Before last night's game, my good friend and I were lucky enough to be able to take part in a great 45 minute question and answer session with the General Manager of the New Orleans Hornets, Mr. Dell Demps. Going into the Q&A, we both were excited for the opportunity to hear some exclusive information, but also expected a little bit of Demps side-stepping the answers that we were really looking for. To our surprise, however, he was incredibly straight forward with us, answering almost every question that we had without beating around the bush at all. Listed below are ten questions asked by us or some of the other 30-40 season ticket holders in attendance, along with a summary of Dell Demps' responses. You can find this entry at its original location here, as well as follow the rest of our work on facebook or twitter.
With the NBA's current ownership of the Hornets, how flexible is the league allowing you to be in terms of the salary cap and the luxury tax? (Andrew's question)
Demps first made it clear that the Hornets are currently about $5 million under the luxury tax line, so to go over the line, it would basically have to be in order to acquire what he called a "home run hitter." In his mind, there are about 15 such players in the NBA. If the situation presented itself where it became possible to acquire one of these players (he didn't give any specific names), then the team has been given the flexibility by the NBA to go over that tax line. In general, he assured us that despite the league's ownership of the team, it is "business as usual" throughout the Hornets' organization and that nothing has changed or tightened up.
What kind of upgrades are you currently pursuing for the Hornets' roster?
In Demps' words, the Hornets' main priority is finding a "dynamic big man." In particular, he said that he hopes to acquire a solid rebounder who is very active inside, and someone who has already proven himself in the NBA. It seems as if he isn't looking to roll the dice on an unproven player with upside, but instead someone who has already shown what he can do at this level on a consistent basis.
How is the impending expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement affecting your personnel and contract decisions? Are you taking a more conservative approach to preserve flexibility since the salary cap is likely to decrease, or are you acting in a more aggressive style? (My question)
Demps' first key word when answering this question was that he plans to be "proactive." He then went on to discuss a hire that they made of an in-house attorney who's lone job is to study the CBAs for the NFL, MLB, and NHL in order to try and forecast the results of the NBA's impending labor negotiations. Although the Hornets are keeping the potential effects of a new CBA in mind, Dell made it clear that he is willing to take risks, and if a great opportunity presents itself, he won't be afraid to jump on it.
Are the Hornets players in the Carmelo Anthony Sweepstakes?
Ah, the question so many people have been asking. Well, I hate to break it to you guys, but it's not happening. Dell was great in answering this question, telling us that he "is not allowed to talk about specific players to the media, but there's no rules against doing so with the fans." Demps discussed the double-edged sword nature of any Carmelo Anthony trade, saying that Denver's asking price is just too high. To acquire a player of his caliber (who he made clear is one of those 15 "home run hitters" he mentioned before), a team would need to trade a bunch of its current assets and leave themselves in a poor position to re-sign him after shipping away so many pieces of the team to acquire him. Regardless, Melo has made it clear to Demps and others that he wants to play on the east coast, and would not entertain the thought of staying in New Orleans.
When a team builds a successful, winning identity, it seems as if this culture lasts longer in larger markets (ex. LA, Boston) than in smaller markets. What can be done to create more balance throughout the league?
I don't remember exactly how that question was worded, but it invoked an answer concerning the current salary cap structure and NBA revenue sharing program. Demps for the most part agreed with this assessment, making note of the fact that the Hornets' total team payroll is around $65 million, whereas the Lakers are at about $90 million and Orlando is at $95 million. He made it clear that actions need to be taken in the upcoming labor negotiations to fix this discrepancy and create more parity in the league, as he plans to lobby for an increased revenue sharing program comparable to the NFL, as well as the obvious conclusion to slightly lower player salaries.
Will Marcus Thornton ever crack the starting lineup?
I stand corrected; I said earlier that the Carmelo question was the one that everyone's been asking, but I was wrong, it is definitely this one. Demps answered this question very well, and made all of us understand why it has taken so long for him to get substantial playing time. He began by stating that within the Hornets' organization, there are certain "non-negotiables," and at the top of that list was team defense. Before training camp, there were sessions specifically conducted for the benefit of the team's younger players to help get them acclimated to the new system that Coach Williams was bringing in. Thornton chose not to attend these off-season sessions and did not really put in the off-season work to be effective in Williams' defensive game plan, and when his lack of defensive prowess was combined with a poor shooting preseason, it led to him spending most of his time on the bench. With the Hornets' hot start, there was no real reason to mess with what was working, so he remained on the bench. As the season progressed, he began to improve defensively in practice, and has since earned more minutes. As for the "starting lineup" part of the question, Dell made it clear that he thinks Thornton's game is best suited for the second unit. Since there are only so many shots to go around for the starting five, Demps believes that having Thornton's scoring ability coming off the bench is the best fit for both him and the Hornets.
What are your plans in regards to David West's expiring contract? Are there contract extension negotiations taking place, and do you believe he will remain a Hornet? (Andrew's question)
Out of everything that Demps was asked, this is the only question that he seemed to step around a little bit. He told us that he has spoken numerous times with West and has made it clear that he "wants him to retire a Hornet, have his jersey hanging in the New Orleans Arena, have him receive standing ovations whenever he returns to a game, and have his family able to call for free tickets whenever they want." That being said, Dell enlightened us with a key piece of information regarding NBA extensions - players can only be extended based on the final year of their contracts. Therefore, although West's contract was front-loaded and he averaged more money throughout the duration of the contract than he is making this season, an extension must be based off of his salary this year. As a result, the chances of an extension before the end of this season are slim, but Demps hopes to negotiate a new contract with him after the season and before any other team has a chance at him.
What's the deal with Hornets games on Dish Network and DirecTV?
Demps admittedly wasn't the most knowledgeable person on this subject, but he did want to emphasize that it's in the works to get the Hornets games on both of these networks. He couldn't give a time frame, but he tried his best to assure everyone that the team has been working hard to make sure that everyone who wants to watch the Hornets will have that ability.
Are you happy with the New Orleans Arena?
This was an interesting question that I had not thought about before. Demps seemed to be of the opinion that there are both worse arenas and better arenas throughout the league, ranking the Hornets' facilities around "middle of the road" status. He joked that he wanted to walk across the street and ask the group that is currently upgrading the Superdome "we're next, right?" He made it pretty obvious that he would like to see a few upgrades to the New Orleans Arena, but it's not a pressing issue at the moment.
Do you believe that the Hornets will remain in New Orleans?
Demps focused on a couple points regarding this issue, jokingly mentioning along the way that if he didn't think that they were staying, he wouldn't have just closed on purchasing a house. The first point that he made was his conviction about the existence a local group who will step up and buy the team. Dell really believes that there is a group who will make this happen, thus securing the team's place in this city for the foreseeable future. He also mentioned that the Hornets' ability to hit the attendance benchmark (which he said had already been met prior to the Spurs game based on pregame sales) was very important and that he also believed that an adjusted lease agreement would be negotiated, an essential element for any potential buyer.
I'm sure I'm forgetting one or two things that he mentioned, but I think I have addressed most of the important points that he made throughout the 45 minute session. Dell Demps seems like a fantastic GM who really knows what he's doing, and I personally feel very comfortable with the team in his hands, as well as excited for the team's future here in New Orleans. I hope he has helped to answer most of your questions as well.