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Jazz like team core, including Millsap, Jefferson

By Lynn Debruin

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 7 2011 5:59 p.m. MST

Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor

Jeffrey D. Allred.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said he likes the core of this year's team, and that includes Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, both rumored to be on the trading block.

He also refused to use the term rebuilding despite the team's youth.

The first move the team makes figures to be adding a coach for its young big men — Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors, both No. 3 overall picks.

O'Connor refused to comment when asked about small forward Andrei Kirilenko, a free agent who has been playing overseas during the lockout.

Teams can begin signing free agents and making trades on Friday, the same day training camps open. O'Connor said he would like to add another lead guard and an "athletic shooter." The latter may cost $10 million — which may be out of Utah's price range because it is over the salary cap.

"I don't want to hear that we're young," O'Connor said in his first extensive comments since the lockout started. "After today, I don't want to hear the word rebuilding. That's not what this is about. This is about getting better."

He called this a new chapter in Jazz basketball but one that should not be judged on 10 games or 20 games.

"You make a mistake in doing that," O'Connor said, "just like I think anybody would make a mistake judging (guard) Gordon Hayward the first 20 games."

It's a matter of seeing how they progress and learn to play together.

Coach Tyrone Corbin has been awaiting a fresh start after getting thrown into the mess of last season when Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan abruptly retired and the team traded its best player — Deron Williams.

Now he'll have a little more than a dozen practices before Utah's season starts Dec. 27 in Los Angeles against the Lakers.

"It's going to be a rat race for us for a little bit, but the sooner we can get everybody on the same page, the better chance we have to be successful sooner," said Corbin.

He said he has a group that is hungry to get better and not satisfied with Utah's 39-43 record of a year ago.

Utah's roster includes two former All-Stars in point guard Devin Harris and center Mehmet Okur, and O'Connor noted, two potential All-Stars in Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap.

The Jazz also have Kanter and Favors, and two other lottery picks from this year (guard Alec Burks) and last (guard Hayward).

"So we've got a nice core," O'Connor said. "The faces of the franchise are a little bit different for us than they were four or five years ago, but we expect to be able to compete and expect to be able to challenge."

He said the young players will have to earn their minutes as has been common on previous Jazz teams.

Corbin said that's a reason he won't change things as much offensively in the beginning. But there will be changes defensively.

O'Connor said he believes leadership may start with Harris, acquired along with Favors in the February trade for Williams, but he also expects Jefferson and Millsap to grow more in those roles.

Both Jefferson and Millsap have had to endure rumors that they are trade bait with so many big men on the Jazz roster.

O'Connor sounded like a man who wanted to keep both, though he wouldn't say definitively.

"It's like pitching in baseball," O'Connor said. "I don't think you can get enough of it. The guys always seem to have value in the league, but I don't think that means we're looking to trade anybody."

He recalled what happened last year when Okur couldn't get healthy and Kirilenko couldn't stay healthy.

O'Connor would only say he's fielded calls about his big men.

Millsap is a valuable commodity because of his versatility; he can play both small and power forward.

O'Connor wasn't worried about the position. "He's improved every year and expanded his game every year, which is great to see," he said.

And he expressed full confidence in Corbin, who was 8-20 after taking over for Sloan.

"We lost a Hall of Fame coach," O'Connor said. "I hope whoever is standing here in 20 years says the same thing about Ty. That's our goal, for us to support our coach as much as we can and put a product on the floor that we can win with."

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