Okay, okay, I get it, just like everyone else gets it. Jazz fandom wants Al Jefferson and/or Paul Millsap gone, shipped off, traded--now. I get it. While we can and do argue in circles as to who should be traded for future pieces (my assessment is the verdict is about 59% Jefferson and 39% Millsap with 1.5% saying both and .5% wanting neither), there's almost complete consensus that a move needs to happen and needs to happen soon. I completely concur.
Do I like knowing we need Al Jefferson to score18+ points on probably 15+ shots to have a probability of winning, given how the team is now built? No.
Do I like Mo Williams waving off screens every game and taking game winners on long individually created threes after shooting .250 in said game? No. (Don't care that he made it, I still hate that shot.)
Do I like our starters giving point guards who pick and roll us a ticket on their way to the hoop, a memento of their trip through our defensive turnstile? No.
Do I like Derrick Favors playing 22 minutes a game? No, and No, and NO!
Honestly, watching the Jazz play right now is painful as often as it is pleasurable. So I understand the discontent that's long been brewing here at SLC Dunk. I sympathize with it. I share it.
But all that being said, if I had to place myself on the side of either the virtuous rebels against the FO or verminous Redcoats defending them (using the metaphor from Amar's latest post), I would have to declare myself a Redcoat. Yes, I'm a defender of the Front Office. Yes, unlike many, I answer Diana's recent question, "Do you believe?" with an unequivocal (though not unconcerned) yes.
Because I think what the Jazz are doing makes a lot of sense. In their spot, I even might do the same. It may sound crazy to you, but please, hear me out.
It's hard to understand how the Jazz could play a pair of very promising #3 picks only 22 and 15 minutes a game behind Jefferson's 33 and Millsap's nearly 31. Not when our upside as a team this year looks to be about #6 in the West and a first round ousting by the Grizzlies, Clippers, or Spurs. Not when both Al and Paul are free agents following this year, with buzz suggesting a price minimum of $10 or $11 million a year for either and as high a tab as a max contract for Jefferson. Not when attendance at ESA has plunged from a perennial top ten to 19th in the league. We aren't talking Keith Smart caliber stupidity here (a strange affection for Aaron Brooks at 8-18 with Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette both on the roster). But there is no denying it: the whole NBA knows either the Millsap or Jefferson shoe will drop sooner rather than later, and it makes very little sense to hold on to both until the off-season when they both may well walk off on their own.
What are the Jazz doing, we all wonder?
Exactly what they should.
When the Jazz failed to pull off a trade prior to the draft, it was all but certain we would start the season with three bigs deserving of major minutes: Jefferson, Millsap, and Favors. Then Enes Kanter went beast mode in summer league. Okay, four bigs deserving of time. One near All-Star with arguably the most skilled offensive post game in the league. Another near All-Star seemingly grown from a vat of Jazz virtues: effort, diligence, improvement, guts, everything it means to be a player for the Utah Jazz. Then add in two exciting youth. One franchise-changing defensive potential who is suddenly shooting free throws at a .700 clip, pointing to intoxicating possibilities as a two way franchise player. Finally, a 6'11" animated Turkish statue who has shown both a scary knack for eating glass and a startlingly soft touch--and who has played basketball for less time that most middle schoolers. Four really good players, two at their peak, two with summits far ahead and above, so high in the clouds we aren't sure what elevation they reach. So, what to do?
First and most obviously, build the future around Favors and Kanter (and Hayward and, it was still may be hoped, Burks). But then came a much more difficult question: which veterans on the roster were the right pieces to employ in that future construction? Jefferson and Millsap both have tremendous value. Not franchise level, certainly, or even All-Star, but very near it. But which would mesh with Favors and Kanter to make a sum greater than its parts? Which would be a wise long term investment, both in terms of cost and role on the team? The team simply cannot afford both. That has never really been disputed, not seriously. So if it has to be one or the other, which?
This brings up a second question: If one player will not be with the team next year, how to best capitalize on the asset while its in your hand? Could the team somehow make another playoff appearance even as they transition to a future core? Could either Millsap or Jefferson bring in valuable pieces in a trade? What if they each could? Which deal to take? Should the team take the first acceptable option or play it out, shop two attractive pieces for the very best deal possible?
Lots and lots of questions without any very clear answers. So the Jazz did--and are doing--exactly what they should: they are playing Jefferson and Millsap lots of minutes to help all of this shake out.
Playing the veterans gives the team the bulk of one season to assess who to invest in as part of the future, Jefferson or Millsap. Who fits with who? Whose skill set is most irreplaceable? Are either of our veteran bigs truly redundant given their younger counterparts, or do they bring unique things to the team that will be hard to replace even with Favors and Kanter? With lots of court time, Jefferson and Millsap have a genuine chance to show the team who and what they are at their peak, in their prime, one more time. That information is valuable when trying to chose one over the other.
Simultaneously, it's helping the Jazz win. While it may not always be the most esthetic basketball ever played, the team is winning games, at least enough to stay in the playoff chase through a road heavy beginning. That's a good thing, unless you subscribe to the Golden State theory of competition: when you can't beat 'em, lose on purpose.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, playing Jefferson and Millsap a lot ensures they will play well, put up numbers, and be happy, which makes a good show for anyone else in the league who is considering proposing a trade. If the Jazz are truly serious about trading either of our bigs--and I believe they are--the worst thing they could do is significantly cut either players' minutes. Whoever saw his minutes cut would instantly lose value on the market. (Just look at at the situation with Pau Gasol and the Lakers.) If the Jazz were very Machiavellian and diminished the role of the guy they wanted to keep, it would have risked insulting him so much he'd be much more likely to leave as a free agent. By playing both guys major minutes in roles they appreciate and are successful in, the team has showcased both to the league while building a foundation for trying to keep either in the off-season, depending on how things go.
Honestly, I don't think the Jazz have "the guy" they're going to keep. Both Jefferson and Millsap have their strengths as well as their liabilities. It's very hard to argue for one as being clearly a better asset or fit for the team than the other. I suspect the Jazz are working the phones on both, sending out feelers as widely as possible for as many deals as they can find. Then, I suspect they'll take the best, maybe by an internal deadline, maybe as soon as something develops that really grabs them. But what I don't doubt at all is that a deal will be made, and Millsap or Jefferson will be the core of that deal. One of these players (at least) will not be with the Jazz when the season ends.
But what about all those statements from the FO that they need all this front court depth for the playoff push? Just a ploy in the old supply and demand exchange. The Jazz have two really good players that other teams want already. If the Jazz "really need them" too, it only makes sense a trade partner is going to have to sweeten the deal just a bit more. Which is what the Jazz, and all of us, hope.
Let's be clear. While the Jazz have both Jefferson and Millsap, playing Favors substantially more at the expense of one of these two is not in the long term best interest of the team. That time is coming and it's coming quickly--but it isn't yet. If we can all just be a little more patient, I'm confident a day will soon come when a very good player who is part of the Utah Jazz past is traded for a piece of the Utah Jazz future. Favors will slide into the starting line up. The team will commit to the remaining veteran as the man to lead the team through its growth toward contending once more. Favors and whoever remains, whether Jefferson or Millsap, will play 33+ minutes a night while Kanter gets at least 20. The future will be now and the plan that has so long been a matter of faith or doubt will, finally, start to become clearer.
It will be a truly exciting time to be a fan of the Utah Jazz. And the FO will have gotten us there in a way that, looking back, will produce strong, though not perfect, confidence in all of us who have cheered this team through the highs and lows and years of distressing fog. That fog will clear soon, I'm confident. Just give them a day less than two months.
After all, patience is a virtue.