In a slowly announced trade Friday, the Jazz revealed part of their blueprint by taking on the contracts of Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins, Brandon Rush from the Golden State Warriors. The move frees up cap space for the Warriors to pursue Andre Iguodala. The Jazz also received Golden State’s 2014 and 2017 first round picks, both unprotected, as well as multiple second round picks. In return, the Jazz gave up Kevin Murphy to the Warriors.
I’m not sure there’s ever been a deal in which it was more clear that money is the driving factor in NBA trades. The Jazz are receiving 3 players (including 2 former stars in Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins) and at least 4 draft picks (including 2 unprotected firsts) in exchange for a second round pick with an unguaranteed contract (Murphy) who scored a total of 15 points last season. In terms of words used and names named, this deal seems really one-sided.
But, no, Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins have devolved into complete shells of their former selves. Both hardly played in Golden State last season, and the skills that made them intriguing are gone. Brandon Rush has had just 1 good season, 2 years ago, but will be recovering from a ACL tear that he suffered in 2012-13’s second game. On the other hand, their underwhelming games are outrageously compensated: Jefferson will make over 11 million dollars for his efforts next season, and Biedrins will ply his 7.7 PER skills for $9 million. Overall, however, the Jazz will have to pay over $20 million in salary for next season for those two players.
That’s not the end of the costs, however. In order to create the cap room for these contracts to make the trade legal by the collective bargaining agreement, the Jazz had to renounce some of their cap holds, the temporary placeholders that prevent teams from cheating salary cap rules. In particular, the Jazz had to renounce all but $6 million of their cap holds, meaning that Utah can no longer use Bird rights on Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Mo Williams, or Greg Ostertag. Al Jefferson was a known loss, after signing an expensive deal with Charlotte on Thursday, and Greg Ostertag is no longer relevant, but Millsap and Williams cannot be re-signed for anything more than the roughly $6 million dollars in cap space the Jazz have remaining. That might be in Williams’ salary range, but Millsap will surely go for a higher dollar amount. Millsap has spent 7 seasons with the franchise, and is nearly universally beloved by Jazz fans. Both his numbers (which were impressive, especially looking at some advanced stats) and his character were exemplary, and whichever team picks him up will be lucky to have him.
Finally, the deal also postpones the Jazz’s much-vaunted flexibility for another season. This means that the Jazz are officially out of the race for any big name free agents, as their cap space simply won’t allow signing anyone with a large salary. Even Kyle Korver’s deal of 4 years, $24 million would likely be too much for the Jazz to afford with this move. Furthermore, this is it for these sorts of trades: the Jazz can’t take on much more salary in return for assets until next summer, when these deals — along with Marvin Williams’ $7.5 million contract — come off the books. The Jazz had refused many trades in order to preserve this summer’s flexibility and they used that bullet on today’s trade. They do not get it back until next year.
This is all to say: the costs of this move are rather great for Utah. What they receive in return, then, also has to be great. Jefferson and Biedrins are not that, so the outcome of this deal balances on Brandon Rush and how the picks turn out.
Let’s start with Rush. Rush was drafted out of the league when he was already 22 with the 13th pick by Indiana. The Pacers expected someone to play right away, but were ultimately disappointed with his play, playing nearly 30 MPG and putting up under 10 PER over his three seasons before being traded to Golden State in the Jarrett Jack deal. In Golden State, however, he took far fewer mid-range shots, and focused on taking shots at the rim and making 45% of his threes. Rush was also pretty good defensively, acting as GSW’s primary backcourt defender and holding opponents to a 13.1 PER against, according to 82games. If he plays like 2011-12, he’s exactly the kind of 3&D wing player that you absolutely need to succeed in today’s NBA, and his acquisition is a good one. However, his contract is only for this upcoming year, making it less clear that he will help the next good Jazz team. He also doesn’t have more upside beyond what he displayed 2 years ago, as he turns 28 on Sunday, and he may take away minutes from the younger Burks and Hayward. The best case scenario here may be that Rush spends the first half of the season showing that he’s recovered from the ACL tear and still has lots of value as a excellent role player, at which point he’s traded to a contending team willing to give up even more value, perhaps yet another 2014 first rounder.
The picks are much more difficult to place an exact value on. Utah received the 2014 and 2017 1st round picks of GSW unprotected and two yet-to-be-announced second rounders (my guess: GSW’s 2015 and 2016 2nd round picks). The 2014 1st round pick is really the only one we can analyze, given our limited information. If you assume Golden State would earn about the 21st pick again (a fair assumption on the aggregate: I think it’s likely the Warriors are better this season than last, but also think that it’s likely they’re not so lucky with injuries given their roster), and using this research from basketball-reference, the 21st pick is likely to give about 7.3 Win Shares over the initial, salary protected, portion of their career. Given an estimated value of $1.7 million per win (which is the result of dividing total NBA salary by total NBA wins), the 21st pick is worth about 12.4 million dollars. Given that the 21st pick is paid roughly $5 million over the course of their first 4 years, you end up with a $7 million dollar surplus value. Not bad. Given the talent of the 2014 draft, I think it’s also fair to bump that number by a few notches, completely unscientifically, to about $10 million.
The 2017 pick is nearly impossible to analyze, there’s just too much noise in the system. The Warriors have only Steph Curry under contract for that season. We also have no idea about the current 9th graders likely to be involved in that draft. There may be another lockout or strike, as either side can opt out of the CBA after the 2016-17 season. Pegging it at roughly the same value of the 2014 pick seems fair, but with such huge levels of variance that the guess is ultimately meaningless. Without knowledge of what 2nd rounders the Jazz received, those too are impossible to analyze, even more so than the typical boom-or-likely-bust scenario that 2nd round picks usually represent.
Still, you can make a case for the deal as roughly fair for both sides: the Jazz get picks that probably have a cumulative value in the low 8 figures and an above-neutral asset in Brandon Rush, in return for the responsibility of paying Jefferson and Biedrins $20 million dollars combined in a year in which the opportunity cost is relatively low. Given that neither team fleeced the other in terms of value, the trade had much more to do with enacting Dennis Lindsey’s future plan for the Utah Jazz.
In particular, because the flexibility is gone, this trade largely locks in the 12 players currently under contract for the 2013-14 season. Any other future moves done by the Jazz will be done around the fringes: adding a DeMarre Carroll here, a backup point guard there. The roster is talented (probably too talented to be in the bottom 5 of the lottery next season), but very young, and doesn’t look like it’s in a position for contending for a playoff spot in the Western Conference unless 2 or 3 of Favors, Hayward, Kanter, Burks, or Burke massively surprise. The team is moving to its youth, as most Jazz fans wanted all along, but the trade makes next season likely to be a sub-.500 one.
But the future beyond that is bright. The season should allow the young quintet a chance to develop, and the two picks in 2014’s legendary draft should help add talent to further a young core. The team will have roughly $35 million in salary cap room, which can be used on the extensions of Hayward and Favors, plus perhaps adding a marquee free agent. The next contending Jazz team could come as early as 2014-15. Make no mistake: the rebuild is underway.