1. Problem: the Jazz don’t have a strong interior presence—neither on offense nor defense. On the offensive side it’s okay and skilled, but I wouldn’t call it strong. On defense, well let’s not go there. We already went there enough against the Lakers.
2. Reality: a) Jazz payroll eliminates them from luring big-time free agents, b) generally speaking, when doing trades you don’t get something for nothing*
* The exception to this rule is when a team is desperate to cut payroll. I just don’t get this feeling about many teams right now. So don’t expect a Dwight Howard for the KOOF trade. The Jazz aren’t in give-a-god-away mode right now.
So, what can the Jazz do as far as a trade goes? Let’s look at the team:
1. The untouchables: Deron and Memo.
Jazz aren’t trading Deron. Nobody wants a 30-something center with a ruptured achilles who’s owed $20 million for the next 2 years. Let’s move on.
2. Assets the Jazz should not trade, unless some bizarre and extreme circumstances arise: AK-47 & Wesley Matthews (I know OMSW’s a free agent, but does anyone think the Jazz aren’t going to resign him?)
Because they’re our 2 best defenders, the 2 best attitudes, the 2 best hustlers, the 2 best fill-in-the-blanks guys. Because AK was the 2nd most important player on the team last year. Because Wesley’s going to make a ridiculous run at the Most Improved award next year. Because both of them can guard the other team’s best guy 1-on-1. Seriously, Wesley made life really tough on Carmelo. And he did well against Kobe (Kobe just hits some obscenely ridiculous shots).
Yes, AK seems to be injury prone. I wonder if he’ll ever play 80 games again. But if the Jazz are wise, maybe pull a Harpring plan on him (specifying certain games to sit as a preventive measure), I feel only slightly naive for hoping for 65-70 games a year, with AK only missing 1-2 games at a time. And in that case, he’s worth keeping him in Utah for 1 more year with his current contract, and then resigning him later for less.
Unless I’m offered Dwight Howard for Wesley Matthews, I’m not really all that interested.
3. The real assets to dangle about: Carlos Boozer, Paul Millsap, CJ Miles, the Knicks pick
Boozer: I know he’s a FA, but here’s the thing: 1) he’s the ultimate show-me-the-money guy, 2) the Jazz can offer higher pay and 1 more year than any other team, 3) he played really well this year—I expect many more teams will be interested in him this off-season than last. Add this up, and you’re talking about sign-and-trade potential where the Jazz have serious negotiating power.
Millsap. I know. I like him better than Boozer, too. A little part of me would die if he goes somewhere else. I think he’s going to be great as a starting PF. He hustles more than Boozer, he plays tougher, he does harder fouls. But let’s face the truth: he’s a starting PF with all-star potential making $8 million a year (actually less than that, because of the huge signing bonus already paid). Don’t you think teams would love to have him? Don’t you think the Jazz could get something pretty good from a Millsap trade? And the kicker is that if the Jazz lose Millsap, they can resign Boozer and still be okay. Would that be awesome? No. But I could live with it, depending on who the Jazz get.
CJ. Smart CJ showed up at least 40 games last year. And as luck would have it, Smart CJ showed up to both playoff series. He played reasonable defense against Melo. He took it to the hole and hit a few 3’s. Is this a sign that Smart CJ’s here to stay? Maybe. But it’s also a sign that lots of teams would jump to have this guy when he’s making less than $4 million per year.
The Knicks pick. Combine it with any of the three above, and you’ve got a pretty decent deal for another team. And the deal gets better if the pick gets some serious karma and ends up top-3.
So, who do I hope the Jazz go after? I’ll be realistic today. The pipe dream will be posted later (maybe tomorrow).
Use our trade assets to get Andrew Bogut.
Why Bogut? Because he was the 2nd best center this year. Because he was blocking 2.5 a game. Because he shoots a high percentage. Because his passing would just simply rule in Sloan’s flex offense. Because his post game is fairly well developed (and light years ahead of, say, Dwight Howard—not that that’s saying much).
Seriously, think of this scenario—Deron at the three point line, Millsap sets a pick, Bogut sets up a high post, AK sets up for a back-door cut, Millsap rolls, Wesley spots up at the weak-side corner 3. As long as the Jazz make the extra pass and cut Jerry’s offense demands, that set up is pretty unstoppable. Even for the Lakers, thanks to Bogut’s size and Millsap’s quickness.
