For some reason, the NBA Executive of the Year award is presented by The Sporting News. Other league executives vote on the honor, but the aforementioned publication presents it, so writers on websites such as this one have nothing to do with it.
It's with that full disclosure that I still make the following statement: Kevin Pritchard should be the league's top executive this season, even though the odds are now probably good that he won't be. Top draft pick Greg Oden won't play this season, and, because Danny Ainge secured his job by landing Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, he'll probably get the award for reviving the Celtics. That being said, the job Pritchard has done attempting to turn the Portland Trail Blazers around has been remarkable.
|You won't see any Blazers hanging their heads because Greg Oden is out of action. (Getty Images)|
Pritchard signed coveted point guard Steve Blake, alleviated the team's salary-cap constraints, has fully restored the team's image after years of being considered the Jail Blazers, and probably turned water into wine somewhere along the line. That doesn't even include the role he played in drafting Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, two of the top three talents in the 2006 draft.
The Blazers are no longer a joke. Season-ticket sales increased by more than 60 percent, and although a few were disappointed that Oden won't be on board and asked for their money back, enthusiasm hasn't waned for most. Portland will miss the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season this year, but will make valuable strides that will aid in ending that drought in 2008-09.
Without Oden, this season has become an 82-game learning experience, serving to thrust young players like Roy, Aldridge, Martell Webster, Jarrett Jack and Travis Outlaw into the spotlight. Second-round pick Taurean Green, a player most teams passed up on and dismissed as a product of the system and talent around him at the University of Florida, should be a steal who will command immediate playing time.
Pritchard's personnel choices, from the kids he's drafted to the veteran glue guys he's contracted to foster development, will take another step forward. Oden isn't available, so Joel Przybilla will step in and fellow top prospect Aldridge will be showcased inside.
Keep in mind that for most teams, losing the No. 1 pick in the entire draft would destroy morale. Even without Oden the Blazers' season will still continue with unbridled enthusiasm, because right now, learning is fun. That's Pritchard's doing. He's put together a roster filled with good people with high ceilings. The fact no one hung their head when it was announced that Oden would undergo season-ending surgery is Pritchard's greatest accomplishment to date.
Anyone who lucks into the No. 1 pick can make the right decision. Even former Orlando GM John Weisbrod, a hockey guy who made bonehead move after bonehead move for the Magic, couldn't screw up selecting Dwight Howard. Give me a top pick next year and I'll get you a stud. It's the talent you put around that caliber of player that determines the job you're doing.
In this instance, the Blazers' resiliency will validate Pritchard's work.
|Portland Trail Blazers|
|Power Ranking Rank: 23rd|
|Projected Record: 33-49, 3rd Northwest|
|Best case scenario: Oden takes a step back in his rehab; Roy or LaMarcus Aldridge join him on IR.|
|X-factor: Martell Webster has the offensive skills to be a major factor for the Blazers if he can stay on the floor by appeasing Nate McMillan on the defensive end.|
|Early season schedule: Portland opens the season on the road with games at Dallas, San Antonio and Memphis before finally opening the season at home on national television against Miami. Oden's absence will be felt heavily in that one, because everyone, including himself, wanted to see how he measured up with Shaquille O'Neal.|
|2007-08 NBA Team Previews|
|Boston Celtics||Chicago Bulls||Atlanta Hawks|
|New Jersey Nets||Cleveland Cavaliers||Charlotte Bobcats|
|New York Knicks||Detroit Pistons||Miami Heat|
|Philadelphia 76ers||Indiana Pacers||Orlando Magic|
|Toronto Raptors||Milwaukee Bucks||Washington Wizards|
|Denver Nuggets||Dallas Mavericks||Golden State Warriors|
|Minnesota Timberwolves||Houston Rockets||Los Angeles Clippers|
|Portland Trail Blazers||Memphis Grizzlies||Los Angeles Lakers|
|Seattle Supersonics||New Orleans Hornets||Phoenix Suns|
|Utah Jazz||San Antonio Spurs||Sacramento Kings|