Trey Burke has had a rough welcome to the NBA in his first three Summer League games in Orlando: shooting just 9 of 41. He’s struggled finishing inside and had problems getting the same separation for jump shots he created in college. But whether good or bad, there is little fans can draw from these three lone games to project whether Burke will live up to his hype (favorite for Rookie of the Year, characterization as the best point guard in the draft. etc.).
The free agency moratorium lifted Tuesday evening at 10:01 p.m. MST and now everything that has been bandied about in various news reports will become official. How are each of the teams faring so far? Here’s a team-by-team look at the early signings, starting with the Eastern Conference.
Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks were the one team that had more cap room than the Utah Jazz, and Atlanta decided to use their money in a very different way. A team that seems to perpetually reside in the middle tier of the NBA decided to restock with veterans. They signed Utah Jazz forward Paul Millsap (two-years, $19 million) and DeMarre Carroll (two-years, $5 million). Those are both solid moves. The Hawks are essentially substituting the always-in-trade-rumors-guy Josh Smith with Millsap, a good replacement. The two years was surprising to me, while the $9.5m/year seems about right. Carroll is a nice pick-up as an energy guy off the bench. The Hawks also re-upped former Jazzman Kyle Korver to a four-year, $24 million pact. That seems like a lot of years and a lot of scratch, although shooters like Korver tend to age well. Also, he is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. They lost Smith, Zaza Pachulia, and yet another ex-Utah player in Devin Harris.
On this week’s show, Andy Larsen and Ben Gaines analyze the big trade with the Golden State Warriors, in which the Warriors sent Biedrins, Jefferson, Rush, two first rounders, and two second rounders to the Jazz in exchange for Kevin Murphy. There were significant financial costs to the deal, but was it worth it?
Then, we invited Nate Parham of Golden State of Mind onto the show to learn a little bit more about the players received in the deal. Can Biedrins and Jefferson help the Jazz at all this season, or are they a lost cause? How does Brandon Rush fit into the roster? How about the personalities of these guys, and in particular, Andris Biedrins. Can we learn anything about them? (Hint: Sidney Lowe is no longer the only Jazzman with an iffy history with the tax man!) All that, plus a Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson retrospective, on this week’s show!
After hitting a homerun on draft night, Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey couldn’t wait to test his newly acquired loyalty by taking on two of the most bloated contracts in the league.
For the princely sum of first-round picks in 2014 and 2017, multiple second-round picks and valuable wing Brandon Rush, the Utah Jazz agreed to be burdened by the yoke of Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson, arguably the two most overpaid players in the league. Both once valuable players, Biedrins and Jefferson have seen their production and efficiency numbers fall off a cliff in recent years, especially in the immediately preceding season. At over $11 million for Jefferson and $9 million for Biedrins, Lindsey paid through the nose to acquire the cache of picks and Rush, especially considering little production is expected from Jefferson and Biedrins.
It certainly appears as if Utah has relegated itself to giving the youth of the team valuable minutes to develop at the cost of fielding a competitive team, not to mention positioning itself for a good shot at getting near the top of an absolutely stacked 2014 draft. While being a bottom 5-10 team in the league looks like the most likely scenario, the Jazz being a surprisingly competitive team is not out of the question, and not without historical precedent: see the 2003-04 season. One of the keys to Utah unexpectedly jockeying for a playoff spot seems to be getting any amount of meaningful production from Jefferson and Biedrins. As abysmal as the two looked last year, there are a few interesting tidbits of information that produce faint glimmers of hope for something of a career renaissance for one or both of the former Warriors.
