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Spurs' Buford named Executive of Year

In a franchise that has no time for spotlights, with a roster that has no interest in headlines, R.C. Buford may be the very embodiment of the all-for-one San Antonio Spurs.

For more than two decades he has toiled in the shadows, happy to let the attention fall on coach Gregg Popovich and the team that Buford has played such a pivotal role in assembling. He quietly - happily - lives in the back channels and has built a reputation as one of the most respected executives in the NBA.

Yet for all his impressive work over the previous 11 years as a general manager and architect of the most enduring success story in modern American sports, Buford had never been honored by his peers as the league's executive of the year. Until now.

Buford won the award Wednesday, and as is the custom in the Alamo City, did as much as he could to downplay his significant contributions to a team that posted the best record in the NBA.

"I think it's not why we do what we do," Buford said. "I think it's a great honor for the group of people that have been here and have been through here that have built and an ownership group that's allowed a continuity to build a program that we're proud of so to be recognized as a program that people respect by your peers, that's rewarding."

That Buford had never won the award before while helping to put together a team that won four championships and has posted a staggering 15 straight 50-win seasons has been one of the great mysteries in league annals. He's helped put the Spurs at the forefront of the international invasion, implemented a system that demands commitment and humility over recognition and individual achievement, and has been partly responsible for so many teams pilfering his staff to run front offices or teams across the league.

Yet he may have finally earned the award in his 12th season as GM because of what he didn't do.

In the wake of a devastating loss to Miami in the NBA Finals last season, Buford didn't panic. He didn't give up on an aging Manu Ginobili. He didn't let Tiago Splitter get lured away by big money elsewhere.

He followed the Spurs' creed: Stay the course. Believe in the system. Never give in to outside influence.

While other teams chased huge stars and made big splashes, Buford quietly re-signed Ginobili and Splitter and added second-tier free agent Marco Belinelli. The moves weren't flashy, but were exactly what the Spurs, who enter Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals on Friday night leading Portland 1-0, needed to recover from that bitter defeat.

"It's pretty cool," Popovich said. "We're all excited for him; long overdue. He's done a great job for a very long time. We're giving him the requisite amount of you-know-what all over the offices. He walks down the halls we hit the walls we hit the sides to make room for him."

Buford received nine first-place votes and 58 total points to win the award. Phoenix's Ryan McDonough (47) finished second for his superb job in turning the Suns from an afterthought into a 48-win team that just missed the playoffs.

Neil Olshey, who added Robin Lopez, Dorell Wright and Thomas Robinson to bolster the Trail Blazers' depth and get them into the playoffs, finished third in the voting with 34 points. Toronto's Masai Ujiri and Miami's Pat Riley rounded out the top five.

Popovich and Buford have made the Spurs the envy of the league, assembling one of the most uniquely stable systems in professional sports built around Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Ginobili, a trio that has won three championships together and keep coming back for more.

"We've been working with each other for a long time," Popovich said. "We participate in everything. It's been a great relationship in that regard. We share everything it's benefited both of us and the organization without a doubt. Just having that ability to communicate and having an owner that allows us to do that."

Popovich gets more of the credit for making the Spurs machine go, and that's just fine with Buford. But most around the league, and certainly everyone in San Antonio, recognizes what a big role Buford has played in helping the Spurs avoid the teardowns that almost every franchise has endured since he and Pop took over.

"You recognize how difficult that is and how fortunate we've been that an ownership group has allowed us to stay together and have the opportunity to survive through the growing pains," Buford said. "To have a group of players that have wanted to be a part of what this community of San Antonio and what our fans mean to them. To have wanted to stay with an ownership group the sacrifices that they've made to make this a unique environment and then how they've handled themselves that presents a platform that other players want to come join.

"Again, we're not in this to win an award. We're in this to try to win a championship. That's the reward we're all hoping for."

Seattle, Sherman agree to 4-year extension

RENTON, Wash. (AP) Richard Sherman finally got his moment of being a top pick.

He stood on the stage with spotlights beaming directly on his bow tie. With the coach on one side and general manager on the other, Sherman held up a Seattle Seahawks jersey with his named across the back.

When Sherman entered the NFL as a fifth-rounder, there was no fanfare. That all came on Wednesday as Sherman became the latest piece of the Super Bowl champions to be locked up for the long term.

