COMMENTARY | The bad news for Utah Jazz fans is that eight of the players on the current roster are free agents this offseason. This is also the good news. These players, led by current starters Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, and Mo Williams earned about $40 million last year. Making smart choices about how to spend this money will go a long way toward determining the team's future success.
In making my selections for the top players the team should pursue this summer, I tried to be realistic. I would love to see Chris Paul wearing a Jazz uniform next year, but many elite free agents don't want to play in a small market. I excluded some players, such as Paul and Dwight Howard, because of their expected price tags and the improbability that they would play for Utah. After careful consideration, I've identified three current unrestricted free agents I'd like to see the Jazz sign this offseason.
1. Al Jefferson -- Big Al is a very good player who will command a premium salary in the free agent market. Although I'm hesitant to commit $15 million to a player who has Jefferson's defensive shortcomings, he has a skill set that's rare in the NBA these days.
Jefferson is one of few remaining big men who can score in the low post and facing the basket. Derrick Favors, the other probable starting big man for the Jazz, should be able to balance his more defensively oriented talents with Jefferson, providing a solid lineup for Utah at the #4 and #5 positions.
2. Jarrett Jack -- I believe Jack would provide an upgrade over current starting point guard, Mo Williams, for several reasons. First, he's more durable. Jack missed only three games last season, whereas Williams missed 36. Jack is also likely to take up less cap room. Although he will probably demand more than the $5.4 million he earned last year, the Jazz paid Williams $8.5 million last year. They could save money even with a very generous offer of $7 million.
It is indisputable that Williams has better career numbers than Jack, but Williams has been a starter for most of his career, averaging about three more minutes a game than Jack. When I watched both players this year, my impression was that Williams was on the downside of his career. Jack appeared to be a more dynamic player with a lot more left in his tank.
3. O. J. Mayo -- I will admit that Mayo would be a gamble. I also realize that many people believe Mayo will be going to the Timberwolves next year. His willingness to play in Minnesota, however, is one reason I think the Jazz may have a shot at him. He is clearly not averse to playing for a small market team that is not an immediate title contender. His size, versatility, and athleticism would provide the Jazz with a significant upgrade at shooting guard over incumbent, Randy Foye.
Mayo will demand quite a bump in his salary from the $4 million he made last year. Even at double his current pay,the Jazz could work the higher number into their salary cap by allowing Millsap to move on.
The Jazz could also make the argument that Mayo would be a better fit in Utah than in Minnesota. Management can point out that the Jazz are closer to contention than the T-Wolves and that Mayo may lose minutes to promising rookie Alexey Shved and swingman Chase Budinger in Minnesota. Utah could sweeten the deal by allowing Foye to leave, making a clear commitment to Mayo as the starting #2 guard.
The Utah Jazz starting lineup if this scenario were to pan out would be Jarrett Jack, O.J. Mayo, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and Al Jefferson. I don't expect this lineup to compete for a title, but it would probably earn a playoff spot. Further, it would allow Utah the flexibility to draft the best players on the board in next week's draft rather than trying to fill specific spots. The rookies would have time to develop rather than being thrown directly into starting.
S.B. Jackson is a resident of the Salt Lake City metro area and a lifelong NBA fan, dating back to his devotion to the Cincinnati Royals. The author of one novel, several short stories, and an occasional contributor to the Deseret News, Jackson is currently working on a compilation of his short stories.
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