Sometimes, a change of scenery can do wonders for a career. A fresh start seems to have a knack of injecting new life and subsequently new motivation in a struggling player. Coming from a relatively deep Golden State roster on which both players were buried at the bottom of the depth chart, both players have a much better shot at getting significantly more playing time on a Jazz roster that has yet to sign a single free agent. Also of note is the fact that both players are in contract years. With their gigantic contracts set to expire at the close of the 2013-14 season, a surprisingly solid season could net each player millions of extra dollars in their next contract. Certainly, neither player will get the king’s ransom they’re currently getting, but all it takes is a consistent season at anywhere near their old production levels for a team to talk themselves into giving Jefferson or Biedrins a shot.
Another encouraging statistic, in a strange, indirect way, is the huge drops both players took in certain categories from the 2011-12 season to last year. For example, Biedrins’ shooting percentage nosedived from 61% to 48%, according to basketball-reference.com. Biedrins took an unbelievably low number of shots last year (21), a miniscule enough sample size to have some hope the dip in percentage was an anomaly, a hope that is also bolstered by the Latvian’s previous shooting percentages, the lowest of which prior to this season was 53%. Throw in the fact that Biedrins is only 27, the age that most professional basketball players are at or near their peak, and there’s a respectable case for Biedrins to have a modest to moderate resurgence. Yes, it’s possible Biedrins will never resemble anything near the solid player he once was, but it’s also much too presumptuous to put significantly more stock into one season’s shooting percentage with a microscopic sample size than the preceding eight seasons that saw Biedrins hit 60% of his shots as often as not. Regardless of his shooting percentage, Biedrins is at minimum a serviceable defensive rebounder.
Jefferson’s age (33) makes it less likely that he’ll become a significantly better player in the upcoming year than he was last year, but a precipitous drop in three-point percentage from 2011-12 to last year also suggests there’s a good chance at least that facet of his game will regress to the mean some and inch closer to his career averages. Last season, Jefferson was 14 of 45 from three, for a subpar percentage of 31%. In the previous three seasons, Jefferson was at 42% or above from long range. Jefferson’s three-point percentage over the span of his career has been all over the map and thus is harder to predict, but the relatively recent success he’s had with shooting threes does indicate a potential increase. It’s not unprecedented for Jefferson’s shooting percentage to take a big step up, either. In the 2009-10 season, Jefferson shot 31% from three, as he did last season. The following year, his percentage jumped from 31% to a career-best 44% from downtown.
While the safe bet would be to proceed into the 2012-13 season expecting little to nothing from Biedrins and Jefferson, there are several interesting factors that could elevate them from dead weight on the end of the bench to reasonably significant contributors to the Jazz rotation next year. No, you shouldn’t expect either player to be dynamic players on both ends of the floor (and you should pray that Biedrins never, ever, EVER gets fouled in the act of shooting), but if they can do well at even one or two aspects of the game, it will make Dennis Lindsey’s gambit look much better.
Dear Big Al,
We both knew this relationship would eventually come to an end, but perhaps neither of us expected such an abrupt conclusion.
You’ve served as the veteran leader of the Jazz organization for three long years, and I’m grateful for what you’ve done, although I must admit I expected more from one of the only true centers left in today’s NBA. Looking back, perhaps it was unrealistic to expect you to mentor the young stars on the Jazz roster while simultaneously carrying the offensive load, coexisting with Paul Millsap, and playing any defense at all. It’s possible the Jazz asked too much of you. Wouldn’t any other NBA franchise appreciate near double-digit averages in both points and rebounds? Wouldn’t any other NBA franchise appreciate the veteran leadership of a player who has suffered severe career setbacks, including: injuries, consistent criticism, failed post-season attempts, and yet still found a way to persevere? Maybe both parties made mistakes.
Before this letter draws on any more, I want to apologize for my tendency to reflect on the past. Maybe it’s true what people say—when you approach the end of a relationship, you begin to focus on how it all began. I still remember when you arrived in Utah as one of the premier big men in the NBA, with the potential to be a perennial all-star and a force in the paint. In your best season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, you averaged 23.1 points per game, and 11 rebounds per game. Undoubtedly the front office spoke to you about the need for a strong leader, and everything required of you to fill that role, as a player and as a person. You seemed up to the task, and they seemed more than willing to give you the additional responsibility.
