Mar. 14, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson (25) walks off the court while playing against the Phoenix Suns during the second half at the US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Jazz 120-111. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE.
Sports Illustrated's Zach Lowe (who is moving to Grantland) took a look at the players who already knew, just became aware, or needed to be "put on notice." These are players who were free agents, or will be free agents - and because of the team they play on, the role they have, or the window of opportunity available to them -- must come out and produce.
Al Jefferson, Utah Jazz. There will be other star free agents, of course, but I’m not sure any have a value quite as difficult to peg. Jefferson has added to his game on the edges. He’s a solid one-on-one post defender now, having held opponents to 39 percent shooting on post-up plays last season (per Synergy Sports), and he has gotten better at passing to cutters from the high and low post. But he’s still the same Big Al in the macro sense — a low-post guy who needs the ball, shoots a ton, hits half his shots, earns very few fouls shots and struggles as badly as any big man in the league in guarding the pick-and-roll. Jefferson has value; Utah would not have made the postseason or ranked among the league’s top-10 offenses without him. But it’s hard to see any team playing Jefferson 35 minutes a game cracking the championship conversation in a pick-and-roll league — unless Jefferson makes a leap on defense as he approaches free agency. Will Utah pay Jefferson, even with Paul Millsap (a better player) also entering free agency and four recent lottery picks set for big raises over the next few years? And if Utah’s out, what’s the market for Jefferson?
Again, check out Lowe's piece here for the full breakdown, but what he said there about Al really demonstrates the pickle we fans, the Jazz, and Al all are in. I think Al's made a nice nest for himself here, as we probably need him more than other teams would need him. He's not going to get the ball 20 times a game on any other playoff team. That said, he needs to show the Jazz front office that he's a corner stone you build around -- and not an anchor that'll bring our team down and sink us (on the court, or on the balance sheet).