It's rare that a team collects talent in such an unequal way where four of their top eight players all play the same position. This is precisely the problem the Utah Jazz are in right now with four guys who should be natural power forwards in Al Jefferson (6'10), Paul Millsap (6'8), Derrick Favors (6'10), and Enes Kanter (6'11). None of them are true 7' ers, none of them exhibit the classic center abilities that I grew up watching either. In a perfect situation they all would be playing PF on a team with a bigger dude watching their back. We're not in the perfect situation this season, and that situation may no longer be something we see. In the 80s and 90s it seems like there were just MORE players who were 7' tall. I guess someone smarter than I should look into that at a later date.
The main issue here is that the Jazz have four natural PFs. And our coaching staff has gone crazy trying to mix and match each of these four guys together in a combination that works. I think that they've had some success this year, and the numbers speak for themselves: 48.3 ppg, 27.3 rpg, 6.0 apg 4.3 bpg. That means that doing the simplest of maths, each guy in this foursome averages 12.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.6 apg, and 1.1 bpg. That's pretty robust. At the same time, no single player is thriving. Jefferson takes the most shots, is the primary option and isn't averaging even 20.0 ppg. Millsap is the most well rounded, and isn't averaging a double double. Favors has the brightest future and still plays less than half the game. And Kanter, well, Kanter is a beast in the making, is our most efficient scorer, and isn't even on the court long enough to shoot the ball 5 times a game. To contrast all of this, here are their Per 36 values: 19/10, 15/10, 16/10, and 18/9. (Let's not even talk about forgotten man Jeremy Evans who has Per 36 minute values of 9/8) Those four guys have a per 36 minute (impossible in real life, I know) averages of 17.0 and 9.8. That's a lot more than 12.1 and 6.8.
These are great guys, who are playing great, but at the inherent disadvantage of playing on the same team as each other. It's great to have talent, depth, and production. We're super lucky as fans. The coaches are less lucky because they actually have to deal with this mess. And some people seem out of luck -- two of these guys are in minutes limited contract years, and the other two are in minutes limited developmental years. As a result, fans, bloggers, reporters, and national commentators have all seen the writing on the wall. I'm sure the Jazz brass has as well. In a fair world, each guy could be traded; but it's an unfair world. If space is made this season it will be one of the veteran bigs moved. Al Jefferson is more important to our offense right now, but also has a more clearly defined skill. We need him, and some other teams would want him too. Paul Millsap is a generalist, and on a smaller contract. There are reasons to keep either of them, and reasons another team would trade for either one.
If you follow the trade rumors, every team is in talks with every other team. For the Jazz side of things, Millsap or Jefferson would be a coup for any contender to pick up. We've seen rumors of interest for Jefferson in Boston and Millsap in Los Angeles. And if you read fan blogs, message boards, or listen to out of state radio -- both players are wanted by almost every city in-between. We've seen stuff come out (legit, fake, or fan delusion) with the Jazz in talks or talking to the Phoenix Suns, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, and Oklahoma City Thunder. The teams that couldn't have use for a Pal Jeffersap comprise the shorter list, compared to the teams that could use him/them/either/or.
So if the Jazz do what the media thinks they SHOULD do . . . what does it mean for this team this season? What does it mean for future Jazz teams? Well, the first thing that happens is that our team this season almost assuredly gets worse. This statement can be wrong if somehow, beyond reason, the "best" player in a multi-team//multi-player trade ends up coming to Utah. I don't see that really happening though. Most likely we're parting with one of our two best players for a bunch of lesser parts -- some of which will exist as future considerations. We may be able to wrangle in some guard help -- but if we're not upgrading a position significantly we're hurting ourselves. Our two main things that are working right now on offense are our abilities to get to the line, and get offensive rebounds. Getting smaller takes away the only thing our current team is really doing well. And it'll probably disrupt some chemistry and lose games as well.
