• Blueprint for KOC

    April 20, 2009 -
    I realize the playoffs just started, but this season is as good as over. Had the Jazz managed to move up to the 6th or 7th seed, I would have held out hope they could pull together and possibly win a series or two… But not against the Lakers. The Jazz are in complete disarray at the moment and are now facing the best team in the West, against whom they match up poorly under the best of circumstances. They will be lucky to win a single game.

    With that rosy picture as our backdrop, time to focus on what must happen for the future. To break up the negativity, I’ll actually start with the positives of the current team:

    PG play – Deron is arguably the best in the league at his position and should be for years to come.
    Depth – Top to bottom, I can't think of a team with a more talented roster.
    Youth – The entire squad is under 30 with the exception of Harpring, Knight, and Collins
    Passing – The Jazz led the league in assists, and not just because of Deron

    Now for the “areas of opportunity.” Here’s where the Jazz need some serious improvement:

    Defense – Hard to imagine a Jerry Sloan team giving up 110 points on average over the last 12 games of the season, but it happened. The perimeter defense is weak, but the interior is disgraceful.
    Toughness – This team is just too soft. Harpring, Millsap, Collins, and Williams are tough. Anyone else?
    Wing scoring – The Jazz lack a wing player who can put up points in bunches and really forces a defense to focus on stopping him.
    Rebounding – After leading the league in 2006-07, the team’s rebounding has regressed considerably over the past two seasons.
    Cap relief – Without making some moves, the Jazz will be well over the luxury tax next season.

    I’m going to break up the current roster into three categories, and then make my specific recommendations for KOC’s course of action:

    Deron Williams – He is the franchise player and only untouchable on the team (unless Lebron James or Dwight Howard is available…)
    Paul Millsap – Showed great potential with his amazing double-double streak. He works hard, plays defense, still has upside, and will be much more affordable than Boozer
    Kyle Korver – Much-needed sharpshooter, defense stretcher, and chick magnet.
    Mehmet Okur – His post play is improved, and so is his 3-point shooting. He’s a tough mismatch for opposing teams, and the Jazz would struggle to replace what he brings.
    Kosta Koufos – D-League numbers don’t mean much, but he could become the complete package at center with his size, athleticism, and work ethic.

    Carlos Boozer – His welcome is officially worn out. Too soft, too injury prone, and too invisible on defense.
    Andrei Kirilenko – I love him, but he just can’t seem to keep it together as a role player and is nowhere near worth his contract.
    CJ Miles – Experiment failed.
    Jarron Collins – Expiring contract that should not be re-signed (unless the team has an open roster spot and he’ll take the league minimum).
    Morris Almond – Jazz already made this decision when they declined his option.

    Ronnie Brewer – Young, athletic, and consistently improving. But isn't your shooting guard supposed to be able to shoot?
    Matt Harpring – Jazz could use his toughness, but he’s over the hill and overpaid.
    Ronnie Price – Great energy guy who is nice to have at the end of the bench.
    Kyrylo Fessenko – Big potential that likely won’t be realized, but he’s a cheap 7-footer.
    Brevin Knight – Not a terrible option if the Jazz can’t find anyone better, but he'll have to take a pay cut.

    Here are my attempts at realistic proposals for moves the Jazz should make during the off season. I made some similar suggestions in a post a few months back, but these have been refreshed:

    Move #1: Re-sign Millsap, Price, and Fess

    Sign Millsap for $28M over 4 years – He's worth this money and won’t likely get a better offer in the current economy.
    Sign Price for $2.4M over 2 years – Reasonable contract for a 3rd PG who knows the system and plays hard.
    Pick up Fess’ option for $870K – Cheap contract for a young big with upside.

    Move #2: Trade Boozer and Brewer to Charlotte for Gerald Wallace and Raja Bell

    Why Charlotte does this: They were reportedly shopping Wallace at the trade deadline, so this should not be a stretch. Bobcats need a post scoring threat, and Boozer would actually be a great frontcourt complement to Diaw and Okafor, who can make up for his defensive deficiencies. If it doesn’t work out, they get cap space for 2010. Brewer is younger, cheaper, and has more upside than Bell.

    Why Utah does this: Boozer needs to go. He is a defensive liability and cannot coexist with Okur. Millsap is at the very least a solid PF replacement at a much lower cost. Wallace gives the Jazz a desperately needed wing scoring threat while also providing rebounding and excellent perimeter defense. I don’t want to give up Brewer, but Wallace replaces his athleticism. Bell plays tough defense, can hit the three, and brings a little nastiness. He’s a better fit along side Wallace.

    Move #3 (realistic): Trade AK, CJ, and Hapring to Oklahoma City for Earl Watson, Nick Collison, and Damien Wilkins (this trade would have to occur after Jul 27 due to CJ signing OKC’s offer sheet last summer)

    Why OKC does this: They have cap space -- the key component here since salaries don't match -- but may have trouble attracting a top-tier free agent. This trade gives them two starter-caliber players (one of which they obviously wanted last summer) and a tough vet in exchange for three backups. AK could thrive in this system playing along side younger players. Additionally, the Thunder should still have enough cap space to go after a free agent in 2010 since Harpring’s contract is expring.

