Lon Babby End Of Season Press Conference, Full Transcript

Full transcript from Lon Babby's end of season press conference held on May 2, 2012. Transcript thanks to Mr. Haremoor:

So, is this thing on? Can everybody hear me OK?

I've been accused when I get very sincere of having my voice tail off - I don't know what you read into that if my voice is loud, I guess that means I'm lying. I don't know.

Let me say a few words of kind of introduction and then I'll try to answer as many questions as you guys have - I'll stay as long as you want.

Let me talk about first about where we are as a franchise, and what our goal is, so there's no misunderstanding either with you guys or with our fans or with our team...you know, the goal around here is for us to be an elite team. My definition of that, our definition of that is a team that's gonna legitimately compete for championships every year. That's what we aspire to, that's what we work towards every single day that we're here, and then the question is "Where are we" relative to that standard. And I think the answer to that is, the way I would put it is, the way I have put it is that we're a team in transition, beginning the process of getting back to elite status. Not there yet, obviously, and have a lot of work to do to get there, but that's our aspiration and that's the standard by which we measure ourselves. So, how are we going to do it? That's the question we get asked all the time, the thing that we've done here, really, the most importantly in that regard I think since we've been here is make moves that give us now, beginning this summer, beginning next month, a measure of flexibility under the cap that we didn't have, and that was a process that really began with the Orlando trade and bringing Gortat here, and then being very disciplined during this past off-season to make sure that we didn't interfere with our cap space going forward.

What I always say, at this point, when I talk about this is that we have cap space. But cap space doesn't mean you're going to go out and sign free agents, it could also mean that we're going to make one-sided trades, there are those possibilities, as well, and there's a distinct possibility that we don't use our cap room this summer, because we're gonna make, you know, we've worked hard to put ourselves in this position, to have this kind of flexibility, to have a range of opportunities, but I am absolutely determined that we are gonna be disciplined in how we approach this, because we cannot get ourselves right back in the same spot that we were in by doing bad contracts, not assessing value properly, not making the right choices in terms of personnel.

We're gonna use the draft. It hasn't been used here often enough. I think we may be the only team in the NBA, or maybe there's one other, that has only two of their own draft choices on the team. I don't count Steve. Robin Lopez and Markeiff - that's not good enough. We've gotta get younger. We got a draft choice last year, and as you all know, we traded it. We're going to be very careful, going forward, to make good choices, and use our draft choices as assets, and make good picks, and I'm very, very confident in the choice that Lance and John made with Markeiff , but more importantly, as we go back and look at how we assess the talent in the draft, I think they were spot on across the board. So I'm very confident in our scouting and in our drafting.

So, that's, kind of, you know, our "state of affairs" for our franchise as a whole. And if you have questions about that, obviously I'm happy to answer them.

Let me talk a little bit about the season that just ended, and we're still catching our breath from it, it was a, it was a daunting season. People ask me what was the hardest part about it was. For me, the hardest part was keeping up with my dry cleaning, I could never seem to get to the dry cleaners to get my stuff (unintelligible) cause I know we're always traveling, we've got a game every single night.

Our expectation going into the season may be different than a lot of you folks and different from a lot of prognosticators, was that we had a, our mission was to begin the rebuilding process, maintain our discipline for this coming year, and remain competitive. I'm adamantly opposed to this concept of tanking, I don't think it's the right way to go about things, I don't think it's good for our franchise, I don't think it's good for our fan base, it's not good for our city. And quite often, what it does, is I think, allow you to mask bad decisions year after year, claiming that you're in this idea that you're trying to get bad to get good. Whether we can pull it off or not, I don't know, but our goal going into the season was to be as competitive as we could be, and maintain our flexibility going into this off-season.

When we assessed our team, right after the lockout, it was our belief that we were good enough to be a playoff team, and that was the goal of the season. It was understood by our players, so in that sense, the season was a disappointment. But, having said that, I think that you'd have to look back and say there were many, many positives. As we look at where we are and where we're headed, it was a season that had some real plusses, obviously, particularly the second half of the year. Some of those, in my mind, first and foremost, having the opportunity to watch a Hall of Famer play at an All-Star level, and savor that for another season, was a tremendous positive. Having Steve Nash on this team, was a joy, it's always a joy to watch him play, he had a wonderful season, and I will say this, and I'm extremely proud of how he handled his situation, and how he handled his situation as it related to the trade deadline and the chances of being traded and all that, he and I talked about it right after the lockout, agreed about how we were gonna handle it, I made a commitment to him that we weren't gonna trade him if he wanted to stay, and he was the ideal partner, all season long. And the opportunity to share in the season with him and watch him play at the level he played at, to me is the first positive on the list.

