Buck Harvey: Ex-Spur loses his seat as the GM

Chris Paul lobbing to Blake Griffin will be fun. Knowing the Lakers will be envious in the same city will be, too.

David Stern will receive a few compliments, and the New Orleans franchise will receive a few offers. The Hornets, with both a sensible payroll and a promising future to market, will be easier to sell.

But there’s someone who doesn’t know what his job is after this, or even if he has one. The general manager of the Hornets was off to the side while the NBA ran his team for him, and what happened Wednesday didn’t help him.
Before, Dell Demps’ peers thought he’d gotten a raw deal.

Now, didn’t Stern do a better job than Demps?

Demps knew the NBA ride could be a rough one. He made the Spurs’ roster in 1995 as a free agent; when he took his seat on the team plane for the first road trip that season, he felt a sense of accomplishment.

He felt something give, too. As the plane took off from the San Antonio airport, his seat became untracked along with that of a teammate, Chuck Person.

Both were injured, with Person suffering a herniated disk.

Demps sat back up. He patched together a 10-year playing career that stretched from the Philippines to France and beyond. Later, he took a job in the D-League, then scouted for the Knicks before coming back to the Spurs.

Here, he learned how to run his own operation with the Toros. Those who worked with him in the Spurs’ organization thought this: Demps was competitive and smart, and aggressive in both his thinking and his execution.

Little wonder he teamed with a former Spurs teammate, coach Monty Williams, in New Orleans in the summer of 2010. And from the first day, his challenge was Paul.

Paul was already impatient then, wondering if he should go elsewhere. Demps met with him immediately upon becoming the Hornets’ general manager.

“They made the right choice hiring Dell,” a source close to Paul said then. “We knew the Spurs talked very highly of him, so that’s all we could go off. But (Paul) said it was a great meeting.”

Demps did what every other GM in the league would have tried to do. He massaged his star. He outlined for Paul what was possible, knowing all along that his star might change his mind. Paul did eventually.

But Demps wasn’t any other GM. He didn’t have to answer to one owner, or even a group of owners. He had the league.

Stern should want to get out of this conflict of interest as soon as possible. It looks bad, and it feels worse. Various officials around the league see too many possibilities.

Such as the lottery. It’s always been a moment of game-show paranoia. Now it’s possible an NBA-owned team will have two chances.

This trade was as messy. Stern and Demps tried to frame it Wednesday night in a teleconference as a cooperative effort. When Demps came to the league with the three-way deal that involved the Lakers and Rockets, Stern said they talked in gentle terms.

“OK, let’s see what else we can do?”

In truth, the NBA vetoed Demps’ trade and took over his responsibilities. Demps was crushed.

Many around the league thought a lot of his initial proposal. Demps had gotten three veterans (Lamar Odom, Luis Scola and Kevin Martin) who would have made the Hornets competitive.

Still, it was a middling mix, as well as one whose budget and lack of star power wouldn’t have impressed potential buyers. The NBA accomplished all of that — without Demps’ assistance — when it landed a younger talent in Eric Gordon and the promise of Minnesota’s unprotected lottery pick in a deep draft.

Wednesday night, Demps said he was excited for the Hornets, and maybe he is. But this wasn’t his trade, and he wasn’t running his team. He was untracked again, and likely to be unemployed.


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