The Jazz season has taken a sudden turn for the worse. An icon has left the team and the short and long term outlook looks to be very negative. The pessimism from Jazz fans has reached a point that it kind of reminds me of the state of the Jazz entering the 2003-2004 season. Following a 1st round exit, John Stockton retired and Karl Malone left to go to the LA Lakers. The outlook was bleak. To give you a comparison the Jazz going into the 2003-2004 season weren’t thought of much differently than this year’s Cleveland Cavaliers.
Somehow Jerry Sloan was able to work his magic and help that team win 42 games. The fact that the Jazz almost made the playoffs was as close to a miracle as you can see in the NBA. Let’s consider some of the facts:
- The offense on that team was dreadful considering their eFG% of 45.6% (23rd in the league) and offensive efficiency of 83 points per 100 possessions (24th in the league) are two of the worst stats you will see for a Jazz team.
- The following players were the top eight in terms of minutes played; Andrei Kirilenko, Greg Ostertag, Raja Bell, Carlos Arroyo, Jarron Collins, Raul Lopez, DeShawn Stevenson and Sasha Pavlovic.
- The three highest players were Ostertag, Glen Rice and Keon Clark..
Besides Jerry Sloan (who should have won the Coach of the Year award that year) the main reason the Jazz weren’t the 2010/2011 Cavs was Andrei Kirilenko. In contrast to Malone or Stockton, who thrived with predictability and order , AK47 was one of those players who excelled in chaos. When a play broke down or something unexpected happened, Kirilenko always seemed to be there with a steal, block, assist or dunk. He finished the 2003-2004 season as one of the best players in the league. He was 5th overall in Win Shares, 13th in WS/48, 7th in steal %, 5th in block %, 8th in PER and he did this all while playing the most minutes of his career. Also, in terms of a value in the NBA it doesn’t get much better than paying $955K for 11.6 wins.
On October 30th, 2004 the Jazz rewarded Kirilenko with a max contract worth $86 million over 6 years. By doing this the Jazz were signaling the post-Stockton/Malone era was going to be led by Kirilenko. They are still paying for that mistake. They are still carrying that albatross.
In fairness to the Jazz the mistake didn’t seem like a poor decision at the time. At the time he was young, productive and someone who looked to be getting better. Right after he signed the contract Bill Simmons rated him 13th in his trade value column. Below is what he wrote at the time about Kirilenko:
He’s only 23 … made $955,000 last season … already the second-best defensive player alive (behind Ben Wallace, ahead of Ron Artest) … perfectly capable of creating his own offense, although he’s too unselfish to do it … put up rotolines of “19-5-7-8-5″ and “10-12-6-6-5″ in the span of eight days last December … grabbed a starting spot on the annual “Guys Who Would Just Be Plain Fun To Play With” team, along with Yao, Luke Walton, Brent Barry and 11-time MVP Jason Kidd … and he looks like a cross between Fred Roberts and Ivan Drago.
However, he been in a constant decline ever since he signed that contract to the point that he is now the 4th best player on the team. Just looking at Bill Simmons trade columns he went down from 13th to 15th to 29th to 56th to one of the worst contracts. He is still a productive player, but he is no where near being worth being the 6th highest paid player in the NBA. Below are two graphs that show that while his salary increased tremendously his productivity has actually declined.
This albatross has had a real impact on the Jazz roster, because talented players have left or been traded away because the Jazz could afford them. Below is a list of the players that left primarily because of money concerns:
- Mo Williams? Went from making $366K to $1.8M from the Bucks. Would the Jazz have signed him if they hadn’t signed Kirilenko?
- Eric Maynor -The only reason Maynor was traded was because the Jazz were over the luxury tax and the Thunder agreed to take Matt Harpring’s contract. The team wouldn’t have had to do that if Kirilenko had never been signed to his current deal. I would much rather have Maynor than Earl Watson or Ronnie Price.
- Kyle Korver – The 3 year – $15 million contract wasn’t unreasonable for a player like Korver, but it seemed like the Jazz didn’t even consider bringing him back. Would they have considered it if they had had some additional room left under the salary cap? A career 41% three point shooter, who also doubled as free throw closer is worth $5 million a year.
- Ronnie Brewer - Why did the Jazz sign Raja Bell over Brewer? The salary difference wasn’t that much, so maybe including Brewer in this discussion is unfair. Regardless, the Jazz did trade Brewer to the Grizzlies because of the luxury tax. The outcome of this was a negative reaction from Deron Williams and a smaller chance of winning in the 2010 playoffs. Also, the trade gave more playing time to the last player on this list. This helped drive up his market value and ultimately led to the Jazz losing both Brewer and his replacement.
- Carlos Boozer – Despite his shortcomings, Carlos Boozer is a better player than Al Jefferson. Check out their stats next to each other if you don’t believe me. No matter what John Hollinger wrote in the preseason, I think it is clear the Jazz are a better team with Boozer as opposed to Jefferson. Would the Jazz have signed Boozer and not traded for Jefferson if they didn’t have to worry about Kirilenko? They might have decided against keeping Boozer, but it would at least have been an option. Also, an option would have been keeping the player below.
- Wesley Matthews – This is one that really hurts considering the Jazz situation at shooting guard. Raja Bell and C.J. Miles continue to be below-average options, while Wesley Matthews has played well in Portland. The Jazz passed on a Matthews contract partly because of the luxury tax penalties they would have incurred because of Kirilenko.
Now the real unfortunate thing might not be the signing of the contract or even the decline of his play. The worst part of this entire story might have been the out the Jazz were given in September 2007. Kirilenko asked to be let out of his contract. This was a get out of jail free card for the Jazz. They should have done whatever it took to honor his request and voided his contract. It would have been the best thing for both the Jazz (who were paying too much for what they were getting) and Kirilenko (who would have been more happy in Russia). That is the point in time I wish the Jazz organization could go back in time and try again.
In the meantime as a Jazz fan I am glad that there are only a few more months left of paying a max contract to Andrei Kirilenko.