Games are won on the court, but team success stems directly from decisions made by front-office executives. Moves made over the offseason often set the stage for how a team will perform the following season, and in 2020-21 we saw several teams make major moves in the name of improvement. While only one person can win Executive of the Year, all of the names on this list have helped to put their respective teams in positive to succeed, either in the present, future, or both.
CBS Sports HQ Newsletter
Your Ultimate Guide to Every Day in Sports
We bring sports news that matters to your inbox, to help you stay informed and get a winning edge.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox.
There was an error processing your subscription.
1. Sean Marks, Brooklyn Nets
Sean Marks and the Nets made a major splash in 2019 when they landed both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency. Those signings immediately put the Nets on the map. Durant didn't play last season due to an Achilles injury, so expectations in Brooklyn were understandably tempered. However, he's been back out on the floor this season and looks a whole lot like his old self -- the guy with a regular-season MVP award and two Finals MVPs to his name.
After the major move made by Marks and Brooklyn earlier this season to trade for James Harden to pair with Durant and Irving, the Nets have transformed into a bona fide contender with a great chance to win their first NBA title this season. Plus, Marks wasn't done there, either, as he also signed former All-Star Blake Griffin to bolster Brooklyn's bench. Thanks to the moves made by Marks over the past two years, the Nets have quickly gone from an Eastern Conference afterthought to a contending team that is obviously attractive to top-tier talent. Marks deserves some serious credit for that.
2. Daryl Morey, Philadelphia 76ers
It didn't take long for Morey to make his mark on the Philadelphia 76ers. In just his first few months with the franchise, Morey, along with general manager Elton Brand, transformed the Sixers from a team that appeared to lack direction into a legitimate title contender with just a few shrewd moves. Morey traded away some players -- Al Horford and Josh Richardson -- and added shooters in Danny Green and Seth Curry, and he drafted an extremely promising young guard in Tyrese Maxey.
Not only do Green and Curry complement Philadelphia's best players much better than Horford and Richardson did, but the Sixers' future financial flexibility was also greatly improved by getting out from under Horford's contract. The Sixers are now positioned to contend in the present, and into the future. Other smart additions made by Morey like Dwight Howard and George Hill helped the Sixers secure the top seed in the Eastern Conference for the first time in 20 years. Morey was brought in to help clean up a mess made by previous front-office regimes, and that's exactly what he did.
After failing to qualify for postseason play for a decade straight, the Phoenix Suns finished second in the Western Conference this season, and a big reason for that is the moves made by James Jones, none bigger than acquiring Chris Paul over the offseason. The addition of Paul has transformed the Suns from an afterthought to a legitimate contender in just a single season, and in turn it was arguably the single-biggest move of the past offseason. That wasn't the only move Jones made to solidify the Suns either as the additions of Jae Crowder and Torrey Craig have also been big for the team. After a decade of dormancy, the Suns are finally moving in the right direction, thanks in no small part to Jones.
4. Jon Horst, Milwaukee Bucks
After a disappointing end to the 2019-20 season, the Bucks didn't sit on their hands. They went out and added Jrue Holiday, who provides the team with a premier player on both ends of the floor and an ideal complement to reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. They also added a couple veterans like P.J. Tucker and Jeff Teague during the season that could help Milwaukee fare better in the postseason than it has over the past couple of years.
The most important move made by Horst and the Bucks over the past year, though, was locking up Antetokounmpo on a supermax extension. There was some speculation that Antetokounmpo could look to leave Milwaukee, but such speculation was squashed with the signing of the extension. The fact that they got the deal done before the season started was huge, too, as it removed what would have been an enormous cloud hanging over the team for the entirety of the campaign. As a result, the Bucks were able to concentrate on the court this season and they didn't have to deal with distractions in the form of constant questions regarding Antetokounmpo's future. Now, the Bucks are a contender in the present, and with Giannis signed through 2025, they should continue to remain in that contender conversation for the foreseeable future.
5. Sam Presti, Oklahoma City Thunder
Typically, when a team finishes second to last in their conference like the Oklahoma City Thunder did this season, that team's general manager isn't in the conversation when it comes to Executive of the Year. However, the situation in Oklahoma City is a unique one. The Thunder lost several big stars over the past few years as Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Paul George all opted to play elsewhere. Losing that much talent would set any team back, just like it has with the Thunder. But, while they have had to take a step back in the present, Sam Presti has the Thunder set up extremely well for the future.
Not only do the Thunder have a plethora of promising young players -- like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Aleksej Pokusevski, Lu Dort and Darius Bazley – they also have a whopping 34 draft picks -- 17 of them first-rounders -- from 2021 to 2027. So while this season was a forgettable one in Oklahoma City, the future remains bright. Now hopefully Presti will capitalize on those picks and draft as well as he did when he drafted Durant, Westbrook and James Harden in three consecutive drafts from 2007 to 2009.