The Jazz only made the playoffs once during your time here, and for that I apologize. Is that why you finally decided to turn away, or did you always feel like the aging veteran waiting for the young stars to take over your spot? Was it a contract issue? Did you need more money, or less money? Does Coach Corbin have bad breath? Did you want players on your team that never shoot, but only pass? In all honesty, I believe the organization tried to build a franchise around you, give you a legitimate supporting cast, but none of that was good enough. You wanted more. You needed more, and now every Jazz fan is forced to sit back and reflect on what might have been. If you could do it all over again, how would you begin the story, and how would you end it?
It seems you were destined to be somewhere else all along. You need to play for a team that works for you, and a coach that fits your playing style. I wish you the best with the Bobcats—I really do. The contract you secured is a good one, but did you take it because you really want to win, or are you in it for the money? Hopefully you find what you’re looking for, and in the meantime the Jazz need to find a way to deal with the new vacant spot in their offense. Prior to this season I assumed the franchise would lose either you or Paul, but surely no fan planned to lose both of you.
It’s clear you and the Jazz front office made some mistakes during this wild three-year journey, but maybe everyone will know better next time. The NBA is a business, even if I don’t want to admit it. Players come and go every year in the NBA, and it’s up to you to make the most of your experience, even if you’re playing for the Charlotte Bobcats. You’ll have to excuse the abrupt ending to this letter, because now I need to hurry and write a letter to Paul.
Kyle Hunt (a slightly disappointed, slightly optimistic Jazz fan)
While free agents can’t sign contracts until July 10th and gentlemen’s agreements sometimes have a way of changing suddenly when not contractually enforced, at this point, the trade with Golden State (read Andy’s post on it here) has crystallized several things in regard to the Jazz:
- The organization believes in their young core and intend to ride them, this season and beyond. This year the Jazz will pay their two most expensive players a combined $20 million dollars, and last season those players combined for 19 minutes and 3.6 points per game. Given how risk adverse the Jazz have historically been, they NEVER would have made such a move if they were not confident that the young quintet of players constitutes the core of a future contender.
- Young players project to get a lot of minutes this season given the lack of alternative options.
- The Jazz intend to be major players in the 2014 draft and free agency period.
- This year’s foray into free agency will end nearly as quietly as it began for the Jazz, and the beginning was a possible rejection by OJ Mayo, a few rumors about DeJuan Blair, and some hot and heavy whispering in the corner with Chris Copeland.
Initially, this was going to be a post about Millsap’s potential contract with the Jazz considering the ongoing discussions between the organization and the power forward from Louisiana Tech. Given the #WojBomb that dropped Friday morning about the GSW-UTA trade, things changed a little bit. Then Friday night, news came out about both Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll signing with Atlanta. So this post has been tweaked a few times.
Did the Hawks get a good deal for Millsap at $19 million over 2 years? To dive in a little bit, what are some contracts that have been doled out to similar players? For power forwards and centers, we’re seeing a range from $9 million per year to nearly $14 million per year. On Twitter, Peter Novak suggested Splitter’s $9 million per year should be the floor for Millsap’s next contract, and the ceiling somewhere near David West’s contract with the Pacers. In the first week of free agency, here are a few of the commitments we’ve seen:
Tiago Splitter, San Antonio Spurs, $36 million/4 years
Tiago Splitter helped make the Spurs a defensive presence this season, jumping from 11th to 3rd as his minutes increased from 19 minutes per game to nearly 25 minutes a game, including 58 starts (up from 2 the year before). Additionally, he’s 6’10’’ and some math whiz out there could probably figure out the correlation between each additional inch for a semi- to very-talented center and how many more millions comes along with each inch. The Spurs aren’t known for doling out outrageous contracts, so while some of us may have had an initial sticker shock when hearing about this contract, I’m guessing we’ll see it as a reasonable contract in a few years.
