Tuesday night, with the trade deadline looming, the Hornets were good enough to give us just under an hour with the team’s general manager, Dell Demps. Although he, like any NBA front office person, was guarded, you could still get a good glimpse of his thoughts by reading how he answered questions, which answers he gave enthusiastically, and which he just had to give.
There was no doubt that Demps came to New Orleans day one with a plan on how he believed this team could succeed; he sold Shinn and Chouest and later Jack Sperling and the NBA. For the second time in as many times as I’ve heard him talk, he made it clear that if the Hornets could seriously improve the team, the luxury tax wouldn’t stop them. He also seems fairly confident with the constant phone calls being made, that, more likely than not, a trade will be made before the deadline.
Demps also was insistent that both Chris Paul and David West were in the team’s long term plans. Chris is under contract; David he knows won’t sign an extension for economic reasons, but Demps sounded confident he could re-sign DX. Plus, he said any personnel moves are run by both guys. All of this fits into the long-term goal that Demps has of turning this team into the kind of team that players want to play for, the kind of team that guys believe they can make a contender by being the last piece. The man is committed to not just success, but success here; he just bought a house, loves it here, and says his family feels the same. That’s more than Sean Payton can say.
When asked about specific players, he acknowledged Ariza’s up and down play, but was confident that his defense was instrumental in the team’s success. That said, I find it hard to believe Ariza’s name is legitimately coming up in trade rumors. He said Chris’s knee is fine, but it was muscles in his quad that gave them pause and led to the knee brace–and that such injuries can take two years from which to fully recover. Again, Demps said Marcus was inconsistent, and capable of being great, but also of doing nothing. Sadly, nothing Dell said made me believe Thornton will see much playing time this year, let alone end up on this team. Interestingly, Demps indicated one of the difficulties in getting a back-up for Chris was that such a player’s minutes would be limited, so they wanted someone that could play back-up point as well as the two. He never mentioned Bayless, but I have to think he better fit this bill than Jack, who he did mention. Actually, Thornton could do that. Nonetheless, it does makes sense of the team’s love affair with Green.
Although the absurdity of smallball was not specifically mentioned, Demps did say he was shopping for a backup big more than anything, and that Ariza had blown some defensive assignments when playing out of place at the 4. When fans expressed frustration with the stagnant offense, Demps did say that the team has a “20 second rule,” whereby the guy with the ball has to cross half-court before the 20 seconds point on the 24-second clock. He blamed poor offensive execution on moving on bringing the ball up too slow, as well as lackluster approaches to setting screens.
More than one fan stopped Dell to thank him for making this year so successful. Each time applause ensued. Demps said pundits didn’t expect much from the Hornets this year, and he’s loved proving them wrong. I wasn’t one of those, but Demps’ thoughts echoed ours: with Paul, West, and Okafor, there’s no excuse for not winning.