• Salary Cap Concerns January 21, 2009 -
    Reading the recent WSJ interview with Greg Miller got me thinking about the tough decisions the Jazz will face with free agency this summer. Greg reiterated the statement that the Jazz will not go over the luxury tax threshold. If we take him at his word, that means there is no realistic way to keep Williams, Boozer, Memo, and AK. At least one of those players will have to go before the trade deadline next year.

    The salary cap and luxury tax threshold for the 2008-09 season are $58.7M and $71.2M respectively. For the sake of argument, let’s assume those numbers remain the same next year (normally they increase annually as league revenues continue to grow, but the down economy will likely have an impact, and they could actually drop).

    If no one opts out, the core of Williams, AK, Booz, and Memo will make a combined $51.9M, leaving just under $20M to round out the roster. Other guaranteed contracts (Brewer, CJ, Fess, Harp, Korver, and Koufos) total $20.3M, already putting the Jazz over the luxury tax limit and still needing to sign 3 additional players just to meet the roster minimum of 13.

    I haven’t even mentioned Millsap yet. He is playing for $797K this season and will likely get offers from other teams in the $6-10M range, despite the fact that he is an RFA. Even if no team wants to use their cap space this summer (something I don’t expect to happen), at bare minimum he will get full mid-level offers (currently $5.6M). The Jazz would be stupid to let him go for nothing, and I can’t imagine they would.

    The way I see it, the Jazz have two primary options to avoid the luxury tax while keeping the majority of the core intact for a championship run. One is to trade Boozer, and the other is to trade AK. We’ll come back to that in a minute.

    In addition to moving AK or Booz, the Jazz must do a few more things to stay under the tax threshold:

    Dump Harpring’s $6M salary – Although I hate to lose his toughness and leadership, Harp’s salary is far too high for his level of contribution. The ideal situation would be to trade him for a 2nd-round pick to a team that needed him. Worst case would be to include a draft pick to convince another team to take him.

    Sign Millsap for less than $8M – Since he is an RFA and not many teams are projected to have cap space this summer, the Jazz should be able to re-sign Sap for less than he might otherwise command. While I’m sure they will match any reasonable offer he receives, the Jazz need to keep his first year in the $7M+ range to avoid luxury tax problems.

    Sign Knight and/or Price for less than $3M combined – Both players will be unrestricted FAs this summer. If the Jazz want to bring both of them back, they need to keep the combined deals under $3M. Otherwise, they need to choose one and then plan to sign a 3rd PG for the minimum.

    Now back to the tough decisions. As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, the Jazz simply can’t afford to keep DWill, Memo, Booz, and AK at their current salaries. Williams is the franchise player, so he is untouchable. End of discussion. Memo (unless he demands a serious raise this summer) is a great value, and I wouldn’t let him go either. With his size, shooting ability, and clutch play, he can do too many things that Jazz would really struggle to replace if he were gone. Memo’s limitation is on defense, which leads us to Boozer…

    While a great complementary combo on offense, Boozer and Memo are just too weak defensively as a PF/C tandem for the Jazz to win the title. Neither is a shot blocker or good help defender, and this leaves the middle too wide open. Championship teams play tough defense, and I just don’t see that happening with the existing frontcourt.

    Boozer can score and rebound with he best in the league. Guys who can put up 20 points and grab 10 boards on a consistent basis are extremely tough to come by. Fortunately for the Jazz, they happen to have another one already on the roster who, by the way, also plays great defense, blocks shots, hustles on every play, has proven quite durable, is younger, and will probably be $5-10M per year less expensive.

    If we look at the 22 games that Millsap has started in Boozer’s absence and remove the 2 where he played limited minutes due to injury (Detroit and Dallas), his averages over the remaining 20 games are as follows:

    Millsap – 19.5 pts, 12.3 rbs, 2.5 asts, 1.2 blks, 1.6 stls, 55.6% FG, 71.6% FT, 37.1 mins

    Compare those with Boozer’s averages for the 12 games he played prior to his injury (a relatively small sample size, but they are close enough to his complete 2007-08 stats to make for a valid comparison):

    Boozer – 20.5 pts, 11.7 rbs, 2.7 asts, 0.3 blks, 0.9 stls, 55.9% FG, 72.7% FT, 33.8 mins

    Millsap is in a virtual statistical dead heat with Boozer in every category except blocks and steals, where he is far superior. Looking at these numbers and considering Millsap is only in his third season makes the potential loss of Boozer much more palatable.

    If the Jazz believe that Boozer – defensive deficiencies be damned – must be retained at all costs, the other alternative is to trade Kirilenko. AK is a unique talent who can change a game by himself, but he’s far too inconsistent for his monster salary. Unfortunately, this makes him more difficult to move considering his deal goes through 2011.

    Deciding who to trade may well come down to how much the Jazz can get in return. So what should they try to get back in exchange for one of their top players? This is the easy part. The Jazz desperately need consistent scoring and perimeter defense from the wing positions. Brewer, CJ, Korver, and Kirilenko, can all look brilliant at times, but none of them command a double team or require a defense to focus on stopping them. Inserting an all-star-caliber shooting guard or small forward into this team makes them immediate contenders. On my next entry, I’ll outline some trades I would seriously pursue.

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