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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.

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