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Lindsey’s upbringing, hard work make perfect fit for Jazz
NBA » Utah’s GM, Dennis Lindsey, must find ways to help the team raise the bar.

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As integral as San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich and ex-Houston GM Carroll Dawson were to Lindsey’s hire, a youth spent learning new names and foreign faces shaped him more than the NBA ever could.

At a glance

Dennis Lindsey file

Position » Jazz general manager

Age » 43

Career » San Antonio vice president/assistant GM (2007-12), Houston vice president of basketball operations and player personnel (2002-07)

NBA start » Rockets video coordinator/scout in 1996

Pre-NBA » Assistant coach at Fort Worth Southwest High School and Pensacola (Fla.) Junior College

Playing career » Baylor (1988-92)

Born » Freeport, Texas

Dennis combines some terrific skills. He’s very confident, but at the same time incredibly humble. Plus, he combines the old-school traditional scouting methods with the cutting-edge analytical method. Because he can cross into both worlds, it allows him to be very, very unique.”

Jeff Van Gundy

ESPN analyst and ex-NBA coach, on Lindsey

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New faces

Lindsey can’t remember the first era — he was too young and life was too new. The second stuck. The third will last forever.

Hard, honest work wasn’t enough for his father. Being a "real saint" was too simple for his mother. So while Lindsey grew up in Freeport, Texas, constantly trading football cleats for sneakers as the sport seasons changed, his parents reached out.

The Missouri County Youth Home was nearby, and abused, abandoned children were in need. As many as 16 kids under one roof were soon protected by the Lindsey name. The family home in Freeport was temporarily left behind, while Lindsey’s mother and father became substitute parents for disadvantaged African-American, Caucasian, Hispanic and American Indian children.

Time and energy that could have been given to Lindsey were devoted to faces he barely knew. By the time Lindsey had emotionally moved past a second- through fourth-grade stint at the youth home, a stay that followed his sophomore season in high school was under way.

"You show up at a basketball game and you’ve got 16 people [with you] and everybody looks different," Lindsey said. "You get the stares. You get parents’ divided attention."

He added: "I had an atypical upbringing that really impacted me to this day."

Now, Lindsey sees a method behind the madness. The values his father was teaching. The truth behind his mother’s — who later died in a car accident — self-imposed sainthood.

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When Lindsey’s devotion to high school coaching paid off in an assistant job for a junior college basketball program in Pensacola, Fla. — a gig that saw Lindsey handle recruiting duties for the men’s team, help with the women’s program and run a dormitory — the kid who once balked when his parents spread their love finally understood what Missouri County really meant.

When a Houston general manager’s job many in the NBA thought should’ve been Lindsey’s in 2007 was unexpectedly given to Daryl Morey, the compassion and empathy instilled in Lindsey at an early age were paramount, eventually allowing him to become O’Connor’s replacement in Utah.

"Dennis combines some terrific skills. He’s very confident, but at the same time incredibly humble," said Jeff Van Gundy, ESPN analyst and former coach of the Rockets and Knicks. "Plus, he combines the old-school traditional scouting methods with the cutting-edge analytical method. Because he can cross into both worlds, it allows him to be very, very unique."

In charge

The 2012 version of Lindsey is a composite of his past selves. He’s still compassionate, still understanding. His world continues to revolve around sports and family. But for the first time in his career, he has the power to green-light futures, end tenures and ignite endless debate.

"I make a bunch of bad decisions: ‘He’s a nice guy, but … ,’ " said Lindsey, joking about the shelf life of most NBA GMs.

Lindsey was armed with a Blackberry and iPhone during the mid-August interview, occasionally taking notes while a reporter asked questions. Utah’s new GM is well-read when it comes to the revamped collective bargaining agreement, yet doesn’t hesitate to praise experts such as Larry Coon for their insider knowledge.

When it came to the Jazz’s unmapped future, though, Lindsey put up his first public wall. He made light of his desire to return to Pensacola with a hacksaw and remove a brick from the dormitory he once patrolled. He openly discussed away-from-the job hobbies that revolve around hiking, pick-up basketball and reading biographies. But bring up names such as Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Raja Bell, and Lindsey immediately sounded like someone who spent five years in San Antonio fine-tuning his craft under masters such as Buford and Popovich.

Bell’s messy, unresolved buyout: No comment.

How are Jefferson, Millsap, Favors and Kanter going to fit together this season in the paint, and can the foursome co-exist long term, as O’Connor often stated?

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Big decisions

Dennis Lindsey has taken over day-to-day basketball operations for a Jazz organization that exceeded expectations last season, finishing 36-30 and making the playoffs during a lockout-compressed 2011-12 campaign. But while Utah has potential, it’s also loaded with uncertainty. Star players such as Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap hold expiring contracts, training camp could feature battles for three starting spots, and the Western Conference has only become tougher. Factor in everything from the unresolved Raja Bell buyout situation to possible extensions for Jefferson and Millsap, and Lindsey will be busy during his first year on the job.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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