Another summer, another front office shake-up

by

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich and general manager RC Buford continue to build coaches and executives for other franchises.

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 office wish lists 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.

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  • Jacques

    Good article. Although it is sad to constantly say goodbyes, the Spurs FO has been excellent for the past decade, which I am very proud of.

  • Tyler

    Couldn’t be happier for Jacque Vaughn. He always reminded me of a coach when he was with the Spurs. He was always the one talking to guys during timeouts, and even more, his teamates always listened to him. The guy is a real pro’s pro. Humble, hard worker. He’s gonna be a great addition to the coaching staff.

    I still have no idea why Mike Budenholzer hasn’t gotten a head coahing job. There can’t be more than 1 or 2 assistants in the NBA in line for a position ahead of him. Last year’s game against Orlando was a thing of beauty. If that didn’t prove his coaching chops (not that he had to), I don’t know what could. I will always remember D. Howard bricking those free throws and then trying to go after Coach Bud.

  • NL

    Great piece. You’re right, the spurs organization has been extremely lucky.

    How many super stars come along like Tim Duncan. He’s one of the best players ever to play the game and extemely humble in an era that breeds hubris. I want this team to win a championship more than anyone, but to compete at such a high level with such character is incredibly unique.

  • Jacob

    We’ve had it so good for so long that I wonder if we’re due to be disappointed at some point in the near future. I look at the Spurs and the way they handle their business as I looked at the Tom Landry Cowboys back when. They were really America’s team for a reason, they were the class of the league, and they won! Landry was a stickler for manners, integrity, team-first policy, good behavior on and off the field, always giving 100%, etc. I can only hope that no matter if they can maintain a level of successes on the court or not, the Spurs from top to bottom will always conduct themselves in a manner that can be looked up to. I became a fan of the organization because of Dave. He embodies all of what I value most in a leader, an athlete and a family man. His influence on the culture of the Spurs is something of a legacy that I hope cannot be changed with new players and coaches of the future. The last thing I want is for the Spurs to take a turn to the ‘Jerry Jones’ end of the spectrum after their glory days are behind them.

  • Rey

    In this time when “The major factor was the best opportunity for (a superstar player) to win, to win now and for the future also. Winning is the most important thing for (a superstar player),” people like Tim Duncan becomes an endangered species. I was reading this article about Kevin Durant, and the writer was telling how much he is very similar to Timmy with regard to humility underneath talent, and I think that at this point, class comes to weigh more than winning a championship. Personally, I remain a die-hard Spurs fan, but I must admit that the Thunder has earned a new fan in me as well (they’re my #2 team now).

    The Spurs are lucky to have picked Timmy back in ’97, but I agree that it’s the team that’s behind it – Pops, RC and Mr. Holt. I’m observing that a lot of NBA teams have been pirating Spurs office talents, but I guess that’s an indication of how good the company is – competitors try to steal parts hoping that that would translate into the same class as the Spurs. They forget that it’s not a one-man show, but a cluster of leaders that show the way by example and without the hoopla and hypocrisy.

  • Hurm66

    Time for Demps to do us a solid (a la Jerry West with the Memphis GM gig and then returned to LA and orchestrating the Gasol heist).

    Send us CP3 for Parker or other pieces.

  • Jacob

    “but I must admit that the Thunder has earned a new fan in me as well (they’re my #2 team now).”

    I feel the exact same way. Apart from our Spurs, I will be a Thunder fan for a long time to come. I am so happy to have another class act like Durant come in and lead by example.

  • BV

    Since imitation is the best form of flattery, the Spurs should be flattered at how many of the Spurs management have ended up in various NBA teams.

  • R Ybarra

    CAN ANYONE SAY SAMAKI WALKER. TRADING A GEM TO HOUTON FOR LESS MONEY THEM SEVERAL MAYORS IN CALIFORNIA MAKE. HOW ABOUT JACKSON, AN ALSTAR GONE BECAUSE WE PLAY NICKEL AND DIME GAMES.REM KERR TAKING OUR DRAFT PICKS AND GENTRY PLAYING OUR DEFENCE ON US. KNOW THIS, IF YOU NEED TO SEE WHY SAN ANTONIO IS SPECIAL, THEN REMMEBER AT THE ALAMO. HOW A FEW MEN SACRAFICED THEIR LIVES FOR A REPUBLIC. REM THAT HOW A FEW POOR NUNS PRAYED AND PRAYED AND PARCELS DELIVERED THE REAL COWBOYS TO THE ALAMO BOWL. NO PRODIGIES, ONLY BLESSINGS FOR PRAYERS, WELL DESERVED. GO SPURS GO.