David West, Indiana Pacers, $36 million/3 years
I don’t think David West’s influence on the Pacers’ Eastern Conference Semifinals run can be underestimated. His veteran presence and defensive toughness helped anchor the top-ranked defense in the league (up from 10th the year before). His previous contract was $20 million over 2 years, so while this contract is an increase in both the number of years and in the amount per year, it’s a reasonable bump in each. Like the Spurs, the Pacers haven’t been known to sign their own to ridiculous contracts, and given Indiana’s success since West’s arrival, I think this one is understandable. For comparison’s sake, West stands at 6’9’’, 250 lbs, a slight height increase over Paul Millsap.
Al Jefferson, Charlotte Bobcats, $41 million/3 years
I feel like every discussion and debate that could be had about Al Jefferson has been had by Jazz fans over the past few years. Crafty, low-post offensive wizard with pump fakes and pivots galore, an aversion to contact (look at his numbers pre- and post-ACL injury—very interesting!), and a sieve-like defender. He rarely turns the ball over and he shoots at a near-50% clip from the field. If you want offense, he’ll get you offense. If you want defense, you’ll have to look elsewhere. If you want a good locker room guy, he’s it. He’s comfortable being a team’s number one option, he’s 6’10’’, and those are a few reasons why he got $14 million per year.
So where did that leave Paul Millsap?
Interestingly, Millsap’s per-36 numbers are incredibly close to West’s. Last season, per-36, West’s stats were slightly higher in field-goal attempts, field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage, defensive rebounds, assists (by 0.1) and points. Millsap had the slight edge in three-point percentage (33.3%!), free-throw attempts, offensive rebounds and total rebounds, steals, blocks, and fewer turnovers. The numbers are very, very close. But West is an inch taller, a better defender, and led the Pacers to the best-ranked defense in the league (though, obviously, Roy Hibbert’s emergence had something to do with that, as well).
Millsap’s team likely made the argument that he’s a better, more skilled player than Splitter, and that his comp is closer to David West. There’s some merit to that argument, which is why he’s getting $10 million per year, but his height and lack of being a first or second option is probably part of what contributed to the contract only being 2 years. The newer CBA is shortening the length of contracts for players who aren’t a first or second option.
Having said that, I think the Hawks got a good deal for Millsap at $19 million over two years. They don’t tie up any significant money long term, they get a very good PF that will help make teammates better and will fill up the stat sheet. He’ll work hard, and he’s added a weapon to his offensive arsenal every year. Until the Miracle in Miami, who knew he had three-point range? Even with a small sample size, he shot 33% from three last year. While rebounding and hustle plays have been his forte since entering the league, he’s become a much more complete offensive player.
Good luck in Atlanta, Paul Millsap. You were the epitome of a Jazz man during your time in Utah – you’ll be missed.
The former Temple University star, overseas pro and NBA hopeful is on the Jazz Summer League Roster.
Each year, Summer League arrives shortly after the Draft. It is where the top picks, undrafted free agents, former lottery picks, and NBA and overseas journeymen converge for the chance to make a name for themselves in a sea of pro-level talent. Those games will have a different meaning for everyone, and for those without a guaranteed contract or place on a roster, it is an audition.
The top picks play alongside journeymen, huddling up with players who will continue forging their basketball odysseys in leagues across the world. For every success story, there are hundreds of hopefuls who have cycled in and out of summer league. That is what makes the paradox of the rosters so special. Dreams are realized, and dreams are fought for.
Dionte Christmas has been so close to realizing his. In 2009, the year he went undrafted as a senior out of Temple, he participated in training camp for his hometown Sixers. Last season, he averaged 12.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists for the Celtics in Orlando Summer League. He continued playing for the Celtics in Las Vegas Summer League, averaging 14.2 points on 48% shooting. His play earned him a partially guaranteed contract, but he was eventually released by the Celtics after appearing in four preseason games.