"I guess this is how it feels to be a first rounder," Sherman said after signing a four-year contract extension with the Seahawks that will make him one of the highest-paid cornerbacks in NFL history.

Much in the tenor of doing things the way he wants, Sherman unveiled the extension on his website before the team could make the announcement. The two-time, first-team All-Pro selection wrote the deal will pay him $57.4 million with $40 million guaranteed and will keep him in a Seahawks uniform through the 2018 season. The deal includes a reported $11 million signing bonus.

It's a massive deal for a player who earned $375,000 in base salary as a rookie in 2011. But Sherman insisted the money will not change the approach or attitude that has made him one of the top defensive players in football and a magnet for attention.

"I'm still the guy scrapping for a spot. You never lose that mentality. You can take a ragged dog that has been living on the streets for 10 years and put him in a brand new house with steak and lobster every night and he's still the ragged dog that you got off the streets," Sherman said. "So I'm still the ragged dog off the street. That mentality isn't something that I can change I don't think. Even I wanted to, I can't do it, It's not a switch that I have."

Sherman's deal wraps up a solid offseason for the Seahawks prior to the NFL draft. Seattle re-signed defensive end Michael Bennett before the start of free agency. They then reached extensions with coach Pete Carroll through 2016 and a four-year, $40 million extension with All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas.

"I'd like to thank Paul Allen for anteing up," Sherman said.

Sherman said it was important to get the extension done before the start of the 2014 season and take any lingering doubt about his future out of the equation. He made a point of thanking nearly everyone on the Seahawks defense during his opening remarks. Sherman wanted to spend his career playing alongside Thomas and Kam Chancellor as part of a secondary that has developed into the best in the league. Sherman and Thomas will be under contract through 2018 and Chancellor is under contract through 2017.

"It was headed in the right direction for several weeks," Seattle general manager John Schneider said. "I thought it was time to get it tied up and let everybody move forward."

Despite the pedigree of being a fifth-round pick, the one thing Sherman has never lacked is bravado. Whether it was getting in the face of Tom Brady after a win in 2012, offseason social media arguments with other players or his comments about Michael Crabtree after the NFC championship game, Sherman has never hidden the swagger.

"The thing I struggle with Richard on is his confidence level," Schneider joked.

Displaying his self-confidence has made Sherman a target for criticism. It was never louder than the gap between the NFC championship and Super Bowl when Sherman's shouting postgame rant on national television overshadowed the play he made to clinch the conference title against rival San Francisco.

But all those moments have made Sherman known outside of football and his consecutive seasons with eight interceptions. It's why he was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME Magazine and invited to the White House Correspondents' dinner last weekend.

"It's a great statement about a young man that demonstrated an extraordinary belief in himself and dedication to be a nerd in high school way back in his Dominguez (High School) days when he was a track star and a football player," Carroll said. "He was always in the classroom working on his stuff. He had a real vision on what he could become way back then and see it come all the way through to this day today, it is a new beginning for Richard and his career with all that goes along that makes this guy up. He's really special."

Bills GM Whaley disappointed in DT Dareus' arrest

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley is disappointed to learn that defensive tackle Marcell Dareus was arrested on drug charges in Alabama.

Whaley says the team will contact the NFL regarding the arrest and will offer Dareus support and assistance. Whaley provided no further details in the statement released by the Bills on Wednesday, a day after the player's arrest became public.

Police say, Dareus was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia after being stopped by an Alabama state trooper Monday night. Dareus spent less than an hour in jail before being released.

Dareus is from Alabama, and was selected by Buffalo with the third pick in the 2011 draft. His agent has not commented on the arrest.

NFLPA files grievance for Saints TE Graham

METAIRIE, La. (AP) The NFL Players Association confirmed Wednesday that it filed a grievance on behalf of Jimmy Graham concerning the Saints tight end's franchise tag designation.

At issue is whether the NFL was correct to apply the tight end tag to Graham or whether Graham should have received the more lucrative wide receiver tag, a difference of $5 million.

The NFL's current collective bargaining agreement states that a player should be tagged according to the position at which he lined up most often. Graham and his agent, Jimmy Sexton, are contending that the frequency with which Graham lined up split out from the line merits the $12.3 million receiver's franchise tag, not the $7 million tight end tag.

No date for a grievance hearing has been set, but the filing alone could provide Graham with a measure of additional leverage as he seeks to have his franchise tag designation removed in favor of a long-term extension.

