Another summer, another front office shake-up
The day that Dell Demps was announced as the new General Manager of the New Orleans Hornets, a friend sent me a text message wondering digitally if teams were hoping to harness San Antonio Spurs culture when they hired away members of the Gregg Popovich & RC Buford braintrust.
I’m reminded of the Nigerian weapons dealer in District 9 who eats the limbs of prawns in hopes of gaining prawns’ ability to use alien weaponry. Is it a stretch to make that connection? Who cares, that movie was awesome and I want to mention it.
If teams have a secondary goal in mind when hiring Spurs front office and coaching staff members, hopes that these former Spurs will magically grow the famous culture that the silver and black enjoy, then there’s most likely disappointment on the horizon.
San Antonio has the famously fortunate combination of Popovich, Buford, Tim Duncan and owner Peter Holt. It’s not perfect, but it may be as close as you’ll find in modern professional sports. Catching lightning in a bottle would bear more fruit than trying to recreate the harmony in which those relationships play.
Teams should focus their time and money with the idea that hiring a San Antonio Spurs executive or coach means that they’re adding someone with the talent, knowledge and work rate reflected in San Antonio’s sustained success over the last decade.
Summer after summer, we see members of Spurs basketball move to other franchises for more power, responsibility and, you know, money. They’re hired away by owners and executives hoping to recreate a fraction of what San Antonio Spurs fans have enjoyed.
This summer lacked a little bit of the sizzle previous offseasons had in terms of opposing teams’ hires. There were no prodigies like Sam Prestis or well-known former assistants like Mike Brown lured away.
Spurs Assistant General Manager Dennis Lindsey was interviewed, but ultimately remained with the team. And Mike Budenholzer, once a front-runner for the Phoenix Suns head coaching vacancy, is still on the bench as Gregg Popovich’s top assistant.
Instead, lesser-knowns like Demps, formerly the Spurs Vice President of Basketball Operations and Austin Toros GM; former Popovich assistant coach James Borrego; and ex-Toros head coach Quin Snyder have left the fold.
Borrego joined Demps in New Orleans, as a member of former Spur Monty Williams’ coaching staff, while Snyder was hired by new Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doug Collins in a player development coaching role.
Entering the summer, Dennis Lindsey was main San Antonio executive who seemed to be on most teams’ radars. But instead, it was Dell Demps who made the jump. Part of Demps’ insanely-quick rise to the top of many teams’ front officeÂ wish listsÂ could be his outgoing, confident personality. Mr. Awesome, Matt Moore, captured that personality best for AOL Fanhouse.
With all the rumors swirling, I inquire as to whether Demps is still the man to talk to about the Spurs’ developmental functions.
“I hope so!” he jokes, nodding his head.
But here’s the thing. He looks like he doesn’t have a care in the world. He breezes in and out of conversations, usually laughing or smiling, and generally seems bemused by everything going on around him. And when you speak with him, you get the sense that there’s not a thing he considers outside of his range.
Demps appeared in a whopping 20 games in the NBA, but since joining the Spurs has been an integral part of one of the most successful franchises in the NBA. His primary responsibilities have focused on development, particularly as General Manager of the Austin Toros, the Spurs’ D-League affiliate that they purchased in 2007. It’s been Demps’ work as part of the Spurs’ development plan that has put him on the map.
Demps has also been a part of the Spurs’ drafting process, which has consistently yielded not just talented players, but ones that contribute. Sometimes, to the point of it being concerning. Take, for example, George Hill, a late-first-round pick out of IUPUI, who all of a sudden is creating questions about the future of the Spurs’ backcourt with Tony Parker. I ask Demps if they had any idea drafting Hill would work out the way it has.
“Nah, we had that planned out,” he jokes. “George is great. He jumped into the developmental plan and made himself a great player. Our coaches have done a great job with him. Can’t be happier for the kid. He’s a great kid. High level NBA player and we’re happy for him, in any situation.”
After a sit down with Chris Paul and his representatives early Monday, Demps is off to a fairly strong start. Considering the hand he was dealt this past weekend, that is. Even if the Hornets ultimately give in to Paul’s wishes to be dealt, it’s hard to imagine Demps rushing to do so without a package that can help the Hornets in the long run.
In bringing along Borrego, Monty Williams adds an under-the-radar Spurs coach from behind the bench. Not much outside of the San Antonio Spurs offices is known about Borrego and how much of an impact he’ll have on New Orleans, or just how much the Spurs are losing with his departure.
But his loss may open up a coaching spot for former Spur Jacque Vaughn, who was an assistant coach on Mike Budenholzer’s summer league staff. According to the San Antonio Express-News‘ Jeff McDonald, during the press conference announcing Richard Jefferson’s new contract, RC Buford hinted that Vaughn could join Gregg Popovich’s staff in a behind-the-bench, developmental role.
We had some expectations that Quin Snyder would be leaving his post as Toros head coach this season. However, we thought he would join Coach Popovich’s staff in San Antonio. His departure to join the 76ers came as a bit of a surprise, and disappointment.
But to expect a guy who has been a head coach at the NCAA Division 1 level and spent three seasons as the head coach of the Toros, while named the 2008-09 D-League Coach of the Year, to stick around for another year without a promotion is a bit much. Especially when you take into account he’s only 43 years old and still considered a young coaching prospect. And this is all despite Snyder being a well-known commodity for basketball fans for years.
The turnover in the front office and coaching staffs is nothing new for the Spurs, nor is it irreparable. This change is something San Antonio goes through every offseason. It’s a small price to pay for being the envy of the league, from top to bottom. And though Spurs basketball is used to this summer song, you have to wonder exactly how much losing highly-regard staff affects the franchise in the short term.