House Buford is finally getting the recognition it deserves. With a name that feels pulled straight out of Game of Thrones, Robert Canterbury Buford has won his first NBA Executive of the Year award today.
You may not know that Buford was once an assistant coach for Larry Brown, with the San Antonio Spurs, alongside Gregg Popovich. After then-owner, Red McCombs, fired the entire coaching staff prior to the 1992 season, Buford spent a year under Brown with the Los Angeles Clippers and a season with the Florida Gators.
In 1994, after Popovich returned to the Spurs as the new General Manager & Vice President of Basketball Operations, Buford also returned to San Antonio, this time as the Head Scout. Buford kept moving up the rungs when he was named Director of Scouting in 1997, Assistant General Manager in 1999 and finally took over for Popovich1 as General Manager in 2002.
Since then, the former coach turned executive has drafted very well. The amount of help he has gotten from Popovich is unclear,2 but during his time as the GM, the Spurs have drafted the likes of3 John Salmons (2002 – 26), Luis Scola (2002 – 55), Leandro Barbosa (2003 – 28), Beno Udrih (2004 – 28), Ian Mahinmi (2005 – 28), Tiago Splitter (2007 – 28), George Hill (2008 – 26), Goran Dragic (2008 – 45), DeJuan Blair (2009 – 37), Nando De Colo (2009 – 53), and Livio Jean-Charles (2013 – 28).4
There were also a couple players,5 that I chose to leave off the list because I question their future success. The aforementioned list is not all of the Spurs picks, only the successful ones, but that’s 11 of 25 picks working out, with the highest pick in that time coming at 20th overall.6 (Cory Joseph 2011) That’s a very good turnover rate for a team consistently picking that late in the draft.
Before we move on to other parts of Buford’s contributions, I noticed something interesting: number 28 has been an amazing draft slot for the Spurs. Parker, Barbosa, Udrih, Mahinmi, Splitter, and Jean-Charles have all come at that slot. That’s a decent team all on its own.
Drafting isn’t the only important thing for a GM. What about trades you ask? How has he done getting value from those picks? This has not been Buford’s strong point. There are no trades where you can say the Spurs definitely pulled the wool over the eyes of their trading partner. The best trade was likely the one that sent George Hill to the Indiana Pacers and resulted in the draft pick that is now Kawhi Leonard.7 That will likely have more value for the Spurs in the long run, but I see that as a bit of a win-win, the Pacers didn’t trade Leonard straight up for Hill after all, they traded the pick that became him.
In fact, Buford has been known more to trade picks and players for bit pieces that don’t stick around. Notably, trading Leandro Barbosa for the pick that would become David Lee, only a 30th overall pick, and then flipping that for Nazr Mohammed8 and Jamison Brewer.
One decent example of a successful trade was sending Brent Barry, who was soon to retire, to the Seattle SuperSonics for two seasons of Kurt Thomas. The journeyman played about a season-and-a-half for the Spurs, playing decent minutes in the playoffs each year. The trade for Hedo Turkoglu can be included here as well, another pseudo-starter to pair with the core of Parker, Duncan and Ginobili.
The free agent market has been better for Buford, with signings like Robbert Horry, Danny Green (a 40%+ three-point shooter) and Patty Mills (a 40%+ three-point shooter); among other similarly styled signings.
Look at Buford’s front office tree. It includes current general managers, all coming from the Spurs and his underlings: Danny Ferry (GM of the Atlanta Hawks), Sam Presti (GM of the Oklahoma City Thunder) and Rob Hennigan (GM of the Orlando Magic).
Or look at Buford’s winning percentage.9 71% with a record of 688-280 in 968 games at the GM position for the Spurs. Not to mention, six conference finals appearances, four NBA finals appearances and three NBA Championships.
At this point, you may be asking yourself; why all the information about Buford’s career? This is an Executive of the Year award. Well, this is being widely recognized as a career award that should have been given to Buford in one of the many years before.
Media doesn't vote on Exec of Year. I may have gone Ryan McDonough, but RC has been killing this job for a long, long time.
— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) May 7, 2014
The lack of flash in Buford’s moves is likely one of the reasons he has yet to win the award, but it’s about time. Raise your glasses to one of the most consistently non-flashy but successful general managers in all of sports. Congratulations to Robert Canterbury Buford.
Popovich returned to the sidelines in ’96-’97 but held his GM position and duties until passing those on to R.C. Buford ↩
Though it is likely a lot, that doesn’t necessarily take away from the abilities of Buford, but since we can’t account for it, we won’t worry about it here ↩
James Anderson (2010 – 20) & Cory Joseph (2011 – 29) ↩
His input is unknown, but as Head Scout and Assistant GM, Buford was part of drafting; Tim Duncan (1997 – 1), Tony Parker (2001 – 28), Manu Ginobili (1999 – 57) and Cory Alexander (1995 – 29) ↩
The players involved; Davis Bertans and Erazem Lorbek … so nothing ↩
It is noted that this may have more to do with Popovich than Buford ↩