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The Most Influential Behind-the-Scenes Figures of the NBA Playoffs

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 21, 2014

The Most Influential Behind-the-Scenes Figures of the NBA Playoffs

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    Randy Belice/Getty Images

    Everybody thinks NBA playoff success depends on high-profile, face-of-the-franchise players like LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.

    There's a good reason for that: To a large extent, it's true. Stars shine brightest in the postseason. The big names tend to control the narratives.

    Throughout the regular season, though, subtler forces were at work, shaping the current playoff environment with behind-the-scenes moves and unheralded influence. In some cases, these hidden string-pullers toiled in the front office around conference tables.

    Others laid the groundwork for postseason success from the training table.

    You've probably heard most of their names before, and you might even recognize a face or two. But you'd never think to give them as much credit for molding the playoffs as you would to the league's marquee names.

    These guys work behind the curtain—not out in front of the bright lights.

    The invisible hands of the NBA playoffs are about to get their due.

Tim Grover, Personal Trainer

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    M. Spencer Green

    Tim Grover has been working with Dwyane Wade since last summer, putting in long hours in an effort to get the Miami Heat shooting guard prepared for a postseason push. If the name is familiar, it's because Grover earned major notoriety for his work with Michael Jordan back in His Airness' heyday in Chicago.

    Taking Wade's 28 missed games this year at face value, it might seem hard to credit Grover for his efforts.

    But ensuring Wade could suit up for 82 contests between November and April was never the goal.

    Back in March, Grover told B/R's Ethan Skolnick that he and Wade had a plan in mind. They were playing the long game:

    Our goal is what it's always been, for him to be at a certain place when the season started, a certain place at the beginning of the year (2014), a certain place at the All-Star Game and another place after. And then our final stage will be to get him as close to 100 percent when the playoffs start.

    Wade flew all over the floor in Miami's Game 1 win over the Charlotte Bobcats, scoring 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting and displaying the kind of uninhibited athleticism that had been missing for most of the regular season.

    It's only been one game, but Grover appears to have delivered in spades.

    If Wade is fully healthy and can sustain the kind of performance he put on in Game 1, Grover's influence will have dramatically affected the postseason picture. 

Bob Myers, General Manager, Golden State Warriors

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    Paul Sakuma

    Curry is the superstar, Mark Jackson is the quotable coach and Jerry West is the figurehead.

    But Bob Myers is the architect of the Golden State Warriors roster that won 51 games this past season and looks capable of shocking the third-seeded Los Angeles Clippers in the first round.

    It's easy to give credit to a general manager when his roster moves work out (We'll do it again before we're finished.), but Myers is a true personnel guru, a tactician with an agent's experience and an IRS auditor's attention to financial detail.

    Two years ago, he snatched Draymond Green with the No. 35 overall pick.

    Last summer, he jettisoned Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson's rotten contracts to clear space for Andre Iguodala's contract.

    Before the 2012-13 season began, he signed Curry to a steal of a deal by taking an opportunistic approach to the point guard's then-troublesome injury history.

    Toss in partial credit for the bold trade that brought Andrew Bogut into the fold for Monta Ellis (Myers was only an assistant GM at the time) and the insane cap gymnastics he pulled off to facilitate the deadline acquisition of Steve Blake, and you've got a GM who deserves a mountain of credit for where the Warriors are today.

    Oh, and if Jermaine O'Neal continues to be an enormous factor as Bogut's replacement, thank Myers for that, too. He represented O'Neal as an agent before signing him this past offseason.

James Dolan, Owner, New York Knicks

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    MARK LENNIHAN

    I know what you're thinking: The New York Knicks aren't even in the playoffs, so how can James Dolan be among our list of invisible hands?

    Secondarily, you're probably wondering how Dolan could ever get credit for effectively doing, well...anything.

    Ironically, of course!

    B/R's Joe Flynn tweeted a seemingly innocuous question on April 21, the answer to which helps explain Dolan's place here: "Nene crushed the Bulls, LaMarcus Aldridge sets a PDX playoff record and Noah wins DPOY in the span of 24 hours. What do they have in common?"

    The solution to Flynn's quandary is one most Knicks fans already know: All of those players were acquired by draft picks that once belonged to New York—picks traded away as part of Dolan's misguided, systemic devaluation of future assets.

    B/R's Jim Cavan dug deeper into the sadness earlier this season.

    Short summation: The Knicks have given up a ton of valuable picks and gotten a laughably paltry return.