The second positive I would say, is just the cultural, what I call the cultural enhancements, whether they were the changes in the, you all saw them downstairs, in the facilities, in the family room, having office space for the assistant coaches, in making some changes in the locker room to make that more of a sanctuary, all of that is designed for one reason and one reason only, and that's to create the best possible professional environment that's gonna promote excellence, and that - I think we made a lot of progress, and I talk, I don't know, I talk often about my five "P's" and the biggest problem with the five P's is I can never remember all five of them, but um, you know, I'll try. Preparation, Poise, Perseverance, Pride, and Performance. And I think we made progress in every one of those. I think our game preparation, our preparation upstairs here is excellent and is improving all the time. I think our team showed, for the most part, a lot of poise. You can't start a season 12 and 19 and then end up, and win 21 I think it was 21 and 14 the rest of the way. That's perseverance. To win a game in LA without Steve and Grant, that's the kind of culture and the kind of chemistry that we were looking to build, and having finished our exit interviews, we are in a totally different place now than we were a year ago. Our camaraderie among our team, the joy that they have playing with each other, the trust that they have playing with each other, is in a totally different place and we got that sense last year that we needed to do work on that, and that was one thing that I think we really accomplished. So, there's nothing more, look, , it's great to have top talent - we didn't have top talent, but if you can't have top talent there's nothing greater in sports than the sum being greater than the parts, and we accomplished that the second half of the year. And that was fun.

We made tremendous progress, in terms of, what we talk about in terms of balance, our defense was better. We won games this year because we were able to play defense. And I thought Alvin did a brilliant job in hiring Elston Turner and incorporating him into our staff, and letting him do his work. That's a credit to our entire coaching, staff that we began to get that kind of balance. I thought Markeiff Morris was an excellent choice, not only where we picked him, but just for what we needed, and he's going to give us, gave us a measure of toughness and it was a very successful pick. He has a heck of a lot of work to do this summer, and when you factor in that he didn't have a training camp and he didn't have a summer league, I thought, you know, he had a really fine first season, obviously, he had inconsistencies, hit a gully there for a while, but pulled himself back out of it. And then the other thing I would say, the new players we brought in, Ronnie Price, Telfair, Michael Redd, and - who am I missing- and Shannon, all performed at or above our expectations. And by the time the season ended, that second group was not only holding its own, but really on some nights Alvin was struggling about whether or not even to put that first group back in because the second group was so good. That is a really good sign in terms of our ability to integrate new players into our franchise. We didn't do very well at that last year after that Orlando trade, we did a lot better at it this year, and to a man, during our exit interviews, one of the real headlines of those interviews was how much people enjoyed playing here, how much they enjoyed Phoenix, our fans, obviously our weather, and so, and that bodes well, there seems to be, to me, some skepticism about our ability to attract free agents, which - you know I was an agent, and I don't get it why anybody wouldn't want to play here, and I don't believe for one minute that they don't want to play here. And finally, You cant have a better training or medical staff than we have, and that was more evident this year than any of us even realized in having the fewest number of games lost to injury, and we are going to take that a step further. We are gonna make our -we've got the best training staff in the NBA, we're gonna make - do everything we can to make our medical and training staff world class. We're gonna spend some time over the summer learning from soccer and other professions-professional sports about how to even do it better, and I think it's a huge competitive advantage for us, and those guys proved again this year how good they were. So that's kind of my general summary. You know, we're hard at work already digesting what it, you know just sort of finishing up, or beginning the process of, sort of the beginning of - I would describe this season as you know, as Churchill put it, it's not the beginning of the end, it's the end of the beginning. That's really how I feel about where we are, and we've got a lot of work to do beginning the day after the season ended, and the next 60 days are gonna be critical for us, so that we can hit the ground running, not only with the draft, obviously, but with free agency.

All right.....

Shoot.

Q. You mentioned the possibility of not spending this summer. If you had to do that, how would you, you've asked the fans to be patient in non playoff years - how do you ask that of { ...}

