For whatever mistakes Kevin O’Connor made during his 13 years as the Jazz’s general manager — and he admits he made more than a few — he deserves credit for making one of the best decisions in franchise history.
Too often fans have focused on questionable draft picks like Raul Lopez, Curtis Borchardt, and Morris Almond; lost free agents like Mo Williams in 2004 and Wesley Matthews in 2010; and, of course, the max-money contract offered to Andrei Kirilenko.
Honestly? There isn’t a GM alive who doesn’t have a few clunkers fans routinely complain about. It’s simply part of the job.
But when it comes to O’Connor — who last week stepped down from his GM post to focus on his role as executive vice president of basketball operations — the decision to trade Deron Williams in February of 2011 always will be his crowning achievement.
Don’t believe me? Take a good look at the Dwight Howard situation and know that sort of thing easily could have happened right here in Utah.
Howard, who finally was traded to the Lakers on Friday, held the Orlando Magic hostage for far too long, sending negative shock waves throughout the franchise.
Unsure of whether he really wanted to stay in Orlando, leave as a free agent or be traded to another team, Howard’s wishy-washy attitude cost coach Stan Van Gundy and GM Otis Smith their jobs.
He also drove NBA fans a little nutty, what with the almost-daily rumors of a soon-to-be-announced transaction. For months it seemed he was either on his way to the Nets, the Lakers, the Mavericks or the Rockets, or he was just going to stay put in Orlando where he mistakenly believed the fans there still loved him.
By show of hands, who out there felt any emotion at all when Howard’s trade to the Lakers was announced Friday?
Nope, didn’t think so.
Sadly, that sort of useless drama and endless media overkill are signs of the times in the NBA. Howard isn’t the first player to send his small-market team on a roller coaster of emotion and he won’t be the last. It can pass a hundred new collective bargaining agreements and the NBA will still be superstar-driven league. Consequently, big-time stars like Howard will always have most of the leverage.
The Jazz were looking at a similar situation early in 2011 when Williams was becoming increasingly frustrated with the organization. He wasn’t happy with the way the team started the season, didn’t like that Matthews was allowed to sign with the Trail Blazers, wasn’t thrilled O’Connor drafted Gordon Hayward the previous June and was butting heads with coach Jerry Sloan.
Because a lengthy lockout was pending and DWill had the ability to opt out of his contract at the end of the season, the Jazz wanted to avoid a drawn-out, will-he-or-won’t-he drama festival. Instead, unsure of whether DWill wanted to stay or go, O’Connor quickly and quietly shopped his All-Star point guard and, just before the trade deadline, shipped him off to New Jersey for Devin Harris, then-rookie Derrick Favors and a draft pick.
That trade effectively allowed him to build the Jazz in their current form, which is at the very least an intriguing collection of useful parts. Whether they’re successful next season and into the future remains to be seen, but they’re far better off then the Magic, that’s for sure.
At last week’s press conference introducing new GM Dennis Lindsey, O’Connor said no decision has ever been made unilaterally, including the DWill deal.
Funny thing is, when it comes to the bad decisions, he’s willing to take the heat but for the good ones, he passes off the credit.
“It took guts to do it and the two people sitting down at the end (of the dais) had the guts to do it,” he said, referring to Jazz owner Gail Miller and CEO Greg Miller. “We traded away an All-Star in the prime of his career. Normally you get fired for that.”