The Time is Now For Dell Demps

Published: November 30, 2011

Last year we got a glimpse of who Dell Demps will be as a general manager. Call it Dell 101, if you will. It’s the first real view anyone has had of Dell as a top executive, and he’s so far passed with flying colors. This year, if the tentative deal we’ve heard about holds, we’re going to learn a whole lot more. The truth is we haven’t seen jack (Not Jarrett) from Dell so far.

Those minor deals last year involving Jarret Jack, Julian Wright, Marcus Thornton, Carl Landry and the rest of the bunch told us that Demps works the phones harder than most. It was reported at one point last year that he was actually the most active GM on the phones in the entire league. That may have been required of him to some to some extent, since he probably lacks the existing networks that more experienced GM’s have, but through sheer determination he found some pretty good deals and kept Chris Paul relatively happy/quiet. Hell, if David West hadn’t been hurt, that might actually wound up with a team that found the second round of the playoffs, which literally not a single “expert” predicted before the season.

The problem is that even if the Hornets had made the second round, Paul wouldn’t have finished the season eager to extend his deal and remain in New Orleans. As has been well documented, he wants to win and he wants to do it now. The squad the Hornets finished with last year (even if you include a healthy D-West) wouldn’t win the NBA title if we played that season 1,000 times. They are one, if not two, big moves away from putting together a true contender even if they re-sign West and Landry. Also there is no time to develop anyone since Paul is only really under contract for this season, so that’s out the window.

With a shorter season this year it means that Demps has a smaller window to determine if it’s worth taking a chance to keep Paul, or if the team would be better off dealing him. Specifically he has until December 31st to trade Paul to get maximum value. That is the last day that Paul could be dealt and still be eligible for a Bird-level contract with a new team. If he’s not traded by then, his max deal with another team will be roughly 69.7 million over four years compared to 93.9 million over five years New Orleans can offer him to stay after this season.

Because of that, Demps holds quite a few cards. Paul is playing his as well, already trying to dictate where he winds up. He reportedly is refusing to extend his deal if Boston is the destination, but if the Hornets don’t trade him, then he’s going to have to limp away from tens of millions of dollars with the clear possibility that his knee issues could return. He may never see that money again, and Demps needs to make sure that Paul himself understands the financial risk he takes by not taking a max deal. This could realistically be Paul’s last big contract given the knee issues, and anyone telling him not to maximize his earning potential now isn’t looking out for his best financial interests.

Rob Mahoney has an interesting take on the situation over at the NYT basketball blog, where he argues that the Hornets should try to do what Miami did and recruit Paul to create a superteam in New Orleans. Not a bad idea, if I do say so myself. I’d rather be terrible and young with the potential for a few high lottery picks than first round playoff fodder year after year.

With uncertainty still clouding the ownership situation, five and a half players under contract, and the very real potential for a new hands-on owner to come in and put his own people in leadership positions, the toughest job in basketball over the course of the next months may just belong to Dell Demps. Last year he held his own at the mid-stakes tables. This year he has a seat at the high-stakes table, ready or not.

I, for one, wouldn’t bet against Demps.