Dennis Lindsey is another of the neophyte general managers borne of the Spurs learning tree, yet the difference between his new job in Utah and that of Sam Presti in Oklahoma City or Rob Hennigan in Orlando is that the Jazz are hardly a reclamation project.
The Jazz are not only past the rebuilding phase, they are one of the dark horses in the Western Conference after a series of astute moves by Lindsey’s predecessor, Kevin O’Connor. O’Connor remains with the organization as vice president, but it’s now Lindsey’s job to oversee the return of the Jazz to prosperity.
It took years for Utah to recover from the departures of Karl Malone and John Stockton, and O’Connor ensured that Deron Williams would not hold the organization hostage by sending him to the Nets in February 2011 for draft picks, guard Devin Harris, and forward Derrick Favors.
Two fruitful drafts netted Gordon Hayward and underrated Alec Burks, and former Celtic Al Jefferson is back along with newly acquired Mo Williams and Marvin Williams. Utah surprisingly made the playoffs last season as the eighth seed, and wants to build on that success with the innovative Lindsey.
“There’s a lot of exciting, organic things going on in the organization, and Kevin’s just done an outstanding job on the Stockton and Malone transition and Deron Williams’s transition,” Lindsey said. “A lot of the culture coach [Jerry] Sloan started here has continued through [coach] Ty [Corbin]. They do things right here. I’m fortunate enough to inherit an operation that’s on steady ground.
“I understand the decision-making process because it looks very similar to Houston and San Antonio. All I can take credit for is agreeing with Kevin’s offseason decisions. You don’t ensure yourself of any victories by addressing a need, but Kevin was pretty strategic of adding good people that can shoot the ball that have veteran experience.”
The West is competitive with the Thunder and revamped Lakers fighting for supremacy. The Spurs plan to make one or two more runs, and teams such as the Trail Blazers, Clippers, Grizzlies, and Nuggets are chasing. The Jazz are also in the mix.
“It’s my belief you always benchmark yourself with the other teams,” Lindsey said. “I don’t really try to get into win totals, ‘We’re going to win this.’ I think you limit some of your internal expectations, but you could also oversell and underdeliver. And no team wants to do that.”
Every front office type coming out of Oklahoma City or San Antonio will be compared with Presti, who built a contender in three seasons with the Thunder. Lindsey has the opportunity to establish his own reputation and tradition in Utah, a franchise that carries many of the same small-market principles and faces the same obstacles as San Antonio and Oklahoma City.
“Every place is different, and so I think there are a couple of things that are like hitting the baseball,” he said. “Fundamentally, we try to be honest, work hard, we want to have a curious operation. Once a decision is made, you want to unify. There are organizations that are consistent. Certainly, you try to take lessons [from other franchises]. Want to take lessons from more than just basketball teams. We want to learn from European soccer, and baseball. Development of young players is one of the topics that we all share and try to understand.”
Utah has never been a destination for high-priced or premium free agents, but the Jazz have managed through the draft and trades, and Salt Lake City’s expansion after the 2002 Winter Olympics has made it a more attractive place to live for players.
“I think Utah, the region, the community, the organization has a lot to offer,” said Lindsey, who played basketball at Baylor. “We have some advantages here. We have a historically good operation. We’ve had great continuity. We’re proud, the organization’s never fired a coach in the last three coaches. I think it’s a humble place. When players get here, they like it, the weather and community. Boston and New York and LA have a lot to offer with tradition and city, but wherever you are in the league, it’s incumbent on you to find your advantages.
“I am not going to come in here and blow up an operation that has done very well. I want to understand what we’re doing well previously, now that I am in the inner circle, and I want to complement some things that we’re doing. The Utah Jazz have been doing a lot of progressive things for a long time, even though they may have been viewed as old school. They’re just not going to talk about it. They are going to hold their advantages close to their vest, and I really appreciated that. That’s what I believe, as well.”
Horry weighs Hall chances
Robert Horry is allowed to walk with a swagger in retirement. He won seven NBA championships in 16 years, going undefeated in the Finals. Horry was known for draining big shots in the playoffs, perhaps the game’s greatest clutch player aside from Michael Jordan, a 3-point machine who saved his best for when it mattered most.
Yet, the question begs, will Horry receive any more recognition other than being called “Big Shot.”
Horry will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2014, his 7-point scoring average and his playoff résumé scrutinized for one of the toughest decisions in Hall history. Professional sports is about winning championships, which is why many players would trade their careers for Horry’s.
Horry won two titles with the Rockets, three with the Lakers, and two with the Spurs.
If sport is about victory, how could the Hall of Fame reject one of the game’s biggest winners? Horry never won a championship at the end of the bench. His shooting prowess was critical to those runs, and he believes that should be enough for his election.
“I never even think about it or worry about it because nowadays people are so confused about basketball, they think scoring is the most important thing,” Horry said from Istanbul. “And if you look at all the things I’ve done in basketball, I’ve done a lot of things no one has ever done before. I’m not even going to stress out about it. I don’t want to say I don’t care but I am not going to worry or let it define me.”
Whether it was the tide-turning jumper vs. the Kings in Game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference finals or the one over Rasheed Wallace that sealed Game 5 of the 2005 Finals, Horry has made big plays in critical moments.
