In 2014, Boston Celtics president Danny Ainge got a single first-place vote for Executive of the Year and finished seventh. At the time, no one thought twice about it. The Celtics were at the start of a rebuild and went 25-57, missing the playoffs.
But that was the season Ainge executed one of the trades of the decade -- three first-rounders and two pick swaps in a deal that sent Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets -- and hired Brad Stevens to be coach.
As the haul from that trade materialized over the next four years -- picks that became Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and assets that led to the acquisition of Kyrie Irving -- Ainge never finished higher than fourth in the voting. Only once did he get more than one first-place vote (in 2017) even as the Celtics grew into a 55-win team.
In an era of superteam construction in which champions often rise and fall in the summer transaction season, the quality of a franchise's management and its ability to make huge moves defines its championship hopes. That makes the Executive of the Year Award a kind of Management MVP -- winning it doesn't guarantee anything, but being at the top of that field often gives your team a chance.
It's an award with voting that is sometimes rife with jealousy, pettiness and even occasional low-key insults. It's the only major NBA award that is voted on by peers and the only one for which the balloting remains secret (one vote per franchise; you can't vote for yourself).
In 2011, the Chicago Bulls' front office got more votes than Pat Riley of the Miami Heat after he signed LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
In 2013, Daryl Morey of the Houston Rockets finished third after trading for James Harden and outmaneuvering competitors to create poison pill contracts that pulled Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik out of restricted free agency.