B: You know what? All I can do is do what I think is best for us, both in the short term and the long term, and Lance and John and I work every day to make the best possible decisions, and all I can do is ask fans to judge us on the decisions we make - we're not gonna get all of them right - I think we have done a good job of getting many of them right, but we're not gonna get ‘em all right, and, you know, and if it's our judgment that we can't accomplish everything this summer, there's nothing to be gained by - look, I've taken advantage of the situation as an agent. When you've got a team that can't get what they want, can't get their first choice, and the pressure builds to do something, you get teams to make some very bad decisions, and, we're not gonna do that, because, I'm not gonna sell false hope, we are gonna move forward and we're gonna build this thing brick by brick, and however long it takes, and all I ask our fans to engage with us in the process, and enjoy it as we grow, and enjoy Markeiff Morris's development, and enjoy our draft choice this year, and watch this thing come together and grow, and hopefully they'll do that with us - I hope it all happens this summer, and it might, you know, we're not on any artificial time frame, if the opportunities are there we're gonna seize them. But we're gonna make decisions that we think are gonna put us in a position to be elite, which, again, is about competing every year for a championship. I'm not interested in patching it up, and getting good for a year or even two, without making progress. Now it may be that we make the decision that we kinda do a little bit of what we did last year and wait a year and keep our powder dry and be as competitive as we can be - we'll see how that plays out, but we've got to make the decisions from the standpoint of not what's good only for us today, but what's going to be good for us tomorrow.

Q: I talked to you before the trade deadline, and you said "there' gonna come a time when this franchise has to move on. What's the criteria, now for deciding...Nash...

16:50 B: Yeah, so here's where I think we are on that. You know, I said what I thought about this past season. I think we made absolutely the right decision, I think he made the right decision; I thought he was a wonderful partner. He's a free agent now, so it's a different circumstance. He's gonna have a process, he's got important decisions to make, and we will be full participants in that process. We've got to go down a road, with him, and see if we can find a common path, a path that makes sense for him, and that makes sense for us, and you know, everybody here wants Steve Nash to retire as a Phoenix Sun, and we are gonna work very hard to work with him to see if that can happen, but it's gotta be good not only for him, but it's gotta be good for us, and he understands that. What I would say about it at this very early stage is that every indication we've gotten from Steve is not only is our spirit is willing to make this happen, but his spirit is willing, as well. That doesn't mean it's gonna happen, for us, and he understands that. We respect his right to look around, and but we will work hard with him to find common ground, and we'll see where it ends up. The one thing I will tell you right now we're not gonna do, is I'm not gonna give weather reports. I'm not gonna be answering every week kinda where we are in the Steve Nash saga. When the ship comes in, you'll hear about it. If the ship leaves the station, I'll probably be on the boat with it (laughter) - but, but we're not gonna have weather reports, because, to me, that just interferes with the purity of the process, and I have too much respect for him to go public with anything we've talked about - he's been a wonderful partner, we all understand how invaluable and important he is and we need to be respectful of his process, and he's got to make a decision, and that decision has to coalesce with what's best for us as well.

Q: are you talking - when you say {...} about things like length of contract, size of contract...

B: I'm talking about all of it - I mean, the entire circumstance, the financial terms, the length of contract, how we can build, how we can move forward with him, how he feels about our plans, all of it. And it's, you know, we're gonna be in partnership and we'll see how it plays out over the next 2 months.

Q: One last follow up...the fans seem to sense...

B: You know, as a lawyer, you never say that. You never say "last question" ‘cause it's never the last question...(laughter)

Q:...always say it

B: Right

Q: (laughter) The fans sensed a moment late in that last game, maybe more than...nobody's saying, and this certainly could have been the point , but is there a time when you got to kinda bite the bullet and he makes a decision, you make a decision, does it have to be his decision?

B: I didn't say it was his decision. I said he has decisions to make - and we've got to find a common path for both of us. So, what - you know - I can't turn the keys over to the franchise to him and give him whatever he wants for as long as he wants and whatever circumstance he wants. He's not asking for that. He's too smart too intelligent - we've got to see if there's a common ground for everybody that makes sense, a common path. But we go into it with the expectation, for sure, that we want him here and every indication is he wants to be here. Now whether all the elements can come together, I can't, I can't predict. Yeah, there's going to come a time when Steve Nash isn't here. I can say that without equivocation, I just don't look forward to that day, candidly, and I don't think any of us do, and, and what I liked about what happened in that last game was just the organic nature of the fan's reaction, and you know, it spoke volumes about their feelings for the Suns and feelings for him, and it was a great moment, and you know, hopefully it wasn't the last moment, but if it was, it was a great outpouring of affection for him, that I don't think anybody in that arena didn't feel tremendously emotional about, about that, and you know, when a city has that kind of affection for a, for a player, that's, that's what sports is all about.

Q: But Lon, Everybody knows how iconic and how beloved Steve Nash is, and here we sit today, and you guys are in a position where, you're gonna act off of his decision...

B: (fired up) I didn't say that. You're not listening to me (no, no, no, look). I didn't say that, because that's not what I said. I didn't say we're gonna react to his decision. We're gonna work on the process together. Those are two very different things.

