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Utah Jazz History Lesson Part Deux - O'Connor's Revenge

What can we learn from the 2004-05 season and what did the Jazz learn from the previous one?


"As we are committed to a youth movement," Kevin O'Connor, the Jazz's senior vice president of basketball operations, said in a statement, "this provides Glen (Rice) the option of being able to be released from his contract in a time frame which allows him to quickly seek other options."

The buyout, it is believed, saved the Jazz about $1 million — one more favorable facet among many to a trade largely engineered by O'Connor.

In September of 2003 the Utah Jazz traded John Amaechi to Houston Rockets, for Glen Rice, cash and draft picks in order to help alleviate the tax penalties the Rockets would be facing. The Jazz then agreed to a buyout with Rice that saved the team $1 million dollars and "committed to a youth movement." I think two things Jazz fans would accuse the Jazz and Kevin O'Connor of, is stubbornly avoiding buyouts and not committing to youth movements. There is historical precedence for both.

Armed with three first round picks in the 2004 draft, their own and picks from the Glen Rice and Gugliotta trades the previous season, the Jazz came away virtually empty in one of the worst drafts on Kevin O'Connor's resume. O'Connor and the Jazz drafted Kris Humphries (#14), Kirk Snyder (#16) and Pavel Podkolzin (#21), while passing on Al Jefferson, Josh Smith, J.R. Smith, Tony Allen, Kevin Martin, and Anderson Varajao. The Jazz then immediately traded the rights to Podkolzin for a 1st round pick in the 2005 nba draft, which would prove to be very useful.

Again the Jazz got good to great marks from and espn on their picks, calling Humphries a "Karl Malone- type" player and Kirk Snyder the "best athlete in the draft." And again, those picks didn't pan out. Just the previous year, the Jazz had drafted Sasha Pavlovic, but he was taken by the Charlotte Bobcats in the expansion draft and immediately traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers for a first round pick (Jared Dudley).

Jazz Free Agency: O'Connor Learns From His Mistakes

As horrific as free agency was for the Jazz the previous year, missing out on almost every targeted free agent, it was almost that good in 2004. Because the Jazz had struck out with free agents the summer before, the Jazz again entered free agency with about $30 million in cap space. But Kevin O'Connor appeared to change his strategy.

Instead of going after big name restricted free agents like Maggette, Terry, or Brad Miller, he targeted young, possibly underrated players in Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur. With Carlos Boozer, the Jazz had to capitalize on the Cavaliers completely fumbling the situation. For those who don't remember, the Cavaliers released Carlos Boozer from his $695,000 guaranteed year, in order to make a "gentleman's agreement" to sign him to a long term deal. After the Cavs released Boozer, he signed a massive contract of 6 years, $68 million with the Jazz, "backstabbing" the Cavs and giving himself a bad rep that hasn't completely abandoned him.



You can see why the Jazz would value Carlos Boozer and for all of the stuff that Carlos put Jazz fans through, it's hard to say that he wasn't worth his contract in the end. And you have to imagine that Carlos caught O'Connor's eye with this performance. It was a big risk, but one that paid off for the Jazz when all was said and done. And I think it was much better than the alternative would have been, which was signing free agent Kenyon Martin to a long term deal.

The Jazz also signed free agent Mehmet Okur to a 6 year, $50 million deal. Like Carlos Boozer, Okur had just finished two solid seasons, but unlike Boozer, Okur was a backup with his first team. The Jazz were banking on the fact that Okur would prove to be a valuable starter, although he didn't become a full time starter for the Jazz until the 2005-06 season.



You can argue that Okur wasn't worth his contract extension, even before his career altering injury, but again, the Jazz got this 6 year, risky deal right. Okur was very good for a very reasonable price. The Jazz also re-signed Carlos Arroyo and Gordan Giricek, which were not as successful signings. Both were traded within the next 2 seasons.

It was only a month after making two of the biggest free agent signings in Jazz history, that Kevin O'Connor would make his biggest mistake ever by not matching Milwaukee's 3 year, $5.5 million deal for restricted free agent Mo Williams. Luckily, O'Connor would be able to rectify that mistake only 9 years later by bringing him back.

In all seriousness, in October, the Jazz did make a franchise-altering move by giving Andrei Kirilenko a maximum contract offer of 6 years, $86 million. The article mentions the pressure that the Jazz felt after Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol were both offered maximum deals. It's also one of the first ESPN articles that I remember mentioning advanced statistics in the evaluation process. And we all know how this all panned out financially for the Jazz.

It's interesting because in 3 months time, the Jazz handed out $202 million in long term contracts to essentially 2 and a half positions. I know that Kirilenko transitioned pretty well to a small forward role, but the Jazz had an opportunity to try to balance out their roster a little better by trading Andrei or Carlos a year later. In a lot of ways, a lack of balance to the roster has been a problem long before the last two years, although back then, there was more of a logjam financially. But back to our regularly scheduled blog.

Rebuilding the Jazz and Spurs way

You should remember this season well. Andrei Kirilenko went down with a severe ankle injury at the end of November, that made him miss December and most of January. Carlos Boozer hurt his knee on Valentine's day and didn't play another game that year. In January, with the season teetering off the ledge, the Jazz traded Carlos Arroyo to the Pistons for Elden Campbell's expiring contract and a future first round pick.

By the end of the season, Boozer missed 31 games, Kirilenko 41, Raul Lopez missed 51 and Keith McLeod, yes that Keith McLeod, started 47 games for the Jazz. The Jazz went 26-56 and finished with the 4th worst record in the league and a 12% chance of getting the top pick and a 38% chance of landing a top 3 pick. The Jazz had only a 16% chance of landing out of the top 5, but sure enough Milwuakee and Portland both leap frogged the Jazz in the lottery and the Jazz were forced to trade the 6th pick, the 27th pick (Pavel Podkolzin trade) and a 2006 1st rounder (Carlos Arroyo trade) for Portland's 3rd pick, probably Kevin O'Connors best move of his tenure. With those 3 picks, the Blazers drafted Martell Webster, Linas Kleiza, and Joel Freeland. So that worked out for the Jazz.

Just 9 years earlier, a similar season had fallen on San Antonio. Six games into the season, the Spurs lost David Robinson for the year, and ended up having Sean Elliot for only 39 games. The Spurs finished 20-62, with the 3rd worst record in the league and a 16% chance of getting the top pick in the draft. Lady Stern, I mean luck, gave the Spurs Tim Duncan, several years after lucking into David Robinson.

What I find interesting is that the Jazz and Spurs will and have "tanked" a season, but only due to injury. Both teams entered their respective seasons with the idea of competing for the playoffs and/or a title, but they were forced to be very very bad. But both teams had a 16% chance of landing where they did and both teams landed on opposite ends, 5 picks away from each other. Luckily both teams got franchise players out of it, but you already know the difference between Deron Williams and Tim Duncan. I don't have to tell you. Luck does play a large role in building a championship team.

What the 2004-05 season teaches us

-The Jazz have bought out players and they have committed to "youth movements" before

-Kevin O'Connor likes to pursue big time free agents. In a two year period, he pursued Maggette, Terry, Miller, Boozer, Martin, Okur

-The Jazz will only be really awful and be in the bottom 5 of the league, if injuries fall on them. They will never voluntarily allow it to happen

- The Jazz have more success luring underappreciated free agents, than big name restricted free agents.

-As bad as Kevin O'Connor was at drafting between 2000 and 2005, he also stockpiled 1st round picks that proved invaluable to being able to make trades.

Later this week, we will look at the 2005-06 season for the last part of this series