The Correct Argument for Firing Dell Demps

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Published: December 3, 2015

When things are going wrong for a franchise – in any sport – there are two things you can count on the fan base wanting: Players traded and people fired. Most don’t care how the problem is fixed, just that it is fixed and somebody is held accountable. The trading part is harder to pull off, because it takes two to tango, and often times when a team is bad, very few teams want their players. But an owner can fire anyone, anytime, anywhere, with no need for another team to approve it and no effect on other important cogs like your salary cap. It offers hope that the only thing holding your team back was that it had the wrong GM or the wrong coach, and that hiring someone else can create the change needed for your team to become great once again.

If the Pelicans continue losing, the cries to fire somebody will grow louder and louder. With Alvin Gentry on the first year of a four-year deal, and Monty Williams still being paid by the franchise, any rational thinker who knows Tom Benson will acknowledge that there is no way Gentry gets canned. Dell Demps is the most likely guy with his head on the chopping block, as he has assembled both this roster and this coaching staff. And while many have already started asking for his head, I feel like the arguments made are often too simple, or just downright illogical. There is an argument to be made for the Pelicans firing Dell Demps, and I will go ahead and make it here.

Making mistakes should not cost a person his or her job. Or should I say, that alone would be a foolish reason to fire somebody. When a person is in a position to make hundreds of decisions that involve predicting the future, they are bound to get many of those calls wrong. What a person should be fired for, however, is a series of mistakes all rooted in the same thought process – one that is clearly flawed, and they seem incapable of learning from. So, should Dell Demps be fired because the 76ers may have duped him and hidden injuries, and he failed to do due diligence? No. But if he is not doing his due diligence on players acquired now, then yes, he would be someone I fire. However, we have no evidence of that.

The selection of Austin Rivers was poor, and with hindsight, he should have taken someone else. Heck, 25 GM’s in that draft should have taken Draymond Green over the guy they chose, but the draft is a crapshoot. Has he learned from this? Well, we don’t really know because he hasn’t really drafted anyone since. But my contention is that you want a GM who has made mistakes, because that provided an opportunity for them to learn from them. The new shiny GM who comes in without a track record would scare me more than somebody who has made blunders in the past, because they still have a learning curve to overcome. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on (George Bush and I always forget this next part).

So, you don’t want to fire a guy for his past mistakes if he has learned from them. You want the best guy moving forward, not the best guy from the past, and often times the best guy for the future is the guy who took his lumps in the past – Bill Belichek, anyone? But what you don’t want is the guy who made mistakes in the past and failed to learn from them. The guy who thinks he made the right call but was just on the wrong side of luck. The guy who has a train of logic that makes sense to him, but continues to force him to dig a deeper and deeper hole. And Dell Demps does have a flawed line of logic and a clear weakness that he doesn’t seem to want to change, and that could lead this franchise even further down the rabbitt hole in years to come. That fatal flaw is simple – he doesn’t seem to understand sunk cost.

Sunk cost is probably the hardest thing for an average individual to grasp in practical settings. Every instinct in our being leads us to correct our mistakes rather than accept them and bite the bullet when logic says we need to. Watch – I will give you a scenario and you tell me what you would honestly do. You book a room for $200 a night at a nice hotel and plan on staying for two nights. The hotel allows you to cancel your reservation, but will still take 50% if you do. A day before you leave for your trip, a good friend texts you and tells you that they are going out of town unexpectedly (the same town you are traveling to) and that you are free to stay at their place. It’s equal distance to all the places you will be going as the hotel, and it is just as nice. Do you cancel your hotel reservation and forfeit the $200 or do you keep the hotel reservation?

When given this exact scenario, about 74% of people said they would keep their hotel reservation. And many said they might stay at their friend’s place, but would also have the hotel as a backup option. This is the interesting part, though. When another group of people were asked if they would buy a nice room if they could get it for 50% off in a situation where they were staying at a friend’s house, and have both, over 90% said no. So, why the drastic difference? Because people in the first situation can’t accept sunk cost, and see it as losing $200, rather than spending an additional $200. When laid out more clearly, of course no rational person would spend an extra $200 for a room they don’t need.

