Kragthorpe: Changing of the guard under way with Jazz

Published July 17, 2008 1:09 am
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The next owner of the Utah Jazz will not slap hands with the players during pregame introductions, visit the locker room at halftime or engage in a weekly radio show to talk about basketball.

That's not Greg Miller's game. He's Larry H. Miller's oldest son and the new chief executive of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies, but he's not Larry H. Miller.

"That's been my dad's style, and . . . my dad and I are different," Greg Miller was saying Wednesday, standing in the lobby of the family empire's headquarters.

Miller said over and over that his promotion, coinciding with his father's decision to back off somewhat, will not immediately affect the way the Jazz operate. Just as clear is the fact that day is coming - eventually, if not right away.

If Larry Miller's extended hospital stay illustrates anything, it is that the hardest-working Utahn of us all is mortal, and that he's not going to be making all the big decisions about the Jazz forever. Not even his son could say Wednesday exactly what the division of labor or the time table for transition will be, such as who will represent the team among the owners on the NBA Board of Governors.

Yet he knows that somebody in the organization has to be the one ultimately making decisions about player contracts, luxury taxes and other issues. At some point, obviously, he will be the guy.

That will require some adjustment.

"I would consider myself to be a big Jazz fan. I don't think it would be accurate to say I'm as interested as Larry is," Greg Miller said. "The fact is, I don't have as much at stake at the moment as Larry does."

Someday, that will be the case. This will be his basketball team. He will be the one Kevin O'Connor or some other general manager will ask for money to pay players. The son who started in the company by stocking parts and sweeping the Toyota dealership lot at age 12 and recently has focused on managing Miller Motorsports Park has known for a while that this NBA franchise will become his to run, and the clock is officially ticking now.

"It's time for me to really, earnestly start in that direction. I mean, I've got to become a student of the business and of the game and get more involved now," Miller said.

"Involved" is sure to have an evolving definition in Jazzland.

For 23 years, ever since Larry Miller bought half of the team and secured the franchise's place in Utah, his degree of attachment has meant everything from shooting around with the players before games in his younger days to negotiating contracts to yelling at opponents and referees from his front-row seat.

His son is sure to be more reserved, and the Jazz will operate in a more traditional fashion. The team's president, GM and coach will have more influence than before. That's not to say Larry Miller decides everything the team does, but there's no doubt he's heavily involved in what happens.

How soon that will change, and to what degree, only he can answer. He's not talking publicly yet.

His son can only say that the Jazz are still Larry Miller's baby, for now.

"If he wants to operate the way he's done, nobody's going to stop him," Greg Miller said. "And if he says, 'You know, I've had enough, I'm going to go fishing,' we'll deal with that, too. We're prepared for any scenario."

Wednesday's move has been in the works for a couple of years, discussed during weekly family meetings as the four Miller brothers would bring notebooks and write down their father's instructions. Undoubtedly, the timing was fast-forwarded by Larry Miller's continuing hospitalization, certainly in the sense of his having considerable time to think about his life.

He was 42 when he bought the remaining half of the Jazz, staving off a move to Minneapolis and firmly establishing his position with the franchise. His son is 42 now. The remaining question is just how long Larry Miller wants to stay in charge, past 64.


* KURT KRAGTHORPE can be reached at kkragthorpe@sltrib.com. To write a letter about this or any sports topic, send an e-mail to sportseditor@sltrib.com.

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