Still in the hunt for the postseason but more realistically in the middle of an embarrassing late season collapse, the Utah Jazz might be already looking towards the summer, in which their decision to keep either Paul Millsap or Al Jefferson, along with their need to find a starting point guard to steer the team in the right direction, trumps everything else.
The Jazz have fallen to the ninth spot in the West with a 34-33 record, one game behind the Los Angeles Lakers at ninth. They have won only 3 games in their last 12 after looking like a lock to make the postseason despite not having a single point guard they’re pleased with, and being quite an atrocious basketball team when they’re on the road.
But while this season will be decided on how motivated Jefferson & Millsap are to prove they deserve big contracts from any team next season, not just the Jazz, and Gordon Hayward’s shooting abilities, there’s a lot to look at towards the future, and the 2013 free agency class.
It first will be decided on the decision Dennis Lindsey makes: Al Jefferson wants a maximum contract for being a good offensive player, but a sub-par rebounder and pretty awful, or at least lazy, post defender. Giving him the contract he wants, probably something along the lines of $76 million for the next four seasons, means the Jazz will be paying him over $20 million when he’s 32, and that’s not something they’re likely to do. Jefferson is averaging 17.3 points per game, and scoring big men are hard to find these days. He’ll get that money somewhere else.
The Jazz won’t get rid of both Jefferson and Millsap, despite seeing Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors as their future, something along the lines of what the Memphis Grizzlies have going for them right now with Randolph and Gasol. Still, Millsap is the cheaper option of the two starters he has right now, and will most likely be the one that stays. Marvin Williams will probably pick up his $7.5 million player option for next season, which means the Jazz should have $34 million, maybe slightly more, guaranteed on their books for the 2013-2014, assuming Millsap stays with the team.
While Chris Paul is the premier option at point guard next season, there’s a very small chance the Utah Jazz manage to land him. Their two dominant point guards in the last 20 years, they got through the draft. The only way they’re getting one through the draft this time is if they move one of their two first round picks to a lottery team, hoping they’ll be lucky enough to land Marcus Smart coming out of Oklahoma State.
But Paul? A few things need to happen; the Jazz to play well till the end of the season, the Clippers to completely flop, for Donald Sterling to low-ball Chris Paul. While all of them are possible, they’re highly unlikely.
So what options are left on the floor? Jose Calderon, now the starting for the Detroit Pistons, Darren Collison or Jarrett Jack the opportunity to start for the team in 82 games, for more money (the Jazz have tons of cap space) than any other team would give them, by offering them a one-year contract. None of them are franchise changers, each coming with his own set of flaws and pluses, but it’s better than what’s going on right now.
Another option that has been talked about, regarding another premier point guard in the NBA, is somehow managing to trade for Rajon Rondo. The Boston Celtics were reluctant to make that happen this season, and anyway, his season was done too soon. To get someone like Rondo, the Jazz will have to give up on either Favors or Kanter, which isn’t something they’d like to do, but Rondo has to potential to be a hall of fame player when his career is over, not something Kanter or Favors are likely to achieve.
The last option, aside from doing nothing and waiting for the 2014 class of point guards, is playing the restricted market, with Jeff Teague on it. The Hawks’ point guard, only 24 and averaging 14.4 points and 7.1 assists per game, is an RFA in 2013, which means the Jazz can try and offer him something they don’t think the Hawks will match. While $60 million for four years is probably a bit much for him, maybe the Jazz can get him for $50 million for the same duration?
The likeliest of options would be overpaying Calderon, Jack or Collison, but it doesn’t mean the Jazz need to aim low, as long as the field plays out in a favorable way for them.