Utah Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey listened to the question about his predecessor, Kevin O’Connor, and smiled.
No, he hasn’t retired.
In fact, O’Connor will continue to play an important role for the franchise, although his home base will be in South Carolina.
“Kevin’s job,” Lindsey said, “is to make sure I don’t mess up.”
Not true, of course.
O’Connor remains the Jazz’s executive vice president of basketball operations, but he is no longer the team’s primary decision-maker. That job belongs to Lindsey and his new assistant general manager, Justin Zanik. O’Connor will scout for the Jazz, in addition to offering advice when Lindsey or Zanik ask for it, which will probably be often.
Lindsey’s working relationship with O’Connor, you see, has evolved into a trusting friendship in the 13 months he has been Utah’s GM. So it’s difficult to imagine with Jazz moving forward without O’Connor’s fingerprints remaining on the franchise.
“I’m wearing him out,” Lindsey said. “He’s been such a good friend. He’s moved from friend to confidant. He provides great feedback, counsel [and] humor, which in this business is very important. I just can’t say enough about him.”
O’Connor joined the Jazz in 1999, when Scott Layden was hired by the New York Knicks.
During his tenure, O’Connor oversaw the end of the John Stockton/Karl Malone era, transitioning the franchise into a new phase without its two Hall of Famers.
In 2005, O’Connor boldly moved up in the draft, where he picked — and later traded — Deron Williams. Over the years, he also selected players like Jarron Collins, Paul Millsap, Mo Williams and C.J. Miles in the second round and signed free agents Carlos Boozer, Memo Okur, Matt Harpring and Wesley Matthews.
In all, O’Connor guided the Jazz to a winning record 12 times in the 14 seasons. They went to the playoffs nine times, won three division titles and reached the Western Conference finals in 2007.
“He doesn’t allow the pressure of the moment to dictate what he does,” said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin. “He understands where his team is and where his plan is and he goes along with that plan.”
Rod Thorn is the president of basketball operations for the NBA, a former general manager and long-time friend of O’Connor.
“Kevin is a great guy — a very bright guy,” he once told The Tribune. “I have tremendous respect for him because he’s worked his way up through the system and has become one of the best in the business. He doesn’t get the notoriety that some bigger-name guys do, but I don’t know anybody who does a better job.”
At this point in his life, however, O’Connor seems ready to hand the reins of the Jazz over to Lindsey and Zanik. In fact, it might have happened a few years ago, except a sluggish economy and the lockout that threatened the 2011-12 season delayed the hiring of a replacement.
“There is the right time to do everything and a right way to do everything,” O’Connor said. “I feel like we’re on track to do both.”
Asked how he thinks Jazz fans will remember his years as the team’s lead decision-maker, O’Connor laughed.
“Messed up,” he said.
Asked what he will remember most about his tenure, O’Connor quickly becomes more serious. He mentions Stockton and Malone.
“The thing I cherish most — there are probably three things — the first being able to spend four years with John and Karl,” he said. “It was a great experience to witness how they approached the game.”
Next, O’Connor will fondly recall “being partners” with former coach Jerry Sloan and the “tremendous support” he received from Larry, Greg, and Gail Miller.
O’Connor admits trading Williams in 2011 was “a risk.” But the All-Star point guard “probably wasn’t” going to sign a long-term extension to stay in Utah.
“I just felt like it was the right thing to do for the franchise,” he said. “And the Millers supported it.”
O’Connor will be “back and forth” between South Carolina and Utah during the coming season.
“I hope we come out,” he said “and play our butts off. I hope we silence a few of the people. I know where we are, but I hate the word ‘rebuilding.’
“To me, rebuilding sounds like you accept the fact you aren’t going to win. That’s not what Larry [Miller] ever believed, and I think that permeates through the organization.”
Win or lose this season, O’Connor likes the Jazz’s core as the team moves forward.
“Whatever our expectations are, we think we have young, character guys who have been chomping at the bit,” he said. “Well, the bit’s in their mouth now. We’re going to have to ride them.”
And O’Connor will be along for the journey.
“He’s such a good guy,” Lindsey said. “He’s such a good man and he’s been so supportive. We plan on having him around for a long, long time.”
Kevin O’Connor timeline
June, 1969 • Graduated from Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina with degree in business and economics
1972 • After two years in the Army, hired as an assistant coach at Virginia Tech
1979 • Hired as an assistant at UCLA by head coach Larry Brown
1986 • Began NBA scouting career for teams including New Jersey, Portland, the L.A. Clippers and Utah
1997 • Named director of player personnel for the Philadelphia 76ers
Aug. 26, 1999 • Named the Jazz’s vice president of basketball operations
Jan. 9, 2002 • Signed a contract extension with the Jazz
Feb. 19, 2004 • Traded Ben Handlogten and Keon Clark to Phoenix for Tom Gugliotta, cash and three drafts picks, including one which turned into Gordon Hayward
July 27, 2004 • Signed restricted free agent Memo Okur to a six-year contract, which was not matched by Detroit
July 30, 2004 • Signed restricted free agent Carlos Boozer to a six-year contract, which was not matched by Cleveland
Oct. 29, 2004 • Signed Andrei Kirilenko to a six-year, $86 million contract extension
June 28, 2005 • Moved up to third in the draft and selected Deron Williams
Dec. 29, 2007 • Acquired Kyle Korver from Atlanta
July 13, 2010 • Traded Kosta Koufos, two future first-round draft picks and a trade exception to Minnesota for Al Jefferson
Aug. 5, 2010 • Signed a multi-year contract with the Jazz
Feb. 10, 2011 • Tyrone Corbin named head coach after abrupt resignation of Jerry Sloan
Feb. 23, 2011 • Traded Deron Williams to New Jersey for Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, two future first-round draft picks and cash
June 29, 2012 • Re-acquired Mo Williams from the L.A. Clippers as part of a four-team trade
Aug. 7, 2012 • Dennis Lindsey named general manager of the Jazz
Kevin O’Connor’s Jazz draft picks
2000 • DeShawn Stevenson (23), Kaniel Dickens (50)
2001 • Raul Lopez (24), Jarron Collins (53)
2002 • Ryan Humphries (19), Jamal Sampson (47). Humphries traded to Orlando for Curtis Borchardt
2003 • Sasha Pavlovic (19), Mo Williams (47)
2004 • Kris Humphries (14), Kirk Snyder (16), Pavel Podkolzin (21). Podkolzin traded to Dallas for future first-round pick
2005 • Deron Williams (3), C.J. Miles (34), Robert Whaley (51)
2006 • Ronnie Brewer (14), Dee Brown (46), Paul Millsap (47)
2007 • Morris Almond (25), Herbert Hill (55).
Hill traded to Philadelphia for Kyrylo Fesenko.
2008 • Kosta Koufos (23), Ante Tomic (44), Tadija Dragicevic (53)
2009 • Eric Maynor (20), Goran Suton (50)
2010 • Gordon Hayward (9), Jeremy Evans (55)
2011 • Enes Kanter (3), Alex Burks (12)
2012 • Kevin Murphy (47)