    A few of those picks are making a substantial imprint on the playoffs right now. Meanwhile, Dolan's Knicks are headed to the lottery—or would be if New York hadn't dealt away its first-rounder.

    Keep being you, Jimmy D.

Larry Bird, President, Indiana Pacers

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    Michael Conroy

    It's hard for a guy with the nickname "Legend" to qualify as an invisible hand, but Larry Bird's subtle alterations to the Indiana Pacers contributed to the team's ongoing collapse in subtle enough ways to qualify.

    Besides, unless you're scanning the baseline seats at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (about 10 rows up), you don't see a whole lot of Bird on camera. In that sense, he's also a quiet presence.

    Bird's decision to swap Danny Granger for Evan Turner silently crushed Indy's chemistry. And his curious signing of world-renowned locker-room poisoner Andrew Bynum sealed the deal.

    Truth be told, we don't know where to put the blame for Indiana's late-season slide. It probably belongs in a number of places. But Bird clearly miscalculated on a couple of key moves, ultimately changing the entire playoff outlook for the Eastern Conference by trying to fix what wasn't broken.

    Per Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star, Bird said after the Granger trade: "We felt we needed to make this trade to strengthen the core unit and our bench. In Evan and Lavoy, we think we got two really good players that can help us and we look forward to what they can bring."

    Oops.

    Credit Bird for building the Pacers into what they were earlier this year, but be sure to dock him a few points for making the unsung moves that may be the team's undoing.

    The ripple effects of Indy continuing its slide with a potential first-round loss to the Atlanta Hawks are huge. The Heat would get a nearly free pass into the Finals and the kind of easy conference road in the future that could entice more title-hungry vets to sign on in Miami.

    Even legends drop the ball once in a while, and it seems Bird is no exception.

Lawrence Frank, Report Writer, Brooklyn Nets

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    Tony Dejak

    It's hard to be less visible than Lawrence Frank.

    Seriously, does anybody know where he is? Somebody check whatever broom closet doubled as his office after Jason Kidd sent him packing.

    Frank's "reassignment" at the hands of a fed-up Kidd coincided with the Brooklyn Nets sorting things out, which means one of two things.

    Either Frank's daily reports to Kidd were chock full of brilliant tips on how to use crazy hybrid lineups to excel after the season-ending injury to Brook Lopez, or Kidd made the right decision to amputate his right-hand man from the coaching staff, then did a better job without a conflicting voice in the locker room.

    Either way, Frank's absence (or, more entertainingly, secret presence) had a massive impact on the Nets this year.

    As they look to knock off the third-seeded Toronto Raptors, it's hard to ignore how far the Nets came after Frank's demotion.

    Based on what Mike Fratello said on The Michael Kay Show back in march (h/t Net Income of SB Nation), it's possible that for all the jokes about Frank's role, he really did make a difference:

    Lawrence Frank is not taking his position, from I gather, what I've heard lightly. That's not who he's about. He treats it with a great amount of respect. He knows what his responsibilities are, what his duties are and he sends in in-depth reports, whether they be pre-game reports going into the game or the post-game write-ups after the game.

    Kidd is getting most of the praise for Brooklyn's turnaround, but maybe we shouldn't overlook the importance of his banished assistant.

R.C. Buford, General Manager, San Antonio Spurs

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    Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    Be honest: You couldn't pick R.C. Buford out of a lineup.

    Don't feel bad. Unless you live in the Lone Star State or have a weird fixation on NBA general managers who avoid the spotlight like the plague, you're not alone.

    With almost perfectly maintained anonymity, Buford has tinkered and tweaked, drafted and dealt to keep the San Antonio Spurs cranking out wins. Listing the scores of under-the-radar moves in Buford's transaction log would take forever, so we'll focus on a simpler number to quantify his brilliance: four.

    That's how many championships the Spurs have won since Buford started with the organization in 1988. He's worn many different hats in his time in San Antonio—scouting director, vice president, assistant general manager, Genius in Residence—and has been a complete success in all of them.

    Popovich is the motivational genius, the guy who somehow keeps players fully engaged and egos subdued year after year. And Tim Duncan is the franchise cornerstone.

    But Buford is the unseen force guiding the organization's key personnel decisions. With San Antonio positioned as a championship favorite for what seems like the 84th year in a row, it's time to acknowledge Buford as the basketball savant he truly is. The guy deserves some kind of award.

    Just don't expect him to show up if there's a ceremony.

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