On the one hand, it's easy to point in hindsight to a number of his moves with a disapproving shake of the head. The Thornton trade. The Collison deal. Even the move for Jarrett Jack. The failed Lakers deal. Each compromised the future of the franchise to varying degrees, and each transaction has been attacked many times in both national and local media. Demps' detractors? They all have a point. In an alternative timeline, the Hornets have quite a few more intriguing pieces right now for their current rebuilding project.
On the other hand, the logic behind each move was definitely apparent when the deals went through. This isn't Otis Smith trading Brandon Bass for Glen Davis territory in the slightest. Monty Williams should take on a lot of the blame for the Marcus Thornton Affair, and Carl Landry was always going to help the 2011 Hornets more than Marcus Thornton. Similarly, the old Trevor Ariza was always going to be more impactful on a Chris Paul-led Hornets side than Darren Collison coming off the bench. Luis Scola, Kevin Martin and Lamar Odom would have made for a competitive, exciting team in the short term, something that had to have been on Demps' mind given the state of basketball in New Orleans. Dell Demps supporters? They all have a point too - the specter of Chris Paul's departure loomed menacingly over Demps, impacting each of his decisions, and Demps made logical, informed, and highly defensible moves in spite of it.
My aim isn't to settle this debate here, nor do I think there's a meaningful resolution to this at all. Instead, I call attention to the dichotomy of opinion on Demps to point out one thing we should all agree on - Dell Demps' most promising trait is his relentless, unceasing activity in the front office. He's on top of every unheralded unsigned player, he's exploring trade possibilities with every member of his roster, and he isn't afraid in the slightest to move immediately when he thinks he has a move. For a front office that has routinely been lampooned by A. Wojnarowski and Co. for its lack of employees, cubicles, staplers, or whatever else "normal" front offices are equipped with, it comes as a welcome step forward.
The signing of Gustavo Ayon is the latest example of this.
Ayon's a 26 year old power forward/center, hailing from Tepic, Mexico. He signed on with Division 1 San Jose State in 2006, but instead opted to play professionally in his native Mexico. After developing as a player and winning multiple league titles from 2006-2009, Ayon opted to head to Europe the next year, joining Spanish side Baloncesto Fuenlabrada. The Spanish ACB is the best professional league in Europe; edging out Italy and Greece for top honors.
Ayon played a full season of Spanish basketball in 2010-2011, and had played 10 games in the 2011-2012 season before signing with New Orleans. Obviously, I haven't seen him play, but his line this year was about 16 points and 8 rebounds (over 3 offensive) on 66% from the floor and over 80% from the foul line. Those numbers came in under 29 minutes a game. It's clear, just from a statistical perspective, that this is a player that can play basketball. And those that have followed his game extensively? They're even more effusive in their praise.
Here are some tweets from Draft Express - perhaps the most respected international scouting service in professional basketball right now - last week:
@DraftExpress: In Spain. Arguably most productive player in league. RT @BKoremenos: Where did Gustavo Ayon play before NO nabbed him?
@DraftExpress: 6-10. Plays his ass off. Smart. Rebounds. Tough. Finds ways to score. Teammate. Perfect rotation big.
@DraftExpress: Most of the NBA was quietly tracking Gustavo Ayon. Everyone wanted to keep him a secret, hence the lack of hype/buzz. Clearly a NBA player.
@DraftExpress: Now its official I can finally say: Gustavo Ayon is a STEAL. Smart, tough, active, athletic 4/5. A young Jeff Foster. Well done New Orleans.
That's... a lot of praise. From the description, is there any question at all that this is the quintessential Monty Williams player?
Dig around a bit more, and you'll find that the Spurs, Lakers, Nuggets, Suns and Pacers all made overtures for his services. This, according to many analysts, is a guy that could help a good team immediately. That a projected lottery team was able to pull this deal off? That tells me a lot.
Whether Ayon will transition smoothly to the NBA remains to be seen, but the fact remains that this is a smart, cheap, resourceful signing regardless of how it all turns out. You play the odds when you construct a team, and acquiring Ayon is a solid move regardless of the outcome. The Hornets have reportedly been all over him throughout the lockout and will pay his Spanish side $0.75M to extract him from his contract there.
The Chris Paul section of Demps' tenure finishes to mixed reviews. There was obviously an argument for going all out and trying to keep Chris Paul in New Orleans long term. It didn't happen, and because of it, the alternative - keeping some pieces for the future on the roster - looks attractive in hindsight. Whichever side of the Demps coin you fall on (I've supported every move he's made thus far, aside from Thornton), it's all in the past now.
The future began last week, and Dell Demps is, swift as ever, off to the races.