Good guys finish first: Hammond named NBA's top executive

A week ago we made our case for why John Hammond deserved the NBA's top honor for executives, so none of us here at Brew Hoop HQ are the least bit surprised by today's very good news: Hammond has indeed been named the NBA's 09/10 Executive of the Year, claiming 12 of 30 votes in a ballot of his peers, with OKC's Sam Presti (9 votes) the only other GM to receive more than a pair of votes.  It's almost impossible to disentangle Hammond's success from that of Scott Skiles, so it also seems kind of fitting that Hammond edged Presti for the executive award the same week that Presti's coach Scott Brook nipped Skiles for coach of the year.

I had the pleasure of meeting John two summers ago when he was first hired, and spoke with him the past two summers in Vegas as well, so on a personal level there's something really cool about seeing him get this kind of recognition--particularly after he took so much heat last summer (so long as I'm not a real journalist I might as well disclose my rooting interests, right?).  You won't be surprised to hear he's every bit as down-to-earth, friendly and disarming in person as he is on television, though I think the "nice guy" persona has also obscured his willingness to make some tough and at times unpopular decisions over the past two years.

At this point you're all probably well aware of how Hammond helped turn the Bucks around, but for those looking for a quick summary, I'll quote our overview from last week:

Can you improve a cash-constrained perennial underachiever while letting a big chunk of your talent walk out the door?  It sounds like a stupid question, but based on Hammond's last year in Milwaukee, the apparent answer is yes--if you're smart about it.  Over the course of the summer, Hammond unceremoniously dumped Richard Jefferson for expiring contracts, didn't even make Charlie Villanueva a qualifying offer, and sat on his hands after Minnesota signed Ramon Sessions to a far-from-outrageous four year, $16 million offer sheet.  That had more than a few torch-bearing villagers up in arms, and it wasn't just the impatient fans who were shaking their heads.  Nearly every expert under the sun seemed to take glee in ripping the Bucks' free agency moves, all the while heaping praise on supposedly savvy go-getters like Joe Dumars and Bryan Colangelo. 

Working closely with coach-of-the-year candidate Scott Skiles--his first and still most important signing--Hammond instead focused on financial flexibility and on-court discipline, re-signing RFA Ersan Ilyasova after two years in Barcelona, bringing Hakim Warrick in on a one year deal, and signing Carlos Delfino to a partially-guaranteed contract after a year of exile in Russia.  To provide at least some intrigue to the casual fans, Hammond also rolled the dice on high school stud-turned-Euro dud Brandon Jennings, but even that was a high risk/high reward gamble that few expected to pay dividends so quickly. 

Hammond also swallowed his pride and declined the 10/11 option of 2008 lottery mistake Joe Alexander, giving him another expiring deal that he was later able to use along with Warrick to acquire John Salmons at the deadline--a fleecing that also came with two future 2nd rounders and the right to swap picks with the Bulls in 2010.  Though Milwaukee was already exceeding expectations at the time of the trade, Salmons has subsequently taken them to another level, adding a capable wing scorer to a hard-working, defensive unit led by Andrew Bogut.  And while the Bucks will need to add more talent to the core of Jennings and Bogut going forward, Hammond has simultaneously managed to dramatically improve the team on the court without sacrificing long-term fiscal sanity.

I can't say I loved every move the Bucks made over the past year--I was definitely hoping Ramon Sessions would return and the Delfino trade seemed a high price for a guy no one seemed to want. But even when there wasn't an obvious "plan," the Bucks were sticking to their principles: acquiring hard-working, versatile players with cap-friendly deals, all of whom could be counted on to mesh with Skiles' proven formula.  And while the whole idea of changing the Bucks' culture was mocked by fans at times, no one can argue with how different the Milwaukee Bucks of 2010 are from the Milwaukee Bucks of 2008.  While there's much to be accomplished on the court, the Bucks as an organization are beginning to live up to the vision Hammond had for them two year ago.

"What I really liked about Detroit was not so much how we did it.  I can't tell you how many people would come into the office in Detroit and used to say 'I know why you guys win.'  Because they could feel a real team atmosphere with the people that were working in the organization. The coaches, the front office, in our practice facility.

"So what would I like to emulate out of Detroit? I'd like to emulate the wins of course.  But not so much 'this person handles this responsibility' or 'this was a strength of Detroit so we'll try to take that strength.' At the end of the day, I would love to have people walk in here some day and say 'I can see why you guys win.'"

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