Utah Jazz General Manager Kevin O'Connor has been kicking butt, consistently, this entire off-season. All GMs have their challenges, strengths, go-to moves, and growth potentials. In that way they are similar to the players they sign, waive, trade, and draft. For O'Connor some would say that his 'go-to move' is to make a deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, or that his major challenge is that he brings in players that the Jazz head coach does not want to play. No one can argue against his strength in selecting draft picks in the second round. Somehow very few people even think of talking about the potential for growth in veteran GMs who appear to have fallen into predictable patterns of behavior. GM O'Connor seems to be getting better with experience - not unlike an NBA player.
Maybe KOC isn't improving, but just we fans are seeing the culmination of a number of plans that started weeks, if not months, in the past. I don't know. None of us really do because he's so great at keeping his cards to his chest. All of that said, after all, I can't hate on a guy who loves PPS as a valid metric for player evaluation. It is one of my favorites as well.
I like what he is doing right now. My expectations for the Jazz are that they improve on one problem every off-season. That's what I need in order to feel like we're on the right track. We talked about this here a few weeks ago. With the moves that the Jazz are making I think they are focused on this point as well. There were a few major problems: bench scoring, three point shooting, floor spacing, over all defense, and specifically pick and roll defense. Pick and Roll defense will always be an issue (it takes two to tango, and two to pick up the ball handler early before he turns the corner -- which is a harder dance to follow if you have two left feet on defense). However, I think in the few moves we've made this summer we're making steps to address all the other concerns.
- The Jazz drafted Kevin Murphy - a limited NCAA player who can make jumpers, something we need
- Traded a Mehmet Okur (limited time only) trade exception for Mo Williams, who is a super spot up guy with legit three point range
- Extended the contracts for free agents DeMarre Carroll (defense), and Jamaal Tinsley (veteran floor leader)
- Made qualifying offer to restricted free agent Jeremy Evans, while possibly learning the value of not pissing off your star players by trading away all their friends
- Traded Devin Harris, and avoided a potentially messy situation for the battle of PG minutes, for Marvin Williams, which gives us better wing depth, scoring, bench scoring, three point shooting, and over-all defense
These are all good moves. While the rest of the NBA gets excited over Dwight Howard, or worries about "What the Lakers are going to do next?", Kevin O'Connor has been kicking butt. And he has done so while some of us, including myself, have made jokes about him and/or joked about him being quite Laissez-faire this off-season. Some people joked that he was at the movies. I know I think I joked that he was trying to fill out the roster by looking at the rosters for the 2003 All-Star game. I think some of it was good natured ribbing, but came from a legitimate point of unrest after our big moves last off-season (outside of, you know, drafting two potential future NBA starters) were bringing in a broken down Josh Howard and big question mark in Jamaal Tinsley. Others continue to be upset that he has not dedicated the team towards developing the youth (I think I fall in that camp), while still others wish for a more overt resolution to the bigman minutes conundrum.
I think those are still fair assessments. However, it would by hypocritical to not see, appreciate, and publicly recognize the very solid string of moves he has made. Kevin O'Connor is definitely doing that "I'm here to do x and y, and I'm all out of x" thing right now. (Where y, the remaining task, is something like "kick butt".) I see the moves he is making, and for the most part, I find nothing to be upset about.
I do think that Devin Harris made a number of sacrifices to his individual game for the good of the team, and it is a Catch-22 for him. If he did his thing he would have been seen as trying hard NOT to adjust and be a team first guy. Because he slowed things down, didn't drive as much, or call his number -- he didn't give the Jazz what they were expecting from him. It sucks for Devin, and I'll do a longer post about that later this week. He was in a no win situation -- and is being replaced (effectively, in a parallel move) by someone the GM has had that 'thirst' for, for a few years now.
While it can be argued that KOC has always been this good, I don't think that it can be argued that KOC is really performing well right now. Sports fans are quick to get upset about a player who has all the talent in the world, but only rarely comes through to have a hot streak. I think O'Connor is on a hot streak right now. I don't expect him to perform at this level for each and every move he makes. But I do appreciate what he's doing right now.
Let's see how long he can keep this streak going. There are a number of tweaks he can still make to the roster while maintaining future financial flexibility. I'm excited to see what he has planned next!