After playing in Russia and Italy this past season, Christmas is back to work, preparing to play with the Utah Jazz in the 2013 Orlando Summer League. While the Jazz acquired No. 9 overall pick Trey Burke in the Draft, they are in definite need of a scoring two guard. I got a chance to catch up with Christmas while he prepares for the Jazz’s first Summer League game on Sunday, July 7.
Tracy Weissenberg: I think a lot of people remember you with the Celtics last year. Can you catch everybody up on your career since then?
Dionte Christmas: I still keep in contact with those guys. Great organization…they gave me a great opportunity. [After being released] I signed with one of the biggest teams in Europe. I signed with CSKA, but I finished the year off in Italy with Siena. We won an Italian championship. So I had a pretty good year individually. I’m just back trying to get back into the NBA and trying to get another contract with a team and hopefully just stay over here for the year. Time is winding down for me, but I’m still feeling great. I’m still young. Like I said before, I’m going to just keep trying until I get it.
TW: Can you talk about the game overseas, how does it prepare you for these opportunities?
DC: Very physical. I know the NBA is very physical as well. Playing in Euroleague is very physical every single night. You’re playing top level basketball every single night. I think that prepared me for situations like this, like Summer League and to play in the NBA. I believe I can play in the NBA and I’ve been told by a lot of people high in the game of basketball such as Doc Rivers and Aaron McKie, coach for the Sixers. A lot of people told me I can play in the NBA, so I’m never going to stop chasing this dream. Hopefully, this year it can happen. Last year I was so close, I was knocking on the door, and this year, hopefully I can get in.
TW: You were pretty close with Philadelphia in 2009.
DC: Yeah, a lot of times I was very close. I was very, very close. But the NBA is a game of numbers, it’s a numbers game. So sometimes, you’re good enough to play, but some teams may need something and you’re the one guy that they have to let go. I believe that happened to me twice so far in my career, and I’ve been told that. I can’t hang my head, I’ve never hung my head. I’ve never given up one time. I believe God has His plan for me. I should keep playing hard and keep respecting the game, and just keep giving it my all. I think it will happen. Even if it doesn’t happen this year, it will happen next year.
I look at the guy [Chris] Copeland this year for the Knicks, he was 28. He played really well. I’m never going to give it up.
TW: You’re taking my questions! I was going to ask you about Chris Copeland. He told me he never even got the chance to play in Summer League until 2012. He just had a successful rookie campaign, so you have paid attention to stories like his?
DC: Yeah, for sure. I love stories like that. My favorite story to tell people is me and Wesley Matthews. We came out together [in the 2009 Draft], both of us were undrafted. We went to Orlando, we went to Vegas, and we didn’t really know what was going to happen. He got picked up by the Jazz, and he was just going through camp, not knowing what to expect. He had that one chance in the playoffs, I think a couple of people got hurt, and he played really well against Kobe Bryant. The next year, he signed for $35 million. That right there just showed me you never give up, and a lot could happen. There have been a couple of guys that played in Summer League that got contracts, and Chris Copeland is another great story that is mind-blowing to me. He played Summer League, played well, played preseason, played well, and got some minutes. Now, he’s probably going to get a big contract this year. I tip my hat off to them, I respect them a lot for that.
TW: You’ve talked about coming so close to your NBA dream in the past. How do you personally deal with bouncing back and continuing your career?
DC: Since I was young my dad, he’s like my brother, he’s always told me never to give up. One story that comes to mind when I was young, I think I was like 11 years old, my dad asked me what sport I wanted to play–either football, basketball or baseball. He told me whatever sport I chose, I had to play that sport, he would never let me quit. I chose basketball, and the first time I played basketball, I got cut. I wasn’t that good. Actually, that was my worst sport. I got cut, so he actually went to the coach, and asked the coach, can I continue to practice with the team but just not play games? And the coach said yes, cause he was a good friend of my dad. So I had to go into practice every day with the team that cut me. That right there got me prepared for times like this. I’ve been cut before. The Sixers have cut me. Teams have said no to me. It just motivates me. I think every year I’ve gained from each team that’s released me or has cut me or whatever the case may be. My focus is the same and my game has elevated to another level, so I just want to showcase that this year.