So, while I completely understand that this is a flaw of most human beings, Dell Demps has a job that only 30 people in the world have, and he needs to be held to a higher standard. He has to know when to bite the bullet and accept a mistake as a mistake, then move on. But time and time again, we have seen no evidence of him being able to do that. He trades CP3 for a package that includes Eric Gordon, who almost immediately gets hurt – which had already been a trend in his brief career. When it comes time to decide whether to match a max offer for him or take a sign-and-trade package from Phoenix, he matches – in large part because he has to show something for trading CP3. Fast forward to this offseason, and he has a decision on whether to re-sign Omer Asik. Now, if this guy was on the free agent market and Dell had never given up a pick for him, does anybody believe that he would have been in hot pursuit of Omer, offering him a 4 year deal, with some guaranteed money in a 5th year? Of course not, but this is the exact same scenario as the hotel one I presented you. There was already something of value given up for Asik that he could not retrieve (1st rounder), and so he was in a position where he could either let him go and assume a sunk cost or try to get the value back, even though it was highly unlikely. He did not assume the sunk cost, and through nearly 20 games it is looking like the Asik contract will be an albatross, though not as big as the Gordon was the past 3 years.

The first time I saw this fatal flaw in humanity was as a pre-teen watching Saved by the Bell every Saturday morning. Zach Morris would make a mistake in the beginning of every episode, then spend the next 15 minutes trying to dig out of it before eventually getting caught and causing more problems for himself than if he just owned up to the initial mistake. It’s our natural inclination, and Dell Demps falling victim to this multiple times does not make him a bad person, but it might not make him the best GM for the future of this franchise. In the next 20 months or so, decisions will have to be made on Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday, and Tyreke Evans – all guys that Dell has a vested interest in seeing succeed because he gave up assets and/or significant money to acquire them. Given his track record, can we trust him to be objective in his evaluation of all of them? Compare what he might think with what a fresh pair of eyes might see. A pair of eyes that has no ties to these players and does not feel responsible for their initial acquisitions.

Could you see any scenario where Dell just cuts bait with Jrue Holiday after parting with two top-10 picks for him? Or how about Eric Gordon after how much he has already invested in him? Tyreke Evans cost him Robin Lopez, Greivis Vasquez, cap room, and a 1st round pick in essence because after trading Lopez, he felt they needed Asik. You think he remains partial on Evans? This is the scary part of Dell remaining GM. We have seen a pattern of him refusing to bite the bullet on bad moves, and an unbiased set of eyes would probably say that the best way to fix this mess would be to bite a couple of bullets. They need to accept that Asik and Gordon were mistakes. They also need to be open to the idea that there might be a better fit out there than Jrue Holiday and/or Tyreke Evans. Saying good-bye to Ryan Anderson might be tough, but depending it might also be best for the future of the team.

Nobody can claim to definitively know the best path for the future of this franchise, but one thing that we can be sure about is that the person who is making the decisions can not be limited in their scope of the situation. All options have to be on the table, including ones that demand we cut our losses and don’t put ourselves in position to compound them. So far, Dell Demps has yet to show that he is capable of being completely objective in his decision-making process, and a betting man would likely wager that he will continue to follow this trend, leading to more mistakes that he or someone else will have to dig out of. So, no, we shouldn’t just list every mistake that Dell has made and use that as an argument to fire him. Nor should the results alone be the writing on the wall. Often times mistakes lead to knowledge and the darkest hour is right before the dawn. But, if someone has a pattern of thinking in such a way that has the ability to cripple your franchise again and again moving forward, then you have to cut bait – especially when several of those key decisions are looming.

THAT, is the correct argument for firing Dell Demps.

15 comments
mvpmb10
mvpmb10

The Jrue Holiday trade is so overblown!

Cuz the 76ers are so much better with the picks right??!!

But as a Dell supporter...I can still see why the opposition can be worried.

That is the correct argument you made.

The Asik deal is so! Overblown!! People can't wait to pile on that deal....but in a year ....his contract is a contract... Of exactly who he is....an average Big man. I quit being angry at people that don't understand the money side...and assets. It is a very fairdeal...and a very tradeable asset if it gets to that point.

But the point nobody can ever questions are results/wins. He put together a team that in two years Made a western conference playoffs. Most of yall rather root for the sixerssixers.

This year...with a fan base already on the fence about the guy...they had more injuries and came out the gate slow....when we all were anxious and excited for next level....u said it...with loses fingers get pointed n people lose jobs.