  • Jacob

    Quick question: Who would like the idea of T-Mac joining the Spurs in a bench role if he a) knew he was a bench player or limited minutes player and didn’t mind that b) accepted the BAE for two years guaranteed c) didn’t have any major injuries (6 weeks plus timeframe) to contend with this season.

    I wouldn’t mind it myself. We could keep the Manu / RJ super bench together (kidding… kind of) but more importantly, we’d have another veteran to back manu or RJ up in case of serious injury. I know, I’m greedy, impractical and homeristic.

    Parker – Hill – Temple
    Ginobili – Anderson – Neal
    Jefferson – McGrady- Hairston
    Duncan – Blair – Bonner
    Splitter – McDyess

    Any other takers?

  • Hurm66

    @ Jacob

    The Spurs are extra cautious about those kind of moves (signing TMac), but I’ve been thinking about it too. I believe the Spurs themselves believe they’re closer than many think to making a serious run this season.

    Could that be the reason you heard whispers a few weeks ago about Shaq and the Spurs? Some height to counter the Lakers? (Personally I don’t like the Shaq idea much.)

    Could TMac start, a la Bogans, but not log heavy minutes? For a real chance at a ring – he should think about it. The guy can still shoot and pass and you can hide his creaky defense with good team defense.

    However the guy they should have signed and would have been a great fit for the Spurs is Dorell Wright.

  • Jacob

    Yeah I know… I wanted wright too. Why didn’t we get him again? Money?

  • Jim Henderson

    Jacob
    July 27th, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    Condition #3 is unlikely, and the fact is, over the past FIVE seasons he’s proven not to be dependable as a starter or rotation player, and that hurts a team. He’s averaged less than 50 games per year over the last 5 seasons. Also, he’s never been a hard worker on the defensive end. At least in his prime, he’d get some steals, because it makes you “look good”, but he was never interested in putting in the effort to play consistent man-on-man defense. In addition, he’s not a very good 3-point shooter (a big need of ours), 33.7% for his career, and just 32% over the past FIVE seasons. Even his FG% is not good: 43.5% career; 41% over the past 5 seasons. Finally, McGrady will always think of himself as a star, even though his ability & performance these days do not warrant such a distinction. He could be a distraction, and not a particularly good locker room guy. He’s really a lot more “talent” than he is “winner”. I’ll pass.

    Hurm66
    July 27th, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    “I believe the Spurs themselves believe they’re closer than many think to making a serious run this season.”

    That I agree with, but McGrady is not the answer.

    “The guy can still shoot…..”

    Actually, he’s not a very good shooter. He’s always been a “high-volume scorer”, but not a very efficient shooter. McGrady’s best strength is his passing ability. It’s too bad he didn’t do less shooting and more passing over his career. As far as the Spurs, I’d rather add a great 3-point shooter or defender as a back-up at the SF spot than a very good passer that has become a hypochondriac over the past 5 seasons.

    “However the guy they should have signed and would have been a great fit for the Spurs is Dorell Wright.”

    I like him too, but we were simply outbid.

  • http://www.yahoo.com Ryan

    @Jacob

    Yeah, he went to the Warriors for more money.
    (3 years/$11 million)

  • http://www.yahoo.com Ryan

    On the posts above…

    Yeah, McGrady really isn’t the guy we would need. Duncan, Parker, Manu, RJ… this team feels like it already has enough “big names” that we just need role players at this point.

    @Jim

    I was muddling it over with freinds at the hospital today and the Kapono idea is growing on me a little. I started looking over some of your previous posts on him and yeah, I do think he’d be a good fit, but I’d still be hesitant to pull the trigger on that just knowing how Pop tends to play people. If his defense is a shaky as people are making it out to be, then he’s only going to see action as a situational shooter and I doubt Pop would leave him out there for long stretches. Sure, the same could be said of Bonner, but I guess him having been with the team long enough (and injuries to personnel over that time) somehow warranted him more playing time last year.

    A freind brought up a good point too…. he said that Kapono is really, really streaky… like stretches of 3-4 games where he can’t throw in the ocean while 3-4 games he’s lights out. You know anything about this? If it’s true, it would bother me a little to throw him out there during playoff runs especially as a dagger-3 kinda guy and him just go in a funk when we need him the most. Not sure, but it might be a reason why the FO didn’t really go after him.

