Kragthorpe: Utah Jazz counting on Quin Snyder to make players better

By Kurt Kragthorpe

Tribune Columnist

Published: June 7, 2014 01:21PM
Updated: June 7, 2014 05:17PM
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Kurt Kragthorpe

Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey enjoys an aura of mystery, offering clues but never quite delivering the answer.

During the news conference introducing Quin Snyder as the team’s coach Saturday, Lindsey started another story that he wouldn’t finish. He spoke of a conversation with Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer, referencing an unnamed coach who is the best they know of when it comes to developing players.

Snyder is “in that realm” with the mythical figure, by Lindsey’s account.

He’d better fit that description, for the sake of himself, Lindsey and everybody associated with this franchise.

Whether or not former coach Tyrone Corbin was doomed to fail with the roster he was given this past season, the reality is the Jazz’s players improved only slightly. So if one thing distinguished Snyder from the other three finalists for the Jazz’s vacancy, it is what Lindsey witnessed during those three seasons with the Austin Toros, the NBA Development League team owned by the San Antonio Spurs. Snyder made the Toros better, turning a bunch of them into NBA players and maximizing the abilities of others who had no hope of advancing.

Because of Jerry Sloan’s historic impact, “Coach” is an important title in the Jazz hierarchy. Even more meaningful, at this stage, is the label that won’t appear on Snyder’s nameplate: “Lindsey’s Guy.”

They’re tied together now, this executive who worked his way up through the NBA system in Houston and San Antonio and this coach who remade his career, starting with that stint in Austin.

“For a coach to have a general manager that is not only supportive of you but can partner with you … he’s someone that can guide me and I can learn from and help me coach the team,” Snyder said.

Lindsey once misjudged Snyder, describing himself as initially “skeptical” that the seemingly brash former University of Missouri coach would be a good match for minor-league basketball. This time, Lindsey believes he’s correct in assessing Snyder’s ability to perform at the NBA level.

As always, Lindsey downplayed his influence in the organization, saying the hiring was “not a unilateral decision.” Yet his fingerprints are all over it, with the San Antonio/Austin connection in 2007-10 and Snyder’s continued involvement with Gregg Popovich’s coaching tree on Budenholzer’s staff in Atlanta.

And now Snyder gets to work again with a whole team, one that’s more stable than a D-League outfit.

“I’m really looking forward to this opportunity to watch him with a group,” said his wife, Amy, “because I haven’t seen it since Austin. In Austin, that was a revolving group. I love watching him develop players.”

She’s a developmental expert herself, with a doctorate in special education that she initially pursued at Utah State, before marrying Snyder and completing her work at the University of Texas. Then came two children, moves to both U.S. coasts and Russia, followed by Atlanta. She’s eager to have a stable lifestyle in Utah, and there’s a deadline for getting settled. She’s expecting another child, right around the time of the Jazz’s first preseason game, Oct. 7.

That’s when Quin Snyder will begin to show his effect on the Jazz’s development, a process that right now is in the buzzword stage. “Unselfish,” “defensive identity,” “accountability” and “build something that will last” were among the phrases the Duke law graduate tossed out in the news conference, and we’ll see how soon they come to life at EnergySolutions Arena.

In Austin, players improved because, Snyder said, “When you do what you say, it builds trust.”

As of Saturday, Snyder sure sounded like someone you could believe in. Lindsey’s faith is based on Snyder’s actions, beyond those words.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt