New Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey knows his stuff when it comes to evaluating players

Published: Saturday, Sept. 1 2012 10:24 p.m. MDT

After graduating from Baylor, he set out on a career path he hoped would lead him to the Division 1 coaching ranks. He began as an assistant coach in basketball, football and baseball at Southwest High in Fort Worth, and later became an assistant coach at Pensacola (Fla.) Junior College before his career veered sharply in a different direction.

Through an acquaintance in the Houston Rockets' organization, he learned that the team had a job opening for a video coordinator. He flew to Houston for the interview.

"Rudy (Coach Tomjanovich) and I had discussed what kind of guy we wanted, and five minutes into the interview I knew we wanted him," says Dawson.

It was an entry-level job, but, as Lindsey says, "I felt like I was stealing. Someone was paying me to watch basketball. I was immersed with a championship-level organization with Rudy and Carol and learning."

The job demanded hours of watching, editing and piecing together video (this was the pre-digital age), and when he wasn't doing that he was filling out forms, marking checklists, and writing a description of each player. Consider the enormity of the evaluation process and the pressure that comes with judging hundreds of players everywhere — the NBA, overseas, college, free agents, developmental leagues — and paring the list down to just a handful of players based on subjective measurements of talent, size, skill, mindset, character, work ethic, and ability to fit into the team's scheme and environment. Based on those evaluations, millions of dollars are spent and the fate of the club is affected for better or worse for years to come.

"There are a lot of situations where you whittle it down to a few names you really like and they're not going to be available," says Lindsey. "You have to understand the market and timing and the art of making deals. It's a cooperative effort of many."

The move to the NBA was a bold one. Lindsey, whose wife Becky was expecting their first child at the time, took a significant pay cut to accept the entry-level job, at the age of 26. But Texas was home for both of them, and Becky was a coach's daughter — her father was former college and NFL coach F.A. Dry — and was inured to such things.

"She probably thought I was a little crazy," he recalls. "There were a couple of moves that I made that certainly created some lively debate. But she knows the business and she saw how competitive I was and what my ambitions were. We talked about it and prayed about it and visited people about it for guidance."

Although it's the bottom rung of the ladder, the video coordinator position has provided a springboard for others besides Lindsey — Lakers coach Mike Brown, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra and former Rockets coach Tomjanovich, to name some.

Dawson feared that Lindsey would return to coaching, as well, but it didn't happen. Lindsey moved up rapidly in the front office. Three years later, he was named director of player personnel, and two years after that he was vice president of basketball operations and player personnel.

"He was already handling those duties long before he got the official titles," says Dawson. "I just trusted him. He was one of the first guys to start using the computer (for evaluating players). He was doing that 'Moneyball' stuff — looking at tendencies. He knew how often a guy went to the baseline and where on the floor his scores came from."

In 2007 — 11 years after Lindsey took the video job — he was named vice president/assistant general manager of the San Antonio Spurs.

"The message is that coming in at an entry level, no matter what you're doing, you should be able to gain job satisfaction and, secondly, it's very important to realize you don't skip steps," he says. "I haven't skipped steps. The fundamental message is that there are opportunities if you're willing to work and be honest and treat people the right way."

Five years later he has landed a GM job in Utah, where he will work with a front office rooted in patience, stability and consistent success.

As Dawson told his protégé, "Most of the time you're going to a team as a new GM cause someone has wrecked it. But they've got a good team. You've just gotta keep it going."

Lindsey has been called a "fit" for the community and organization by various members of the Jazz organization. He's a religious, family man who says, "These jobs in pro sports can dominate your life and you can become selfish. With a wife and four children and a large extended family, I try to set aside time for them.

"We've had great peace of mind about each decision. Faith is important. Everybody has fundamental beliefs. That is something that was impressed on me in childhood, the standards of what you believe and how you act. Those principles are tried and true. And when you make important decisions, you've got to let go and listen."

Looking at the practical challenges ahead, O'Connor offers the last word: "Dennis is a key addition. We've added somebody who is really going to help us develop strategies in the long term, another pair of eyes on how to grow the Jazz. It's a friend we're going to get to work with."

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