If Dennis Lindsey was going to be an NBA general manger, the timing had to be right and the culture perfect.
He found that combination with the Utah Jazz, who on Tuesday introduced the former San Antonio Spurs exec as new GM.
Longtime Jazz general manager Kevin O’Connor relinquished day-to-day duties with Utah but will continue to oversee basketball operations as an executive vice president.
Jazz CEO Greg Miller did not mince words in outlining his expectations for Lindsey, who spent the past five seasons in San Antonio’s front office and was Utah’s first and only choice for the job.
”I view your arrival here as a tangible step in our march toward a championship,” Miller said.
Lindsey is not looking to change completely the way the Jazz operate. His goal is to simply keep building on the foundation already in place.
”I’m not trying to change a culture that’s already strong,” Lindsey said.
The offseason front office shake-up came after a young Jazz team surprised some by winning 36 games in the condensed season only to be swept out of the playoffs in the first round by the Spurs. The expansion was not surprising as Utah had one of the smallest front offices in the NBA.
O’Connor said Lindsey will have plenty of autonomy in day-to-day operations. He is committed to empowering the GM to make his own decisions to create a smooth transition.
”I’m not going to be looking over Dennis’ shoulder,” O’Connor said. ”I’m going to be looking shoulder to shoulder with him.”
Before coming to Utah, Lindsey had lengthy front office stints in Houston and San Antonio. He spent 11 years with the Rockets. Lindsey joined the team as a video coordinator and scout in 1996 and rose through the ranks to become vice president of basketball operations and player personnel from 2002 to 2007. He then moved to the Spurs and spent five seasons there as the team’s assistant general manager. Lindsey handled day-to-day management of basketball operations and supervised the team’s drafting and scouting efforts.
During Lindsey’s tenure with the Spurs, San Antonio won more than 50 regular-season games and advanced to the NBA playoffs all five seasons. The Spurs also reached the Western Conference finals twice and finished with the NBA’s best record twice.
Lindsey said the experiences in his last stop prepared him for the challenges he faces in Utah.
”It’s a small market like we had in San Antonio,” Lindsey said. ”Both organizations are very proud and competitive. They’re trying to figure out ways to overcome what may be perceived as competitive disadvantages. I get that rhythm to work and look for small advantages.”
One immediate challenge Lindsey faces will be potentially restocking a roster that has multiple expiring contracts at the end of the upcoming season. As many as eight players will be in the final year of their current deals with the Jazz heading into the 2012-13 season, including forward Paul Millsap and big man Al Jefferson.
Lindsey said his focus will be on identifying hard-working core players the team can build around. That is the philosophy San Antonio used in building around Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Conversely, the Spurs drew on Jazz teams built around John Stockton and Karl Malone.
Lindsey wants to continue building that workmanlike culture in Utah to produce a championship formula.
”The results don’t lie,” Lindsey said. ”Players and teams are like water. They always find the right level.”
Miller emphasized that O’Connor relinquishing his GM duties had nothing to do with results and was simply a part of expanding the team’s front office. O’Connor was part of the team that interviewed and hired Lindsey. Miller said O’Connor left the team in good shape for his successor.
”Kevin has brought a great deal of credibility to our franchise,” Miller said. ”I know he is very well-respected around the league.”
One of O’Connor’s lasting legacies will be the drafting and trading of All Star Deron Williams. O’Connor brought in the mercurial point guard after the Jazz suffered their worst season in three decades. Then, he made the surprising decision to trade Williams before the deadline in 2011 rather than deal with his impending free agency.
It worked out for the Jazz as the team netted another rising star in power forward Derrick Favors. At the time, O’Connor worried it could turn out to be a disaster.
”It took guts to do it,” O’Connor said. ”We traded away an All Star in the prime of his career. Normally you would get fired for doing that.”
The Jazz will be satisfied if Lindsey can now come up a few similar bold moves on his own.