Well, it’s that time of year again. That’s right boys and girls, NBA training camps are under way, and it’s time to spin up the trade possibilities. So many expiring contracts, so little time – when considering that free agents signed to new teams can be moved by December 15.
The Jazz are in a predicament that has been foreseen for the last two years – Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are both on expiring contracts. If Kevin O’Connor could experience human emotions, I bet his pheromones would be excreting fear from day one of the season until a decision is reached on what to do with the talented young players.
Here is where Utah is at – they have two talented power forwards that can produce as starters on their lineup in Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. Paul is 26, Al is 27. They had productive seasons in 2011-12, but now is the time to decide who will stay and who will go.
Losing both would be catastrophic. If you want to see an organizati0n gutted, watch what happens to Utah if they can’t keep one of the two players and move the other for assets or draft picks.
The Jazz do have an additional draft pick in their wallet they can hope to cash in on. Golden State first-round pick is top 6 protected until 2014 – if the pick hasn’t come to Utah by 2014, then Utah gets a Golden State 2014 and 2016 second-round pick. Seeing how Golden State avoided sending the pick over last season, the Jazz could provide a little insurance and acquire another first-round pick. While some teams may want to keep a death grip on their lottery pick because they are in desperate need of star power over depth, it is difficult to see a young team like Houston pass up an opportunity to grab a proven, veteran scorer.
I’ll jump right into the details on how the Jazz can go about moving their more affordable trade chip – #24 Paul Millsap.
Defense and Offense
First question, why move Millsap instead of Jefferson? To be succinct, because Millsap doesn’t play well alongside Favors as well as Favors plays alongside Jefferson.
Here is a tweet from @HPbasketball listing the five worst post-up defenders in the NBA.
Bottom five post-up defenders min 100 poss last year: Ryan Anderson, Millsap, Kaman, Nick Collison (?!) , Pachulia. (?!!)
— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) September 12, 2012
Although no one has created a statistic that quantifies effort, one which Millsap would rate highly in, we can measure defense efficiency. That effort, which covers a variety of mistakes, can’t hide the fact that Millsap is only 6’7″. I don’t know whether it is a downside of defending other power forwards who are so skilled in the post in the Western Conference – Gasol, Aldridge, Luis Scola, Blake Griffin, Nene – or just a case of poor fundamentals, but Millsap is one of the worst post-up defenders in the league. Defending the post is a vital skill to have as a power forward – especially when teamed up with Al Jefferson and his cinder block feet.
When Millsap and Jefferson are on the court, they aren’t fast enough to keep up with opposing guards and wing players in the pick and roll. A quick inspection of the Jazz defensive rotations in games against teams like Oklahoma City, the LA Clippers, and Denver would be full of defenders drawing the big men out to the perimeter, and then slashing to the rim while the shot-blockers lag behind. While defending Chris Paul makes many a defender look silly, Favors has shown an ability to perform at a higher level than Millsap, and, here’ s the important financial part – he does it for half the money.
Saving money for equal or superior performance is a decision that nobody should have to think twice about – it’s why I buy generic macaroni and cheese. Same great taste, half the money spent.
While Millsap averages nearly the same amount of points per game as Jefferson (16.6 to 18.3), the points come from Jefferson off of set plays, while Millsap excels in the messy. The Jazz should want to run a clean, efficient offense through a talented low post scorer – it’s the Jerry Sloan way. Jump shots are 65% of the attempts put up by Millsap, a shot that Jefferson also uses the majority of the time with a higher rate of success.
I know this part is gross – the new CBA is a hard-to-read legal piece of fine print that general managers would love to just toss to legal counsels or interns. But, a trade has to fit within the guidelines, so here’s the big one.
Paul Millsap is contracted to make $8,603,633 this year before the Jazz lose him to unrestricted free agency. Millsap can be traded for 150% incoming salary – a $12,905,449.50 value (the fifty cents could be significant).
