Grizzlies’ Zach Kleiman wins 2021-22 NBA Executive of the Year

Grizzlies executive Zach Kleiman
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The Grizzlies made Zach Kleiman the NBA’s youngest lead executive when they promoted the 30-year-old in 2019.

Kleiman, now 33, has become the NBA’s youngest-ever Executive of the Year.

Though Kleiman has excellently built the Grizzlies, 2021-22 Executive of the Year is a strange award for him. Memphis’ top eight players in postseason minutes were all acquired in prior seasons. Kleiman’s lone major 2021-22 move – trading up to draft Ziaire Williams No. 10 by swapping Jonas Valanciunas for Steven Adams and additional salary – looks promising, though not definitively positive. A demerit: The Grizzlies practically gave away Patrick Beverley, who played well for the Timberwolves.

Kleiman is clearly being honored for prior work with this annual award. That sometimes happens, especially with Executive of the Year, which doesn’t make much sense as an annual award.

But it rarely happens so decisively.

Unlike other major NBA awards (which are voted on by the media), peers vote for Executive of the Year. So, the voting is rife with favoritism, grudges and agendas. There’s nearly never consensus

Yet, most – 16 of 29 – voting executives decided this was the right time to honor Kleiman. The last executive to claim a majority of first-place votes: Raptors’ Bryan Colangelo, who got 20 of 29 in 2007.

Full 2022 voting with first-, second- and third-place votes and total voting points:

1. Zach Kleiman (Grizzlies): 16-1-2-85

2. Koby Altman (Cavaliers): 2-5-2-27

2. Arturas Karnisovas (Bulls): 1-6-4-27

4. James Jones (Suns): 3-3-2-26

4. Pat Riley (Heat): 3-3-2-26

6. Brad Stevens (Celtics): 1-4-3-20

7. Masai Ujiri (Raptors): 1-1-5-13

8. Jon Horst (Bucks): 1-0-1-6

9. Sachin Gupta (Timberwolves): 1-0-0-5

10. Nico Harrison (Mavericks): 0-1-2-5

10. Daryl Morey (76ers): 0-1-2-5

12. Tim Connelly (Nuggets): 0-1-0-3

12. Lawrence Frank (Clippers): 0-1-0-3

12. Mitch Kupchak (Hornets): 0-1-0-3

12. Brian Wright (Spurs): 0-1-0-3

16. Rafael Stone (Rockets): 0-0-2-2

17. David Griffin (Pelicans): 0-0-1-1

17. Jeff Weltman (Magic): 0-0-1-1

More evidence that voting for this award absurd: A whopping 18 of 30 lead executives – 60% – got votes. (It’s unclear why only 29 voted.)

General managers of the NBA’s two worst teams – Rockets’ Rafael Stone and Magic’s Jeff Weltman – got votes. Timberwolves interim general manager Sachin Gupta got a first-place vote! He didn’t take over until Minnesota finished its major offseason business then made no in-season trades. Maybe this was a Gersson Rosas loyalist choosing Gupta by proxy – similar to how Mike Budenholzer got votes intended for Danny Ferry in 2015.

Of the 12 teams to directly qualify to the playoffs from the regular season, only two had no Executive of the Year votes: Jazz and Warriors. It’s unclear who’s in charge in Utah, with Danny Ainge seemingly atop the front office but Justin Zanik running day-to-day operations. Golden State general manager Bob Myers gaining no votes is more surprising. He won this award in 2015 and 2017.