July 15 is the final day a team can sign 2014 franchise players to long-term extensions.

Graham's agent, Jimmy Sexton, did not return a message seeking comment on the matter. Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said Wednesday there had been no progress to report on negotiations with Graham.

The Saints have asserted that lining up split from the line is a significant part of every tight end's job description.

When asked in January whether the Saints viewed Graham as a tight end under the league's CBA, Loomis responded: "Isn't that what we drafted him as? Isn't that what he made the Pro Bowl as? That's what we see him as - a tight end.

"The tight end has always been part of the passing game," Loomis continued. "He's part of the running game. So he's part of both. So are receivers. So are running backs."

According to an analysis by ESPN Stats and Information, Graham lined up split out from the line on 67 percent of his snaps - 45 percent of the time in the slot and 22 percent out wide.

Unless the Saints and Graham pre-emptively agree on a long-term deal, an arbitrator may have to decide whether those numbers alone, under the language of the CBA, would require the league to apply the receiver designation to Graham.

If so, it likely would set a precedent for negotiations involving other tight ends who figure prominently in their teams' passing games, and could substantially lower the franchise tag number for tight ends who more often line up next to offensive tackles.

It could also affect other positions in which players have varying roles, most notably some outside linebackers in a 3-4 defensive scheme, who could argue their right to receive the higher defensive end tag.

Blues extend Hitchcock through next season

ST. LOUIS (AP) The St. Louis Blues have extended coach Ken Hitchcock's contract through next season, though there will be some staff changes.

Assistant coaches Brad Shaw and Ray Bennett also will return. A third assistant coach, Gary Agnew, and goaltending coach Corey Hirsch are not being retained.

The 62-year-old Hitchcock led the Blues to a franchise-record 52 victories this season and has taken them to the playoffs all three of his seasons. He's 124-55-20, a franchise-best .673 winning percentage, and is seventh on the NHL career list with 657 wins.

The Blues have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs the last two seasons, both times losing four straight after taking a 2-0 series lead against the defending Stanley Cup champion.

NBA owners meet again to update Clippers situation

NEW YORK (AP) NBA owners went back to work Wednesday on Commissioner Adam Silver's desire to end Donald Sterling's ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers.

The advisory/finance committee held its second conference call in the past two weeks, reviewing the timing and process for forcing Sterling to sell the franchise following his lifetime ban for making racist comments.

League spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement that the committee also discussed the search for a new CEO and got an update on Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum's visit with Clippers employees. The owners plan to meet again next week.

Minnesota owner Glen Taylor chairs the committee that also includes Miami's Micky Arison, the Lakers' Jeanie Buss, Oklahoma City's Clay Bennett, New York's James Dolan, Boston's Wyc Grousbeck, San Antonio's Peter Holt, Phoenix's Robert Sarver, Indiana's Herb Simon and Toronto's Larry Tanenbaum.

Silver banned Sterling from anything to do with the league or the team, fined him $2.5 million, and said he would urge owners to force Sterling to sell the franchise he has owned since 1981.

That would require Silver or another owner to charge Sterling with violating Article 13 of the NBA's Constitution and bylaws, which addresses acts that could lead to the termination of ownership. A hearing would then be held and require a three-fourths vote of the board of governors for approval.

If that happens, control of the team would fall to the commissioner. The league may already be planning for that, announcing last week that it was working with the Clippers to appoint a CEO.

Beyond Sterling's ban, team president Andy Roeser has taken an indefinite leave of absence.

Flyers promote Ron Hextall to general manager

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Ron Hextall got his "dream job."

Hextall was promoted to general manager by the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday to replace Paul Holmgren, who was elevated to president. Hextall is Philadelphia's all-time winningest goalie and served as assistant GM last year.

"When I was done playing 15 years ago, my next goal was to become a general manager," Hextall said. "I've been very fortunate to work under Bobby Clarke, Paul Holmgren, and Dean Lombardi out in Los Angeles - three very good people but also three very astute people who I took a lot of lessons from the last 15 years.

Holmgren replaced Clarke as GM during the 2006-07 season and led the Flyers to within two games of the Stanley Cup title in 2010. He played for the Flyers from 1975-84 and coached them from 1988-92.

"I'm excited about what's ahead for me," Holmgren said.

