Jazz owner Larry Miller went to the local business world to replace David Checketts Thursday, naming investment/real estate adviser Tim Howells as the team's general manager.
After interviewing the Jazz's five vice presidents,Miller went outside the organization and offered Howells, 44, the job Wednesday. While president Frank Layden, player personnel director Scott Layden and Coach Jerry Sloan will make most basketball decisions, Howells will run both the day-to-day business and basketball operations. "Someone has to be able to call the final shot," said Miller, who had considered dividing the job between Howells and Frank Layden.
Calling the move "one of the toughest decisions that I've ever had to make," Miller introduced Howells at a Salt Palace news conference, four weeks after Checketts announced his resignation in the same room. Howells becomes the third general manager in the Jazz's 10 Utah years, following Frank Layden and Checketts.
Miller evaluated both his 16-dealership auto business and the Jazz operation before settling on a replacement for Checketts. Interest in the job among the vice presidents was stronger than he'd figured, so Miller had to consider staying within the organization before choosing Howells, a longtime friend who once brought Miller to his first Jazz game and shares similar business philosophies.
Howells has strong business credentials, although his sudden basketball involvement may raise questions. "From a practical standpoint, I don't think Tim will be crossing over to making basketball decisions for some time," said Miller.
Said Scott Layden, "I don't see (Howells' involvement) causing us any problem at all. We've always taken the posture to work on things together."
Checketts' primary basketball experience was his study of the Boston Celtics' inner workings before he joined the Jazz to run the business side in 1984. He took on more and more basketball responsibilties and acted as the chief basketball man for the last two seasons. "I don't think Tim has the same ambitions as Dave did," Miller said.
Team counsel Phil Marantz and Scott Layden are expected to handle player contract negotiations.
Howells does claim an understanding of the game as a high-ranking member of the Jazz 100 Club, a country club-style booster/advisory group. "The basketball side, I feel somewhat comfortable with," he said.
No doubt, his strength is in business. The Salt Lake native joined the family-owned Howells Inc., a paint and wall-covering business, following his graduation from the University of Utah in 1968. As vice-president and co-owner, he helped build the company from an eight-person operation to an 85-person, $10-million-a-year enterprise before the family sold the business in 1982. Howells turned to private business ventures for the last seven years.
"My focus is to do all I can to continue to guarantee the profitability of the franchise . . . along with the goal of bringing a championship to Utah," Howells said.