Q: But it'll be his decision whether he wants to stay here or go, but all I'm asking but why wouldn't you have used the trading deadline to have more certainty and get some assets that would you know, help with your rebuilding process.

B: You know, look, I've been asked that question a thousand times. It's a legitimate question, it's a legitimate point of view. I learned a long time ago that no matter how thin you make the pancake, there are two sides to it, A lot of people in my position, and Lance's position and Robert Sarver's position might have gone that route. We didn't think that was right for our franchise. I thought it was more important to communicate to Steve at the outset of the season that he could stay, so long as he was all in on what it was we were trying to accomplish this past year. I want to project certain values for this franchise. I want to treat players like him with respect, with a loyalty, and communicate to the NBA community how we are going to treat our players. So, that's the judgment we made, and I think we were rewarded by it. We didn't make the playoffs, but we had a , we had an entertaining second half of the season, and we got a chance to watch a hall of fame player, as I said, and savor the year with him. And there's another aspect to it, and I don't think you can, you can minimize this, and that is - what Steve Nash and Grant Hill give us as a franchise is invaluable. And nobody will ever be able to persuade me that Markeiff Morris will not have a better career because he spent a year, or two or three, with Steve Nash and Grant Hill. I look around the league, and I see a lot of rudderless ships. And I don't want us to be rudderless ship. So, I understand the question, I understand the point of view, we've debated it, You know, many, many time, that's the judgment we made and um, you know, at the end of the day, if Steve decides not to come back this notion that we've gotten nothing for him is just I think a mischaracterization of the circumstances. First of all, we got a whole year of watching him play, put ourselves in a position where we were one game out of the playoffs, essentially, and secondly, if he doesn't come back, we're gonna have ten million dollars more of cap space, and, so, you know, until the whole thing plays out you can't really assess, and we've gotten ourselves the opportunity to keep him, which if we trade, we would not have had, so, there are many, many things that went into it. Those are some of the reasons that supported our decision. But I don't quarrel with anybody that takes a position "Hey, I wouldn't have done it that way, and you could have accelerated the rebuilding process if you did it a different way "... That's a legitimate point of view. My job is to make judgments and that's a judgment we made and I think we've been vindicated to this point.

Q: Does resigning him make it easier or harder to [...] free agents...

B: Depends. I mean, you know, everybody wants to play with Steve Nash, and he's made a lot of guys a lot of money over the years because of the way he plays. I think it depends on the circumstances, and I'm confident that no matter what happens this is going to become a destination for free agents. It should be, there's no reason for it not to be, and we're going to do everything that we can to make this as player-friendly a franchise as we can. And early returns on how our players feel about it is that we're making a lot of progress in that area. So, you know I think it depends, Bob, on the circumstances, the free agent, where they are in their career and all of that.

Q: Lon, what comes first - pursuing those free agents in an effort to bolster the chances of getting Steve back, or going after Steve in hopes of attracting some of those...

B: I'm, uh, you know, the tricky thing is, it all happens at once, it's like an omelet. You gotta, you gotta do it all at once, because you don't have the luxury. So we'll be, you know, we'll be working on it all at once.

Q: Hey, Lon, what is your position as it relates to unrestricted free agency, now - seems like, last couple of years, we've seen a trend in which the marquee free agents want to align themselves with other stars, or other marquee players in the league, and you hear, the Suns are in a position to really [...]avoid , and all respect to Steve Nash and Grant Hill, but they recognize their age, you know, what would be your position in terms of how that market is now based on you guys having all this salary cap.

B: I've been through this. Everybody forgets that I represented Grant Hill and Tim Duncan when they were both free agents in 2000. And the whole world assumed that they wanted to play together, and that they would both go to the same place. And they spent a week in Orlando, and everybody thought that they were going to end up there. My attitude about it was each of them had different needs, and they should make their own decisions. Tim decided to stay in San Antonio, and that seems to have worked out pretty well, and Grant went to Orlando. I think people put too much stock in this buddy-ball notion. You know, I think people want to play where they have a chance to succeed where they have a chance to be compensated fairly, and where there would be an environment. We want somebody here who in the next generation of Phoenix Suns is gonna be the magnet for that player and there are gonna be plenty of people who are gonna be attracted to that. You know, I once asked Grant, when I was representing him, it was one of these years when he was being asked from almost every team in the league, you know, come here, come there, and I remember in particular, Boston was very interested, and I think they were coming off the championship, and I said to him, you know, why don't you want to go to Boston and pursue a championship - he said, "I don't want to back up Paul Pierce, I want to guard him.". And, you know, that's what we're looking for, we're looking for guys who want the challenge, not guys that want to be symbiotic with somebody else, we want somebody who will embrace the challenge and be the magnet for the other players, and I think part of that is finding the right guy to do that, so, you know, I think it's overstated. I think - some of that, candidly, comes from the Olympics. The fact that they play together and think they should be teammates together, you know, we'll find someone who wants to make Phoenix the destination for some of those other players who are unwilling to do it themselves.