And think of the D. The last two wing defenders to win Defensive Player of the Year were Bruce Bowen and Ron Artest (I know Ron-Ron also had a crazy combo of speed and strength to handle bigger post guys, but bear with me). Now here’s the coincidence: Bowen was protected by Duncan—pretty much the best inside presence in the past 15 years. Ron-Ron had Jermaine O’Neal roaming the paint, back when Jermaine was not an animated corpse. Here’s the lesson: great wing defense has limited effect when the interior defense isn’t there to back them up. But with strong interior D, good wing defense eats the teams alive.
I just have this crazy feeling that if you got a great interior presence, the Jazz defense would suddenly be all-world. They’d destroy people. Bogut’s shot-blocking would make players more susceptible blocks from AK and Millsap (because they’re trying to avoid Bogut), there’d be more crummy shots put up in the paint, and more opponents off-balance and ill-prepared to get the rebound. That leads to more transition points. Seriously, I think you’d see a 6-10 point swing in the Jazz stats, looking at both increased team PPG and decreased opponents’ PPG. Especially if the defensive player can really run the offense with good shots, good passes, intelligent decisions, high basketball IQ, effective post moves, etc.
Bogut would be a dream. I can’t think of any center in the league who’d fit better in Sloan’s offense and defensive schemes.
There's other centers out there who'd also be nice to have, on teams who'd listen to the right offer (Joaquim Noah, Marc Gasol, etc.), but nobody who'd fit in as nicely as Bogut would. They don’t pass as well, they don’t score as well, they don’t run an offense as well. Plus, These guys make significantly less money than Boozer, so the Jazz would have to accept an excessive amount of crap to make all the salaries involved line up correctly.
But the question is would the Bucks be willing partners?
Actually, I think so. More willing, in fact, than Memphis or Chicago. Here’s why: they almost defeated a much more talented Hawks team in the 1st round. Their only real deficiency was … scoring. They couldn’t put the damn ball in the hoop to save their lives. Their defense was strong—even without Bogut. But their offense was really, really bad. And it’ll get worse if John Salmons opts out of his contract and becomes a free agent.
And that’s an amazing coincidence because we happen to have a really good offensive PF to offer. Plus there’s another advantage for the Bucks: Boozer would play in the East. Instead of going against Duncan, Pau Gasol, Nowitzki, Amare, Z-Bo, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, David West, etc., etc., etc., he’ll be going against Antawn Jamison, Chris Bosh, and that’s about it. Boozer will pull off 24 and 11 for the Bucks. Maybe even more, considering they won’t have many other scoring options. And those numbers, in the East, will make him a likely All-Star.
Why wouldn’t the Bucks go for this trade? But wait, there’s more.
Boozer’s looking for a raise. We all know that. That means The Jazz would have to accept some crappy player & contract back to make the salaries work out. That’ll save the Bucks money, plus (if Salmons walks), they could end up with about $10-13 million to throw at a second-tier free agent. Plus another $14 million for mid-level exceptions, rookies, etc. before luxury tax kicks in.
That’s not a bad deal for a young playoff team looking to build for the future.
The crazy thing is, it’s not only decent for the Bucks, it would rule for the Jazz. How do you like this lineup: starters — F: AK & Millsap, C: Bogut, G: Deron & Wesley, bench — Memo (when he’s healthy again), CJ (Smart CJ), KK (yeah, let’s resign the dude), Ronnie P. Plus the KOOF, plus the Knicks pick, plus 2 more randoms (let’s say Yatta and Jeffers get to stay on the team).
I really like that team. It’s got a star; it’s got defense on the perimeter, on the wings, and inside; it’s got 6-8 guys ready to score double figures; it has punch off the bench; it has hustle guys; it has speed; it has size; it has teamwork; it has a competitive leader, tough guys ready to do whatever coach asks, and a trio of appropriately fun guys to bring some balance to it all. Seriously, doesn’t this set of averages seem reasonable:
F - AK 14 PPG 6 RBD 2 BLK 2 STL 4 AST
F - Millsap 17 PPG 10 RBD 1 BLK 2 STL 2 AST
C - Bogut 17 PPG 10 RBD 3 BLK 1 STL 3 AST
G - OMSW 13 PPG 4 RBD 0 BLK 2 STL 2 AST
G - Ninja 20 PPG 4 RBD 0 BLK 1 STL 11 AST
F/C - Memo 12 PPG 5 RBD 1 BLK 0 STL 1 AST
F/G - CJ 11 PPG 3 RBD 0 BLK 1 STL 2 AST
F/G - KK 8 PPG 3 RBD 0 BLK 0 STL 1 AST
G - Ronnie 3 PPG 0 RBD 0 BLK 1 STL 2 AST
Totals: 115 PPG 45 RBD 7 BLK 10 STL 28 AST
Doesn’t that team look really, really freaking good? Doesn’t it look like a team that will play hard and intelligently all the time (hopefully eliminating those awful losses to the T-Wolves)? Doesn’t that look like a fun team to watch? Doesn’t that look like a team that the Lakers can’t just sent Pau and Bynum in the middle to clog things up because everyone worth a damn is 6 inches shorter than them both?
