Thursday, May 26, 2011

If I were GM of...the Utah Jazz

I don't really know how we got to this point so quickly. Maybe the signs were there and I should have known it was coming faster than it did, but here we are - a Utah team without Jerry Sloan, or an accompanying superstar point guard. Pretty far from what the norm has been in Salt Lake City for the past 27 years.

Al Jefferson: 14 million
Memhet Okur: 10.9 million
Devin Harris: 9.3 million
Paul Millsap: 6.7 million
Derrick Favors: 4.44 million
CJ Miles: 3.7 million (team option)
Raja Bell: 3.2 million
Gordon Hayward: 2.5 million
Jeremy Evans: 788,872
Total: 51.9 million

Andrei Kirilenko: 17.8 million
Ronnie Price: 1.38 million
Earl Watson: 1.22 million
Francisco Elson: 1.14 million
Kyrylo Fesenko: 1.08 million
Total: 22.6 million

The first and foremost thing the team, management and their fans have to truly embrace and realize is that this is a small market franchise. Despite them operating like they were something other than that for many years, and with good reason, the fans of Utah basketball have been incredibly spoiled. After nearly 20 years of Stockton and Malone pick and rolls, 2 trips to the finals and the playoffs every single year, The Jazz could have and should have fallen into a deep rebuilding process. Instead they endured one rough season of Andrei Kirlilenko 5x5 nights and lucked out with New Jersey Net #8, Deron Williams. Usually, this kind of thing doesn't happen (i.e., the Sacramento Kings). Small market teams don't just come off a 20 year span of ridiculous success to fall into another (though shorter) period of success.

The one connective fiber here was obviously coach Jerry Sloan. Despite always looking like this, Sloan came back season after season, put on his hard hat and implemented his system. And it worked extremely well - not counting 2011, the Jazz have missed the playoffs once since Jerry Sloan took the helm in 1988. Stories of why Jerry quit usually center on how him and Deron got along, but a lot of times, the simplest answer is probably the right one - I think he just got tired. At age 69, I can't imagine traveling for 41 games a year is easy on anyone's body, let alone a guy that's been doing this since 1965.

GM Kevin O'Connor obviously realized that without Coach Sloan and with the situations in Toronto and Cleveland, he had to trade Deron Williams. O'Connor got a lot of nice pieces from the trade, but there is a lot of work left to be done.

1). Trade Memhet Okur

Okur might be one of the best trade chips of the upcoming offseason - a huge center who can defend, has the shooting tough to stretch the floor WITH a large expiring contract. if he wasn't going to be so expensive and was getting up there in age, I would definitely try to extend the guy. Unfortunately, with his recent injury history and age, he just could not be in future plans for the Jazz, especially with Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors on the squad.

I think that the Jazz's pressing need going forward is their hole at small forward (I don't expect that Kirilenko or whatever was resting on his dome the whole season will be resigned). Trading Okur for the likes of Trevor Ariza, Rudy Fernandez, Wilson Chandler or anyone that's not Travis Outlaw could be good targets. It will also allow Derrick Favors, Millsap and All Jeff to take the keys going forward.

2). Take Brandon Knight at the number 3 pick in the draft

I'm not sure that Devin Harris is going to be the answer at point guard in a couple of years. He's got two years left on a decently expensive contract. And hopefully with a young Brandon Knight the Jazz should be set with a competent point going forward. I've been told that he's not going to be anything spectacular, but I think he provides better passing than Harris. I imagine him as a Jrue Holiday-type, which is more than adequate on any team.

3). Use that number 12 pick to take Jimmer Fredette

The Jazz have got to acquire Jimmer, even though he's not really the pick that you want at that spot to be honest (Klay Thompson or Chris Singleton would be much better fits at no. 12). We've established that the franchise is going to be lean for a couple of years - you might as well appease your fans by selecting a local college legend to sell a few jerseys and tickets.

I'm not sure how much he can contribute at the point or shooting guard position defensively, or in terms of ball sharing. But I do know that at the very least, he could be a white Ben Gordon-type coming off the bench for a Utah squad where I'm not exactly sure where their scoring will come from. I think this, combined with the marketing opportunity towards a fanbase that just lost another great point guard and its legendary coach outweighs the contribution a guy like Thompson or Singleton would make.

4) Resign Fesenko's big body and Ronnie Price to a couple of reasonable deals; let everyone else walk

I've seen Fesenko play a number of times, and he's got exactly two pros going for him - he's gigantic and he's young. I don't think he's particularly skilled on the offensive end, nor do I think he's a great rebounder, but despite that glowing scouting report of his skills, he's better than a Collins brother or a big at a competitive price. Ronnie Price is about as solid a backup guard that you can get, and his value is definitely underrated by other teams in the league. He makes solid decisions with the ball and doesn't hurt you in any way.

5) Hold on to Al Jefferson

Last summer, everyone thought that the Jazz's trade for Al Jefferson was an incredible steal, considering they got him for 2 first round draft picks. He didn't have a bad year statistically - he averaged nearly 20 and 10 - but in a situation where he was more than just a good player on a bad team, he didn't deliver on the level that many expected him to. With Carlos Boozer gone, Al Jeff was supposed to create a formidable inside/outside combo with Deron Williams. But Jefferson proved that maybe he was exactly what he'd been the previous 6 years of his career - a good player on a bad team, nothing more.

Jefferson has 2 years, 29 million left on his contract. If I'm the Jazz, I do not trade this man, because of the following 2 scenarios. In scenario 1, he becomes acclimated in Utah, plays well with the young core that the team has assembled and BAM, you have a skilled 26 year-old on your team for two more years. In scenario 2, he is an offense-only center who is allergic to defense, BUT puts up great numbers on a bad Utah team. He only has a year and a half left on his deal, and becomes a good looking trade chip, considering he'll have a nearly expiring contract that will STILL provide some value.

This is a no-lose situation for Utah. In the worst case, they have a 14 million dollar expiring contract in 2012-2013 (when they should be much closer to being a playoff team) that they can shop for usable players. Best case, they have a young 27 year-old, back to the basket center who they can extend with a new deal.

The core here is Gordon Hayward, Favors, Millsap, Knight and with any luck, Jimmer. Everyone else is expendable for the right price. The goal this year is to develop Favors, Hayward and Knight and see what they have. Unlike the last 25 years, playoffs should no longer be the expectation, but rather a pleasant surprise if they happen. The Jazz management has to follow the Sam Presti approach - build through the draft, preserve your cap space and wait for the right time to strike.

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