley (Heat) 4-5-4-39
4. Jon Horst (Bucks) 3-3-3-27
5. Masai Ujiri (Raptors) 2-2-4-20
6. Zach Kleiman (Grizzlies) 1-3-2-16
7. Rob Pelinka (Lakers) 1-3-0-14
8. Donn Nelson (Mavericks) 0-2-2-8
9. Tim Connelly (Nuggets) 1-0-2-7
10. Danny Ainge (Celtics) 1-0-1-6
11. Bob Myers (Warriors) 1-0-0-5
11. Jeff Weltman (Magic) 1-0-0-5
11. David Griffin (Pelicans) 0-1-2-5
14. James Jones (Suns) 0-1-0-3
15. Ed Stefanski (Pistons) 0-0-1-1
15. Dennis Lindsey (Jazz) 0-0-1-1
15. Kevin Pritchard (Pacers) 0-0-1-1
15. Sean Marks (Nets) 0-0-1-1
Frank completed an ambitious plan to lure Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, putting the Clippers in strong championship contention. At least that’s how it looked at the end of the regular season, when this award was voted upon.
The Clippers lost in the second round amid chemistry issues. Now, they enter a pressure-packed season with Leonard and George both potentially only one year from unrestricted free agency. And they still owe the Thunder a boatload of draft picks from the George trade.
That package and the one he got for Russell Westbrook is why Thunder lead executive Sam Presti is a worthy runner-up.
Heat president Pat Riley earned third by landing Jimmy Butler, creating significant salary-cap flexibility in the Justise Winslow–Jae Crowder–Andre Iguodala trade and instilling a culture where players like Bam Adebayo, Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn could develop and contribute. Riley would’ve fared even better if voting occurred after the playoffs, which gets into other issues…
Why does the NBA announce regular-season awards so long after the regular season? It feels absolutely ridiculous to honor Frank after the Clippers’ postseason flameout and with his plan now in danger of spectacularly backfiring.
For that matter, why is Executive of the Year a regular-season award? Maybe that helps voters prioritize process over results. But many teams were aiming for playoff success. They can’t be judged easily without seeing the postseason.
Not that these are the best judges of front-office success, anyway. This is the only major NBA award not voted on by the media. Executives themselves pick among their peers. Voting is subject to extreme bias – snubbing enemies and boosting friends. The latter explains how 60% of the league’s lead executives got a vote. Some of these down-ballot choices are absurd.
And so is Frank as the winner… at least until considering the NBA’s peculiar timing. With that in mind, he deserves it.