Old School Jazz, New League Flash: An Interview With Former Utah Flash GM David Fredman

David Fredman has worked with the Utah Jazz for over 28 years.  He worked his way up through a variety of jobs until finally working as director of scouting for the Jazz, from there he's worked in several other scouting and coaching capacities.  Last season, he was hired as general manager of the Utah Jazz' D-League affiliate, the Utah Flash.  In an interview about a month ago, he spoke with me about his first season with the D-League, and where he sees the league headed. On Thursday, he was rehired as a scout for the Utah Jazz.  What follows is the interview, with the now former General Manager for the Utah Flash, and an integral part of the Utah Jazz organization for 28 years. 

 

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MM: What's the primary concern of coaches regarding the D-League in your opinion? And how is the Jazz's relationship with the Flash different?

DF:  You shouldn't have to worry about if the player is practicing the same way, if the coaches are teaching the same philosophy. Ultimately what happens, and I think it's slowed down NBA teams ability to send players down; the coaches aren't really sure what the players are going to do when they get there. And with us, there's no doubt. We're going to run the same offense, our defensive philosophy is the same. Our practices are the same.  Now, even though we were affiliated with the Celtics, Danny Ainge had no problems letting his players into a system like that.

More after the jump...

MM: I've gotten the perception from NBA coaches that there's a concern that the NBA coaches and GM's don't have any confidence that they'll be taught the right things.

DF:  I think so. Obviously, everyone's competitive and they want to win, but really, the league is there for development. I think that's a big factor, too.  In my opinion, the D-League is not about having a bunch of 30 year olds that don't have a chance to play in the NBA. The D-League should be about teaching young players, with the idea that they'll get better, and have a chance to play in the NBA, or, if they have to go overseas to make more money or whatever, that's where the emphasis should be.

MM: Was there anything that surprised you about the D-League from a management standpoint?

DF:  Very much so. The rules. I think, in all fairness to the people that administered the rules in the D-League office, I think some of the rules have not caught up with the fact that the teams are independently owned.  I think some of the rules are leftover from when the league owned the team. An example, we had Brandon Wallace on assignment from the Celtics, he was a draft pick and they sent him to us.  He was on our roster, he played for us.  And in January, late December, the Celtics cut him and we had no rights to him.  And that didn't make any sense to us.  We tried to make it work, we talked to his agent, but we just couldn't get it worked out.  And I think that was a source of embarrassment for the league. So the fact that the players have to sign with the league first of all and then they're drafted, you don't have the chance to go out and find your own players.  And those types of things.  And a lot of the rules were transferred from the NBA.  I thought for an NBA development league, I couldn't believe how different the rules are. It's so hard to make trades as well.  All the rules are completely different, and that makes things rough.

MM:  I'm of the opinion that you're going to see a lot more teams going in the direction of the Defenders and the Toros with direct ownership. I think the Flash are in a very unique position, with having Brandt Anderson, who's young, he's dynamic, he's very progressive, and they've done such a great job with attendance, considering the stress that the team puts on development.  Do you feel like with the changing of the rules, do you feel that the power should shift to the affiliate teams and less to the league?

DF:  Yes.  I think it needs to follow the baseball model. It just makes more sense that way. I don't believe at all that even with the Defenders and the Toros, even though they were owned by their affiliates, I don't think they had the relationship with the affiliate that our team had. Or players were allowed to go watch practice with the Jazz, they practiced at the same facility, we held them right after one another, Coach Sloan bought season tickets.  Even though those other teams are owned by their affiliates, I'm not sure any of their people have worked with their affiliate.  I've worked with the Jazz. Brad Jones was a Jazz scout before he joined us. It's like baseball, where the parent team controls it.  Now, obviously, we're independently owned.  And that's the best thing about Brandt Anderson, where he was a Jazz season ticket holder, and while we're independent, we still hold that philosophy of having a relationship with the affiliate. Now with our attendance, our people have done a great job with generating attendance, but also, in Utah, if you've ever been there you know, the Jazz is king. And I think it was our affiliation with the Jazz that led to our attendance.

MM:  Was it difficult going from the NBA where the concern is the max amount of money you can spend to the D-League, where salaries are a huge concern and players are always leaving for Europe in pursuit of more money? How frustrating was that from a management standpoint?

DF:  It was very frustrating.  First of all, I've known a lot of these agents from my work in the NBA. And to try and convince them to tell their clients not to take the Europe money, and come to the D-League for a shot at the NBA.  Now with some players, if they were close to getting called up, I could do that. But the salaries definitely have to come up.  The per diem is ridiculous. You tell a player to be professional, take care of himself and eat right, and then you give him $30 a day to eat on, that's a little embarrassing. Guys getting paid $1,000, $2,000 a month for six months, that's a little embarrassing. Now, to the D-League's credit, and I'm talking about Dan Reed and Chris Alpert here, they know this has to change, and I think they'll do what needs to be done to make that change.

MM:  What do you feel is the best way to change the situation? Do you feel it's through exposure and brand marketing? Or do you feel the best way is to get the teams involved on a financial end, since they are the ones directly involved?

DF:  You know, I also had a conversation with David Stern, who I know from my years in the NBA.  And he agrees that we can do more with an affiliation system, but it's limited by the CBA. So until we get a new CBA, it's going to be very difficult to make a lot of changes, right now. When the new CBA comes out, you have to say, there are some critical issues. Both sides need changes for this to be a more effective minor league system, but those changes can't come overnight. They have to be incorporated into the new CBA.