There are 25 players that are contracted to receive more than the $8.6 million for Millsap and less than the $12.9 million the Jazz can bring in.
|David Lee||Tony Parker||Andrew Bogut|
|Kevin Martin||Al Horford||Ben Gordon|
|Joakim Noah||Hedu Turkoglu||Monte Ellis|
|Rajon Rondo||Corey Maggette||Jose Calderon|
|DeAndre Jordan||Richard Jefferson||Stephen Jackson|
|Andrea Barganani||JaVale McGee||David West|
|Devin Harris||Andrei Kirilenko||Gerald Wallace|
|Tim Duncan||Luis Scola||Andris Biedrins|
|Steve Nash||Ryan Anderson|
Of that list, the only players to post a higher PER are Tim Duncan and Steve Nash – two players that are not likely to be on the market during the season. So it would seem that the Jazz will not be trading for a player who makes more than Millsap.
If the Jazz can’t trade Millsap for a player of higher star power, that means they’ll have to go the “Carmelo” route – receiving enough small coins to equal the big coin that left.
The opposite side of the 150% salary side? Yeah, I have a table for that too – all 50 of the available players.
|Jameer Nelson||Rodney Stuckey||Mo Williams|
|Shawn Marion||Anderson Varejao||Brendan Haywood|
|Marvin Williams||Lamar Odom||John Salmons|
|Charlie Villanueva||Thaddeus Young||Tyrus Thomas|
|Caron Butler||George Hill||Chris Kaman|
|Ersan Ilyasova||Arron Afflalo||Marcus Thornton|
|Andres Nocioni||Goran Dragic||OJ Mayo|
|Desagana Diop||Beno Udrih||Mike Conley Jr|
|Trevor Ariza||Marcin Gortat||Metta World Peace|
|Blake Griffin||Travis Outlaw||Tayshaun Prince|
|Russell Westbrook||Samuel Dalembert||Drew Gooden|
|Al Harrington||Wesley Matthews||Josh Childress|
|Spencer Hawes||Glen Davis||JJ Redick|
|Kevin Love||Francisco Garcia||Luke Walton|
|Channing Frye||Amir Johnson||John Wall|
|James Harden||Mike Miller||Jason Richardson|
|Michael Beasley||Kyle Lowry|
The players on this list to post a higher PER last season? Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and Russell Westbrook would take that honor. Unfortunately, I don’t think they would be available in a trade any time soon – I’m fairly confident about that.
Here is another salary cap detail. After the 2012/13 season, the Jazz could potentially free $55,917,841 from the books – down to $9,160,000 in guaranteed contracts. The salary cap won’t be an issue, but the salary floor – 85% of the salary cap, an amount that must be spent – will be. The Jazz have to spend that money on someone. So unless the Jazz feel like trying to lure in a marquee free agent signing like …. their last big free agent … like Mo Williams (correct me if I’m wrong) they should attempt to find more players whom they can offer extensions to improve their team. Otherwise they will be stuck giving large paychecks to Mo Williams, Anthony Marrow, Corey Brewer, JJ Hickson (side note – can you believe Cleveland turned down a Hickson for Stoudemire exchange? Talk about a bad front office), or Zaza Pachulia.
Where do the Jazz need help?
Which positions on the Jazz roster need the most assistance? Here are the advanced statistics by position, some numbers that can help recreate the production on the court.
The stats show that the weakest position for the Jazz – as well as anyone that watched the Jazz play could tell you – is at point guard and shooting guard. While Hayward is more effective at small forward, playing him as a two guard while Marvin Williams plays the three will be a significant upgrade over Raja Bell and CJ Miles. However, the Jazz will need Randy Foye to perform at a level somewhere around the level he played at while playing alongside Chris Paul in order to have any semblance at depth. While Carroll brings a high level of energy each and every day, his production doesn’t equate into increased playing time.