I can definitely see the argument for his firing...because of results... Most already didn't agree with his young veteran philosophy (Im in favor of it) but winning always cure s all.and they are not doing it right now.

Do you trust him with the expiring contracts? That's another great point. And the bump in money.

Such an important off season coming up. If the wins aren't there....u made the correct argument for his firing. I'm getting tired of the imbalanced roster. Doesn't make complete sense yet...and do you trust him to get it right?

They are tittering the line of blow it up...and that's not a good place to be

c

mvpmb10
mvpmb10

I don't know if I want the team to lose...for a chance at Simmons.

Or make a run.

That sucks

CoReMeGa
CoReMeGa

Great article and thank you for writing this!

Fans always get too antsy and want a coach or GM fired but are usually too crazy and quick to want this. This season has been very hard to take but given the fact that we were missing 3 of our top 5 guard/wings up until 3 games ago, I think that is just crazy! The Pelicans play in the west... Are learning a whole new system... And have had even worse health luck then last year.

I believe in Dealer Dells plan and think he saw things changing in the NBA before others did, trading for Ryno before everyone wanted a stretch 4 and having multiple ball handling combo guards.. And the ability to be ABSOLUTELY LEATHAL when healthy with our small ball unit.

It's sad because we still don't know what we have yet with the players that we have and may never now. But don't fire Dell!

.... But ok the sunk cost thing is really scary!... We're going 30-10 to close out the year and make the playoffs!

Jimmy Lee Dobbs
Jimmy Lee Dobbs

Since Demps been the GM despite the moron fans on NOLA.com think Loomis is the GM of the Pelicans. Demps made moves that shook your head. The Asik re-signing have to be one of the dumbest moves ever you'll bring back a guy who don't fit in Gentry's offense knowing that you need athletic centers as well as guards for this team. The Sixers duped him in the Jrue trade for not telling Demps Holiday's injury history. A reason that Demps trade draft picks because besides AD who was NBA ready and Rivers was slightly not NBA ready. I think he and then coach Monty Williams were tired of theses 18 or 19 year old undeveloped players coming in the NBA where it's going to take time to put them in the rotation or better yet have to send them to the D-League. With the way things are with the Pelicans currently i can't see this team wanting to draft a rookie that might have to take season or two to develop into the rotation or starting line up. Getting an NBA ready player in the 2016 draft is unknown because with all the Ben Simmons talk it's really hype to me. I give it towards February before i'll say Simmons or any other prospect is worth drafting. Even if they want to save their season and maybe Demps job they'll have to make a trade(s) by the December 14th and or before the all-start break. 

NolaWill
NolaWill

No GM in professional sports should be fired BEFORE Sixers GM Sam Hinke..

If he can stay, EVERYONE STAYS!!

kfte
kfte

I commented just last night about the firing of Demps in the "Omer Asik's Contract Incentives", article The difference is I added Ajinca to the poor offseason moves. The worse thing a GM can do is not make a mistake, but to try to make the mistake work, by keeping the player and or resigning him just because you gave up a first round pick. It happens in all sports. MY RULE IS TO MAKE ONLY ONE MISTAKE PER PLAYER. Jim Finks drafted Shawn Knight he was a BUST from day one. Instead of cutting him Fink kept him for a year. The next year he brings him back, he then trades him to the Broncos for their BUST, a guy name Gregory. I call that trying to save face , by two teams. The guy came here and they cut him after about three games. They both were defensive lineman. A lot of GM's do that; trying to cover up their mistake which in the end it only makes a bad mistake worse. So I reiterate FIRE DEMPS !

mojart
mojart

f they fire demps...i think gentry will be fired as well...

kwilly
kwilly

I wouldn't dismiss the possibility of Gentry being fired so quickly.  While he did sign a 4 year contract, the 4th year is a team option.  Therefore, Benson would only have to pay him for 2 years after this season.  Furthermore, Monty only had 1 year remaining on his contract so Benson would no longer have to pay him.  One option would be to hire Van Gundy or Thibodeau as both coach and GM, similar to Stan's arrangement in Detroit.  I think both would still be interested because of AD and the prospect of what looks like a high lottery pick to use to build around AD.  As for the team's on-court performance, the biggest problem the team is having isn't Asik, although that was a wretched decision.  The biggest problem is the lack of quality PG play which is what I think is the best argument for firing Dell.  He over evaluated Holiday.  Even healthy, he's just not worth 2 lottery picks.  

