Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Updated: July 21, 9:29 AM ET
Sources: Hornets to hire Demps as GM
By Marc Stein
The New Orleans Hornets have fought off the Phoenix Suns to hire San Antonio's Dell Demps as their next general manager.
Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that Demps and the Hornets reached an agreement Tuesday night on a deal that will install the Spurs' vice president of basketball operations as Jeff Bower's replacement. No deal has been signed.
It is thus Demps and rookie coach Monty Williams, former teammates with the Spurs in 1995-96, who will inherit Bower's difficult fight to regain the confidence of star guard Chris Paul.
Amid fears within the organization that Paul will eventually use the opt-out clause in his contract after the 2011-12 season to force a trade, New Orleans abruptly dismissed Bower last week and targeted Demps with the hope that he and Williams can convince Paul that the Hornets -- despite their uncertain ownership situation -- can build a contender around him. Bower's increasingly strained relationship with Paul, sources maintain, was a key factor in his departure.
Sources said the Hornets came out of the weekend confident that Demps wanted to come to New Orleans in spite of Phoenix's serious interest, after Demps' series of meetings during the NBA's annual summer league in Las Vegas with Williams and Hornets president Hugh Weber.
But the Hornets had to weather a strong push from the Suns, who interviewed Demps on Monday as scheduled and offered him a job to work as the lead personnel voice under new president of basketball operations Lon Babby in the Suns' restructured front office.
Demps even stayed overnight at the house of Suns owner Robert Sarver as part of Phoenix's attempt to lure the 40-year-old out of the Hornets' clutches. Sources said he gave the Suns' offer serious consideration Tuesday before ultimately committing to the Hornets.
The clincher, according to one source, was the opportunity to truly stamp his footprint on the Hornets' organization in collaboration with Williams. Ambitious as it sounds with no Tim Duncan, Paul's future uncertain and a cloudy ownership situation, Demps and Williams will try to replicate as much of the successful San Antonio culture as they can, having both closely studied under Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and team president R.C. Buford.
The Suns' situation would appear to be more stable, given the ongoing uncertainty about New Orleans' pending ownership transfer from George Shinn to minority partner Gary Chouest and how it feeds into the difficulty that Hornets face in trying to keep Paul happy. But in New Orleans, Demps will be the team's senior official on the basketball side, whereas in Phoenix he would merely be No. 2 behind the well-respected Babby.
With Babby still needing to hire at least one veteran basketball executive to ease his transition from the world of player representation, Phoenix continues to look at Milwaukee Bucks executive Jeff Weltman, who has been frequently mentioned as a prime candidate along with Demps.
The Hornets interviewed a number of candidates during their Las Vegas stay, either in person or by phone. The list includes former Portland Trail Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard, Washington Wizards executive Tommy Sheppard, former Suns executive David Griffin, former Sacramento Kings assistant general manager Jason Levien and Denver Nuggets vice president of player personnel Rex Chapman, who was the first player drafted in franchise history in 1988 when the team was still in Charlotte.
Demps, though, emerged as the frontrunner by Friday, sources said, with strong backing from Williams, who suddenly found himself with more input than anyone else on the Hornets' basketball side -- before coaching his first game in New Orleans -- after Bower's dismissal.
"I've known him and seen him work the past seven or eight years in the different avenues of our careers," Williams told the New Orleans Times-Picayune earlier Tuesday, before news of Demps' hiring had begun to spread. "Guys like that who have come from successful programs [are] the type we love that come from success. They bring good stuff that we didn't have."
The challenge for Demps and Williams now is convincing Paul that the Hornets' long-term outlook is not as bleak as it appears.
Rival teams have been trying to for months to convince New Orleans to trade Paul and those calls -- consistently knocked back by the Hornets until now -- only figure to increase in frequency if Shinn's proposed sale to Chouest continues to stall.
In an interview with ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard last month, Paul publicly acknowledged for the first time that he would be open to being traded if the Hornets can't convince him they're prepared to spend what is necessary to return to contention in the Western Conference.
But Demps' ability to connect with players, as seen in San Antonio through his close relationship with Spurs point guard Tony Parker, is another one of the key factors that prompted New Orleans to pursue Demps so hard ahead of Pritchard, who has more experience.
"Chris and I have, through various means, communicated throughout the summer, from the draft to the coaching hire to the GM changes," Weber told CBSSports.com earlier Tuesday. "... Everything that I've heard is that he's on board. The thing that we will do -- myself, our coach and our new GM -- is sit down with him and make sure he's as confident about the changes we're making as we are."
Demps, who has also been serving as general manager of San Antonio's D-League affiliate in nearby Austin, joins Oklahoma City's Sam Presti and three other recent GMs -- Steve Kerr, Danny Ferry and Pritchard -- as the latest graduate of Popovich/Buford factory in San Antonio to take over another team's front office.
Undrafted out of the University of Pacific in 1992, Demps had brief stints in the NBA for San Antonio, Golden State and Orlando in addition to several successful stops overseas before beginning his front-office career with the New York Knicks.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.