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News » Monson: Utah Jazz GM O'Connor must get it right this time

Monson: Utah Jazz GM O'Connor must get it right this time

Monson: Utah Jazz GM O'Connor must get it right this time
Kevin O'Connor is piloting the Jazz into and through one of their most important offseasons ever. Half the team could leave, including some of its key players. Over the past three postseasons, the Jazz have regressed, from the Western Conference finals to the semifinals to first-round elimination this year, after an alarming collapse in the last few weeks of the regular season.

It's left to O'Connor, then, with considerable input from Jerry Sloan, who Larry Miller once said is actually just as powerful, if not more, than O'Connor in Jazz dealings, to make the right moves at a critical juncture.

In tough economic times, fans are watching, wondering if they should buy or renew season tickets, or tickets of any kind, whether the Jazz will be bold in securing talent in their alleged quest for a championship. Or whether they'll play it safe, satisfying themselves from a business standpoint by putting another good-but-not-great team on the floor, all while they rocket toward the luxury-tax realm, a legitimate title shot still nowhere in sight.

Right now, O'Connor's not saying much about the specific direction the Jazz are headed. All anybody has in the way of indicators regarding the future is his track record over the past decade, a span when he bridged the gap between the Stockton-and-Malone years and whatever it is the Jazz are now.

The club's severe rebuilding swoon was relatively brief, crumbling from 55 wins in 1999-2000 to 44 wins in 2001-02 to 42 wins in 2003-04 to 26 wins in 2004-05. Thereafter, the Jazz climbed back to 41, 51, 54, and 48 wins.

The personnel moves pulled by O'Connor on his watch have been mostly tepid, rarely dramatic, with the exception of one summer five years ago, when, by his standards, he went berserk. O'Connor showed up for an unscheduled visit at Miller's office -- which Larry said almost never happened -- and that surprise resulted in the Jazz acquiring Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur.

But let's look for hints chronologically.

After O'Connor was named vice president of Basketball operations in August, 1999, the Jazz promptly signed Olden Polynice to a two-year contract. They also signed Pete Chilcutt and Armen Gilliam.

The following year, O'Connor selected prep star DeShawn Stevenson in the first round of the draft. He subsequently signed John Starks and John Crotty to two-year contracts. He also signed Danny Manning and acquired Donyell Marshall via trade.

In 2001, O'Connor made a major mistake in drafting point guard Raul Lopez instead of Tony Parker, a move that is said to have been an economic decision, considering Lopez would not immediately come from Spain to play for the Jazz . O'Connor followed that by signing John Amaechi to a four-year deal. Not good. He also signed Andrei Kirilenko, who was drafted by Scott Layden, to a three-year contract.

The next offseason, O'Connor drafted Ryan Humphrey and Jamal Sampson and traded their rights to Orlando for the just drafted Curtis Borchardt. The Stanford big man was damaged goods, a wasted pick. O'Connor also signed Jarron Collins, Calbert Cheaney, Matt Harpring, Carlos Arroyo, Scott Padgett, Lopez, and Mark Jackson to deals, Harpring becoming the only real success in that bunch. Within a few months, both Lopez and Borchardt underwent major surgeries.

In 2003, O'Connor drafted Sasha Pavlovic and Mo Williams, each of whom turned out to be good players, especially Williams, but the Jazz subsequently let both players get away -- Pavlovic left unprotected in an expansion draft and Williams signed by the Bucks. Big oops. Amid a swirl of other minor deals, O'Connor also signed Raja Bell and Mikki Moore. He acquired what could yet be a significant gain -- in the Knicks' first-round pick in the 2010 draft. He also traded Stevenson for Gordan Giricek.

O'Connor took a double-hit in 2004 when he drafted Kris Humphries with the 14th overall pick and Kirk Snyder with the 16th. Both were awful and neither lasted. He made it a triple-bad when he re-signed Arroyo to a four-year contract. O'Connor also re-signed Giricek to a four-year deal. He made the aforementioned strong moves to sign free agents, Boozer and Okur, and followed with a max multi-year deal for Kirilenko, blowing the Jazz's stockpile of cash in the process. The huge extension to Kirilenko has put the Jazz in a financial mess since.

In 2005, O'Connor made what might have been his best move with the Jazz , and, yet, it ended up being controversial. He jumped up three spots in the draft, from No. 6 to No. 3, swinging a deal with Portland, to pick Deron Williams. In doing so, he left Chris Paul on the board, spawning an argument that persists, still. At least it was a bold, purposeful move, something that is rare in O'Connor's tenure. A stupid move, a move that underscored the Jazz's inept drafting, came a couple of months later, when the Jazz traded away three former first-round picks in a deal that landed them a useless retread: Greg Ostertag.

O'Connor had two draft successes in 2006, taking Ronnie Brewer with the 14th pick in the first round and Paul Millsap with the 47th overall selection. He also traded for Derek Fisher, a deal that worked out nicely for the Jazz for one season -- until the guard asked to be released supposedly because of his daughter's illness.

Morris Almond was taken with the Jazz's first pick in the 2007 draft. The rights to Kyrylo Fesenko were also secured. Ronnie Price was signed to a multi-year deal. And O'Connor picked up Kyle Korver in a trade.

Last year, O'Connor took Kosta Koufos in the first round of the draft, also signing Williams to an important contract extension. He got Brevin Knight in a trade, and matched restricted free agent C.J. Miles' bigger-than-expected offer from Oklahoma City, a move to forget.

And that's it.

Evaluating O'Connor's decisions could be done thusly: He's cautious. He's orchestrated a lot of moves that haven't made much of a difference. And he's made a few that have profoundly affected the franchise. He's alternately thrown away money and squeezed nickels. He's drafted poorly and smartly.

Now, with the Jazz on the brink of significant transition, with their respected longtime owner gone, with opt-outs and free agents springing loose, with a need for a competitive boost against a conference growing stronger with talented, young teams, with the Jazz's cap crunched, O'Connor will have to be at his best, he'll have to be right this summer, he'll have to step up and take risks. He cannot shrink away.

If he does, if he embraces the status quo or fumbles and bumbles around, and the record shows it could go either way, he'll do more than lose games and ground against the West. He'll lose credibility with the people who matter most: his customers, his team's fans.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Monson and Graham Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 1280 AM The Zone. He can be reached at . Alt Heads:

At Jazz's critical juncture, pressure is on O'Connor

Author: Fox Sports
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Added: May 24, 2009


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