I have a lot of respect for Kevin O'Connor. He's a good General Manager and garners a lot of respect from people around the league other than Utah Jazz fans. O'Connor isn't perfect by any means and he has made some mistakes in his time at the helm. I think he would be the first to admit that. But one thing I do hate about Kevin O'Connor is his pat answers and vague discussions about the interworkings of the team. Don't get me wrong. I think that attitude is absolutely necessary in his line of work, but it drives me bonkers, never being able to test the temperature surrounding my favorite team. I would like a little heads up from the front office, while keeping things quiet from the rest of the league. So i decided to kidnap Mr. O'Connor and slip him a little "truth serum" and we had a little interview. What he said was pretty interesting, tied up in my basement and being totally truthful.* I have the transcript of our discussion after the jump.
*This post is fictional. I didn't really kidnap Kevin O'Connor and I don't own any truth serum. Sorry to disappoint.
Mr. O'Connor: Well, I didn't have much of a choice. And please call me Kevin. Can you loosen my wrist straps, by any chance?
Clark: Yes. Sorry about that. So Kevin, how are you feeling about this upcoming season?
Kevin: I feel pretty good about things. We don't have the best team in the league, I can tell you that (uncomfortable chuckle). It's obviously a rebuilding year for us, but we plan on being in the playoffs in the next 3 years with a chance to be competitive. But we're not going to win a ton of games this upcoming season. We have some great guys on our teams with big goals and hearts, but those don't win basketball games.
Clark: I thought you didn't want to call this a rebuilding year.
Kevin: Oh, it absolutely is. I mean, we plan on rebuilding faster than most teams. I mean, the rebuilding effort is different for every team, but anytime you make a move to get worse in the short term, that has to be termed rebuilding. I just don't use the word in public, because it scares fans from buying tickets. And we need fans to buy tickets.
Clark: Why can't you just be honest with the fans and tell them? It seems like Jazz fans are smart enough to understand.
Kevin: Some of them are. I would venture to guess that many of them are, Clark. But not everybody buying tickets, merchandise, watching the games is...I want to use the word "patient" enough to be told that we need a year or two to make it back to the playoffs. We have one of the best fanbases in the league. No one gets louder than our crowd in the playoffs, but some of that crazy, irrational behavior that gets fans out of their seats and cheering in May, also keeps them from evaluating the reality of the team correctly.
Clark: So do you lie to the fanbase often?
Kevin: No. I wouldn't call it lying, as much as just not being forthcoming with all of the facts. We love our fanbase, we appreciate what they do and how supportive they are, but sometimes you have to patronize them, so they will patronize us in return.
Kevin: It is pretty complicated, Clark, but I will tell you what I understand. We just were surprisingly bad last season. We expected Okur to come back and play good minutes and we expected Raja Bell to be able to hit open shots. We could tell by 30 games into the season that we just weren't as good as we thought we might be and that was very discouraging for all of us. Deron was obviously frustrated. He's a great player and a great guy, but when he is frustrated, everyone knows it and it drags down team moreale a little bit. Coach Sloan was frustrated and I think more than anything, he was just so disappointed that we weren't playing well. He really honestly thought that he would win a championship, or at least get to the finals with this group of guys. WE came close and I think when he started to realize that we looked more like a lottery team than a contender, he decided he had had enough. Deron and others were moody enought to tire Jerry out and he simply had had enough with this team.
Clark: Is it true that you tried to convince him to stay?
Kevin: Oh absolutely. I begged him. I asked him whatever he wanted. You know that scene in A League of Their Own, when a hotter, younger version of Geena Davis asks to be traded to avoid conflict with her sister? It felt like I was in that movie, in that very scene, trying to convince Jerry to stay, but he wouldn't have any of it. I offered to raise his pay. I offered to trade Deron Williams or any of the players that he didn't like. I offered thses things without even knowing if I could deliver them, but Jerry wouldn't hear any of it.
Clark: But you eventually did trade Deron. I guess that was inevitable with how he was treating and taking down the team?
Kevin: The whole Deron situation was a clustercuss, Clark. I take a lot of the blame, but it's really hard to make all of the right moves when you have to overpay free agents and you're trying to build around one guy. We were close in 2009. We just couldn't get over the hump. And then we hung on to Carlos Boozer for too long, even though it was obvious that he couldn't be second fiddle and didn't really want to do what was necessary to make us a championship type team. So like I said, a lot of the blame should go on me and other people making the decisions. We would have loved to keep Deron around to win titles for us.
Clark: When did things start going sour for Deron and the organization?