TW: You’ve played in Russia, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel. What have been the best aspects of those experiences because you’ve really traveled the globe?
DC: Yeah, my mom and dad and grandma really say that all the time. I’m only 26 and I’ve seen the world. I get a chance to see the world and play the game that I love to play. That’s the beauty of it. I thank God everyday. When I play, I thank God for the blessings and everything he’s given to me up to this point. A lot of people haven’t seen the things I’ve seen or made the money I’ve made or gotten the opportunities that I’ve gotten.
TW: What is the hardest aspect of having a professional career overseas?
DC: Not seeing your family and being away from home, that’s definitely the hardest part. I’ve been over there for four or five years now. I don’t want to say it’s getting easier, but I’m starting to deal with it better. This year, I didn’t get home until June 21. If I do go back, I would have to go back sometime in August. I get about a month and a half, tops, home, so you have to just cherish the time you have with your family.
TW: How do you view the opportunity of Summer League?
DC: Going to Summer League, I take it as going to work. There’s 30 teams, and you just need one person, one team to like you. I’m not just playing for the name on my chest, I’m playing for all the teams there, representing themselves and watching Summer League. It’ll be another great opportunity for me. Like I said, I signed a huge deal last year in Russia, and I think it was all because of Summer League and the way I played. I’m not just playing for NBA teams, I’m playing for some of the top level overseas teams [to scout me] as well. It’s going to be another great opportunity for me and to showcase what I can do.
TW: You’re playing for the Jazz, who have a few guard slots opening up because Randy Foye and Mo Williams are free agents. I know the roster isn’t fully shaped yet, but did you break down their situation, and see yourself as a potential fit?
DC: Yeah, for sure. I watched them this year, they had Randy Foye, and in the past they’ve had some good shooters and great playmakers. I definitely could see myself playing there. Throughout the practice today, I picked up some of the things that they do during the season. I think I could definitely could fit in with the Utah Jazz. It’s a great program and I’m just happy to play for them.
TW: You’ve been around some great NBA teams and veterans, like last year with the Celtics. Has anything you’ve seen during practice or any advice you have received stuck with you?
DC: Watching their work ethic, and watching how hard those guys work. Those guys are established Hall of Famers. So just watching that was enough for me, but I definitely talked to those guys personally…talking to Doc Rivers was great too. Doc told me, you know, he definitely thinks that I’m an NBA player, he definitely thinks that I belong in the NBA. Never stop what I’m doing, don’t give up my dream, just keep playing, keep fighting, and things will all fall into place. Doc talked to me for a long time after [the Celtics] released me. I love Doc, he’s a great guy. I’m very happy for him and his new job. He’ll do great things in L.A., I believe.
Did you ever make a list of preferred gifts that you’d make at Christmastime for the gift-giving power brokers? Remember waking up as a kid on Christmas morning wondering how many of those things on your list you would be able to cross off? As a kid, I can remember opening gifts that could only be described by saying, ‘it’s exactly what I wanted.’ While I no longer keep lists for Christmas gifts (I’ve thankfully outgrown that), I know that as a sports fan, I have those types of lists for my favorite teams. Those lists are usually comprised of players I hope come to play in my city for my team, or for a particular player to stay on board, not leaving for what might seem to be greener pastures via free agency. These last few weeks have provided for some of those magical moments for Jazz fans that can only be described as ‘exactly what I wanted,’ and there have been some moments that serve as a reminder that ‘what I want’ may be more painful than originally envisioned.