The Flyers were eliminated by the New York Rangers in seven games in the first round of the playoffs. They haven't won a Cup since 1975, but have reached the Finals and lost six times.

Despite heavy criticism in Philadelphia for failing to win it all, the Flyers have long been considered one of the top NHL franchises. They've earned a playoff berth in 39 of their 46 seasons.

"The culture of winning is nothing to be embarrassed about," said Hextall, adding the Flyers are a "model" organization. "We should all be proud of this organization and what they've done. Short of winning the Stanley Cup, this organization has done everything. There's nothing anyone here won't do to win a Stanley Cup."

Hextall previously spent seven seasons as vice president and assistant GM with the Los Angeles Kings. The 50-year-old Hextall played 13 seasons in the NHL and had two stints covering 11 years with the Flyers.

He burst on the scene in 1986, won the Vezina Trophy and helped the Flyers get within one win of the Stanley Cup before losing to Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers on the road in Game 7 in 1987. Hextall was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as MVP of the playoffs that year.

Hextall had 296 career wins in the regular season, including 240 for the Flyers. He retired in 1999 and joined the Flyers' front office. He spent three years as a pro scout and four as director of pro player personnel before joining the Kings in 2006.

"Ron is one of the league's bright young stars on the management side, and we're very fortunate to have him," Flyers chairman Ed Snider said. "He's had success in Los Angeles and will now put that experience to work for us as general manager. We all remember the enthusiasm, work ethic and personality he had as a player, and we're excited to watch him bring those qualities to building a team that will contend for the Stanley Cup."

Hextall became the first NHL goalie to score a goal by shooting the puck into the opponent's empty net. He also became the first goalie to score a goal in the playoffs. Hextall was known for his fiery temper as a player. His attacked Montreal's Chris Chelios during the 1989 playoffs, sparking a brawl.

"There is an on-ice guy and an off-ice guy," Holmgren said. "What I see now is an off-ice guy who is very intelligent, very articulate and knows the game inside and out. It has been growing over the last 15 years so he's obviously learned from that."

Hextall has a strong core of players, including Hart Trophy finalist Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds. After years of searching for a true No. 1 goalie, it seems they have one now in Steve Mason.

"The thing I really like about our team is everybody talks about our forwards, and that's a good group, but it's a young group as well. And that's important," Hextall said. "A lot of these guys are going to get better, and we've got to take it upon ourselves to help them get better every day."

Colin Kaepernick eager to have Miami case resolved

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick says on Twitter he's eager to have the truth come out in a Miami investigation involving him and two other NFL players.

Miami Police on Tuesday released two calls to a 911 dispatcher saying a woman identifying herself as Jesus was lying naked in a bed and refusing to leave. The callers said the woman wanted to spend time with a third man who wasn't there.

Kaepernick posted Wednesday: "On 911 calls, I'm glad the truth is getting out. Info that came out earlier was totally wrong. I look forward to this matter being resolved."

Police say the players also involved in the case are 49ers wide receiver Quinton Patton and Seahawks receiver Ricardo Lockette. None has been charged with any wrongdoing.

Indy expects Irsay to help make Super Bowl pitch

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Colts owner Jim Irsay is expected to make the final pitch for Indianapolis' Super Bowl bid May 20 in Atlanta.

Irsay has been undergoing treatment since March when he was arrested near his home in an Indianapolis suburb. The arrest report said he had $29,000 in cash and bottles of prescription drugs in his car.

Pete Ward, Irsay's assistant in the Colts' organization, told reporters Wednesday that Irsay would speak during the five minutes owners are given to lobby other owners to award their city the Super Bowl. That will follow 15-minute presentations from each city vying to host the 2018 Super Bowl - Indy, Minneapolis and New Orleans.

The owners meetings would be Irsay's first public appearance since the arrest.

Warriors begin search for next coach

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Golden State Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob has never been afraid to take a risk. And he knows his latest move - firing coach Mark Jackson - comes with a lot of risk.

Lacob just believes it's one worth taking.

After jettisoning Jackson on Tuesday, Lacob and general manager Bob Myers moved forward on filling the team's coaching vacancy Wednesday. Lacob said he has no set criteria for his next coach and no timetable to make the hire, but he's counting on the search to attract more candidates - and more top-tier talent - than when he hired Jackson three years ago.