An argument that could be made is to play Millsap as a small forward, while adding Favors to the lineup. I can not stress enough how poor of a decision this would be. If either Millsap, Favors, or Jefferson gets into early foul trouble, the game is lost. Millsap, one of the most reliable contributors on the team, would have to let small forwards blow past him to the rim and score without him delivering a foul. When playing against players who draw fouls going to the rim such as James Harden, Manu Ginobili, Kobe Bryant and Ty Lawson, players he would have to switch onto as a wing defender, Millsap would be abused on the wing day in and day out.
No, the only option up for discussion in this post is moving Millsap to another team to improve the present roster as well as future Jazz lineups.
This brings us to the conclusion of this discussion – who replaces one of the fan favorites?
Trading Millsap would leave the Jazz with three players who can play power forward or center – three total. While the Jazz have excellent talent at the power forward position, acquiring a big body who can lend six fouls and give the starters a few minutes rest is a necessity.
Thus we see that the best trade for the Jazz would: 1) Improve the point guard position, by production and by age, 2) Improve depth at small forward, and 3) Improve depth in the frontcourt without taking the salary cap into the luxury tax area.
Let me post some of the trades I have seen discussed involving Millsap:
- Millsap for Blake Griffin.
- Millsap for Josh Smith.
- Millsap for Steph Curry.
- And my favorite … Millsap for James Harden.
In all seriousness, and after all my research, here is a trade I think best helps the Jazz – and wouldn’t make the other general manager laugh so hard he’d have to hang up the phone.
The Bucks acquire a quality combo forward in Jerebko, who is most effective at the three spot, and Stuckey, who replaces Jennings in the Milwaukee lineup. The Pistons take on Millsap, and can decide whether to extend his contract or open up room in the salary cap. Dunleavy would essentially replace Jerebko as a backup small forward, and adds value with an expiring contract. The Jazz bring in a project in Udoh, who has not been able to translate talent into production while playing for Golden State and Milwaukee, and the score-first point guard Brandon Jennings.
Jennings brings a similar style of play to the Jazz, who moved Devin Harris over the summer.
Here is a shot chart of Brandon Jennings shooting percentage by location:
Look at his shooting percentages in places that complement Al Jefferson’s game – left wing, free throw line. Jefferson goes left block, can pass out to Jennings for a quick three or hit him cutting down the middle.
Jennings’ game also complements Mo Williams, who is a more effective perimeter shooter, while Jennings finds success driving to the lane. While it may seem that the Jazz would be re-acquiring Devin Harris, I would plead for patience. Jennings is not Devin Harris – he is younger, has more room to grow, and has already produced better numbers than Harris. Both have not been able to lead their team to playoff victory, but one can believe that Jennings will reach that mark before Harris, especially on a talented roster such as the one in Salt Lake City.
Here is another benefit. Jennings contract expires at the end of the season. Even if the Jazz are able to resign him, he would be playing on a contract worth less than what Millsap would garner on the open market. If he doesn’t play well, the Jazz allow him to walk away, use the extra money to resign Jefferson, then hope to add more talent through the draft. I hear Kentucky has added more talent via recruiting this year, so there will be players available.
Despite all of the words spread out above, I do not believe that the Jazz will trade Millsap. The Jazz recently announced the hiring of Johnnie Bryant, a personal coach for Millsap, a move that likely signifies a more permanent situation for Millsap. Kevin O’Connor has a history of keeping trade chatter quiet, or not participating at all, so it would not be surprising in this least if neither Millsap or Jefferson was rumored to leave at all during the season. If there is chatter, that’s all it is – just talk.
In the meantime, Jazz fans will have to hope that Ty Corbin and the rest of the coaching staff can coax enough wins out of the current lineup to qualify for the playoffs and step up to the Lakers sacrificial alter – I mean earn a first round matchup against one of the elite teams in the Western Conference. May the basketball gods bless all teams as they attempt to knock the Lakers off the preseason throne.