The Draft: Like so many Jazz fans, the words that I would use to describe this year’s draft was, ‘Surprised, Success, and simply, YES!’ Over the course of the weeks leading up to the draft, the conversation that fans and Jazz insiders had centered on was whether or not the point guard that would be available at 14 or 21 would really be the kind of player that could have a long-term career as a starter in the league. The elephant in the room was that even though everyone (including mock draft guys) knew the Jazz had a glaring weakness at that position, the kind of PG they coveted would be long gone by 14. The Jazz’s next starting point guard would not be coming from the draft. If anything, the Jazz would draft their next solid backup PG, who’d steady the ship for the next year or two while the search the franchise’s next floor general continued.
In addition, Rudy Gobert adds an interesting piece to the Jazz’s front line. If indeed, league trends in officiating continue and ‘verticality’ continues to favor the defensive player’s efforts on that end of the floor, then this pick actually does have the potential to be the diamond-in-the-rough that most of us envisioned at the point guard position. Getting even better, Rudy Gobert tweeted that he was looking forward to working with The Mailman to improve his game. What’s not to love about a guy with a 7’9″ wingspan with sharp elbows and a decisive outlet pass? What’s more, GM Dennis Lindsey accomplished all of this without compromising any future assets. (More on this in a moment). Of all the things Dennis Lindsey gave Jazz fans this night, the one that proved to be most cherished: optimism.
Free Agency: WIth free agency negotiations hitting full throttle, the fan base’s long history of being jilted by players surfaced once again. Why won’t player A and/or B come to Utah with all of its available cap space? With all of the drama surrounding Dwight Howard, day after day, Jazz fans lived on a diet of speculation and rumors. To no one’s surprise, Big Al signed with another team. As the opening days of free agency came and went, the excitement of draft night began to ebb.
Then the trade broke that had most Jazz fans scratching their heads. What started out as an interest in Andrew Bogut (and hopefully Harrison Barnes or Klay Thompson) quickly turned into the duo of Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson. Huh? My initial reaction was that there was no way the Jazz just enabled a Western Conference opponent to better themselves at their expense. Then the details that filled out the trade began to trickle in. The Jazz received two unprotected first round picks and multiple 2nd round picks. They also added an additional player (Brandon Rush) that may fill a substantial team need, but whose health is still to be determined.
This move allows the Jazz to accomplish a few other things:
- It allows the team meet the minimum salary requirements without overspending for a player whose contract may handcuff them in the years to come.
- It will maximize the amount of time the young players will get if they can keep themselves on the court. Ty won’t have the game management considerations that he admittedly had to take into consideration last year.
- This move allowed the Jazz to acquire multiple draft picks, which is still the most viable way for this franchise to continue to acquire talent.
- Lindsey’s ability to get Golden State to give up what they did is a reminder that a long term vision is needed to be successful. I think in the end, Golden State will regret conceding so much in this trade.
- Without the presence of a dominant veteran figure, the desire for leadership to emerge from the young core is not only expected, it will be necessary (I’m convinced this will end up being a hybrid of Burke/Hayward next season).
- Most importantly, the financial flexibility reinforces a commitment to the youth movement in that it gives the Jazz an opportunity to keep guys like Burke, Favors, Kanter and Hayward around for as long as possible. There is no one on the market who is available now that I’d rather have long term than any of the four players I just mentioned.
Conclusion: So far, Dennis Lindsey has indicated that the Jazz wanted to be aggressive on draft day. They were. He indicated there were no skipping steps in the rebuilding process, and the trade with the Golden State Warriors is evidence that this process is well under way. Jazz fans should be excited about the youth movement, even if it means more L’s than W’s in 2013-2014. Lindsey has spoken about ‘financial flexibility’ to anyone who asks him about the teams’ long term success. It’s an asset that, once invested, can take years to show returns. There are no guarantees, but if this means that for the next 10+ years Jazz fans are treated to the finished product that is often imagined with the young guys, that will truly be the gift that every Jazz fan wants.
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.