  • Jim Henderson

    Ryan
    July 27th, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    “If his defense is a shaky as people are making it out to be, then he’s only going to see action as a situational shooter and I doubt Pop would leave him out there for long stretches.”

    To be honest with you, I would NOT trade for Kapono if we could not also get an active defender/shot-blocker like Amundson in the interior. Amundson would give us additional “rim protection”, which along with the addition of Splitter, would help mitigate the times when Kapono would inevitably be beaten off the dribble out on the perimeter. With sufficient “rim protection” it would allow Pop to play Kapono a good 12-15 mpg. on average, as long as Kapono was ALWAYS giving at least good effort, even when he gets beat at times.

    “A freind brought up a good point too…. he said that Kapono is really, really streaky… like stretches of 3-4 games where he can’t throw in the ocean while 3-4 games he’s lights out. You know anything about this?”

    He is on the “streaky” side, but that can as good as it can be bad. As far as in the playoffs, in his limited experience thus far, there’s no evidence that he had much of a cold streak. In his 5-game playoff run in 2008, he shot the three at 50% or better in four of the games, and in one game he was 1 for 4. I’d say he’s less “streaky” than Bonner, at least during his playoff experience thus far.

  • Hobson13

    Jacob
    July 27th, 2010 at 12:29 pm
    “Quick question: Who would like the idea of T-Mac joining the Spurs in a bench role if he a) knew he was a bench player or limited minutes player and didn’t mind that b) accepted the BAE for two years guaranteed c) didn’t have any major injuries (6 weeks plus timeframe) to contend with this season.”

    That’s funny you should mention Tmac because I was thinking about this while watering my lawn this evening. I’m mixed on McGrady. On one hand we have his injury history and the fact that he doesn’t seem to address any one real need. He’s not a great 3pt shooter and I doubt he will ever again be a good defender due to his knees. He also believes he can still be the starting SG or SF which I see as the most serious issue of all.

    However, McGrady is only 31 yrs old and may have some run in him since he’s only played in 65 games over the past two years. Provided he is healthy (and I don’t know the answer to whether he is or isn’t) he could be a very low risk/high reward pickup for the LLE. For 15-18 min/game, surely he could be better than rookies (Anderson/Neal) and D league players (Hairston and Gee). There’s no question his days of averaging 25ppg are over, but what if he could provide valuable backup minutes at both the SG and SF positions? He might be a very cost effective option. Of course I would like for the Spurs to get another big with the LLE, but I don’t see us getting a big like Louis Amundson. He will be out of our price range.

    Bottom line: If McGrady could humble himself to take a supporting role, it would make the Spurs a better team and for the LLE he could be a very productive player. Lots of risks and question, but decent upside for cheap is how I view the issue.

  • ITGuy

    Go Spurs Go!!

  • Shawn_b

    Is is possible to bring back Mike Brown as one of the assistant coaches? Also, instead of Vaughn, why not bring back Bruce Bowen as a assistant coach? I think he is the best man to teach our young guys such as Anderson, Blair “how to defend (without fouling)” in the league.

  • http://www.nba.com fatsocalifornia

    Tell me who has 3 to believe in – beside Manu?

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  • Zy

    The Spurs Organization is simply that good.It is sad seeing those individuals go but I am proud of the Spurs Org.

    GO SPURS GO!

  • viper160

    I think the article rally points out the uniqueness of the Spurs. The leadership of the Spurs is one that fans rarely understand because all that really matters is watching the trophy get raised. The front office of the Spurs has this same attitude but it looks at the long term plan when making decisions. Teams that recruit Spurs executives need to understand that it is the long term planning and sticking to specific rules that define the Spurs. Getting players and coaches of character are a mantra that is defined by the Spurs organization. Turnover because executives decide to leave happens in business but Pop, RC and Mr Holt are the anchors in the front office, and going back to David, and now with Tim , Tony and Manu these players are the core anchors for the teams success. Perhaps business leaders and other teams owners will finally figure out that stability-long term stability will result in long term success. Mike Brown and Danny Ferry went to Cleveland and had early success but because of poor decisions to try and appease LBJ players were brought in who could not understand the Spurs rules of, tenacious defense, rebounding and limited turnovers lead to championships. The Spurs method is difficult and to some it is boring, not flashy but the winning and trophy’s show that it works, at least for the Spurs. So if your team got some ex-Spurs front office executives, let your owner know that you want long term success versus a flash in the pan and done. Because after all the proof is in the pudding, our Spurs stick to the plan even if it makes fans upset.

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