Busy as ever. Cautious and guarded, but quietly optimistic. Talking, listening, evaluating, filtering out noise and collecting inside information like the future of the organization is at stake.
It is for the Jazz’s draft collective of Kevin O’Connor, Walt Perrin, David Fredman and Richard Smith.
Despite holding only the No. 47 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, one of the most respected brain trusts in the league has spent the past year preparing for the second overall selection. And the eighth. And the 14th. Throw in blockbuster trade possibilities, a $10 million trade exception, five expiring contracts centered around four starters from a promising 2011-12 season and two team options that expire in less than a week, and No. 47 carries much more weight for Utah than it appears on the surface.
“Even though the intensity and how you might perceive it from the outside is different from a year ago, when we had two lottery picks and this year where we’ve got 47, the reality is that when the draft comes Thursday, we could actually be anywhere,” said Smith, Jazz director of basketball operations. “You go from 47 to somewhere in the middle of the first round, you can’t be scrambling. You’ve got to know what you’re doing at that moment.”
Less than 72 hours before selection day, the Jazz are as prepared as ever. A foursome that’s spent a combined 74 years working for the small-market franchise acknowledged a strong but fluid 2012 draft is wide open with possibilities. As a result, Utah’s loaded with options. Best-case and backup plans have been studied. Ideas have been examined, then alternately filed away or tossed. And everyone from O’Connor to Perrin acknowledged Utah’s already ready for the unexpected.
“One of the great things about Kevin and his leadership is he makes sure we have all our bases covered and we know what we’re doing in any scenario, because you don’t know what’s going to come your way,” Smith said. “You’ve had all your discussions and debates and you’ve conked each other over the head 10 times about this guy or that guy or whatever. When you get to the day, one of our approaches is to try and have all of our homework done so that there aren’t any surprises and now we’re ready to just pull the trigger, and wherever we’re at is what we do.”
Dedication and nonstop preparation have been key factors in the Jazz’s second-round success during the past decade, which has seen Utah steal Mo Williams, Paul Millsap and C.J. Miles at No. 34 or lower.
During Steve Kerr’s tenure as general manager in Phoenix, the ex-sharpshooter quickly learned to respect the work put in by Utah’s GM and his trusted crew. While some teams rely on a rotating collection of scouts, executives and personnel evaluators, O’Connor leans heavily on a tight three-man show that’s continually kept the Jazz stocked and competitive since he took over Utah basketball operations in 1999. While the Jazz don’t waste money on unused 15th players or random Development League call-ups, they don’t hesitate when real scouting’s involved.
“The Jazz have been successful because they have such a strong organization and Kevin does a fantastic job,” said Kerr, an NBA analyst for TNT. “I mean, they do their homework. They’re out all year long watching college games and gathering data. Kevin was somebody, when I was working in Phoenix, no matter where I went I would always run into him — he was always out there.”
Perrin also couldn’t escape O’Connor. When the current Jazz vice president of player personnel was in Detroit during the 1990s, helping guide the Pistons from the low of the post-Chuck Daly years to an annual playoff contender, Perrin grew accustomed to seeing O’Connor anywhere draft prospects and talent evaluators converged.
Some scouts talked too much. Others were lazy or missed crucial signs that, years later, would be revealed as telltale revelations about a player’s physical limitations or fragile psychological makeup. Not O’Connor. Then employed as Philadelphia’s director of player personnel and working for a Larry Brown-coached 76ers club, the UCLA product understood the game within the game. Moreover, the tight-lipped future Jazz GM now known throughout the league for his silence-is-golden mantra was actually a nice, friendly, humble guy when the basketball stopped bouncing, the media disappeared and the real talk began.
“He’s got great insights in players. In their abilities, in their physical and psychological makeup. It’s been great working with him, because I’ve learned and hopefully I’ve helped him,” said Perrin, who compared O’Connor to ex-Utah coach Jerry Sloan for his ability to quickly evaluate talent and often be dead-on when making a gut decision.
“Relationships always evolve. If they don’t evolve, usually there’s problems,” Perrin said. “I’ve learned a lot from Kevin and hopefully he’s learned something from me and David and Smitty.”
O’Connor proudly has. Every draft’s different. No two years are the same. But the Jazz’s recent second-round track record is one of the strongest in the league. And four non-flashy basketball lifers have played a critical part in Utah’s annual success.
Talking little. Saying less. Drafting the best.
“The major thing we’ve been able to do is, everybody’s had an opinion. And it’s not based on egos or anything. It’s based on what we consider facts,” O’Connor said. “And if you look at the guys that we’ve drafted in the second round, most of the guys it was about what they can’t do, and that’s why they fell into the second round. And we’ve always tried to emphasize what they can do.”
2012 NBA Draft
P When • 5 p.m., Thursday
Where • Newark, N.J.
Jazz • No. 47 overall (second round)
TV • ESPN