Jan. 12, 2009
By JERRY HILL
Baylor Bear Insider
Since it was his first love, Dennis Lindsey isn't sure if he will ever "mentally close the door" on coaching basketball.
But it's safe to say that the former Baylor basketball guard (1988-92) is enjoying his role as vice president and assistant general manager for the NBA's San Antonio Spurs.
"Actually, I still have the itch (to coach)," said the 39-year-old Lindsey, who's in his second season with the Spurs after 11 years with the Houston Rockets. "But luckily, I get to scratch it during the summer with some camps and with my kids. I have four kids and two boys that are now getting into youth sports.
"As a coach, that's who you are and what you do. With coaching, you're so scheduled.
There are 82 shoot-arounds, there are 120 flights. And with a young family, I just found out that if I didn't want to go to Duke, I could send a scout. Or if the kids were having an event at school, and I was scheduled to go to Europe . . . while the main function of my job is to be gone a lot, I found that I had a lot more flexibility in choosing."
As one of the top three in a Spurs management team that includes head coach and president Gregg Popovich and president of sports franchises R.C. Buford, Lindsey is involved in the day-to-day operations of the team and all player acquisitions.
The day-to-day management includes travel, facilities and dealing with the NBA, other teams and player agents. As far as player acquisitions, he breaks them into three areas: free agency, trades and the draft.
"It's a great gig," said Lindsey, who returned to his alma mater in November to speak at a Baylor Leadership Academy meeting. "Obviously one of the main functions of the job is to bring in good players. So you're scouting the NBA, scouting the minor leagues, scouting colleges, scouting international teams."
Since Lindsey's arrival in the summer of 2007, the list of players that the Spurs have added includes guards Roger Mason, Jr., Ime Udoka and George Hill, who was taken with the 26th pick overall in the 2008 draft, and 6-9 forward/center Kurt Thomas.
"With the Spurs, it's a very collaborative effort on how we bring players in," Lindsey said. "R.C. and Pop have a really strong system, and we all contribute kind of in our areas of expertise and knowledge. You'd like to think that you evaluate (all the players) fairly and objectively. But I think it's human nature to like the guy that you brought in. You want them to be good. But with that being said, R.C. and Pop have now turned over the Spurs three or four times successfully. So knowing when to cut bait . . . is a very important part of the job and something I can learn a lot from, because they've done it so well here and for so long."
It was a little bit of an unusual lateral move that brought Lindsey from the Houston Rockets a year and a half ago. After starting on the ground floor as a video coordinator and scout, Lindsey moved quickly up the ladder and was the Rockets' vice president of basketball operations/player personnel for five years before staying within the state lines and the same division with the Spurs.
"As competitive as the Rockets, Spurs and (Dallas) Mavericks are, it's somewhat unusual," Lindsey said of the move. "But I had a good relationship with R.C. at the time. We were still very competitive, but we had a great professional respect. I was in Houston for a long time. So when the opportunity presented itself, I felt like I needed to grow in some areas. And when you change your circumstances a little bit, it's a good growth opportunity."
At Baylor, Lindsey was part of teams that went to the NCAA Tournament in 1988 and the NIT in '90, playing in the backcourt with the likes of longtime NBA veterans Micheal Williams and David Wesley and current Cleveland Cavaliers assistant coach Melvin Hunt.
But from the start, Lindsey's goals were all about coaching.
"I wanted to coach. I wanted to be Scott Drew," Lindsey said of the Bears' current head coach. "I wanted to be a young head coach in college basketball."
After two years as an assistant at Southwest High School in Fort Worth, Texas, and two more as an assistant at Penscacola (Fla.) Junior College, Lindsey's path took a dramatic turn when he joined the Rockets in the summer of 1996.
"They were looking for someone who had some coaching experience that was young, so I was lucky enough to fit the profile," he said.
Although Lindsey didn't know him that well at the time, it probably didn't hurt that the Rockets' GM was former Baylor player and coach Carroll Dawson.
"Lucky for me, when I joined the Rockets as a scout and video coordinator, they weren't real heavy in management. There just weren't a lot of people," Lindsey said.
"So I had a lot of opportunities, just because there was a lot of work to be done. That's when Carroll first took over and moved off the bench (as an assistant coach). There are always opportunities in work, so Carroll and I got to be very close. He's like a second father to me. And from there, I started branching into management."
Not that the Rockets didn't have expectations of their own, but it was a little different world when Lindsey moved to the Spurs. Remember, this is a franchise that had won four NBA championships in the nine years before Lindsey arrived, including '03, '05 and '07.
"That's a good thing. You want expectations," he said. "Because if you have expectations, that probably means that you're built to win. When you're in sports, from a facility standpoint, a funding standpoint, a personnel standpoint, you just want to have a chance to win. So clearly the program that Pop and R.C. have set, along with Tim Duncan and David Robinson being the main pillars of the organization, they've had this unbelievable run. So yeah, the expectations are high. That's something that Pop doesn't duck, and he holds us accountable. And while some people would worry about it, I love the people I work with and love the challenge of trying to be the best."
So when the Spurs lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in last year's Western Conference finals, you "have to ask why," Lindsey said.
"You always want to match up . . . and some years you do it better than others," he said. "You not only identify areas that you need to match up with particular teams, you've also got to identify areas that fit you well and stay true to your principles. And if you have an area that maybe you have a deficit in, you try to bring someone in that has a certain skill set that you don't have enough of. But like I said, I think Popp and R.C. have done a pretty good job of that through the years."
And then this season, the Spurs started 0-3 for their worst start since the 1973-74 ABA season.
"Unchartered territory for us," said the Spurs' Duncan. "We've played some bad basketball so far, to say the least."
But after Monday's 91-84 win over the Miami Heat, the Spurs have won eight of their last nine and lead the Southwest Division with a 23-11 record that ranks them second in the Western Conference behind the Lakers.
"We'd like to think that being veteran and smart and experienced has a little bit to do with our good play of late," Lindsey said. "But I think it's more a function of having Manu (Ginobli) and Tony (Parker) back, who we were missing early in the season for different injuries. One of the positive things that came out of Manu's and Tony's absences is that some other guys got to play and we were able to build some depth with new guys like Roger Mason and George Hill."
While he graduated from Baylor 16 years ago, it hasn't diminished Lindsey's enthusiasm for the basketball program in general and specifically the rebirth under Drew.
"The job that they've done is beyond description," he said. "When you think about where the program was and where it is now, I'm sure the people that hired Scott could never have foreseen that they would get it turned around this quickly. Especially given that the NCAA Tournament appearances have been so few and far between. I can't say enough about Scott and his staff and the support that the institution has given. It would have been real easy for the leaders at Baylor to kind of fold up the tent and say, `We don't want to take any more risks.' But clearly they've funded the program and they've wanted to maintain or re-establish being competitive again. And as an alum and ex-letterman, I couldn't be more thrilled."
As one of the perks of his job, Lindsey was in Washington, D.C., at the Verizon Center last March when the Bears lost to 18th-ranked Purdue, 90-79, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
"I was actually scouting in Washington," he said. "That's one of the great things about this job is you get to see the alma maters that you've played for or coached. It was such a thrill to see them play. And hopefully this year they'll be able to build upon that and be able to advance."
Lindsey and his wife, Becky, who's the daughter of former TCU head football coach and Baylor offensive coordinator F.A. Dry, live in San Antonio with their four children: Jacob, Matthew, Meredith and Jessica Claire.