Someone will follow Kevin O’Connor as the Jazz’s general manager, while O’Connor personally tries to take the places of two franchise legends — Larry H. Miller and Jerry Sloan.
After the team’s longtime owner died in 2009 and the Hall of Fame coach resigned last year, the Jazz have lacked the administrative layer that O’Connor will now fill. The newly hired GM can handle the day-to-day personnel management, with O’Connor functioning as the ultimate decision-maker in the absence of the strong personalities of Miller and Sloan.
Viewed that way, this move makes perfect sense. Jazz CEO Greg Miller lacks the interest level and basketball savvy that his father possessed, and coach Tyrone Corbin has not earned enough influence in the organization to have a huge say regarding the roster.
So this is just another step in the Jazz’s evolution toward normalcy in the NBA. After being owner-driven and coach-driven for nearly a quarter-century, they’re becoming like just about every other pro sports organization. Miller is signing the checks and Corbin will have a forum, but generally speaking, two levels of basketball people will be making the basketball decisions.
The semantics are interesting, of course. Saying that O’Connor is being “kicked upstairs” is misleading, because he already occupies a penthouse office in the Jazz’s practice facility.
And I hardly could picture him moving from his fourth-row seat in EnergySolutions Arena, close enough to allow him to stand and yell at the referees — and, occasionally, his own players.
This just means O’Connor will spend less time walking around the building with a phone pressed to his ear. Somebody else will be taking and making those calls, and O’Connor can wait until he’s asked to have the last say.
His legacy, to this point? He’s kept the Jazz from becoming horrible, which could have happened after John Stockton and Karl Malone departed. The Jazz never have earned home-court advantage in even the first round of the playoffs without those two, yet they’ve remained competitive and seem positioned to move up in the Western Conference in this decade — hinging on O’Connor’s next round of moves.
It would be silly for O’Connor to have less influence at this stage, so that’s obviously not happening. O’Connor has overhauled the roster to a stunning degree in two years, to a point where the Jazz could market a ticket package for the nights this season when the players who contributed to the franchise’s most recent playoff victory come to town.
Only forward Paul Millsap remains from the team that won Game 6 of a 2010 first-round series against Denver. At least eight of his teammates from that season — Deron Williams (Brooklyn), Carlos Boozer (Chicago), C.J. Miles (Cleveland), Kyle Korver (Atlanta), Andrei Kirilenko (Minnesota), Kosta Koufos (Denver) and Wesley Matthews and Ronnie Price (Portland) — will be visiting ESA in 2012-13, among other ex-Jazzmen.
That list is intriguing, in multiple ways. It illustrates O’Connor’s knack for finding hidden talent, while serving as a reminder that Kirilenko’s contract prevented him from keeping the team together. Now that the roster has been turned over, the challenge for O’Connor and the new GM becomes defining a course for the future.
This season, the Jazz may have eight players with expiring contracts, notably Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. Properly managing those assets is critical, and so is deciding which young players will become the Jazz’s core going forward.
The Jazz need O’Connor to carry out his vision — whatever it may be, exactly. He’ll just be doing so from a different vantage point, with some help from his replacement.