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Kevin O’Connor has positioned the Jazz to ascend in the next few seasons

The Utah Jazz franchise has faced a number of challenges over the past few seasons. There was reported disharmony between the franchise player Deron Williams, and hard headed coach Jerry Sloan. Both are now gone. There was the eventual power vacuum when both left. However, some leaders are stepping up. The Jazz had been carrying along a few majorly over valued contracts the last few seasons: Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, and Andrei Kirilenko. None of them currently draw paychecks from us anymore. I don’t even think you can argue about our talent anymore, we have log-jams – something we almost never had before. I firmly believe that the Jazz are going to be a vastly better team in 2012-13 than they had in the previous two seasons. In fact, I think this team has the chance to play better than some of our D-Will / Memo / Booz / AK teams. (Chance . . . not will . . . but we’ll see).

I’m very happy with a lot of the resolutions that have been finalized by our front office, mainly under the steadying influence of Kevin O’Connor. There is more work to be done, yes, but that’s just me wishing for perfection. I’m not happy with a few changes; I want our team to keep aiming to fix everything. And that’s exactly what everyone on our team wants too, from Tyrone Corbin down to Brian Zettler. The TEAM wants to be perfect too. You don’t see the internal criticism and encouragement from the team because it’s internal. You do see the external criticism and encouragement from the fans though. However, me being critical is for the same purpose and goal for their own internal criticism. To win it all.

And under KOC, our team is positioned to ascend quite a bit in the Western Conference over the next few seasons. Click on for some "glass half full" action at SLC Dunk.

Overt problem of so many people in contract years:

You may or may not have noticed this, but we have a number of people who are in contract years. How many? Eight people. Eight people out of 14. Yes, the only people who are NOT fighting for their next contract will be the C4 (Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks), Jeremy Evans, and Marvin Williams (if he does not opt out). More acutely, this looks like a bad thing because there are internally competing groups going at it.

For Starters, all of our point guards are in contract years. Mo Williams’ $8.5m expires, and he wants to finish his career here. Earl Watson’s $2.3m expires, and he was complaining about playing time last year. Jamaal Tinsley’s $1.3m expires, and he may still be looking for work. And Randy Foye’s $2.5m will expire too – and he played SG almost exclusively the last few years. With four guys who should be getting playing time at the PG all in contract years, one would presume that we have a problem.

I disagree. It looks like an overt problem here at PG, or also with the issue of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap both wanting long term deals that are also raises. But no, it’s only going to be a talking point for Tyrone Corbin all season long. But in the long term view of this Jazz franchise it’s not a problem. Why am I so confident? I’m confident because competition will give us way more ways to evaluate the players who are ON expiring deals.

So let’s say we start next season with those four PGs. We’ll have 82 games + the playoffs (hopefully) to see which of those guys plays the best. Who runs our sets? Who makes their open shots? Who complains? Who feeds the people who are open? We’re super lucky to have a variety in what we have. Mo is an outside shooting PG. Earl is a scrappy defender. Jamaal has all the tricks and is pass first. Randy is a combo guard who is the biggest. Instead of a situation where we have only one PG in a contract year, presumably as the expected incumbent next year, he may not work as hard as he has to right now. Now, for the Jazz, we’re going to have four guys hungry to produce every game. Mo wants to finish his career here. To do so he’ll have to do enough next year for the Jazz to want him. That means Mo has to bring that leadership and toughness we need as a lead guard. No Golden Handshake Matt Harpring deal either, he’s going to have to earn in. Earl is super simpatico with our youth, and mentors them. If he wants a bigger role with the team beyond next season he’s also going to have to prove it on the court. I believe in all of these PGs (and God, I pray they try to use Foye as a PG, and not as a guy to slow Burk’s down). I also believe that this overt problem of "everybody being in a contract year" is lesser to our future going forward, than it currently exists as something to worry about THIS year.