Q: [...] The greats create (inaudible)

B: It is what it is, and that's why I say, we'll see if we can get the right person, we'll act, and if we can't, we'll be careful. Discipline will be the watchword upstairs.

Q: What is your commitment to Alvin with a year left on his contract? You mentioned chemistry and how this team gelled, and is he a guy that's proven himself to you to be in the long term plans for this organization?

B: I have known Alvin since he coached Grant in Detroit. That's a long time. When I got this job, one of the first things I did was extend him, so his contract was co-terminus with mine, I did it because I felt like it was grossly unfair to put him in a situation where he would be facing a lockout and that would be his last year, because of the uncertainties around the collective bargaining agreement. First and foremost, there is not even a scintilla of a moment, of an instant where anybody's questioning about whether he is going to be our coach next year. Obviously, that he's going to be our coach, and we're delighted with the job he did this year, particularly the second half of the year. But we've got a lot of issues, and you know, I'm of the view that if a person has a con - the exception being what I thought were unusual circumstances when I got here, my view is that if a person has a three year contract, you assess it at the end of three years. That's how I'm gonna be judged. I've talked to Alvin about it - he's perfectly fine with that and you know, there are a lot of very successful coaches in the league, right now, coaching in the final year of their contract, so this notion that somehow you have to always be one year ahead - I don't think it's in his best interests, I don't think it's in our best interests, but it has absolutely nothing to do with an assessment of his coaching ability or his performance, and he understands that. He's our coach and he did a wonderful job, particularly in the second half of this year and he and his coaching staff, they navigated us through some really treacherous waters first half of that year, and put us in a position to make the playoffs. Alvin is - -we just finished a uh - in every , in every exit interview, we ask for candid and honest feedback , and to a player, they love playing for him and they ove his ability to be mad one night and come back the next morning and be himself and be in a mood, be in a good mood, and keep the team on an even keel. He has tremendous people skills and communication skills, so that's my answer to that question.

Q: You mentioned Alvin's contract with your contract - how committed are you, is this fun for you, I mean, talk about the process this off-season...

B: I think it's a fantastic job, I think it's a tremendous amo- I've had a lot of tricky circumstances in my life, I mean I represented, I sat next to a guy who shot the President of the United States, waiting for a jury to decide whether he was gonna be found guilty by - found guilty or not guilty by reason of insanity, the most high visibility case you could have where there was the most excruciating analysis, every minute of it, and the pressure was enormous. I feel no different level of obligation or fiduciary duty in this job. I get up every day and I look around and I say there are a whole community of people that care about whether we succeed or not. That is a daunting responsibility, but I welcome it. I just do the best I can, and make as many right decisions as I can, and appreciate the opportunity. You know, always lurking back there with all of you guys this question about our ownership, and about Robert. My experience with him has been that I made the right decision to give up a 35 year law practice to come here and try to do this, because he's really, really smart, he's really, really committed to us succeeding. I'm learning a lot from him. I'm not saying every day is malted milk - it's not. And most importantly to me, he's a person of very, very impeccable integrity, and that's what I care most about. So I want to succeed for ownership, I want to succeed for the 200 people that work in this building, and most importantly I want to succeed for our fan base. I read a quote from Curt Flood a couple of months ago that has stuck with me - somebody asked him what it was like being black. He said, well, I thank God every day that I'm black. I just wish he had made my skin thicker. So there is some of that. You've gotta be willing to act, and let people make whatever judgments they make - that's their prerogative.

Q: Lon, what's your position on Aaron Brooks - you gave up a lot for him. How can this organization can [...]abdicate? his status...

B: Yeah, it's tricky, we got a little bit of bad luck, frankly, because one, he went to China, and he had no way of knowing that the lockout was going to end the next week. So we lost the ability to have him on our team last year, and then we got further bad luck with the new collective bargaining agreement because of the fact that he wasn't on our team we have lost the ability to use him in a sign and trade so that minimizes our flexibility and his flexibility. He's an important asset, he's gonna be restricted, we'll qualify him and preserve our rights and we'll just have to see how it all plays out. And a lot of people ask me about the trade we made, you know, I think we made a lot of good decisions, and if that one turns out to be wrong, so be it, but I think you have to wait to judge it. I will say this, I thought Sebastian Telfair played at a really higher level than what we had here as a backup point guard. That's not to say Goran hasn't gone on extremely well obviously in Houston, so, you just can't, you just can't - you're not gonna make any progress looking backwards, and if it turns out that that was the wrong decision, you know, if you haven't made a bad trade, you've only made one. So, I mean, I don't - I think the jury is still out on him and we'll see how it all plays out, but Goran had a wonderful year, and I don't know that he would have done as well without a change of scenery, and I think it was great for him. And everybody around here has so much affection for him, and we, we, we, enjoyed his success this year. That's a little broader than the question you asked, but I knew it was lurking in the background.