StormSurge
StormSurge

Dell has been more than willing to accept sunken costs on some things. I dont have data in front of me, but the last time I recall looking at the ledger for salary cap, we had oodles of usable trade exceptions left unused and several players on the books that never wore a uniform (for some reason Casspi comes to mind here). So, a better analysis would show which sunken costs he appears to be willing to accept and which he is not. 


To use your hotel room example to an absurd and unrealistic extent, say for example booking the room when he did, he also got some secondary extra benefit which was limited and rare. Spitballing this because I don't do examples like this well, say booking the room when he did gave him 10X FF miles and a toaster oven or a copy of ADs max contract with a handwritten note by AD himself saying "Id have signed for half". Like I said, I suck at examples. These extra items may be worth more than the room itself or alternately utterly valueless to him and he wouldn't even notice giving them up.

Michael McNamara
Michael McNamara moderator

@StormSurge Maybe I didn't explain sunk cost well enough. Sunk cost is when you give up something for an item you value and can't retrieve what you have given up back. You accept that cost and move on rather than spending more to maintain that item. The things you mention do not fit that. You would need to find examples of times he gave up assets of value for something he wanted and then released those items for far less or nothing in return, rather than paying more to keep them. 

Austin Rivers would probably be the lone example, as he refused to pick up one of his rookie years and then traded him for what was no sure thing at the time. 

Noggy
Noggy

can you indent your stuff

Nicks65
Nicks65

@Noggy Honestly, I've tried before, and it is kind of difficult to do. Not just as simple as pushing tab on our site. 

There might be a simpler way that I'm unaware of, but that's a question for 42. 

Nicks65
Nicks65

I like this, but I have a couple of critiques/comments. 

Sunk Costs: I think a lot of what you said regarding sunk costs is fair. I've always seen GM's as money managers or finance type guys. They have constraints placed on them from the NBA (salary cap, etc) and ownership. Given those constraints they have to optimize their output per dollar given a certain level of risk. 

I was about to write 3 paragraphs on Asik and Gordon, but we more or less agree. I will say that I think Asik was a probability gamble like Gordon, but there was more uncertainty due to coaching change. For all I know, Gentry said, "Yes, we can use him" so Dell brought him back. As a coach, Gentry might not have cared about the price tag, or as a new coach, he might have overestimated Asik's value in his system. I've wondered if Gentry wasn't a bit overoptimistic about Asik and thought he could make him a competent offensive player. I mean the Bogut comparison?

Ultimately, the blame still falls to Dell for the reasons you listed. 

Also, we don't know if Dell felt external pressure to keep those guys you listed. In Gordon's case, letting him leave may never have been an option. Again, blame stays the same, but Dell is effectively a scapegoat. Still, that could mean that the next guy will be forced to stick with high cost mistakes because they were high cost. 

Your objective was to create the best argument for firing Dell, and I think this it. But I'm still not sure it is a good one. 

Michael McNamara
Michael McNamara moderator

@Nicks65 Agree with all of this. I don't have every piece of info, nor do I have the power to fire him, so it is a moot point. But given what we do know, I simply wanted to lay out the best argument, as opposed to what I normally see shouted after a loss. If I was his boss, I would ask him questions gauging his current objectivity and if I feel he can't accept sunk cost moving forward, that would terrify me given what is to come in the next 20 months. 

Nicks65
Nicks65

@Michael McNamara @Nicks65 Exactly. The only thing that scares is me is that the Pelicans have a limited timeline to basically reverse course and start over with AD guaranteed to be on the roster. And they can only do it once. 

There are some high stakes coming up. I was on record as being a bit of a Dell apologist because there was time, but after this season, time is starting to run out. 

Actually, I do have one other scary thought. AD is insanely good right now (now being the last couple of years). We, as Pels fans, seem to assume his peak will last until his early 30s. Peaks seldom last that long in the NBA. Maybe we haven't seen his peak yet, but I don't think that is guaranteed. He could be an early peaking player, which may mean the timeline is more truncated than we think. 

Of course, that's all guesswork and speculation. My point is simply that the margin of error is a lot slimmer than it ever has been. So yes, we really need to know if he is the right guy going forward.