Five Mistakes the Jazz Could Make This Summer
June 1, 2009 -
I’ve been speculating heavily in recent weeks about what moves the Jazz will make this summer. Unfortunately, there are too many factors beyond the team’s control at this point for them to do much more than theoretical planning. The decisions the front office makes this summer (and potentially up to next season’s trade deadline) will have a profound impact on the future success of this team. The Jazz have enough talent and resources to transform themselves into immediate title contenders with a few key moves. Conversely, they could also condemn themselves to years of mediocrity with a few key blunders.
With that in mind, I have identified five major mistakes the Jazz must not make this summer:
Mistake #1: Overpay for Boozer – The Jazz should be all too familiar with the perils of bad contracts. Perennial underachiever, Greg Ostertag, was overpaid for years, and his contract prevented the Jazz from acquiring additional talent that could have helped bring a title to Utah. Andrei Kirilenko is the most recent example of an overpaid underachiever. His max deal has two years left and represents a huge burden to the team’s current financial flexibility.
On one hand, Carlos Boozer is a two-time NBA all-star and Olympic gold medalist. He is one of only a handful of players capable of averaging 20 points and 10 boards over the course of a season. On the other hand, Boozer missed one third of his possible games over the past four years, with three separate “major” injuries. He also disappeared for critical stretches, including the 2008 Playoffs. His defense is dismal, and his character, leadership, and desire have all come under legitimate question.
Paul Millsap is not as talented a scorer, but he’s a comparable rebounder and much better defender than Boozer. He is also younger, more durable, and will come significantly cheaper. Millsap is a Jerry Sloan-type player who brings it every night. You can’t ask for a much better contingency plan should Boozer leave.
Let’s cut to the chase. Considering that the salary cap is shrinking, the Jazz should not offer Boozer that raise he so brashly predicted. If he can find a team willing to give him one, more power to him. Utah should then explore sign-and-trade opportunities with that team, assuming they have assets the Jazz would want in return.
If that doesn’t work, just let him walk.
Yes, I just suggested letting an all-star walk out the door. While it would hurt to lose Boozer for nothing, the alternative of being saddled by a terrible contract attached to a player who will never deliver a title would be even more painful.
Mistake #2: Keep Boozer and Okur together – The sample size is now officially large enough to draw a solid conclusion: Booz and Memo are the weakest defensive frontcourt tandem in the league. Champions play tough D, and these two either can’t or won’t. It’s a shame, because they actually complement each other nicely on offense.
Bottom line: if one stays, the other must go. Personally I would prefer to keep Okur for a number of reasons (this argument could command a separate article), but I could live with either scenario so long as one of them is replaced by a defensive stalwart. I can’t stomach another season of opposing teams taking it to the hole without fear or retribution.
Mistake #3: Trade the 2010 Knicks’ pick without getting an all-star in return – Thanks to the brilliant business mind of Isiah Thomas, the Jazz own New York’s 2010 first-round draft pick, completely unprotected. This pick could range anywhere from the mid-teens all the way up to number one. Based on the Knicks’ performance last season, it will most likely be in the 6-10 range. The 2010 draft is supposed to be one of the strongest in recent years, making this pick an even more coveted prize.
The Jazz can approach this asset a couple of different ways. They can hold on to it, hope the Knicks have another poor season, and pray for lottery luck. Or they could trade the pick to improve the team right away with a known commodity. They could also use it to entice another team to take bad contracts (i.e. Kirilenko), and this is what scares me.
This pick is far too valuable to be used for anything less than significantly improving the team. Sure, it could end up being a bust, but it could also land a franchise player. The Jazz should entertain trade offers for the pick during the upcoming year, but only if they receive all-star talent in return. Simply using it to dump salary would be inexcusable.
Mistake #4: Take a passive approach – The Jazz are traditionally a conservative organization, not exactly known for shaking things up. (How often have you heard the terms “Utah Jazz” and “blockbuster trade” in the same sentence?) In recent years, the Jazz have employed a stay-the-course strategy, making minor adjustments in hopes that this young team would evolve into a title contender. Injuries aside, I think the past season proved that strategy to be flawed. This team has too many serious weaknesses (defense, 3-pt shooting, athleticism, toughness, wing scoring, etc.) to address them with a little tweaking.
Fortunately the Jazz have a number of valuable resources at their disposal to orchestrate trades including all-star talent (Boozer, Okur, Kirilenko), expiring contracts (Harpring, Brewer), young players with upside (Millsap, Brewer, Miles, Koufos, Fessenko), and the aforementioned NY draft pick. Kevin O’Connor needs to use these resources aggressively to address key weaknesses. The Jazz need to make at least one, if not two major deals this summer.
Deron Williams is the team’s franchise player. He is untouchable (unless of course the Cavs are shopping LeBron). Everyone else is fair game. The goal should be to surround Williams with the best possible cast, even if that means shipping away two or three of the current core. Swapping Brevin Knight for Kenyon Dooling won’t cut it.
Mistake #5: Focus on cutting costs – In the current economic recession, many teams around the league are hurting financially. With owners and GMs looking to cut costs, good talent will be available at deep discounts. Mark my words: the teams that are aggressive during this period will be the big winners over the next decade. Of course the Jazz need to be prudent with their finances, but if they get too conservative and prioritize cost cutting above talent acquisition, they will miss a golden opportunity to improve the team. Sure, that’s easy for me to say when I don’t have to pay the bills, but a winning team equates to winning ticket and merchandise sales. The same principle holds true for a mediocre team.
A little short-term financial pain over the next year or two could equate to serious long-term gain and potentially reward the franchise with that first elusive title.
At the end of the summer, I'll revisit this topic and grade the performance.