More than any of that, our great foursome and the potential for this foursome in the future is forever erased from the realm of possibility. On paper it makes sense to redistribute the talent away from having half of your good players all play one position. It makes sense on the court as well. However, our biggest strength is an overt strength, and that overt strength is pretty much the only thing working this year (aside from Randy Foye 's Hansel impersonation). So, our future position seems strengthened by having a more balanced talent division -- but the rest of this season may not look that great.
Furthermore, the benefits of getting more playing time to Favors and Kanter isn't ever going to be a bad thing. And then the fans can a) finally stop criticizing the front office from maintaining this logjam, and b) stop complaining about minutes (hopefully). So moving one of our veteran bigs almost assuredly means we don't finish this season as strong, but hold promise for the future. Is this really something our Jazz front office will do then? I don't think so. The Jazz did not trade Rickey Green those years ago even after John Stockton was more than capable of being the starter. They let Rickey go in the expansion draft -- eliciting NOT to make a big boy decision. The Jazz did trade Adrian Dantley to make more room for Karl Malone as the focal point of the offense, though. The team didn't move Jarron Collins those years ago to give more playing time as the 3rd or 4th big for Kyrylo Fesenko or Kosta Koufos -- and both haven't shown the promise they had as youngsters. The team did move Deron Williams, but that wasn't to make more time for a player at the same position.
There would be benefits to making such a move, but I can't escape the idea of also moving our great, current strength into a position of possible mediocrity. (Maybe our bigs are better than the sum of their parts by being together? Chemistry? Co-hesion? Co-operation? Comfort?) You don't build off of something by breaking it up. And the Jazz would need to a) either bring back a good big, b) have Jeremy Evans become a 4th big type of player (from being a 5th big -- and I think he could make that jump), c) sign a good big in free agency (to be a legit 4th or 5th guy), or d) something else.
The D) Something else is the interesting prospect. Why? Because if the Jazz DO indeed trade one of Al or Paul, we may have someone who could slide into the NBA at a role in a bigman lineup where he doesn't need a lot of development time, and isn't going to be a threat where he needs a lot of up-front minutes. Someone who'll be a bench guy, and come into it as such. There are always a number of older vets hanging around the NBA who can fill such a role, without demanding to start. (Think of it as a Jamaal Tinsley, but for bigmen) Heck, I'd be okay with even bringing a Francisco Elson type back (Championship experience, been around the block, tough, doesn't back down). You could list any number of guys who could do what he does.
Of course, trading one of our bigs while maintaining a good bigman core in the future is the ideal. How do you give something good up, get better at your weakness, make time for your youth -- and stay good inside? Option E. Option E is the unsaid option. It's sometimes the one that harmonizes all the above options, or at other times, a flat out joke answer. And that E) stands for Ante Tomic. He's 7'2, 26 years old, and already playing medium minutes in Europe (something that just is accepted there). He signed a three year deal with FC Barcelona Regal last off-season, so his timing is far from perfect. We'd have to orchestrate a buyout for his services if we wanted him for 2013-14 or 2014-15. He was on our radar for a while, being the MVP of a lower level league (Adriatic) and moved towards being a contributor at a higher league in Europe right now (playing in Spain). I guess that can translate to being a rotation guy / emergency guy in the NBA if we don't put anything into his development. If Kanter and Favors progress over the next two seasons as we expect, and whomever of the Al/Paul we keep isn't locked in for a long time -- we may be ready to pick up Tomic as our 5th, 4th, or even 3rd big in 2014-15 or 2015-16. He'll be older then than Paul Millsap is now. So it's doubtful. So that's why option e is either the full answer, or a joke.
Ultimately fielding a team with four better than average to good bigs is an impossible dream. And as a result, while our dudes are playing well this season -- we're actually closer to a major shake up than we are towards having these four guys lead us to home court in the first round of the playoffs. A shake up may happen either at the trade deadline, or in the off-season. Either way, the writing is on the wall. Enjoy this Jazz team fans, for we're not going to see this one in this form in 2013-2014, no matter what the answer is, a, b, c, d, or e.