MM:  There's been a lot of discussion about the possibility about restructuring the CBA to allow for rehab stints in the D-League. What is your opinion on that, and the Player's Association's opposition to expanded D-League assignment rules?

DF:  It's common sense. For example, when Roger Clemens was rehabbing a serious injury, or any big baseball system, this is how they do it.  Imagine if last year, Carlos Boozer could have gotten rehab time in with the Flash. Again, that just makes good sense. And these are the things that I told the commissioner when I spoke with him.  I told him, "This is the only area that you're behind baseball in." And he agreed with that. Those are the kind of things from a basketball standpoint that make sense, and I think both players and management recognize that.

From what I understand, the players' biggest concern, and I'm speaking of the players in terms of the union, is they worry that management would have the right to use the league as a punishment, so that's why they put the two year rule in.  But then, that rule makes no sense. I'll use a Jazz player, CJ Miles, as a great example.  He's drafted as an 18 year old coming out of high school. And he plays his first two years with us, when he's 18 and 19, and now he's 20.  His D-League eligibility has expired. That just doesn't make any sense. So I think there's some workable number that we need to use, so that the players don't view it as a punishment. And again, most of the players that have been sent down know it's a positive thing. It's helping their game. I don't think players that are young and stuck behind the bench in street clothes; I don't think they view that's helping their overall game.

MM:  With your relationship with Coach Sloan being so strong, do you think he'd have any issue with sending a player like Carlos Boozer down to the D-League for a rehab stint?

DF:  No, Coach Sloan has been our biggest supporter. And I think that he's seen the need for a minor league for a long time and I don't see any problem with that. Again, it will only help the Jazz or any NBA team to help a player that needs floor time to be sent down. And whether it's for one game, or a week, I think that's a win-win situation for the players, the league, and the teams. It's a win-win-win.

MM:  Talk a little bit about Morris Almond.  He began the year with a lot of frustrations, and seemed to appreciate the league more as the year went on. Talk a little bit about Morris and the progress he made this year and whether there will be room on the Jazz for him this season with all the talented guards they have right now.

DF:  I think you have to wait for those things to play out. I know on paper it looks that way, but you never know with trades and free agency and things like that. I think you can get too far ahead of yourself. You have to go day by day with what you have now. With Morris, he actually asked if he could practice with (the Flash) before he was sent down.  And we told him no, the rules don't allow it.  And when he was sent down, he was worried if he was going to be forgotten a little bit. But I think he knows he's a valuable player in Coach Sloan's eyes.  I think he increased his personal value within the league.  He had some big scoring nights, and played pretty well. He got along with scouts, especially at the All-Star Game.  I think the D-League's pretty well scouted now. And he especially increased his personal value with the Jazz or somebody else with the fact that he got to play, and practice and work on his weaknesses. We coached him pretty hard. We got permission from the Jazz to do that. We worked on the things that he wasn't as comfortable doing with people on the floor. We worked on his rebounding, worked on his passing, and still allowed him to score points, because that's what he's best at.

MM:  One of the primary things I hear from coaches when I ask "What's the no. 1 thing that Player X needs to work on in order to make it to the league?", if he's under 25, is almost always "defense." What kind of emphasis do the Flash put on defense and what can the D-League due to provide more emphasis on defense?

DF:  I think its philosophy more than that. I'll be honest with you.  With our access to the Jazz coaching staff, we probably didn't get as much out of those things as other teams. It's more philosophy. I'll give you an example. The Jazz don’t' switch, defensively.  So we worked on helping players get better at fighting through screens. We teach them to stay between their men and the basket. There are a lot of ways to play defense, and for us, sticking with the coaches' philosophy was more important.  Danny Ainge told us when they sent Gabe Pruitt to us that they wanted to see him work on picking the opposing guard up full-court. So we were able to institute that in. I think it's more communication with the parents' teams about what they want done.

MM:  How good would you say the odds are that Fessenko and Almond are back next year?

DF:  I think it's very possible.  They still have a lot of things to develop.  It's important to focus on the long term goals, on where they'll be in 3 or 4 years. We have to focus as much on how to get them to that point as where they're going to be next year.

MM:  Is there any frustration with the Celtics regarding their association with the Flash, given your close relationship with the Jazz?

DF:  You'd probably have to ask those players.  But Danny in his conversations with me really seemed to enjoy that. He thought how Coach Sloan has done things over the last 20 years is the right thing. There are things that the Jazz have done that we try and do with the Flash, in terms of making the players accountable.  And that meshes with the philosophy of the Celtics.  Now, we both understand that if they have a team that's geographically close, they'll probably want to go in that direction.  But at least for next year, I expect them to be affiliated with us. 

MM:  I wanted to talk a little bit about expansion. I've gotten some concerns from GMs and coaches that the money is already stretched thin.  The league is trying to expand its profile and get teams closer to their affiliates. Is there a concern on your part on things being spread too thin?

DF:  No, I don't think so.  I think that number one; most of the guys that are getting involved have the money. Number two, the NBA's behind it, so finances are not really a concern, like they were in the CBA or other minor leagues.  I think the D-League's not where they need to be until they have a 1-1 ratio between affiliates and parent teams. Now that may happen 2 or 3 years down the road, I don't know when that will happen, but I think it makes too much sense for it not to happen. I think the more the merrier. I think they just need to figure out how to get the salaries up a little bit so they can keep the players at home.  I think the more expansion you have, the more chances there are for players being sent down, which will help with the draft pool.  The exposure to the NBA teams over European teams will also help.  More and more kids are playing basketball.  They’re coming out younger, there's a big need for the D-League, right now.

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