Utah Jazz trade Mehmet Okur to New Jersey for trade exception, future 2nd-round pick
Okur traded to nets in business move for a 2015 second-round pick, trade exception
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Greg Miller made a tough phone call Thursday — one that was part business, part personal.
Considering the importance of the news he had to break and the sincerity of an accompanying message he hoped to relay, the Jazz CEO wanted to make it himself.
Mehmet Okur was on the answering end of the call.
The business part: The seven-year Jazz center was dealt to the New Jersey Nets in exchange for a valuable trade exception — the key to the deal for Utah — and the team's 2015 second-round draft pick.
The personal part: Miller thanked Okur — fondly called "Memo" and / or "Money" in these parts — for his dedicated play and effort and because he'd "given everything he had" to the Jazz since 2004.
Miller expressed gratitude that Okur, who worked hard to rehab his injured back and surgically repaired Achilles tendon to 100 percent strength, "played hurt when a lot of guys would not have."
Miller also told Okur that the Jazz "appreciate everything he did." They hope he remembers how important he was to the success of the franchise family.
On a personal level, this was a hard call — figuratively and literally — for the Jazz to make. And it happened rapidly after the Nets learned that their talented starting center, Brook Lopez, had been sidelined with a surgery-requiring broken foot.
Receiving the $10.8 million trade exception was the clincher for the Jazz, who have a calendar year to enhance their roster in a significant way with it.
"The biggest reason (to trade Okur) is we were able to gain what we consider a valuable asset in the trade exception," Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said. "We wouldn't have made a deal unless we got something that's an asset back."
Especially because it involved a beloved player like Memo, who's exuded positivity in Utah for so long.
Okur has been a fan-favorite in Utah for years because of his long-distance sharpshooting skills and his affable personality that was expressed through charming broken English and friendly facial features.
Because of the timing, and considering Okur has to uproot his family, O'Connor called the business move "a lousy thing."
"There's a human part to this that doesn't feel very good," O'Connor admitted. "But from a business point of view (trading to improve your team) is what you do during the season and offseason. You've got to look at it from what's best for the Jazz."
From that aspect, it does make plenty of sense for this franchise in flux.
Okur was signed to a two-year contract extension in 2009, when he was a productive starter in Utah. But months after his injury in the first game of the 2010 playoffs, Utah signed a new and pricey starting center replacement in Al Jefferson.
By no fault of his own, the Jazz weren't sure what they were going to get from Memo this season after he only played in 13 games because of injuries in 2010-11.
On top of that, Okur's contract was considered a hefty one for a reserve player.
Okur did not want to be traded, according to his agent, Marc Fleisher.
Utah's big man depth made the trade possible without acquiring a current player.
Even with the trade of the popular former All-Star (2007), Utah still has a combination of four proven and promising post players in Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. The athletic Jeremy Evans also can play the four spot, so the Jazz remain deep with their bigs.
The Jazz have received a lot of calls and offers from other teams interested in wheeling and dealing for Utah's posts, O'Connor said.
"We have more (big players) than other teams do," he added. "We looked at everything."
It remains possible the Jazz could make more moves as they try to regain their perennial perch in the playoffs, something they missed out on last postseason in the post-Jerry Sloan/Deron Williams era.
The trade exception, O'Connor admitted, will allow Utah flexibility and open doors previously closed. In 2010, the Jazz used a trade exception received in the Carlos Boozer sign-and-trade deal to acquire much-needed Big Al. Recently, the Dallas Mavericks acquired Lamar Odom from the Los Angeles Lakers using a similar trade exception.
"We're going to continue to look. We'll have some opportunities," O'Connor said. "You're never completely satisfied. Getting the trade exception is something that's important to us. It's like a hidden asset. You don't see it, don't feel it, don't touch it, but it's there."
Trading Okur to New Jersey creates another Eastern Conference team with multiple Utah connections. In fact, the Nets (Jazz East Coast) will have even more Beehive State connections than the Chicago Bulls (now Jazz Midwest).
All-Star point guard Deron Williams has been with New Jersey since the Jazz traded him to the Nets in February for Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, cash and a protected first-round pick via Golden State.
Okur will join D-Will and former Jazz players Sundiata Gaines, Kris Humphries and even DeShawn Stevenson if a reported deal between the ex-Utah guard and Nets pans out.
Chicago only has ex-Jazzmen Boozer, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer.
Williams didn't hide his excitement about the deal, tweeting out, "glad to be playing with my boy Memo again!!"
Trading Okur cuts a huge chunk out of the Jazz's salaries. The 32-year-old center was set to make $10.8 million in the final season of his contract with the Jazz.
The move is somewhat surprising considering the mentoring role Okur had taken upon his shoulders in camp with Kanter, a fellow Turkish countryman.
But O'Connor said the Jazz aren't overly concerned that will affect the development of the highly regarded 19-year-old center, who was picked with the No. 3 pick in June's draft.
"Memo was great with everybody and he would've definitely helped Enes as far as he could," O'Connor said. "Bottom line, you learn on your own. Maybe (Kanter's) progress is going to be accelerated a little bit."
Okur was unavailable for a comment Thursday night, but he recently shared his thoughts on possibly being traded or having the Jazz use their amnesty option on him.
"Only I can say this is business anyway, so I'd like to stay," Okur said. "If not, I've got to look forward to play."
In nine NBA seasons, Okur has averaged 13.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists, mostly with the Jazz but first with the then-NBA champion Detroit Pistons.
Okur leaves Utah as the fourth-best 3-pointer shooter in franchise history, having made 517 treys. He's also the Jazz's ninth-highest player in points (7,255), rebounds (3,599) and blocked shots (346).
In his injury-plagued 2010-11 season, Okur averaged 4.9 points and 2.3 rebounds in just 12.9 minutes per game off the bench.
The Jazz complimented Okur throughout camp for his mobility and offensive firepower. He played in Turkey during the offseason, helping him gain strength and confidence after dealing with the Achilles injury since April 2010.
Okur came into camp saying his health was back to 100 percent. But he struggled in two preseason games, first paired with Jefferson and then coming off the bench.
He only took one missed shot Monday as a starter and then scored just seven points off the bench Wednesday. In 30 combined minutes, he didn't hit a 3-pointer and grabbed three rebounds.
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