Q: What are your thoughts as relates to Robin Lopez?

B: There's an example of, you know, if you stick your finger in the wind, and you run the franchise like a wind-sock, your head would be spinning, because, you know, at some points he's not playing well and the though is, well, what do we do? Last year, he took on a lot of water, and we took the position that we needed to help him this year. I think in retrospect it was clear that it took him a long time to recover from those medical issues he had, physical issues he had last year, and the second half of this year, particularly after the after the All star break he was excellent. And he's, again, he's going to be a restricted free agent, and the message I would send out is quite likely, if not certain, that we're gonna match. Because he's an important asset to us, and I thought he gave us a lot down the stretch this year, and what we need, is, you know, we need rim protection and he gives us that and we don't really have that from anybody else. I thought he had a good second half of the year in particular. He's gotta get more consistent, but I thought he made a lot of progress this year and I think vindicated our decision to stick with him.

Q: Do you anticipate utilizing the amnesty clause at any point?

B: It's a weapon, and you know, we will use it if it makes sense, we won't use it just for the sake of using it. We have it available to us throughout the collective bargaining agreement for any player that was on our roster last year. If it allows us to do something we otherwise wouldn't be able to do, I'm sure we would consider it,, but we're not gonna do it just for the heck of it.

Q: Can I ask another question?

B: See? What'd I tell you?

Q: Big picture question for you ...area... city limits...Coyotes...Diamondbacks...say "what's wrong with the Suns" Seems like you've hit the bottom...franchises right now - how concerned are you about that?

B: I just think it's ...interesting, because we have the what, the fourth winningest record in the NBA over the

Q: But not the last two years...

B: Well, not the last two years. We're two games under .500 last year and .500 this year - we didn't make the playoffs. So, you know, does that mean the world is coming to an end? I mean, you know, for us it does, but for our fan base? I don't know. My guess is, you know, I'm trying to understand the nature of fans in Phoenix, and we've gotta give them a product that they like. And if they like it they'll come back. I don't think the Coyotes were packing them in before this happened, and the Diamondbacks weren't packing them in before it happened and they're not packing them in even this year, so it's the nature of the city, and the weather's great and there's a heck of a lot of stuff to do and that puts a greater burden on us to give them a product that they want. I t doesn't do me any good to fight that. We have to give them what they want, but we've got to do it in a time frame that makes sense. We've got to build this from a basketball perspective, and not a business perspective. We've got to be driven by basketball decisions that are gonna put us in there, and then everything else will follow. But yeah, during the Clippers games, right at the end of the year, our fans were fantastic. Their organic reaction to Steve was memorable, so I've just got to find ways to keep tapping into it. That is your last question, by the way (laughter)

Q: [...] and how that paralyzes you in that time while you wait for...

B: Yeah, we got a lot of help on that, that is one really good change in the CBA because now it's only three days, used to be a week. So you're still gonna be hamstrung during that three day period, but it'll come and go quickly.

Q: (something about "prioritize)

B: Oh, sure. You always want to be in a situation where you have control. Yeah, it's better to be going after an unrestricted rather than a restricted, but it's not as bad as it used to be, because that really had a chill - I mean when I was an agent I knew it really had a chilling effect, because people didn't want their cap room tied up for a week, because if they lost the player the market would have moved beyond them. But, three days should be better, it's not perfect, but it should be better.

Q: Can you talk about Lance? He's not very visible these last two years - what - how do you assess his role?

B: He'll be here - you know, we'll do one of these "Lunch with Lance's" so you can look forward to another free lunch down the road.

I think we have an unusual front office, maybe not unusual but unique in the sense that I have my responsibilities, he has his, and when I came here, what I told Robert when he was talking to me about this job, is that, look - I'm gonna hold myself out for what I do well, but we need a basketball expert because I'm not Red Aurbach. My job is my talents, if I have any, are certainly not in the area of personnel and player evaluation. And that's the most important area sort of in building a basketball team. That's Lance's expertise. And while he may not be as visible to you, he is visible in the most important ways, in he and John Treloar making the decisions about the draft, evaluating every player in the league, implementing a grading system that I think is unique in the NBA of how we assess our talent around the league, and a grading system that he's implemented in supervising the scouts, both pro and college, in interacting with Alvin, and really managing Alvin and working with Alvin on a daily basis about things that I'm not equipped to help him with - technical and other things, interacting with our players, going on road trips, so...

