COMMENTARY | Al Jefferson was the best player on this year's Utah Jazz squad. He also was its highest paid, earning $15 million. Mo Williams and Paul Millsap, who each earned about $8.5 million, could both lay strong claims to being the Jazz's second best player. The Jazz posted a respectable record of 43-39 this season due, in large part, to these players' veteran leadership.
It's time for them to go.
None if these players is particularly old by NBA standards. Williams is the oldest, at 30, and Millsap and Jefferson are both 28. Their ages, however, are not as important as the trends evident in their performance.
My main problem with Williams is his lack of durability. Over the last three seasons, he has missed a total of 74 games - including 36 in 2012-2013. This becomes even more troubling when I consider that the 2011-2012 regular season was shortened to 66 games. Bearing this in mind, he has missed more than one third of his teams' regular season games over the last three seasons.
His scoring is also on the decline. His average of 12.9 PPG this season was his lowest since his third year in the league with Milwaukee. Some players have many productive years after reaching their 30th birthdays (see Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, et. al.), but I don't think Williams will be one of them. Mo appears to be an "old 30" on the downside of his career.
Millsap once looked like a rising star for the Jazz. Although he was a solid performer this year, averaging 14.6 points and 7.1 boards, both of these numbers are down from the prior two seasons. Part of this decline can be attributed to Millsap losing minutes to promising newcomers Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. This emergence, however, is the main reason I see Paul as expendable. These are younger players with more upside - and they take up far less cap space.
Of these three players, Al Jefferson is the one true star. He led the team, again, in scoring and rebounding this year. Like Millsap, he saw both these numbers drop this year, and, also like Millsap, this is also likely due to the younger big men eating into his minutes. Toward the end of the year, as the Jazz made their late playoff push, Big Al was often offensive options A, B, and C.
The problem with Jefferson is that he is a star who is getting paid like a superstar. His $15 million salary tied him with Carlos Boozer as the 19th highest paid player in the league. A partial list of players paid less than Jefferson last year includes Marc Gasol, Tony Parker, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and Tim Duncan. Jefferson is a very good player, but he is getting great player money.
Conventional wisdom among NBA experts is that the Jazz will not re-sign Jefferson and will likely keep either Millsap or Williams. I think this would be a mistake. If Utah keeps one quality veteran player on the roster, I would suggest Jefferson - even at the steeper price. If you plan to build a team around one player, I can't see Williams or Millsap as the face of the franchise.
The alternative is to rebuild around Favors and Kanter, possibly bringing in one proven scorer at shooting guard or small forward via free agency. With the 14th and 21st picks in the draft this year, Utah may not find a star player, but it should be able to find upgrades for a couple of spots on its roster.
This is the option I favor. It's risky, but finishing just out of the playoffs is the worst of all worlds. A team has no chance to win a title, and their chances of moving up in the lottery are slim. The Jazz's situation last year, grabbing the number 8 seed in the West, was almost as bad. It was evident immediately in their series with San Antonio that they could not compete with the Spurs - and they had no chance to move up in the draft.
Clearing up over $30 million in cap space will allow the Jazz to upgrade several positions. Gordon Heyward appears to be a serviceable small forward, but he would not start on most teams. If Randy Foye was the answer at the 2-slot, what was the question? He's far more limited offensively than most starting shooting guards and subpar defensively.
The Jazz are not a bad team. The problem is that they are nowhere near a contending team, either. One thing they do have is an abundance of talented young big men. Instead of maintaining a team that appears to be capable only of competing for the 7 or 8 seed in the Western Conference, it's time for the Jazz to roll the dice and rebuild around Favors and Kanter.
S.B. Jackson is a resident of the Salt Lake City metropolitan area and has been an avid NBA fan for over four decades. His work has been published in The Salt Lake City Tribune, The Columbus Dispatch, and other newpapers. The author of one novel, he is currently working on a short story collection.
- Sports & Recreation
- Paul Millsap
- Al Jefferson
- Utah Jazz
- Mo Williams