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Former Jazz Big Mehmet Okur - Too young to be a coach, too injured to be effective?

I love Mehmet Okur. I love him so much that when news broke out that he was traded I reacted irrationally, like fans tend to do. (Shut up) He was a big part of our team when the going was good. He scarified his future career for our franchise, and then was traded for nothing. That's not the type of loyalty that makes players like our franchise. That said, it is a business, and trading away Okur made space available for our already crowded frontcourt of Al Jefferson (27 years old), Paul Millsap (26 years old), Derrick Favors (20 years old), and Enes Kanter (19 years old). For basketball reasons you defend the move, but for fan reasons it's a hard pill to swallow. I'm sure it was hard for Memo as well, who had signed with the Jazz as a free agent, loved it here, and had two kids who were born and raised in Utah. (not unlike the story of Andrei Kirilenko, except he was drafted by the Jazz) Memo is on the market again, and has some skills that teams may lack (you know, teams that take three pointers, mind you). He has a few points to ponder, and teams have to figure out just how much he has left in the tank. He is only 32 years old, which is too young to be a coach. Yet he appears too injured to be an effective player. Click on for a deeper look at Mehmet Okur.

After the Jump: a trip down MEMO-ry lane, a look at where Okur is now, and some ideas on where he goes

Mehmet Okur: then and now

Today I still love Mehmet Okur. I just am a bit more realistic about what he may be capable of going forward. Earlier this summer I did a retrospective of his career with the Jazz, which also included a review of his injury shortened season (2010-2011), while attempting to gauge where he could be this season (2011-12). You can read it in full here. But the main points were:

  • For his entire career with the Jazz he averages 15.1 ppg (45.8 fg%, 37.7 3pt%, 80.3 ft%), with 1.31 points per shot
  • He also (during the same stretch, which is regular season and playoffs in a Jazz uni) averaged: 7.7 rpg, 1.9 apg, 0.7 bpg, 0.6 spg, and 1.1 threes made per game
  • He was a good soldier, and more than anything else, he spaced the floor on offense and allowed our team to play 5 on 5 on that side of the court for the first time in years (Mark Eaton, Felton Spencer, Greg Ostertag, etc did not)
  • Last season was his worst season of his career, and statistically it was superior to that of the average 3rd string big, and former Jazz players Kyrylo Fesenko and Francisco Elson (whom we all pretty much enjoyed)
  • And lastly, we never got to see the positive effect a healthy Mehmet Okur could have on the court with this current core (he'd make life so much easier for Big Al at times with being an actual three point maker and passer).

Some of those points are still valid, however, we have another season of data to look at. This year Mehmet Okur played in 17 games, and 453 minutes of action. Which is nearly 300 more minutes than last year. Memo did "bounce back" shooting, but still did not shoot anywhere near his peak. This season he's shooting 37.4 fg%, 31.9 3pt%, and 60.0 ft% (though, only 5 FTA). His numbers are better this year than last (7.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.8 apg, for examples); but they appear to be products of playing over 20 mpg, and not evocative of any grand efficiency. In fact his Per 36 minute averages this year are equal to or worse than last year.

Right now it appears like Okur's best playing days at the NBA level are behind him. Which is a shame because he's a legit big with playoff experience (with the Detroit Pistons and Utah Jazz) who did not rely upon athleticism to be good. And he is only 32 years old. I do not expect him to play to the age of 40 like The Mailman, but I do think that 32 is too young to hang it up at. After all, I'm 33 years old. I would be kind of throwing that thing I worked hard for, for the last two decades of my life with no interruptions, away if I hung it up now. The dedication, grind, and luck one needs to make it in the NBA seems to be a similarly hard mountain to scale. Memo is never going to make NBA money again if he leaves the game.


What can Memo do?

I think Memo sees that he can still make millions of dollars doing this, especially if guys like Juwan Howard and Kurt Thomas can do this well into their 50s. It just may not be with the Jazz, or in the NBA at all. The easiest thing, especially with respect to a guy his age who has increasingly aging parents who live in another country (which is also my case), would be to return home and live like a King. No doubt his late night IMs with Andrei mostly talk about how great it is to come home and still be able to play before you are too old, and people call you an American sell-out.

If Memo isn't able to hang on with an American team it only makes sense for him to go back home and live like a Sultan. He was traded by the Jazz to the Nets, who traded him to the Trail Blazers, and he just got waived / bought out. Clearly he was not in the long term plans of two (three if you count us) rebuilding teams. Could a team looking for a veteran big take a flyer on a guy like Memo? A veteran team with injured bigs? A team looking for a cheap guy to add bench depth, who has been and won playoff games before?

I think on paper that all makes sense. While he's not known for being a lockdown guy on defense, like a Howard or Thomas, he's still a vet big who knows many of the tricks you only learn through experience. A healthy-ish Memo playing with zero pressure would really make Miami's bench that much more versatile -- but thankfully he'll never go there, and they are on the cusp of signing recently waived Ronny Turiaf instead.

We're a *kinda* playoff team that doesn't have a lot of experience, but I really don't see Memo returning to the Jazz -- despite the obvious affection we still have for him, and his magnanimity to tweet with Jazz fans last night (which I missed!).

It makes the most sense that he'll always have an open door to play in Turkey. So right now it's just a matter of finding an NBA team who may want him and give it a try. Which may not happen in the next 6 weeks, so we may not hear of Memo leaving the NBA until the next FIBA Europe clubs start hiring.


Why this sucks:

Which is a shame, because I still think Memo could be an NBA player; furthermore, he has knowledge that some younger guys could benefit from. Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors have a lot of learning to do, and Memo knows a lot of things. For one, Memo knows how to shoot a jumper -- something I wouldn't want to rely on Big Al to mentor them about. But Memo is too young to be a coach, and not likely to be pursued by Kevin O'Connor as a free agent. Which sucks . . . for a lot of reasons.

Primarily because he was a really good player, and you kind of always want to retain that 'small market' advantage of being good to your former players so they can help mentor your youth.

I still love Mehmet Okur, he kicks butt. We owe him one. (In my mind) And he'd be great here as a mentor who is the 5th big who is not expected to play much. That said, ushering him into that role now is unfair to him when he can still possibly play a larger role for some other team, either in the NBA, or in some other league.