Part of what I think is the beauty of our situation is that this is a hard job with many many facets, and I try to do what I'm good at, and that frees up his ability to do what he does very well. And as I've said, I think the decisions that he's made and John have made on the personnel side, you know, all of these free agents that we brought in this past year, driven by Lance, very much involved in the Orlando trade, helping us get Gortat here, so again, I think that - judge him on the decisions he makes, not on whether or not you see him around in the same way you might have saw Steve Kerr in his time, because I'm doing part of Steve Kerr's job, and he's doing a different part of Steve Kerr's job, and that's the importance of the setup we have and hopefully that'll work to our advantage. We are working hand in glove, and he's like a brother and I trust him implicitly and I trust his judgment implicitly, and I'm learning a great deal from him. You know, he will become more visible over time, I'm sure, but judge him on the things that are important to the performance of his job.

Q: So no changes, or...

B: Yeah, I mean, I think it's going to evolve naturally that he'll be more front and center as time goes on, but you know, it's not something we spend a lot of time talking about. That's not central to what we're trying to do. We're trying to do our jobs, and however that plays out, it plays in.

Q: Do you feel this offseason is your and Lances first opportunity, pure opportunity to mold the franchise in your vision, you had the lockout...

B: I think that, we say we're going to be a no excuses team and that would be an excuse. It is what it is, we got here late the first year, this year, we had to deal with the lockout, but so did everybody else. This is the first off season we're on a sort of a normal schedule, but I think we wouldn't have done a very good job if we hadn't begun to put our imprint on the franchise in the first two seasons, under whatever circumstances we had, but hopefully as time goes on it'll become more and more evident that we're making the right choices.

Q: Will Grant's free agency and the corresponding to what you had last year in that negotiation, do you see him wanting to come back, do you want him back?

B: Yeah. For sure, I think it really depends on his health and whether he feels like he can play, and that'll be the determination there. Again, I've said it before, you can't even begin to calculate the impact he has on this franchise, on and off the court. I don't, I don't look forward to the day that I'm not working with him, it'll be the first time in 17. 18, 19 years, so, some way or the other I'm gonna be working with him and I hope he can play, and if he wants to play again, hopefully he'll be able to. But that's really gonna depend on how he feels.

Q: How bad was he the last two, three weeks of the season?

B: Well, he, he, he tried to accelerate it, probably came back a little bit too quickly. But that injury won't prevent him from coming back.

Q: do you have a [...] role if he does decide to retire?

B: Depends what he demands (laughter) He's so, so difficult in these circumstances. We'll have to see. You gotta always find room for Grant Hill. Yeah, so maybe he'll take a little less.

Q: [...]

B: You can ask that question again. (laughter)

Q:

B: I cant imagine. I don't want to speak for him, but I can't imagine he'd want to play anywhere else. He went through that last summer. And I think that's - we talked about free agents before, I mean, that's, there's a guy who had the choice of playing really anywhere he wanted, and he chose to play here and that's as I think, as great an endorsement of what we're doing here in our ownership and our management and our fanbase and our community as anything. So I take, you know, I take great comfort in that. I don't want to speak for Grant, he may go through that process again, but I would be extremely disappointed if he played somewhere else.

Q: How deep have you and your staff determined this draft is being the thirteenth...

B: I'm going to leave that for Lance and John to talk about, as we get closer to the process, that's really crossing into their territory. By all accounts it's a good draft, a deep draft, but the first part of the evaluation is watching the players play in games, but now we get into different parts of the evaluation in terms of their background, in terms of interviewing them, so there's a whole lot more information we're gonna have between now and the day of the draft. It's premature to really assess, and I think everybody's feels confident that it's a deep draft, and you know, just like last year, we'll find a player that can help us.

Q: There's been a lot of roster turnover especially the last few years, is there a concern that with so many free agents in this off season that the continuity and momentum you built from the last half of the season will be lost going into the next one?

