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NBA Free Agency Hindsight: Jazz sign Jamaal Tinsley over Ronnie Price

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Due to the compacted nature of this NBA off-season a lot of events that did happen had a shorter gestation period. The Lockout ended and many player’s representatives and agencies were busy fielding calls from interested NBA General Managers. This last off-season Free Agency was an absolute blur. Trades happened. Trades were rejected. And somehow, by hook or by crook, the NBA season started "on time" with a truncated training camp and only two preseason games under everyone’s belts. It was madness. And it went by fast. So fast that some of us fans did not even get a chance to fully process all of their emotions.

I know in my case, I did not even get enough time to finish all of my planned off-season blog posts – I was spacing them out for a full lost season. I was wrong, the lockout did end; but it caused me to miss out on writing a lot of really long analytical pieces that over-analyzed potential moves. You may remember that I did write nearly 5,000 words about Francisco Elson and Kyrylo Fesenko two off-seasons ago. I’m sure I would have relished the chance to delve deep into looking at Earl Watson, Jamaal Tinsley, and Ronnie Price. I know I would have. Thankfully you all were spared that.

Until now.

Remembering Free Agency in the summer of 2011:

The Jazz were having a hard time wrangling our NBA Lottery picks Enes Kanter (#3) and Alec Burks (#12) from their summer engagements to come to Salt Lake City to sign their contracts. The Jazz brass were spread so thin during that summer with scouts watching the European Games, Owners having to fly into NYC for long meetings, and our General Manager trying his best to talk to the guys at P3 via a really long set of two cans with a string attached at both ends. Somehow we had to also fill the rest of our roster.

At point guard, the most important position for our team, we had incumbent starter Devin Harris under contract. Behind him the Jazz had to figure out what to do with unrestricted free agents Earl Watson and Ronnie Price. Both ended up playing off the bench last season, and were a tenacious tandem in the S.W.A.R.M. lineup. That lineup erased a lot of the mistakes our starters made by fighting for every second they were on the court. We loved them. And despite their obvious flaws and limitations, S.W.A.R.M. worked – and so did the pairing of Watson and Price.

And then we heard rumors about Jamaal Tinsley. Tinsley’s news came out of the blue for me, and remember, he was on the radar back BEFORE the Jazz re-signed Watson. There were fears that the Jazz were planning on replacing BOTH Price and Watson with Tinsley. Tinsley is a much more accomplished veteran player, but he was even OUT of the NBA for some time, and did not even stick with an NBA-DL team. Not getting a clear direction from the front office, the fans were worried. I know I was.

The twitter campaign by the fans to #BringBackEarl went into hyper-drive. Every day I’m sure he received a thousand @ replies from fans who wanted him to stay. We did not want the Jazz to replace two fan favorites with a broken down PG whose best days were far behind him. Thankfully, Watson’s representatives and the Utah Jazz were able to agree to a deal. We could all worry a little less . . . except some of us were not fully satisfied with bringing just Earl back. I know I was not. I felt like replacing Price (a younger, more athletic, more versatile (PG/SG) player who played here for years, in the playoffs under Jerry Sloan) for a guy with a criminal history (who may or may not demand minutes the Jazz did not have to give him) would be tragic.

The Jazz made their decision, Jamaal was in, and Ronnie was out.

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What’s happened since then:

I was not happy with the move, but then again, I’m not an actual part of the brain trust – so it’s not like my feelings mattered on the subject. Tinsley has been that veteran third string PG that has performed without flaws during the very few minutes he has received. That doesn’t mean he’s flawless, it just means he doesn’t make mistakes. That’s what you expect from a guy with his level of experience. He’s been injured, and he’s been injured with a number of "fishy" things. He’s also been excused for personal reasons a number of times. I’m not going to know a guy for getting injuries or having to deal with family stuff. I will say "see, I knew we’d have to deal with that stuff" though. I’m glad his role is that of the 3rd string guy – a place where his less than 100% accountability doesn’t hurt us. I felt like we couldn’t rely on this guy. I was right about that. I did think that he may also threaten the balance of our team and grumble about his role. That did not happen. We weren’t getting another Mark Jackson – but a guy who was used to being a starting PG on a playoff team doesn’t usually evolve to a quiet bench guy that easily. I guess having to go down to the NBA Developmental League just to make money has humbled Jamaal. He’s been a good team mate. He doesn’t play much. We don’t hear about him complaining about his role. And he hasn’t been available for every game. He did have a nice game against Golden State, and made some nice flashy plays in garbage time.

