SALT LAKE CITY — More than halfway through Dennis Lindsey's first season as Jazz General Manager, he's gaining "experience by fire." On the clock for his first trade deadline and all that it encompasses, Lindsey's training in front offices with the Rockets and Spurs makes him perfectly suited for the Jazz way too.
"You're not going to tell us if you're going to make a deal are you," I asked Lindsey in a sitdown interview that aired on SportsBeat Sunday. "No!" Lindsey deadpanned.
We both got a chuckle out of that.
Of course no NBA front office worth anything is giving the media anything (at least on the record) right now with the trade deadline bearing down. Lindsey did have plenty to say though about the process.
"Jazz business is Jazz business," he said. "Look, we're trying to create a culture here where players aren't seen as assets, they're seen as players and people. And so how we treat our players, how we build our culture is very important to the Millers."
Undaunted, I kept pressing. "February 21? Lots of Jazz fans look at that as some sort of 'golden date.' What does it mean to you?"
"Well, it's deadline-oriented, human nature," he said. "The league always crams for the test, we're all at a poker table and by that very definition, people don't show their hand till late."
I cut him off, asking, "And they lie a little bit?"
Dennis has been around the block and swats my conjecture into the first row.
"I don't lie. I may 'no-comment,' " Lindsey's said, on a roll now. "We don't feel any incumbent pressure to make a deal, and so the things that are broached to us, we are going to take it on a case-by-case basis and just go through the valuations and see what's best for us, whether that's to stand pat or make a change."
We got more into the minutiae of the Jazz situation with expiring contracts — eight at last count: Randy Foye, Mo Williams, Jamaal Tinsley, Earl Watson, DeMarre Carroll, Raja Bell. And the two biggest? Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, making them constant fixtures in conversations about the Jazz future.
This season's payroll of about $65.5 million will be trimmed to $25.7 million as those contracts come off the Jazz books. In the world of evaluating a team's building power, when your payrolls dropping $40 million dollars at the end of this season, you are what some may call "well positioned."
So, naturally, I ask Lindsey what that means to Jazz fans.
"Look it‘s a good thing," he said. "I'd rather be in that position than inherit a salary cap position that's a mess, Tom. So, I'm lucky."
So how does Lindsey assess the added pressure, real or imagined, from Jazz fans as Thursday's deadline approaches?
"There's always pressure around the business because it's a bottom-line oriented business; you either win or you lose. The thing I would say is we can react to a lot of different eventualities that could come into play," Lindsey said. "So, say this team finds a rhythm as Gordon and Mo return, we can react to that. We have (financial) flexibility to react to that and keep our guys. We can keep some of our guys. If the team doesn't finish as strong as we would like, we can react to that situation as well."
Kevin O'Connor, though way out of the spotlight, is apparently still pulling strings, carrying out marching orders from the Millers.
"How does it work?" I drill down on Lindsey. "Is it still a mentorship? How does it work in policy decisions?"
Lindsey said it's always by committee.
"In this business, I've never seen a unilateral decision made, Tom. There's always ownership buy in, always the management perspective, there's always the give and take at various levels from the coaches and coaching staffs," Lindsey said. "So how to explain the nature of Kevin and I's working relationship is real simple: we're a team."
That team's next big game is Thursday. ESPN is reporting that the Los Angeles Clippers and Jazz are involved in detailed discussions about a trade that would send Millsap to L.A. and bring the Jazz the Clippers' prized 23-year-old point guard Eric Bledsoe (18th overall pick in 2010 from Kentucky) and other pieces to make the deal work.
ESPN's Marc Stein said: "The Clippers are really in a 'win now' mode. The best way to convince Chris Paul (2013 All-Star Game MVP) to stay is to make a long run in the playoffs, and the ability to get a player like Paul Millsap, that does fall into that category. (Millsap's) a young player who could grow with the Clippers core and really improve them in the short term, so it's something both sides will look at, doesn't mean there's going to be a trade."
Stein adds that the Clippers insiders think they'll end up standing pat, but others say the Jazz would jump at the chance to grab a coveted young point guard like Bledsoe, to grow with the Jazz young core. Getting something very valuable for Millsap now is better than watching him walk away for nothing when this season is over.
We'll know what has or has not been done very soon. If the Jazz don't see a great deal, they have all spring and summer, and that $40 million to keep building a contender.
Little by little this is becoming Dennis Lindsey's team.