B: Yeah, I think that's a great point and I think it's one of the things we have to evaluate. You just can't keep bringing 5, 6 new guys every year. We had no choice this year and I think we underestimated the impact of the lockout on that and the lack of training camp and the lack of practice time. You know Alvin said any number of times if our schedule was flipped, and we had the last month the first month and the first month the last month, we'd be in the playoffs. I mean it just - we were playing teams that we were better than, but we weren't ready to play them. And guys weren't in great shape at the beginning, so yeah, it's definitely a factor, you know, we have, I feel differently about it than I did last year at this time cause we have a chemistry now and we want to try and preserve that, now, I always say that every year is like a new school year, your friends come back, they're not quite the same as they were before the summer and things change, but fundamentally we want to try and capture that chemistry and keep it going. That's what really gave us our success this year. So, it's an absolute factor.

Q: What areas does this team need to improve to get to that elite level that you spoke of in the beginning?

B: I think first and foremost, we need to find another dynamic weapon on offense, wherever that might be, whether that's at the wing or down low, we need to have somebody, ideally, that we can throw the ball to at the post and score. We need to improve our rebounding; we need to continue to make progress on defense. We need to get younger. Whether Steve and Grant are here or not, we need to get younger on the perimeter, because you know they're getting older. Obviously need to get more athletic. I think we accomplished a lot of that with Shannon Brown. But those are some of the areas, we just - we need for -we need to do a better job of development. We need to make sure our players are progressing. I said to Markieff, this is the most important summer of his career. He's gotta come back a better player. If he doesn't come back a better player than when he left, well, that's on him, but it's also on us to give him that kind of development. So, we've got to get better with what we have, but those are at least some of the areas that we...

Q: What do you want to see out of Markieff going into next year? What does he need to improve the most?

B: Everything. I mean, I think he's highly skilled. He's got to turn his motor up, and have a certain intensity. He gave us a toughness that we don't get from anybody else, and that's good, but he's gotta learn the pace of an NBA season, and he's gotta bring it every single night with that intensity. You know, he got tired. So that was, that was part of it. And then he's gotta develop, obviously, from a skills standpoint. All those things will happen. He's going to be a good player; he already is pretty good, you know, I think he's going to be a part of this team for a long, long time.

Q: [..] Gortat?

B: You know, he's gotta be, he's gotta continue to progress, particularly, I think he had a fine season. Statistically, he was outstanding. I think that he, um, he needs to develop more in the low post, and he would acknowledge that. We gotta be able to throw the ball to him. However long Steve is here, there's going to be a day when he's not going to get that many opportunities at the rim. He's gotta finish strong. I think that when we met with March the other day, I think one of the things we probably didn't focus enough on was the impact of his thumb injury. I think it really set him off at the beginning, and affected him psychologically afterwards and by the time it healed, I think he was somehow become more of a finesse player than a power player, and he never was able to recapture that. He knows that, and he's gotta get better. He certainly wants to. But, all in all, he had an outstanding year, and we think he can get even better.

Q: Will you send him to Houston again to work with Olajuwon?

B: I'll let Lance decide that, you know, but if he wants to go, for sure. But a week, you know, a week with Olajuwon is great, but - it's a week. It's a little bit like, it's a little bit like, not to age myself, but it's a little bit like watching Sandy Koufax. Pitch. It doesn't mean you can do it. So you gotta find your own style, and your own method of learning. But, by all accounts, he found the experience to be very, very rewarding.

Q: How do you weigh a trade [...] compared versus free agency...come in...

B: I just think we'll look at all of them. I mean, that's the obvious answer, is, you have to weigh all the opportunities. I think it's easier to make a trade in the summer, teams are more willing to upset the applecart, if you will, and we learned from the trade we made last year, the two trades we made last year, really, was, it can be disruptive. So an in season trade is hard. Hard on the players, hard on the coaches. But we've got all the tools available to us, we put ourselves in the position of having that cap room, and we'll explore every option equally. I don't have, you know, I don't have a preference of how we get to where we want to go.

Q: Lon, when you look at some of the guys that are out there available, how do you weigh talent, and the ability to do some things you can do on the floor, versus character and past issues, how risk averse are you?

B: We have talked a little bit about Lance's evaluation system, and there are three components to it, the first is kind of the talent level of a player, the second is how do they fit into our style of play and what we're trying to accomplish now and into the future, and third is character. And if the person doesn't meet the third criteria, they're not coming. We're pretty careful in how we grade that, and having said that, if we build the kind of culture that I'm hoping we're able to, that we have to be able to absorb, everybody doesn't have to be a model citizen, you know. We have to be able to absorb people from different backgrounds, different cultures, lots of players in the NBA have slipped on a banana peel in their life, we have to be able to absorb that, and we need the strength of character and culture from our group as a whole to make that happen. But there'll be certain, you know, character will always be at the forefront of our evaluation of a player.

Okay? Thanks, everybody.

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