    Why Utah does this: Despite the occasional great game, AK has sufficiently proven he will never match the level of play that earned him a max contract. He just doesn’t seem to be able to find his groove with this team. While clearly lopsided from a talent perspective, this trade gives the Jazz cap relief and provides solid backups at PG and PF in Watson and Collison, who are both tough defenders. It won't be easy to find a team willing to take AK's contract, so this may be the best they can do.

    Those moves would leave the Jazz with the following roster (along with my guesstimate at the distribution of minutes):

    PG – Williams (36), Watson (12)
    SG – Bell (32), Korver (16)
    SF – Wallace (36), Korver (12)
    PF – Millsap (32), Collison (16)
    C – Memo (32), Koufos (16)
    Garbage/injury time: Fess, Price, Wilkins, Draft Pick(s)
    2009/10 Total Salary: $71.4 MM

    You never know how well a team will mesh together until you see them on the court, but I like this lineup on paper. I really believe Charlotte would do the Boozer/Wallace trade, and I think it’s a win for both teams. The big question is could the Jazz get more for AK, CJ and Harp than the proposed OKC deal? Here are a few slightly more “optimistic” scenarios:

    Move #3a (optimistic): Jazz trade AK to Chicago for Kirk Hinrich and Tyrus Thomas
    Move #3b - Trade CJ and Harpring to OKC (or any team with cap space) for a 2nd round pick

    Why Chicago does this: They have a logjam in the backcourt with Hinrich, Rose, and Gordon. Hinrich still has 3 years on his contract, and $9M is a lot to pay a guard who is only getting 26 minutes a game. AK could start at PF and give them a veteran presence with a much more comlete game than Thomas. His contract is a year shorter than Hinrich’s.

    Why Utah does this: Again, it’s about getting the most value in return for AK. Hinrich would give the Jazz their best backup PG since Stockton played behind Ricky Green. He could also play SG along side Deron in a small backcourt. He’s a good 3-pt shooter and a great defender. Tyrus Thomas is a bit of a wild card, but he’s the athletic post defender the Jazz have needed for years.

    PG – Williams (36), Hinrich (12)
    SG – Bell (26), Korver (12), Hinrich (10)
    SF – Wallace (36), Korver (12)
    PF – Millsap (32), Thomas (16)
    C – Memo (32), Koufos (16)
    Garbage/injury time: Fess, Price, Draft Pick(s)
    2009/10 Total Salary: $70.3 MM

    And here's one more (my ideal scenario):

    Move #3a (ideal) - Trade AK and the NYC pick to LA Clippers for Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon, and Ricky Davis (filler -- to be waived)
    Move #3b - Trade CJ and Harpring to OKC (or any team with cap space) for a 2nd round pick

    Why LAC does this: The Clippers are terrible and likely looking to make changes. Kaman has been injured quite a bit, still has 3 years on his contract, and was actually playing behind Camby at the end of the season. They won't want to give up Gordon after a strong rookie year, but the unprotected NYC pick might entice them just enough. AK would give them a good veteren who could start at either SF or PF, or he could be a sixth man behind Thornton and Randolph at both spots.

    Why Utah does this: Kaman would give the Jazz a legit traditional center and good frontcourt depth along with Memo, Millsap, and Koufos. Gordon provides the explosive SG the Jazz lack who can score from the perimeter, get to the line, and play tough D. Plus he is young and inexpensive. Giving up the NYC pick is a gamble, but they would be lucky to get a player as good as Gordon in the draft, and he would still be a couple of years away from contributing.

    PG – Williams (36), Price (12)
    SG – Gordon (30), Bell (18)
    SF – Wallace (32), Korver (16)
    PF – Millsap (32), Koufos (16)
    C – Kaman (24), Memo (24)
    Garbage/injury time: Fess, Draft Pick(s)
    2009/10 Total Salary: $70.9 MM

    This accomplishes everything the Jazz need:

    Improved toughness – Losing Boozer, CJ, and AK is addition by subtraction in this category. Wallace, Bell, and Kaman all seem sufficiently tough.
    Better rebounding – A front line of Wallace, Millsap, and Kaman would be outstanding on the boards.
    Interior defense – Kaman, Koufos, Millsap and Wallace are all shot blockers.
    Perimeter defense – Wallace, Gordon, and Bell are all strong defenders and an upgrade to the CJ - Brewer - Kirilenko trio.
    Wing scoring threat – Gordon and Wallace are much better scorers than CJ and AK.
    Avoid luxury tax – This lineup actually comes in below the tax threshold, and that even includes the signing of two draft picks.

    If KOC can pull this off, he will be GM of the year and -- more importantly -- my hero. This lineup would be championship ready. In fact, if KOC could pull off any of the three scenarios I outlined above, I think the Jazz could be serious contenders next season (and I would expect an honorary position in the organization).


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