Miller family had guts to approve trade with Nets

Aug 11 2012 - 6:03pm

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SALT LAKE CITY -- His team was already neck-deep in turmoil during the winter of 2011, so Utah Jazz CEO Greg Miller swallowed hard when he was asked to OK the biggest trade in franchise history.

Sending All-Star point guard Deron Williams to the New Jersey Nets was a risky move but in retrospect it feels like the right move, Miller said last week. 

"I think it still remains to be seen, ultimately the impact it has on the franchise," Miller said. "But I can tell you that in the months since that trade, I feel very good about it."

Miller, the son of late Jazz owner Larry H. Miller, joined his mother, Gail, team president Randy Rigby and executive vice president Kevin O'Connor at a Aug. 7 press conference to introduce new general manager Dennis Lindsey.

For 13 seasons O'Connor, 63, handled Utah's GM duties but last week he announced he was stepping aside to focus more on his role as executive VP in charge of basketball operations. As such he will still have a substantial say in personnel decisions, but Lindsey, 43, will now handle most day-to-day issues.

Having Greg and Gail Miller on hand at the same time as O'Connor provided a rare opportunity for the local media. Now 18 months removed from arguably the most tumultuous month the franchise has ever seen, it provided the chance to look back in retrospect.

"The main way I would characterize (the trade) is that we were able to control our destiny to a much higher degree than had we not made it," Greg Miller said.

At the time, the Jazz were slogging through an underachieving season even though they had acquired big man Al Jefferson from Minnesota during the summer of 2010. The belief was that Jefferson and Williams could provide a one-two punch powerful enough to help the Jazz make a deep playoff run. However, by February they were foundering and at halftime of a Feb. 9 home loss to Chicago, Williams and longtime head coach Jerry Sloan got into an altercation.

The next day Sloan and top assistant Phil Johnson resigned, leaving the franchise in a state of shock. Days later, O'Connor came to Greg Miller with a deal to send Williams to the Nets in exchange for veteran point guard Devin Harris, promising rookie Derrick Favors and a first-round draft pick.

Williams' contract had an opt-out clause that would have allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. On the other hand, he also could opt-in for one more season, thus eliminating scads of speculation during the impending lockout in the summer of 2011.

Williams never said he planned to skip out, but he also never gave Miller an indication he planned to stay. And so, despite the risk involved, Miller went with a gut feeling and OK'd the trade.

"It took guts to do it," O'Connor said.

O'Connor credited the Millers with having the chutzpah to make the move at a time when the entire franchise was in a state of uncertainty. Now, a year and a half later, the trade allowed the Jazz to sidestep the drama involved with trying to keep a high profile free agent. What's more, it allowed O'Connor to build a new roster once again capable of contending in the Western Conference.

This summer Williams agreed to a $100 million contract with the Nets. Meanwhile the Jazz traded Harris for former Jazzman Mo Williams in addition to acquiring veterans Marvin Williams and Randy Foye.

As he yields his GM role to Lindsey, O'Connor can fairly look back on the Williams trade as his boldest moment.

"That's an 'I' thing and I want to get away from that," he said. "It was about what we did (as a team). The two people down at the end (Greg and Gail Miller) did it.

"We're like the assistant coaches. We make the suggestions and they make the decisions."

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