After spearheading the biggest single-season turnaround in NBA history, Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge was given the Executive of the Year Award prior to his team's playoff game on Wednesday.
Votes were cast by general managers and other executives from the league's 30 teams, with Ainge receiving 18 of the 47 votes. Los Angeles Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak received 14 votes to finish in second place while New Orleans GM Jeff Bower finished third with 12 votes.
Ainge made a flurry of moves to build the Celtics into a title contender, but none were bigger than the acquisitions of shooting guard Ray Allen and forward Kevin Garnett.
After a very young edition of the club finished a woeful 24-58 during the 2006-07 season, the Celtics were expecting some draft lottery luck would give them a top-two pick and their choice of either centre Greg Oden or forward Kevin Durant.
Instead, Boston fell all the way down to the fifth pick, prompting Ainge to deal it to the rebuilding Seattle Sonics for the veteran Allen.
Ainge then used the acquisition of Allen to persuade Garnett to accept a trade in an unprecedented 7-for-1 deal that had the potential to mould the team into a contender.
"What he did off the court with this team, it made a lot of players and a lot of teams in the NBA aware that the Celtics were serious," Allen said before Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinal against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Allen and Garnett joined small forward Paul Pierce to give the Celtics a new Big Three and they never looked back — piling up 66 wins with a defence-first approach that's earned them home court advantage throughout the NBA playoffs.
"He orchestrated a stunning and record setting turnaround of a struggling team with two great trades and various other roster acquisitions," said Toronto GM Brian Colangelo, who won the award last season.
Ainge 'uncomfortable' with recognition
With his team currently deadlocked 2-2 in its series against the Cavaliers, Ainge was not surprisingly somewhat hesitant to dwell on any kind of individual recognition.
"Right now there's just a lot of other things going on and I want the attention to stay on the players on the court," he said. "I'm a little uncomfortable with this right now. This is the biggest game of the year for us and for a lot of people. We're still in the middle of trying to become the best team in the NBA and that's really our objective."
Boston's head coach was also quick to praise Ainge's ability to build around the Big Three with solid role players such as Sam Cassell and P.J. Brown.
"When we made the Kevin trade, I don't know if we had enough players to field a team for a while," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "He not only went out and got players but he got players that fit, and I think that's really important."
Rivers, who has coached under Ainge for four up-and-down seasons, was happy to see Ainge rewarded for his finest season with the team.
"He's been great for me as a coach, and that has nothing to do with his moves," Rivers said. "He's just been great in a lot of ways. I'm really happy when good things happen to good people."