He did not replace everything Ronnie was giving us, Price was pressed into duty at shooting guard quite a bit for defensive purposes; and he didn’t push the guys around him for playing time like Ronnie was a threat to do. But the bottom line is that Tinsley didn’t do anything to hurt us this season. So, in effect, this is a non-story. And was always a non-story.

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What about Ronnie?

Let’s take a look at Ronnie Price. He is a player who, since joining the Utah Jazz, always started the season 3rd on the PG depth chart, and finished it 2nd on the PG depth chart. That is, every season except last season. The Jazz are well aware of his flaws as a player, but he plays like a straight up dog out there. He will bite you. He will growl. He’s give a hard foul. He was only 6’2, but he was sadly the only out there on a given night fighting like the score was tied, when we were down by 12. When we had Brevin Knight on the team Price outplayed him and got his minutes in the playoffs. When we had Jason Hard here on the team Price outplayed him by seasons’ end, and also got his minutes in the playoffs. He’s a fighter. He used to do all the charity stuff. He was a fan favorite; which doesn’t go as far as it used to as the front office and some fans seem to have no problem easily forgetting the sacrifices a player makes for the Jazz. Just ask Mehmet Okur who risked his future playing career to play hurt in regular season games for us . . . but that’s another story altogether. Shut up.

Price is the type of guy you wanted to have in a foxhole with you. He was a Jazz guy. He played hard. He had flaws. But he could defend 1s and 2s, hit an occasional three, and complete transition plays with nice passes or nice finishes. Jamaal can only defend 1s, can’t hit threes, and completes transition plays with nice passes or nice finishes. So . . . we picked the non-Jazz guy instead?

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Their respective seasons . . . so far:

J.Tinsley R.Price J.Tinsley R.Price J.Tinsley R.Price
Age 33 28 FG% 29.4% 37.1% PER 10.6 8.5
Games 12 28 3PT% 33.3% 32.4% GO Rating 9.2 10.8
Contract $2.6m / 2 $0.8m / 1 FT% 50.0% 85.0% USG% 13.8 16.5
MPG 7.3 15.5 eFG% 34.6% 42.9% AST% 35.3 20.6
PPG 1.1 3.8 Shots/Gm 1.4 3.8 O RTG 83 87
APG 1.8 2.1 Points/Shot 0.76 1.02 D RTG 103 105
A:TO 2.8 1.4 Mins/Shot 5.2 4.1 Opp PPP 0.91 0.82
RPG 1.0 1.5 Opp FG% 40.5% 35.8%
SPG 0.4 1.0 Def Gambling 1.63 0.82
BPG 0.3 0.1 Pure Hustle 0.86 0.59
PFPG 0.6 1.9

First of all, Price is 5 years younger, has played in more than twice the number of games, and makes WAY less money this year. Did you know that Jamaal has a two year contract worth $2.6 million in total? That, on average $1.3 million a season, though he’s only making $1,229,255 this season. So he’s getting a raise next year regardless. Ronnie is making less than a million this season. And he’s playing 16 mpg to Jamaal’s 7 mpg. Our money, sorry, the Miller’s money isn’t going that far by just this simple observation.

Jamaal plays only in garbage time, and has a great assist to turn over ratio because there’s no defense when he plays. It’s nearly 3:1 which is what you want from a point guard. Price has been playing all over, at PG and SG, and during all parts of the game. He probably sees a wider variety of game situations. His Assist to Turn over ratio is less than half what you’d want from a PG. But he plays with Steve Nash . . . so they clearly have different roles on their respective teams. I would say that Ronnie is having the better season. He shoots better (he hasn’t taken just three 3pt attempts like Jamaal has), scores more, and is more efficient. When Jamaal is in the game he’s a pure passer, and as a result, doesn’t do much else except pass. Price is also having a better year defensively.

Price is having a better season, playing better, playing more, and much cheaper than Jamaal.

Right now Tinsley is getting $108,333 dollars per game played. Ronnie only $30,513 dollars per game. I know what you’re thinking – how many PC microphones is that? You’re also thinking – I’m glad we got DNJ instead of Price.

No, wait, very few people are saying that. The Price is right for Price. I still hold fast we should have kept him. Jamaal is nice, but aside from not messing up he hasn’t shown me anything this year. Maybe that’s what you want from your 3rd string PG? At least Price also pushed the guys around him, and challenged guys for minutes. A guy like Price, with his fight, would probably help push Alec Burks more than a guy complacent to not go hard. Also, this post may or may not be influenced by Sean Astin’s movie "Rudy".

Still though . . . DNJ? I was upset about this when it happened, and I had cooled down quite a bit over time. But looking at the numbers again . . . even if you harmonize them for the same number of minutes played . . . sheesh. I wish I could screw up as much as an NBA GM and never get in trouble at MY job . . .