Posted Sep 6, 2012 8:59 AM
Through the years, Dennis Lindsey has had plenty of opportunity to see up close how the Jazz work.
In his first NBA season, he was video coordinator in Houston when John Stockton drilled the 3-pointer at the buzzer that sent Utah to The 1997 Finals, the first in franchise history. Just last spring, he was a member of the front office staff in San Antonio when the Spurs swept the Jazz from the first round of the playoffs.
The years in between had enough postseason run-ins between his two Texas employers and the Jazz to ramp up both the level of emotion and respect. Utah eliminated the Rockets four times during his time in Houston. The Spurs swept out the Jazz just last spring.
"When you're a rival, you always hate to see the Jazz coming, because you know nothing is ever going to come easy," Lindsey said. "But at the same time, when you're around them so much of the time, you get a good look at the operation and all you can do is admire what they've built."
Now it is Lindsey's job to pick up the hammer and nails as he succeeds Kevin O'Connor as general manager of the Jazz.
"It's not a situation where I'm looking to change the culture or put what you'd call 'my stamp' on anything," he said. "This is a franchise that has been doing things the right away since the days of Frank Layden and continuing through the ownership of the Miller family and coach [Jerry] Sloan and Karl Malone and John Stockton to the players that are here today."
What Lindsey is getting in his first time sitting in the main chair is a team that O'Connor has steered through the rough waters of Sloan's abrupt departure in 2011 and the subsequent trading of All-Star point guard Deron Williams to set the Jazz up as young and on the rise.
What the Jazz are getting is a 43-year-old who is diligent and conscientious and quite capable of handling any task that is set before him.
Rudy Tomjanovich and Carroll Dawson brought a young coach from Pensacola (Fla.) Junior College in for an interview even though there wasn't really an opening on the Rockets' staff in 1996.
"I think it took us 10 minutes to decide that we had to have Dennis on our staff," said Dawson, now retired as Rockets GM. "It's a person's presence, the way they handle themselves that just leaps out at you sometimes in those situations. When a person is impressive, they don't wait 30 minutes to show you what they've got. He blew our socks off. It was a pretty easy hire."
It was a low, entry-level NBA position for a guy who had always believed his goal was to be a big-time college coach at a place like Texas or Kentucky. Even several years after he was working in the Rockets' front office, Dawson thought that was still Lindsey's future.
"I would pull him aside every year or two and tell Dennis that I thought he could be a coach, even a head coach, in the league," Dawson said. "But each time I told him that I would try to help him get there, Dennis would just wave me off. Finally, one year he just told me to stop asking, that his interest was management. Not that he had to sell me there. He was already my right-hand man in charge of scouting and organization and just about anything that needed handling.
"What you get with Dennis is a guy who can make use of all the modern numbers and analytics of today and combine them with a coach's eye and feel. Oh, and he's never afraid to give you his opinion. He'll tell you if disagrees and then give you the reasons why. I know Rudy appreciated that and I'm sure Gregg Popovich did too in San Antonio. There are guys that you just know can lead."
However, when Dawson retired in 2007, Lindsey was passed over in favor of Daryl Morey and he chose to move to the Spurs to hone his talent under Popovich and R.C. Buford, perhaps the best front office combination in the league.
"It sounds cheesy, the stuff about one door shuts and the other opens," Lindsey said. "But I pinched myself just about every day that I walked into work in San Antonio with the things that I was learning.
"The thing about working for coaches like Rudy in Houston and then Pop is that they're curious, always curious. They've both had tremendous success and yet they're always looking for a different way of looking at things, another view. They want questions. They want want you to challenge them. They don't have to be the ones with the solution. They just want all the information so that they can make the decision on the solution."
Over the past couple of seasons Lindsey has talked to Phoenix, Portland and Atlanta about their GM openings, but each time pulled his name out of the running. There were family issues. He has four young children. But from a basketball and organizational standpoint, Lindsey was also searching for the right fit. That, he believes, is Utah.
"There's no doubt it's different from a lot of NBA franchises," Lindsey said. "Salt Lake City, the small market, and all that entails. But it's been proven through the years with Karl and John and Coach Sloan and Larry Miller that the Jazz can play at the highest level in the league. The commitment from the Miller family is still there. The community is behind this team. We can compete."
With the core of young players in Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks joined over the summer by a trio of solid role players in Mo Williams, Marvin Williams and Randy Foye, the primary decision for Lindsey entering next season is what to do on the front line. Is there enough room to let Favors grow if the Jazz keep both Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap?
"That's the fun. That's the good stuff to figure out," Lindsey said.
The folks back in Texas, in both places he worked, are sure he will. That is, when they can get accustomed to him on the other side of those rivalries that run mighty deep.
"On the night Dennis got the job, my wife called up his wife to give her congratulations," Dawson said. "She said, 'You know I love you, Becky. But now I'm going to have to figure out a way to stop hating the Jazz.' "
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