Kevin: I didn't even consider trading away a guy of Deron's caliber until early last season when we were looking bad. But from conversations, or I should say, shouting matches I have had with Deron, things really started going badly when we traded Ronnie Brewer. It was obvious that Deron wasn't going to like the fact that we traded Ronnie away and he was upset, but what really pissed Deron off, was when I went on the radio and started telling people that it was a good basketball move and something other than a cost cutting move that made us worse immediately. That is when Deron called me up and let me have it. I really underestimated what great friends Deron and Ronnie were.
Clark: But that trade was a good trade. It opened up playing time for Wesley Matthews.
Kevin: Right. It also forced us to play Ronnie Price for about 25 minutes a game for the next month too after Andrei got injured, which was a big surprise. Of course I'm being sarcastic about that. We trade Ronnie Brewer to save money and that doesn't sit well with any star player. There was nothing keeping us from giving Wes more minutes or playing Ronnie at the small forward position more often. But that was the first time that Deron let his grievances with management be let known to the public. Before that, he loved playing for the Jazz and he loved his teammates. It was sort of the start of the downhill plummet of the team. I do have to say, that we got some great pieces from that trade, though. Let's just say I safely landed a plane in skydive.
Clark: But didn't Deron appreciate that you were trying so hard to win? I mean you took on all that payroll to get a guy of Al Jefferson's caliber.
Kevin: I think he did appreciate it, but at that time, trading for Al was such a desperation move. Okur was not healthy. Fesenko was lined up to be our starting Center. We had a trade exception that the fans were not going to let us not use and Jefferson was available. We liked him, for all his faults and had talked about trading for him before. We knew that if we did trade for him, we could AT LEAST start beating Minnesota during the regular season.
Clark: So do you regret trading for Al Jefferson?
Kevin: I wouldn't say that exactly, but it certainly wasn't the highlight of my time as a general manager. It gets so hard, Clark. You start getting into a bidding war with a Western Conference Rival and you want to beat them in the bidding process, so you start to sweat. It's like an auction, or buying something on Ebay. Sometimes the chase is so exhilarating that you realize you don't need the thing you just spent 30 bucks after the fact. But in this case it was $42 million (awkward chuckle). You know? Plus, when David Kahn calls you and makes an offer, there's that little voice inside your head, that assumes you must just absolutely be fleecing this guy, so there is that aspect to it. And in some ways, we contributed to a championship, because Dallas lost out on Al and turned to Tyson Chandler, who really fit their team nicely. I told Mark Cuban the other day, that I wanted a little recognition for helping him win the title and he said "never." I think he was joking. I sort of expect him to thank us in their ring ceremony this season.
Clark: So would you consider trading Al Jefferson now?
Kevin: I'd consider it, but it isn't likely. Do you know how bad that would look to Jazz fans, if I basically asked for a mulligan? Jazz fans would be calling for my head, even more than they already are.
Clark: What is your fan interaction like? Would you be willing to maybe do a question and answer session with Jazz fans over the internet or something like that?
Kevin: No comments.
Clark: Oh I think the serum is wearing off, so we better wrap this up. You're back to your usual self.
Kevin: I'm being honest with you. That's just my answer. I would do a fan interaction deal, if there were no comments made from fans about the job I was doing. That would be my request. I am a sensitive guy.
Clark: Okay. Two more questions then. First, how do you feel about the two guys you drafted, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks?
Kevin: Well, we are going to have to see about them. Right now, I am a little nervous about Enes. He has struggled at times with NBA competition and I am hoping that the NBA stage won't be too much for him. When he did a personal work out, we were blown away by his size and strength in the paint, but looking back, I realize that juding a guy's game on his ability to dominate your 50 year old coach down low, isn't the end all and be all of scouting. Enes is a great guy and like a bull in a China shop. We just have to hope that other teams are the shards of broken glass and not our playoff chances, you know? (Nervous laughter). The nice thing is that if Alec Burks turns out to be a guy who can efficiently score 10-15 points a night, people will forgive me for drafting Kanter, even if he doesn't pan out, because I will have really shot the moon with Burks and Hayward from last year.
Clark: So who are you targeting in free agency? I heard that you made calls to Rasual Butler and Roger Mason and Sebastian Telfair's agents?
Kevin: I didn't call any of those guys' agents. Those reports were just smokescreen so I could target the guy I really wanted.
Kevin: Jason Collins.
Clark: Okay, now I know the serum has worn off. But it was really fun talking to you, Kevin. I'll get you home to your wife now.
Kevin: It was a lot of fun. This honesty thing is refreshing. When does it wear off? We should do this again sometime.
Clark: We certainly will.
You can follow clark on twitter @jazzingitup.