Posted Aug 7 2012 10:14AM
Deron Williams tunneling his way out of Salt Lake City wasn't the biggest worry for Utah and its Jazz-loving community. Jerry Sloan abruptly resigning as coach wasn't the day stability walked out the door, either.
This could be.
Kevin O'Connor is leaving as general manager for a promotion up the franchise ladder, Yahoo! Sports reported and the Salt Lake Tribune seconded, citing sources. A sense of security may well go with him. No confirmation is needed to come to that conclusion.
What is not immediately known is the role O'Connor will now play. If he is simply removing himself from the day-to-day strains of the job -- players unhappy about minutes, agents unhappy about a client being unhappy -- but continues to have the ultimate voice on roster decisions, that's one thing. But if this is an actual stepping back to focus on other projects, or a transition into an advisory role, it is another blow to the stability of an organization that once knew consistency from the front office to the sideline.
By Monday evening, the San Antonio Express News and Yahoo! said Dennis Lindsey, an assistant GM with the Spurs, will be hired to replace O'Connor as GM. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that O'Connor will still run basketball operations. And that is the critical development.
The Jazz were saying nothing Monday. O'Connor is reportedly telling candidates for the GM position that he will continue to be heavily involved, which may be bad for the job search but very good for the team. O'Connor worked under Larry Miller, an emotional owner who held the line against going into the luxury tax. After Miller's passing, O'Connor worked for Greg Miller, the son who is more in the background and has allowed O'Connor to spend into the tax territory. O'Connor worked over Sloan, the ultimate in veteran coaches, and then, after Sloan quit, Tyrone Corbin, the successor as a rookie head coach.
Since being hired almost exactly 13 years ago, O'Connor is the constant, not the owner or the coach and certainly not the players. He arrived for the last four seasons of Stockton-to-Malone, led the rebuilding through three lottery campaigns, free agency (Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur) and some heady trades. He dealt the sixth and 27th picks in 2005 to the Trail Blazers for the third. No. 6 was spent on Martell Webster. No. 27 turned into Linas Kleiza. No. 3, Utah's pick, became All-Star Williams.
When Williams began to leverage his way out of Utah, O'Connor made the move that saved the future: Williams to New Jersey for Devin Harris, Derrick Favors and two first-round picks. In an era of teams being dragged through protracted trade talks that turn into sideshow -- Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul -- O'Connor in one swoop ensured the Jazz would face no such distractions and re-made the roster. One of the Nets picks, No. 3 in 2011, became Enes Kanter and the other, originally belonging to the Warriors, is protected through six in 2013 and six again in 2014. If the choice has not been used by then, it converts into second-rounders in 2014 and '16.
O'Connor and the Jazz became Example A of how to deal with a superstar pressuring his way out of town. (Quickly disposing of the headache is not always the right move. The Lakers dug in when Kobe Bryant demanded a trade and was setting fire to everything around him. The Nuggets waited and got a good deal as the endless Anthony saga dragged on.) One full season later, the Jazz were a playoff team again, have a roster of promise and still have the Golden State pick coming.
The Jazz are at a critical juncture now. They have an owner who will spend, Draft picks when they don't need any more young players to develop and, as new chips in the game, the expiring contracts of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. This is a team perfectly positioned to make a big move if the opportunity arises. And O'Connor is a smart GM capable of making that move. If he remains the man in charge.
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