The Correct Argument for Firing Dell Demps

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.


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