[Editor’s Note: As most of us continue to prepare/argue about draft picks, Salt City Hoops remains interested in the state of the current roster! Who stays, who goes, and how bright are their respective futures? Join us for part 3 of Nick Smith’s 4 part series. – JL]
Earl Watson – 6’1 PG
Current Contract Situation. Earl Watson signed a one-year deal last summer with the Utah Jazz for the veteran’s minimum $1,229,255. He enters this off-season a free agent.
Future with the Jazz. I have no idea how Earl Watson made it ten years in the league before landing with the Jazz. Earl found his niche as a hard-nosed, pesky defender back in college and became the all-time leader in steals in UCLA school history. Earl possesses great quickness, and although not a dangerous three point shooter, has a solid mid-range game. He lacks some play-making abilities that other point guards in the league have, but Watson was the best back-up point guard the Jazz have seen in years. Despite having a miserable year off the court, Earl stayed focused throughout the season and made appearances in all but two games. He picked up the Jazz’ complex offense exceptionally fast and did a nice job in the starting lineup during extended periods of injuries for both Deron Williams and Devin Harris. With a very young roster, the Jazz need veteran players to provide locker room leadership and on-court confidence, and Earl Watson delivered just that. As for Watson’s future, the Jazz would be making a big mistake to let this veteran walk, especially if they select a point guard with one of their lottery picks. Earl would be a great mentor to the Jazz’ young roster as he was to Gordon Hayward this last season. Although I try to avoid using Matt Harping sayings at all costs, look for Watson to be back in a Jazz uniform next season tossing Early-Oops left and right.
Raja Bell – 6-5 SG
Current Contract Situation. Last July, Raja Bell signed a 3 year deal with the Jazz worth nearly $10 million. He collected $3,000,000 last season, and is due $3.2 and $3.5 million for seasons 2011/2012 and 2012/2013, respectively.
Future with the Jazz. It’s no secret Raja was a huge disappointment last season, even Raja has admitted that. He never really found his jump shot, he struggled to be consistent with the sporadic minutes (according to Raja) he was given, and has lost a lot of that defensive lock-down ability that made him such an attractive free agent back in July. In essence, the Jazz didn’t land the Kobe-stopping, sharp-shooter they were hoping for. Instead, they signed a 34 year old SG who was suddenly just a mediocre defender that really had a hard time contributing on the offensive end. It’s difficult to project how a player at Raja’s age will bounce back from perhaps the worst season of his career, but I have a hunch Jazz fans won’t be the ones watching it. Raja’s name surfaced in February trade deadline chatter as a few teams showed interest in acquiring the 10-year veteran. Raja is a total pro and would never quit on any team he was under contract with, but the departure of Jerry Sloan really took the wind out of his sails as Bell previously admitted that playing for Coach Sloan was the primary reason he was interested in returning to Utah. With Jerry gone and the Jazz in re-building mode, trading Bell or buying him out of his contract may just be the best option for both parties. With the Jazz’ track record of finding diamonds in the rough late in the draft, acquiring a second round pick in exchange for Raja would be ideal.
Ronnie Price – 6-2 PG
Current Contract Situation. Ronnie Price is a free agent after collecting $1,380,000 for last season’s services.
Future with the Jazz. Ronnie Price is a total class act and a fan favorite, but so was Kyle Korver. Unfortunately for Ronnie, the NBA is an organization of teams that must value winning over player likability. If you don’t believe the Jazz are one of those teams, perhaps the recent departure of one Ashton Kutcher look-a-like will remind you that they are. At the beginning of the season, it seemed Ronnie’s success playing alongside Earl Watson helped established him in the Jazz’ bench rotation. The tandem of guards wreaked havoc in the backcourt and were the main spark in many of the Jazz’ come-from-behind victories. Ronnie did everything the Jazz asked him to do and performed up to expectations by most accounts. Ronnie is a very consistent player, one where a team knows exactly what they’re going to get from him; toughness, hustle, athleticism, competitiveness, a bad shooter, questionable decision maker, etc. The question now becomes, is there a need here for the Jazz? The answer may just come the night of the NBA draft. Under the assumption the Jazz plan to re-sign Earl Watson, if Utah drafts a point guard with one of their two first-round picks, Price is likely to be the odd man out. But would that really be so bad? I often question if Jazz faithful have overly embraced Ronnie Price just because he played at UVSC. Without these ties, would fans be begging for his departure – Jarron Collins style? After all, Ronnie Price’s PER is an unbelievably inefficient 5.5! I don’t see Ronnie Price back with the Jazz next season, which in ways is sad as it would have been fun to see two guys from colleges in Utah County on the same team, if you catch my drift.
Kyrylo Fesenko – 7-1 C
Current Contract Situation. Kyrylo Fesenko signed a one-year deal last summer with the Jazz worth $1,087,500. He enters this off-season a free agent.
Future with the Jazz. If Ronnie Price is Mr. Predictable, Mr. Consistent, a player who you know exactly what you’re going to get from him every night, Kyrylo Fesenko is the anti-Price. I’ve seen him lock down on players like Andrew Bynum, Dwight Howard, and Nene, yet the very next game he can look like he’s not sure what team he’s playing for and spends most of his time on the court trying to figure that out. Fes’ potential is extremely high; has GREAT size, moves well for his size, blocks shots, rebounds, and protects the rim by altering shots. His greatest weaknesses (i.e. foul prone, inconsistent, and often in bad shape) typically result from lack of concentration and preparation. In considering his future value, one must ask if this will ever change. One could argue that a concentration and motivation issue is better than talent problems, citing maturity as a quicker cure than years practicing in the gym. As nice as that sounds, however, Fesenko has had plenty of incentives to start making a name for himself but just hasn’t been able to remain dedicated. For example, with Mehmet Okur out for the entire season, I fully expected Fesenko to find himself a spot in the Jazz’ rotation, and one good season can make a big man with his size a lot of money (see Greg Ostertag, Brendan Haywood, Nazr Mohammed, etc.). The Jazz only giving Fesenko a one-year deal last summer tells me they were open to giving him one last shot to prove himself, and if Fesenko couldn’t grab a roster spot with an injury-riddled front court last season, it’s not likely he ever will. It will be sad to see him go as Fes is a really funny dude, but too much jackpotting around will usually get you fired from any job.
Stay tuned for part 4 of 4 of this series as I predict how the Jazz rebuilding process will change the face of this organization, and what that means for the currently longest-tenured Jazz men on the roster; Andrei Kirilenko, C.J. Miles, Paul Millsap, and Mehmet Okur.