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Clippers’ Lawrence Frank chosen NBA’s executive of the year

Lawrence Frank, the Clippers' president of basketball operations, addresses the media.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Lawrence Frank had spent his entire NBA career on the sideline, as either an assistant or coach, before joining the Clippers’ front office in 2016. The new executive was given a year by Steve Ballmer, the team’s owner, to study the common ties among the best-run organizations in sports and use the insights to rebuild the Clippers, a franchise that traditionally had been one of the league’s most understaffed and success-starved.

When Frank officially became the team’s president of basketball operations in 2017, he had a plan. His execution of it has, three years later, earned Frank the respect of other league executives who voted the 50-year-old the NBA’s executive of the year for the 2019-20 season, it was announced Thursday.

Frank earned 10 of 29 first-place votes from his peers and finished with 61 points after a season in which the Clippers made numerous bold moves, signing top free agent Kawhi Leonard and trading for Paul George, and posted the Western Conference’s second-best record before ultimately bowing out in the postseason’s second round. Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti (41 points) was second and Miami’s Pat Riley (39 points) was third. Lakers executive Rob Pelinka was seventh, earning one first-place vote.

It is the second time in the award’s 48-year history that a Clippers executive has won, following Elgin Baylor in 2005-06.

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The award brings a renewed spotlight on a front office that has become known within NBA circles for its preference to maintain a low public profile and keep news of its deliberations secret.

The Clippers have won 58% of their regular-season games in the three seasons since Frank assumed the president’s role. One of his first major moves was to expand the front office by hiring general manager Michael Winger from Oklahoma City and assistant general managers Trent Redden, who had won a championship in Cleveland, and Mark Hughes, from New York. Frank has since overseen a dramatic increase in staffing in the team’s coaching staff, medical and analytical departments, and helped retain top employees, such as Winger, Redden, Hughes and consultant Jerry West despite interest from other teams.

“L is a passionate, dedicated, and selfless leader. I am proud of the work he and his group are doing, and thrilled his peers feel the same way,” Ballmer said in a release. “This award is a great tribute to the hard work done by the entire front office, including our general manager Michael Winger, assistant GMs Mark Hughes and Trent Redden, and consultant Jerry West. Together, they have worked to develop every facet of our basketball operations department.”

Within hours of agreeing to exit as coach of the Clippers, Doc Rivers had teams wanting to meet immediately. The 76ers won because of star power and title hopes.

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Frank is best known for leading a rebuild without the team tanking. It began with the stunning 2018 trade of former franchise cornerstone Blake Griffin. The team was criticized for the trade in the moment, coming only months after Griffin re-signed as a free agent, but the move helped the team shed payroll and acquire other players and draft picks that set up its long-term plan to acquire a pair of All-Star-caliber players. Less than two months after turning over nearly half the roster at the 2019 trade deadline, the Clippers advanced to the postseason as the eighth seed in the Western Conference. At the same time, the team wooed Leonard, the Southern California native who had been traded from San Antonio to Toronto.

The Clippers were one of three teams to earn a free agency meeting with Leonard in July 2019. Within days, after Leonard asked the team to look into acquiring George from Oklahoma City, Frank and the executive team swung a deal to add George — sending five draft picks, two pick swaps and two players to the Thunder — and Leonard agreed to become the most accomplished free agent ever to sign with the Clippers.

The moves immediately created championship expectations, as touted by the Clippers themselves, and pressure to deliver on the bet immediately with a title. Numerous league observers considered the roster assembled by the Clippers’ front office as the league’s deepest. The team lost in the Western Conference semifinals during the NBA restart in Orlando, Fla., last month, however. Frank is now leading a search for a new coach, after Doc Rivers and Ballmer mutually agreed to part ways last month.


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