"We do have some ideas of what we want to do," Lacob said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. "We will look at all the basic aspects such as basketball experience, and I don't mean coaching necessarily. Someone like Mark Jackson had played 17 years in the NBA, that's a lot of experience. In this case it might be more coaching experience, it might not. We're kind of open to that.

"But it has to be someone with good pedigree, someone who's a leader, someone who can deal with the pressure of a situation. We have been somewhat successful now and want to go to the next level."

The job is certainly a far more attractive one than when Lacob hired Jackson away from the ESPN/ABC broadcast table in June 2011. The Warriors are coming off a 51-win season and consecutive playoff appearances for the first time in 20 years, and they've surrounded star Stephen Curry with young talent.

Lacob compared the decision to change coaches to how he built his fortune as a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley. He said there's a different person to lead a business at different stages of development, and the Warriors have gone from a "startup" company to an organization looking to maximize its output.

"Or in this case win an NBA championship," he said. "And we just felt overall we needed a different person to go forward and get to the next level."

Where the Warriors go for their next coach is unclear. Lacob and Myers both declined to discuss specific candidates.

Former NBA player and current TNT broadcaster Steve Kerr, who is also a candidate for the New York Knicks job, has close ties to Lacob and Warriors President Rick Welts from Kerr's time as the general manager for the Phoenix Suns. Former Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, who went to high school in nearby Martinez, California, has been mentioned for multiple openings the past few years but has yet to show a desire to go back to the bench.

If the Warriors look to the college ranks, Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg and Connecticut's Kevin Ollie are rising stars in the profession. Lacob, who insisted NBA coaching experience is not a requirement, could also try to make a splash by luring a more tenured coach such as Michigan State's Tom Izzo to the professional ranks. Or, as was the case with Jackson, make another unconventional hire.

The one thing Lacob is banking on is he should have a more wide-ranging field than when he made his first coaching hire as owner. Among the coaches the Warriors reached out to during that search: Jackson, Michael Malone, Mike Brown, Brian Shaw, Dwane Casey, Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Budenholzer.

"We think this is a very attractive job," Lacob said. "Compared to three years ago, we have an outstanding organization. Three years ago, not only was the team not winning, but the organization needed a lot of work."

Lacob also understands a new coach comes with the risk of disrupting team chemistry.

Nearly every player publicly called for Jackson to return - most notably Curry, whom Lacob said was told of the decision ahead of time. Lacob said he hopes his ownership group has built enough clout with players and fans since it bought the franchise in 2010 that they will have faith in the decisions management makes.

"I think they have the same goals as us - to win and to achieve a high level of success," Lacob said. "And I think they have to trust us a little bit, that we have the same goals and we're going to do everything we can to bring in the best coach possible and will manage the attributes of each player in a way that will allow us to win as many games as possible."

Fire at rented house of ex-tennis star Blake kills 3

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Firefighters found three bodies in a burning mansion owned by former tennis star James Blake, who was renting out the Tampa Bay-area house and not there at the time, officials said Wednesday.

Hours after the fire was reported about 6 a.m. EDT, firefighters were still there putting out hot spots at the 7,600-square foot home located north of downtown Tampa. It could be days before detectives are able to sift through the charred debris, officials said.

Hillsborough County Sheriff's spokeswoman Cristal Bermudez Nunez said detectives don't yet know the identities of the victims.

Neighbors told detectives that Blake hasn't lived in the house for a while and was renting it out, she said. Detectives haven't talked with Blake, whose agent said he was certain Blake was not in Florida, but he wouldn't say where he was.

"He's not in Florida, I can tell you 100 percent that he's not in Florida," Carlos Fleming told The Associated Press.

Blake bought the home in the Avila subdivision in 2005 for $1.5 million, according to Hillsborough County property records. It had five bedrooms and five bathrooms. Video of the fire showed it totally engulfed in flames.

"It's in the back part of Avila, the million-dollar homes. It's a massive home," said Nacole Revette, a spokeswoman for Hillsborough Fire Rescue.

Avila is an exclusive enclave north of Tampa known for its mansions and heavy security. Many well-known athletes call the community home and over the years, various football, baseball and tennis players have bought homes in the subdivision, which has a country club and golf course.

Blake, 34, was ranked fourth on the ATP world tour in 2006. He also has the James Blake Foundation, an organization dedicated to cancer research, in memory of his father who died of gastric cancer.

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