And the crazy thing is the trade would be pretty decent from Milwaukee’s perspective, too. I can’t imagine Milwaukee would really reject some combo of Boozer, Millsap, CJ, and the Knicks pick while reducing their payroll by $3-6 million. And what’s awesome is what seems to be best for Milwaukee is also the best for us — Boozer for Bogut and junk. Can anyone tell me why this can’t or shouldn’t happen? Anyone? Other than the fact that these are NBA GM’s we’re talking about, and they often live in a bizarro world that makes no sense?
I’m telling you, and I’m telling Kevin O’Connor, that this team would rock. That this would work soooooooooooooooooo much better than resigning Boozer. That unless all these 6’10” dudes in this year’s draft are the second coming of Hakeem or Moses Malone, you can’t work to counter the Lakers’ size through the draft. It’s gotta be from a trade, and all the pieces to something wonderful are laid out right in front of us. Here's the details of one potential offer (pretty sweetened to make sure Milwaukee says yes—they may not actually demand this much from the Jazz):
Milwaukee acquires: Boozer ($16 million).
Utah acquires: Bogut ($11 million) plus Charlie Bell (an unfathomable $3.8 million).
Milwaukee acquires: some future 2nd round pick.
Utah acquires (via the Harpring Trade exception): Dan Gadzuric (an even more unfathomable $7.2 million).
Milwaukee ends up with Boozer, a trade exception, and $6-13 million under the salary cap to pursue second-tier free agents. They win. Happy day.
Jazz end up with the team shown above, for a total salary similar to this year’s (a bit more). Win. Happy day.
Plus the contracts taken to appease the Bucks are only for 1 year. And I think that if the Jazz could find a taker for Harpring’s contract, they could find takers for these scrubs too. They may have to trade a couple of future draft picks. They may have to trade a promising rookie again. But that’s okay when you have a really good team that’s young, with key players under long-term contracts, with a payroll declining over the next 2 years, with two guys’ salaries coming off the books who are very likely to accept smaller, reasonable contracts to stay here (that would be AK and Memo).
You can ignore the draft for a couple years in this situation. Especially if the Jazz keep scoring on 2nd rounders and undrafted rookies.
* There’s one more reason for my Jazz-get-Bogut dream. What if he brings his Squad-6 idea to the Jazz? What if he convinces the other guys to chip in and it’s double or triple or quadruple the size of the group in Milwaukee? We already have a devoted fan-base and well-known home court advantage (you just couldn't tell for the first 3 months this year because we didn't like our team). What would happen to the Jazz homecourt advantage with a Squad-6? And do you think there’s any way in hell I wouldn’t do everything possible to get one of those Squad-6 season tickets?
** Astute readers will notice that my scenario puts the Jazz in luxury tax situation again. You know what? I don’t care, and neither should you. They’re not going to lower ticket prices if they don’t pay the tax. The only concern would be if the Jazz start hurting financially and end up selling to a new owner in Topeka. But everything I’ve read suggests that a luxury tax team generally breaks even if it makes the 2nd round of the playoffs. That’s why the Jazz have said they’re willing to pay the luxury tax for a contender. Reasonable playoff runs offset the lost money from the tax. Well, their current team made it that far 3 out of the past 4 years. Maybe I’m crazy, but I can’t fathom the Jazz-get-Bogut team above being worse than what we’ve had. I think it’s just as good offensively and much better defensively, and much less likely to blow stupid games against the T-Wolves. That translates to a higher seed, more playoff home games, and probable deeper runs into the playoffs.
*** Besides, luxury tax alarmists, Millap’s salary is actually less than what is calculated in the salary cap figures—because he already got a $5.7 million signing bonus. The money’s already paid, but the number gets distributed equally in salary cap figures over the life of the contract. So the team's actual expenses are like $2 million less. Booyah!