There’s a lot of opportunity here relative to our own free agents and a young baseline of talent. I feel like I’m lucky to inherit this situation. —Jazz G.M. Dennis Lindsey
Dennis Lindsey’s wife has left him again. She packed up the kids and left town a month ago.
It’s the family’s summer routine. When the NBA draft/free agent season comes, they go. Every June, Becky and the four children leave their husband and father behind for six weeks while he focuses on the NBA business at hand.
“Even though I’m home, they know I disappear mentally,” says Lindsey, the Utah Jazz's general manager of 11 months. “They know that Dad is a worthless, non-contributing member of the family during that time.”
It’s a frantic time for an NBA general manager and even more so for one who is beginning a rebuilding project. On a recent afternoon, Lindsey, wearing a yellow Baylor polo shirt and shorts, could be found eating a sandwich and chips at his desk while staring at the computer screen. No time for a proper lunch break.
“These are great jobs,” he says. “You love basketball and you love to compete and compete with people you love. It’s an intoxicating job, but very selfish. I had a friend in the business tell me every day is Wednesday. There are no weekends, no holidays.”
Lindsey is quickly making his mark on the franchise, especially in the last 10 days. He has helped lead an almost unprecedented flurry of wheeling and dealing for the Jazz.
Lindsey recently completed his first draft in Utah — a draft that received rave reviews from all quarters. Two days later free agency began. Lindsey and the Jazz entered what was arguably their most challenging off-season ever, with seven unrestricted free agents (more than half of last season’s roster) — Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Mo Williams, DeMarre Carroll, Jamaal Tinsley, Earl Watson and Randy Foye.
If that weren’t enough to keep him busy, Lindsey made another bold move Friday by trading for the Golden State Warriors’ Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson and Brandon Rush, plus first-round picks in 2014 and 2017 and several second-round picks. What’s in it for the Warriors? Second-round 2012 Jazz pick Kevin Murphy, cap space and the shedding of minor contributors whose contracts come due in a year. The draft picks — especially in the deep 2014 draft — are the real prize of course.
Meanwhile, Lindsey will soon turn his attention to the Summer League season, which begins Sunday in Orlando.
So: Lunch at his desk.
“I feel good that the Miller family (Jazz owners) really committed to bringing me in here sooner,” he says. “Several teams hired management people weeks before decisions like this (the draft, free agency) are made. It shows the power of forethought. The timing of my hire here and my relationship with (predecessor and team vice president Kevin O’Connor) and how it’s evolved — if either one had been different it would have been very difficult to have the level of confidence collectively to make (personnel) decisions.”
The Jazz’s draft was aggressive, bold and, yes, confident. They traded two first-round picks to move up to No. 9 so they could select point guard Trey Burke; they sent their 46th pick and cash to the Denver Nuggets to obtain the 27th pick, which they used on French center Rudy Gobert; and they sent a future second-round pick to the Atlanta Hawks to obtain the 47th pick, which they used to pick Brazilian point guard Raul Neto.
The draft had Lindsey’s fingerprints all over it, but don’t tell him that. He shuns individual credit and not just because it’s the Jazz Way; he believes it. To drive home his point, he paints a collaborative picture when discussing the draft.
At the request of the Jazz, Hall of Fame guard John Stockton reviewed video of point guards and provided his opinions on the prospects. Jerry Sloan, the former head coach who returned to the team as a consultant, spotted Gobert during pre-draft workouts and reported, “The big guy plays hard; you need to look at him.” O’Connor, the team’s vice president of basketball operations, might have pulled off the biggest behind-the-scenes contribution.
“Two hours before the draft, Kevin got us some key draft information that indicated we needed to trade up to get Burke or we wouldn’t have gotten him,” says Lindsey. “If we stayed at 14, he felt like we were not going to get Burke or the other pool players. Kevin nailed the intel because of his network. He said this is what’s going to happen, and that’s exactly what happened.”
Then there is owner Greg Miller and his family, whom Lindsey credits for drafting Gobert. “In several previous meetings we said that if we do move up or trade out we might want to use resources (read: money) to get back in,” says Lindsey. “We had that in our hip pocket that if we did move up they would cash in the second-round pick.”
The Jazz draft has been praised far and wide, and it did much to re-energize fans, who were growing hopeless and cynical, but Lindsey is quick to temper the enthusiasm. Time will tell if the draft was successful, and Lindsey urges patience for players, fans and coaches. He notes that Stockton waited three years to win a starting job, and Deron Williams had to wait half of his rookie year to crack the lineup. The Jazz have also been patient with Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.
“We don’t want to skip steps,” says Lindsey.
Like their small-market brothers San Antonio and Oklahoma City, the Jazz build through the draft (at least partly because they can seldom if ever land big-name free agents). So when Lindsey talks about free agency, he uses the word “patience” frequently — as in “we’ll be very disciplined and patient with free agents. It’s an unhealthy market some times. You’re paying a premium for past production. We build through the draft and augment through free agency. Rookie (pay) scales are more favorable to the team than free agents.”
There is little chance the Jazz can land a marquee free agent or a ready-made team like the Heat and Lakers do annually, and Lindsey says as much, but offers this caveat: “You never know. We don’t want the Jazz or Salt Lake to feel defeatist, like we’re not worthy. We think we have a lot to offer. If you don’t want to come, it’s our job to figure out a way to beat you. We’ll always be pitching and making the compelling case.”
So the Jazz will wait to see how things shake out before they make a free-agent move. Two of the Jazz's unrestricted free agents, Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll, agreed to two-year deals with the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night.
“You could be in the right range for a player financially, but you have to be very clear about their role and their playing time. They have to understand there are no promises.”
If it seems overwhelming for Lindsey to take over a team in such transition, with a long list of critical questions to answer, he doesn’t let on. This is what he was trained to do and he seems to embrace the challenge.
“It’s very busy, but fun work,” he says. “There’s a lot of opportunity here relative to our own free agents and a young baseline of talent. I feel like I’m lucky to inherit this situation. If we had draft picks coming due or low character on the bench or salary cap issues, it might be different. I’m the beneficiary of an organization that values continuity.”