Sources: Hornets eye Spurs' Demps
San Antonio Spurs vice president of basketball operations Dell Demps has emerged as the frontrunner in the New Orleans Hornets' fast-moving search for a new general manager, according to sources close to the process.
The Hornets have interviewed a number of candidates during the NBA's annual summer league in Las Vegas and expect to complete that process by the end of the weekend. Team president Hugh Weber said he hopes to have the new GM in place within a week.
Demps is the only candidate to date to have been summoned for multiple meetings with Hornets officials in the wake of Tuesday's ouster of Jeff Bower.
After Demps and Weber met for nearly three hours Thursday, Demps and new Hornets coach Monty Williams, who played together in San Antonio in the 1990s, huddled for another long meeting during Friday summer league play. That was followed Friday night by Demps, Williams and Weber having a dinner meeting.
But Demps also remains a candidate in Phoenix to be the lead personnel voice in the Suns' new front-office structure. That will officially begin to take shape early next week, when sources say longtime player agent Lon Babby, the Suns' new favorite to replace Steve Kerr, will be formally introduced as president of basketball operations.
The Hornets, meanwhile, continue to work through their list of GM candidates. By the time summer league play ends Sunday, plan to have met with former Portland Trail Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard, Washington Wizards executive Tommy Sheppard, former Suns executive David Griffin and former Sacramento Kings assistant general manager Jason Levien.
Denver Nuggets vice president of player personnel Rex Chapman -- who was the first player drafted in franchise history in 1988, when the team was still in Charlotte -- is also on New Orleans' list. But the Hornets, having been apprised that Chapman is happy in Denver, had not yet requested permission to interview him as of Friday.
Sources said Demps has an interview with the Suns on Monday, while former Pritchard top aide and current ESPN analyst Tom Penn, Levien and Milwaukee Bucks executive Jeff Weltman have also been mentioned as Phoenix candidates to work under Babby.
Pritchard was initially regarded as the Hornets' top target. He was the first person contacted in the search and holds marquee status among New Orleans' candidates after a strong run with the Blazers that stunningly ended when he was fired one hour before the start of the NBA draft on June 24.
Pritchard also has an association with Williams, who has emerged as the most influential basketball voice in the organization even though he has yet to coach a game with the Hornets, from their time together in Portland.
Yet with any candidate it pursues, New Orleans will have to overcome various concerns about the team's long-term outlook, starting with an uncertain ownership situation tied to the stalled transfer of operating control from longtime owner George Shinn to minority partner Gary Chouest.
The related daunting issue for any prospective new GM is the pressure mounting on the organization to regain the confidence of star guard Chris Paul.
Last month, in an interview with ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard, Paul publicly acknowledged for the first time that he would be open to being traded if the Hornets don't convince him they're prepared to spend what is necessary to return to contention in the Western Conference.
In addition to his playing history with Williams, Demps has a growing reputation as a member of the well-respected Spurs' brain trust. Sources say Demps' ability to connect with players, such as San Antonio's Tony Parker, is another factor that has sparked the Hornets' considerable interest over the past few days.
Sources said that Bower's abrupt departure earlier this week, which was announced while he was in Las Vegas with the Hornets' summer-league team, was triggered largely by Bower's increasingly strained relationship with Paul. The relationship between the former GM and the face of the franchise began to deteriorate in earnest with the firing of coach Byron Scott just nine games into the 2009-10 season.
Bower took over as interim coach after Scott's dismissal and posted a more-than-respectable record of 34-39 given New Orleans' numerous injury woes. But Paul was not consulted before the move and he remains close with Scott.
Although there have been numerous reports linking Bower's demise to a purported willingness to trade Paul -- which Bower strongly disputes -- sources close to the situation say that Hornets made the change with other motivations.
There is a belief within team management that replacing Bower with someone Paul would embrace would help convince the All-Star point guard that the Hornets are intent on keeping him and rebuilding around him. New Orleans is feeling an increasing sense of urgency to keep Paul happy because he has an option in his contract to become a free agent after the 2011-12 season.
Doubts about Paul's future in New Orleans have been rising since he told Broussard he was open to a trade if the Hornets don't show committment to building a contender. Those sentiments have only encouraged rival teams to keep pressing about trading Paul, but New Orleans -- as it has for months -- continues to rebuff every trade call regarding Paul.
Demps has worked in San Antonio's front office for the past five seasons and also serves as the general manager of their D-League franchise in nearby Austin. The Hornets are eager to make a hire by the end of next week so they can resume the pursuit of signings and trades.
"We're not dilly-dallying around,'' Weber said, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "We're well down the path of recruiting and finding the right candidate. I've literally had back-to-back meetings with agents of potential candidates. Progress is something we understand that needs to be done quickly and I'm confident we can get this wrapped up quickly. I've had a full day every day since Tuesday.''
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.