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Scott Howard-Cooper Discusses Jazz Summer Moves

Jazz stay playoff ready after summer moves

Posted Jul 16 2010 7:35PM - Updated Jul 17 2010 9:45AM

Look who just snuck up on everyone. The team everyone knew about anyway.
Look who just became a team of the future. One of the teams of the present.
Look who just had a loud statement of an offseason. The team that was supposed to quietly sit on the sideline.

Talk about great summers, even if few beyond Salt Lake City are talking about it. Maintaining a playoff-quality roster as other organizations chipped away at the roster would have been impressive enough, but the Jazz went all the way to investing heavily in the moment while also positioning themselves for success into the future.

They beat the perceptions, of course, which is nothing new. Most didn't expect the Jazz to match the offer sheet Paul Millsap got a year ago from the Trail Blazers, not when they already had Carlos Boozer, not when they are a small-market team, and not when the front-loaded deal obligated them to pay $10.3 million almost immediately. But match they did. That was supposed to make a Boozer trade inevitable, when in actuality it wasn't, and they did keep him the entire season and got focused, professional play. That morphed into more clear thinking, that Utah would let Boozer walk as a free agent, go back on its way with saved money as the gain, and withdraw into improved financial security of life below the luxury-tax line.
Boozer did leave, getting a reported five years and $80 million from the Bulls. But the Jazz charged right back. Using the trade exception acquired from Chicago as part of the Boozer deal, rather than taking the conservative route, they sent a couple first-round picks and little-used Kosta Koufos to the Timberwolves for Al Jefferson and his contract calling for $42 million the next three seasons.
Moves triggered counter-moves like that. Boozer leaves, reach deep in the pockets for Jefferson, keep the front-court depth intact. Kyle Korver leaves, also for the Bulls, beat the Lakers to free agent Raja Bell, who previously had some of his best years with Jerry Sloan in Utah and, like Korver, is a 3-point threat who can stretch defenses. Wes Matthews leaves after a 2009-10 as one of the individual success stories of the league -- from undrafted to crucial role on a playoff team to a five-year, $34-million offer sheet from the Trail Blazers -- but that's an understandable non-match. Congratulations on a fine rookie season and all, but, wow.
This could have unraveled at so many points, losing Boozer, Korver and Matthews without a player coming in return, three important parts of a 53-29 team that reached the second round of the playoffs. But owner Greg Miller, in a continued break with policy when his father ran the team, signed off on the moves that put the Jazz on path to pay the luxury tax for a second consecutive season. (In a conversation late in Larry's life, he told his son to operate the team on what seems sound to Greg, not what Larry would have wanted. The son surely has put his own branding on what remains one of the stable franchises in sports.)
Kevin O'Connor has turned that level of support, and a dose of luck, into a summer that doesn't feel like a major hit despite the exits of Boozer, Korver and Matthews. One of the best and most underrated personnel bosses in the league has maneuvered the Jazz into the best of all possible positions, the one where they can be relevant now and soon potentially more. And relevant is not a put-down of a place to be in the West behind the commanding Lakers.
What O'Connor may have pulled off is keeping the Jazz close to as competitive, or even as competitive, while also getting them younger, just as L.A. heads into the final few years with Kobe Bryant at a superstar status, Phoenix heads into the final couple/few years with Steve Nash and San Antonio heads into the final few years with Tim Duncan.
Deron Williams is 26.
Millsap is 25.
Jefferson is 25.
Mehmet Okur is 31 and Andrei Kirilenko is 29, but the three best players on the team are all 26 or younger. Plus, part-time starter C.J. Miles is 23 and lottery-pick rookie Gordon Hayward just 20 and the dose of luck, having been acquired thanks to a long-ago deal with the Knicks that delivered a draft choice to the Jazz just as New York started dumping bodies overboard for the Summer of LeBron.
That's not Oklahoma City young as the Thunder charge to the future with Kevin Durant about to turn 22 and better than all but a few players in any team and Russell Westbrook turning 22 late in preseason. That is, however, a very good summer the Jazz definitely did not sit out.
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.