“It’s amazing how people recognize me more now than they did when I played,” he said. “It used to be Robert, now I’m Big Shot. It’s so funny. I’m not even used to that. People are like, ‘Big Shot! Big Shot!’ and I keep walking. You started playing this game for the fun of it, and I was very fortunate to be on some great teams. The thing that people don’t realize is that it wasn’t like I was a non-significant player in the role. I played significant roles. Every time a game came down to the stretch and I was in the game, I was very happy with my career. If I don’t make it to the Hall of Fame I’ve got the rings, and I’ve got the most important thing, my teammates know I was a great teammate.”
Horry’s teams reached the playoffs in all 16 of his seasons, and he is the all-time leader in postseason games with 244, seven more than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Horry’s teams were also never eliminated in the first round, as he played in double-digit playoff games 13 times.
“Every team I played on, we literally had a chance to win the championship,” he said. “And it’s because everybody played their part. Everybody knew their roles. And I was a big key in playing those parts and roles. I think I was, whatever my team needed, [able to] go out there and do it.
“The one regret I have is the situation that happened with me and Danny Ainge. I think I could have handled that way better. That’s the only thing I look back and say, ‘Damn I wish I wouldn’t have done it that way.’ It is what it is. It won me three championships [with the Lakers].”
With the Rockets trying to ramp up for one more title run, Horry was sent to the Suns in August 1996 in the Charles Barkley trade. Horry never blended with Ainge, then the Suns’ coach, and the two argued on the bench during a game, leading to Horry tossing a towel in Ainge’s face.
Horry’s Hall candidacy, like Dennis Rodman’s, will cause voters to ponder whether effective role players on title teams are worthy. Horry believes he is.
“If you go back and look at the people who are in the Hall of Fame, I think I am,” he said. “It’s something that wasn’t on my radar. I wanted to go and be the best teammate I can be, win as many games as possible. If you had to ask me right now, I would say no, because the first thing out of [detractors’] mouths is, ‘He didn’t score enough points.’ And basketball isn’t about the game of points.”
Rules flop with union
The passing of anti-flopping rules, a first in the NBA, has drawn the ire of the Players Association, which had been quiet since the new labor agreement, and the internal strife in which the executive committee asked for the resignation of president Derek Fisher.
Fisher, who presently is without a team, remains president, and ex-Celtic Keyon Dooling said he plans to keep his post in the executive committee. The union gathered itself enough to release a statement on the anti-flopping rules.
The first violation will result in a warning, the next a $5,000 fine, with $10,000 for a third violation, $15,000 for a fourth, and $30,000 for a fifth. Subsequent violations could result in heavier fines or game suspensions. The league will use video to determine flopping, so in many ways, it will become like the NFL, which fines and suspends players for late hits and blows to the head following games.
“The NBA is not permitted to unilaterally impose new economic discipline against the players without first bargaining with the union,’’ the NBPA said in its statement. “We believe that any monetary penalty for an act of this type is inappropriate and without precedent in our sport or any other sport. We will bring appropriate legal action to challenge what is clearly a vague and arbitrary overreaction and overreach by the commissioner’s office.”
The union plans to file a grievance with the league office, and an unfair labor charge with the National Labor Relations Board, the organization that fielded lawsuits during the lockout. The union seemingly has no issue with new rules, as many players, including several standouts, have expressed concern over increased flopping. The union has issue with the NBA not first clearing the fine amounts or potential suspensions. And perhaps it has a point in declaring that any flopping penalties should be part of the collective bargaining agreement.
Celtics president Danny Ainge confirmed that the team will freeze its $1.95 million biannual exception because it would exceed their $74 million spending limit under the new CBA and they would have to dump a contract . . . The signing of Rasheed Wallace was smoother for the Knicks given the fact he never officially filed retirement papers, and therefore didn’t have to apply to return. Wallace, who last played with the Celtics, missed two full seasons and turned 38 last month . . . Allen Iverson, seeking a return to the NBA but settling for opportunities in China, and Jason Williams, who retired from the league two years ago, highlight a group of 11 former NBA players who will take on Chinese Basketball Association champion Beijing on Saturday . . . The Hawks have signed former Georgia Tech guard Ismail Muhammad, who made highlight reels with his flashy dunks for the Yellow Jackets. Muhammad has played professionally in six countries since leaving college in 2005, but his chances of making the new-look Hawks are minimal since they have 19 players in camp . . . Celtics assistant coach Mike Longabardi, the team’s defensive coordinator, will speak Oct. 27 at Harvard’s Lavietes Pavilion at Tommy Amaker’s Coaches Clinic, which begins at 11 a.m. Preregistration is available until Oct. 19 at 617- 495-3920. Harvard undergraduate and graduate students, as well as faculty, are invited free but need to register with assistant coach Brian DeStefano at email@example.com . . . Eddy Curry has surfaced in Spurs camp after an unsatisfying stint in Miami. Curry apparently followed all of coach Erik Spoelstra’s rules and showed up on time to practices and games, but the Heat chose not to use him, except for 83 minutes. He did not make one appearance in the playoffs. Meanwhile, 39-year-old Juwan Howard remains a free agent and hasn’t officially retired. He was serviceable at times for the Heat last season, winning his first championship in 18 seasons, and has expressed a desire to continue playing.
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.