BOSTON — Danny Ainge finished in seventh place in NBA executive of the year voting earlier this week.
R.C. Buford of the San Antonio Spurs took home the award as he helped lead the Spurs to the best record in the NBA this year. Former Celtics assistant general manager Ryan McDonough was a close second in the voting after turning the Suns into a surprise 48-game winner. Altogether, 17 NBA executives received votes for the honor.
On the surface Ainge’s finish might not seem like much, but when you take a look at other names receiving votes for the award, a clear pattern takes shape. Fifteen of the 17 executives receiving votes run teams that made the postseason. One other (the Suns) should have made the postseason but a loaded Western Conference thwarted those changes.
Then there are Ainge’s Celtics, who won a meager 25 games to finish with the fourth-worst record in the NBA.
I haven’t had time to dig through the record books, but I feel pretty confident in saying this is the first time in NBA history that an executive whose team had won just 25 games garnered several votes (including a first-place vote) for executive of the year.
The award, which is voted on by executives from around the league, tells the tale of what was a pretty perfect year for the Celtics by rebuilding standards from start to finish.
Before last season even began, Ainge maximized a return for his stars with a stellar number of draft picks, and found his coach of the future in Brad Stevens.
Ainge’s in-season moves were stellar as well. He dumped some long-term money in Courtney Lee. He sold high on Jordan Crawford to garner some additional draft picks. He opted not to gut the roster and sell low on guys like Jeff Green, Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger at the trade deadline.
All of those guys could have been moved for second-round picks, but Ainge decided to hold tight knowing each of those players could possibly fetch more down the road, or help the team make a bigger deal this offseason.
Despite keeping the veterans on the roster for the entire season, the Celtics still managed to toe the line between tanking and rebuilding perfectly. They played competitively most nights before faltering down the stretch. It wasn’t blatant tanking like the Philadelphia 76ers. It wasn’t embarrassing for the franchise. The team just didn’t have the right pieces to beat the opposition down the stretch most nights.
There were also younger pieces Ainge acquired throughout the season. Kelly Olynyk proved to be one of the few useful players taken in the 2014 NBA Draft. Despite some horrific shooting, Phil Pressey has the potential to be a strong reserve point guard in the league. Chris Johnson could provide some shooting punch off the bench for years to come.
All of this goodness means nothing if the Celtics don’t make the right moves this offseason. Some luck in the NBA Draft Lottery would be a good place to start, but Ainge has left himself with several tough decisions to make up and down the roster.
For now though, it’s important to give credit where it’s due. Year One of the rebuild couldn’t have gone much better for Boston. Ainge (and his staff) deserve a lot of credit for positioning the Celtics where they need to be on several fronts heading into the 2014 NBA Draft.
Ainge has plenty of options this offseason, probably more than any other NBA team and that’s a good thing for the future of the Celtics franchise.
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