I had a lot of things to say and a lot on my mind about the Andrei Kirilenko rumors and possible salary dump, but I wanted to sleep on it. I don't use that term lightly. This is a salary dump. Sometimes they are understandable, but when you save money and your team doesn't get better, it's a salary dump. I wanted to wait 24 hours until I chimed in on the situation in more than a twitter tirade, because I don't want to be too emotional about it. I want to look at the situation from a rational perspective and yesterday I was upset and blindsided. If you aren't sure you need to buy an expensive piece of clothing or if you aren't sure whether or not you should send that passionate email, just wait 24 hours and see if you feel the same way, or if you still need that sweater vest. Chances are you don't need that sweater vest, ever. But you catch my meaning. So here I am, 24 hours after the rumors broke. I'm still not happy about it.
But before I get away from emotions as much as I can, I want to make one emotional point. This is Andrei Kirilenko we are talking about. He is a starting player for the Utah Jazz. He has started over 400 games for the Jazz. He has played 9 years for the team and hasn't played for anyone else. He is the last remaining player on the team that was around for the Stockton and Malone years. He's a Jazzman through and through. He has never been disloyal to the Jazz or asked to play for another NBA team, even when the Jazz signed Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur, and moved Andrei and changed his role. This summer he has only talked about wanting to remain with the Jazz and that money doesn't matter to him. He wants his kids to stay in Salt Lake City. The Jazz pride themselves on building from within and by showing loyalty to their own players and fans. Trading Andrei for Boris Diaw would be a disloyal move to a loyal player. It goes against what we are used to seeing from the Jazz front office.
In fact, a lot of hubbub is made when players act disloyal to teams. Jazz fans never felt like Carlos Boozer was loyal to the Jazz. It hurts that Wesley Matthews wasn't loyal to the team that gave him a chance. Lebron James will be crucified for the rest of his career by many NBA fans because of his disloyalty. But not enough is made when teams are disloyal to players. No one mentions it. Teams can cut ties, just like that, with a player who gave their all for the club and it's often considered a saavy move.
I understand that the Jazz feel like they need to cut salary. I really do. I would rather have the team be viable in the long run than challenge for the title this year. I think so, at least. But this isn't Matt Harpring, an aging veteran whose career is in its twilight. This isn't Eric Maynor, an unproven rookie who has little to no history with the team. This is Andrei Kirilenko, who has started the most games for the team than any other current Jazz man and who is still in his prime. I understand needing to save money.
But this is what I don't understand:
1. The Jazz are trading Andrei Kirilenko to the Denver Nuggets-
If this trade goes through, Denver will lose it's best player in Carmelo Anthony and that might seem like great news to Jazz fans. We won't have to worry about Denver anymore. But giving Denver one of the biggest expiring contracts in Andrei Kirilenko is like getting off your wrestling opponent on the count of 2. It will be just what they need. The jazz probably weren't going to take on extra money by dealing AK at the trade deadline for a superstar or young players combined with a large contract. But that is exactly what Denver is going to try to do. They will have Derrick Favors hypothetically, several trade pieces in a stash of picks and a huge expiring contract that they can use to pick up more young studs along with expensive players at the trade deadline. It's just what they need to put together a young and promising team. And the Jazz will be aiding them in it. Nevermind the contributions that AK will give the Nuggets this upcoming season. It will help the Nuggets get right back on track for the long haul.
2. The Jazz could pay the luxury tax last year, but not this year?
The Jazz had a similar situation last year with Carlos Boozer. Every NBA expert mentioned that the Jazz were going to dump salary to be able to get under the luxury tax. Teams made the Jazz offers trying to get Carlos Boozer in a salary dump, but the Jazz were stubborn and held onto Boozer in the name of winning. Now, if they trade Andrei Kirilenko, what message does that send? The opposite message. We would rather save money, even if it potentially makes us lose more games. The other thing is that the Jazz knew Carlos Boozer wanted more money on his next contract. It wasn't a secret. He said so himself. The Jazz knew there was a chance, a good chance really, that Boozer would never return to the Jazz. On the other hand, the Jazz know that Andrei Kirilenko not only wants to stay with the Jazz as long as possible, but he is willing to take significantly less money to do so. "You can't chase all the money in the world," Kirilenko just told a Russian news outlet a few weeks back. So what do the Jazz do? They might trade the guy who is loyal to the team and wants to take less money and they pay the luxury tax for a player they eventually lose to free agency. Why would the Jazz keep Boozer in hindsight? I thought it was because the Jazz valued being competitive more than losing a few bucks. Which brings me to this question:
3. How committed is this team to winning?
A week ago, the answer was a resounding and passionate, "Very." No one was questioning the teams' motives. They went out and spent money on Al Jefferson, Raja Bell, Francisco Elson and Earl Watson. We were talking about how Deron Williams and Jazz fans had no room but to be pleased by the front office's commitment to winning. Kevin O'Connor was praising the Millers for "stepping up to the plate" financially in acquiring Al Jefferson. I still appreciate the moves that the Jazz have made this summer. It has been one of the most fantastic in Jazz history, but if they trade AK, it will change everything, most importantly our expectations and trust as fans. How often can we expect the team to pay extra money for the most competitive team possible? Every other year? Every 5 years? Was last year an anomaly? Is the economic situation worse for the Jazz this season than it was last year? Apparently so. I would just like to know as a fan, when we can expect to really make a run for the title. I don't want the same transparency that Minnesota has given its fans, but a little more insight into the teams' thinking would be nice. We will never know, but I truly believe that this team has more potential than last year's team to be great. I was salivating not only at this team, but at the possibility of bringing Kirilenko back for $10 million less next year and having the same team, only cheaper and maybe better if Ante Tomic comes over, or the Jazz are able to get a good player with the Mid-Level Exception. I love the Jazz and I truly appreciate the great teams the front office has put on the floor, but I don't have the same amount of love and trust for them as I did a week ago. You own a team to make money, but you mostly own a team to win championships. At least that is what fans have to believe to invest themselves in supporting sports teams. We don't follow the team in hopes of making money for the owners. We watch in hopes that one day, we will have a parade down the middle of Salt Lake City.
4. This trade could potentially end up costing the Jazz dearly
Numbers have been guesstimated, but the Jazz will probably save $15-18 million this season if they trade AK for Diaw. It will also cost them $9 million in guaranteed money in 2011 in Diaw's contract. But how much worse will this trade make the Jazz? According to the sources I have seen and the statistics I have run, the Jazz are projected to lose about 5 games by trading Andrei Kirilenko for Boris Diaw. Five games!!! Last year five games was the difference between the 2nd seed and the 8th seed in the Western Conference. I would say that is significant. Andrei Kirilenko made the Jazz about 5 points better defensively playing as opposed to being on the bench. Let's pretend that Boris Diaw is a wash defensively for the Jazz, which might be a generous estimate. What would happen if Andrei Kirilenko held the opponents to 5 less points per game? The Jazz won 7 games last season by 4 points or less. Hypothetically that would be 7 more losses for the Jazz this season. That is killer. I can tell you right now that the Jazz are going to be much less prepared to handle division rival Oklahoma City and Kevin Durant, if Kirilenko is traded. Trading Kirilenko could be the difference between winning the division and finishing in 3rd or 4th place. Honestly. I don't have a guess at the financial gains of making the playoffs, or even the second or third round of the playoffs. But If the Jazz make this trade, they will be at a five game disadvantage or so. Sadly, we will never know how many games this trade would cost us in reality, but it can't help. It really can't help. And that makes me depressed as a Jazz fan. But good luck guarding Durant for 30 minutes, CJ.
5. How does giving away our best and most versatile defensive player help us become a better defensive team?
Whatever you think of Andrei Kirilenko, you have to admit that he is very good defensively. He is our best shot blocker and general defender. He can guard three positions. A lot was made last offseason about improving the team defense and for the most part, it worked. The Jazz had a better than average defensive team last season. Trading AK will make the Jazz much worse defensively. We will lose length and shot blocking, two weaknesses of the Jazz, even with AK.
I know that I have a more favorable opinion of Andrei Kirilenko than most Jazz fans. I know that many Jazz fans think Kirilenko has underperformed according to his potential. Maybe he is an underachiever. But he's my underachiever, by golly. I have watched him play ever since I was a Jazz fan. And I am sure that most Jazz fans love him. He's a fan favorite. He changes games. And if the Jazz trade Kirilenko, it will hurt fan morale and possibly team morale. Just a guess. But I think it will cost the team. There is only one reason to make this trade and that reason doesn't help any fans. There are lots of reasons to keep AK. I hope that the trade doesn't happen, although I am fairly resigned to the fact that it will. I just hope that it won't be as big of a mistake as I think it will be. And either way, Kirilenko will always have my appreciation for his loyalty to the team and his play on the court. So halfheartedly, "How about them Jazz?"