Big Al will want Big Money. How could he not when next season Brook Lopez is going to make more money than him? Paul Millsap is in the same both. They are both seasoned veterans who have a lot in the tank still. The Jazz have a log-jam inside already. It’s well publicized – there’s just not enough playing time to go around for four, let alone save any for absolutely dynamic Jeremy Evans. That said, it’s not going to be a log jam in the future. The very futures of these two guys relies on this season. Who is going to be a team player? Who will get with the program? Who is more likely to take a lesser role going forward? Effectively these two guys have to decide if they want to get paid or be a member of this franchise. And how they perform this season will also help determine if the Jazz want to a) pay them, or b) even want them to be part of this franchise going forward.

Yes, there are going to be some ups and downs this season. But I don’t see 2012-13 as the "make or break year" for our team. It’s an important year. But it’s a great year for our staff to see everyone and evaluate them. After all, while some of the players may be playing for their next contract; the team is playing to win. The players that help us win will stand out. And competition will bring out the best.



Overt benefit of flexibility

This is the other side of the coin for having 8/14 guys on the team be in contract years. The Jazz only have $25.3m on the books for next year. Less than $20 if Marvin opts out. This type of thing does not come by accident. Kevin planned this a few seasons ago, and like all good things, some plans need some time to fully form and come together. The Jazz will have a lot of money to play with. If the Jazz decide that some of the guys in contract years aren’t worth bringing back there’s no law that says we have to bring them back. The Jazz will have enough money to throw around at free agents. Some unrestricted FAs next off-season will be: Kyle Korver, Kevin Martin, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, J.J. Redick, and Andrew Bynum. Some restricted FAs next off-season will be: Rodrigue Beaubois, Darren Collison, Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings, Nikola Pekovic, James Harden, and Tyreke Evans. The point is, welp, even if ALL FOUR PGs "Compete" themselves into sucking and not deserving another go around here – there are plenty of PGs who we’d have money to outright get. Also, next season we’re drafting Myck Kabongo anyway, so it won’t matter. Additionally, there are quality bigmen to be had next off-season as free agents as well. I don’t think we’d miss Millsap’s lack of height, and Jefferson’s lack of defense if we had Pek coming off the bench to wreck people’s dreams.

Having money doesn’t just mean you have to use it on a free agent though. We can use our cap space to do more trades with other teams. We’ve seen what a gun slinger KOC can be, and I expect Lindsey to be able to make very smart moves as well. Having the ability to take on contracts means we are now better placed to be a player in block busters.

It’s going to suck with guys (at times) playing worried, because they do not have long term security on their contracts. But if they play well, they’ll be fine. And if the Jazz play their money situation smartly, they’ll be fine too. And this part is super important because . . .



At some stage, we gotta pay C4 what they are worth

Seriously, did you see some of the contracts SFs, PFs, and Cs are getting today? If not, you can just read this. The bottom line is that even average players with big upsides are getting paid in this era of the NBA. If our C4 are as good as we think they are then KOC has done a great job by allowing our team the financial flexibility and capability to actually be ABLE to keep all of them. Hypothetically let’s say ALL of them end up costing $40m a year, as a group. The Jazz can do that. Miami is dishing out $60 a year for just LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. ("Just") Those guys are phenomenal. We could afford to sign four phenoms for $20m less per season. Effectively, we could need to pay $40-45 a season for 4/5th of our future starting lineup. And we can do that. We don’t have any dumb contracts after 2012-13. We haven’t been able to say that for a number of seasons.

And it’s a great feeling.

Of course, things could go south quickly if we offer Mo Williams a $12m per contract, while giving Big Al $16.5 per. But I’m hoping that Dennis Lindsey will prevent either of those things from happening.

And what if the C4 guys don’t deserve to be paid $40m? Easy. Then we have even more money to play around with. If they are as good as we think they can be, we can keep them all. If they are not, still no problem. Good drafting. Good financial planning. Good future.

Thanks Kevin, you don’t always get it right – but in the big picture moves, I think you did.