Jazz's O'Connor on unique roster, Jefferson, Hayward, finding players, (re)building
Excerpts from a media interview Wednesday with Jazz General Manager Kevin O'Connor.
O'Connor on an unorthodox roster that carried Utah into the NBA playoffs: Last year, if you look at it, it was really a tale of two seasons. We were what, 27-14 at the All-Star break. I think it was a 96-percent chance of us making the playoffs and ended up obviously out of the playoffs. It was really such a reversal. We had a lot of things go on, obviously. But it wasn't like we had a bad year or a bad two years. We had a bad half a year. But it was — the bottom fell out. Obviously we made a move close to the trading deadline that caused us to go backwards a little bit. … [Tyrone Corbin's] done a terrific job of being able to maneuver through the lack of a training camp, a young team and the injuries almost all at the same time at the same position. Give him credit for that. But give the players credit for adaptability. Devin [Harris] has bounced back in the second half of the year.
How close the Jazz came to making a move before the NBA trade deadline in February: I have no comment on that.
Jazz playing well together causing him to re-evaluate trading players in the future: You guys are the ones wanting me to trade somebody. I don't think you have — the bigs, you're talking about our big guys, I don't think you can ever have too many. You can have too few. … If you look at the teams that have won it over the last couple of years, they've all had pretty good big guys.
How impressed he's been by Al Jefferson's development with Jazz: I was enjoying his little run at the end [against Phoenix] because he got good shots. The eight points he scored at the end, all of those shots were really good shots that we had worked hard [on] and Ty had put some offense in to get him that kind of shot. … You're running off a screen and you've got your point guard coming off and he's feeding Gordon [Hayward], who gets open and who feeds the post very well and he did that. Everyone did their job at the end and Al certainly finished the job. … He's been maligned a little bit about a lot of things. He tore his ACL and obviously people thought he's lost a step and those kind of things. But he's been really terrific. Look, you guys have dealt with him for the past two years and I think from probably 96 percent of the time he's been terrific. I may remember a couple times he had a little meltdown there, but don't we all? I just feel like he's done everything the coach has asked him to do. This summer he really worked hard on strengthening his legs. He knew that was a consideration as far as his knees go. You put the work in, and now he reaps a little bit of the reward and that's been fun.
O'Connor said Corbin "pushed" to add Josh Howard, believing he could "really coach" the once-troubled veteran forward.
O'Connor's longtime relationships with Jazz scouts and front-office personnel such as Richard Smith, Walt Perrin and Dave Fredman playing a key part in Utah's unique but successful roster: If you're afraid to make a decision, then you'll never be accused of making mistakes. But you don't get things right, either. If you look at baseball, really good hitters fail seven out of 10 times. Example: Dave Fredman was a big DeMarre Carroll fan from Missouri when he was back there; he really thought he could contribute. That's part of where — that goes back two years, three years ago. … Jamaal Tinsley, we had him in a year ago to work out. We followed him in the D-League. I thought it was a good running catch thing for us with him. I really feel like this is not done by one person. This is done by a group of people. As you just pointed out, we've all been together for a while, so we're not afraid to say yes or no and we're not afraid to put our necks on the line a little bit about something. And that's just what you do here. You try to do it for the right reasons.
Gordon Hayward's development and his draft-night booing: … I hope people understand it wasn't for my edification. Or my gratification, would be better. It was done, really, as an organization to protect a player that was just drafted. Look, you boo somebody after they've done something unsuccessfully or wrong or whatever. But that to me was uncalled for. And I think a lot of those weren't our season-ticket holders. And hopefully now the people that did boo, I hope they have enough courage wherever they're at to say, 'Hey, I was wrong.' We have to step up and say that, too. But that sounds self-satisfying; that's not what this is about. We just felt like, 'Hey, I don't care what anyone else thinks. This is the right thing to do. This is the right player for us to take.' And I think when you look at it and you look at some of the players that were drafted before him, I think we're lucky that he was there. … He looked like a kid that cared about winning. That he made other players on the court better. Last night, he shot 4 for 11, but he also had eight assists. He's not afraid to give up the ball. Sometimes we want him to be more aggressive. I think there was one or two times where he could've shot it and he was looking to make a pass. But he also feeds Paul [Millsap] in the first quarter on a layup when he could've shot it. You have one or two guys like that on a team and it's infectious.
High character team composed of veteran castoffs and young lottery picks: There's two things. If you can get high talent and high character, you can be successful for a long, long time. I think that's what John [Stockton] and Karl [Malone] were when they were here. If you look at Tim Duncan and [Manu] Ginobili and [Tony] Parker, that's what they are. But you'd much rather trade off a little bit of talent to have guys that are going to compete and do have character and want to win. Not to say we don't have guys that have talent, but [we have] guys that are going to continue to get better. When you put a team together, you try to have a vision. And maybe what you thought about here was trying to build it through the draft and trying to look a little bit at what Detroit was when they had a lot of good players. Rasheed [Wallace] and Rip Hamilton and Chauncey Billups. I'm not putting ourselves in that category yet, because we haven't earned it. But what I'm saying is, maybe that's the idea. That we can beat you in a lot of different ways instead of having to go the one or two guys over and over again.
Brian T. Smith
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