The present and future of the Utah Jazz are intertwined in a positional glut, and one can only hope that the build-up doesn't trip up a franchise still trudging its way through a transitory period. Between Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, Utah's best and most promising players are essentially standing in the way of one another, and blocking up the Jazz's future with a bit of a redundancy.
Ideally, Tyrone Corbin would be able to both play his top veterans and find minutes for his best young talent. But the Jazz's position on the playoff cusp is a precarious one, leaving him with little choice but to lean heavily on Millsap and Jefferson while playing Favors fewer minutes than he likely deserves and denying Kanter the invaluable playing time that would aid his development.
There are all sorts of ways out of the positional logjam, but so much leans on Utah's estimation of their own time line and the short-term evolution of Kanter. If the Jazz see themselves as being within a reasonable range of an acceptable level of competitiveness (be it championship contention or otherwise), then Millsap and Jefferson are offseason targets rather than expiring contracts.
Neither big man is too old to be ruled out of any plans that the Jazz have going forward, but if Corbin and the Jazz commit to a long-term rebuild around Favors, Kanter and Gordon Hayward, then the financial obligations that Millsap and Jefferson are likely to pull as free agents could prove to be incredibly counterproductive.
Utah is faced with the possibility of moving a player they haven't had the time to fully evaluate (Kanter), dealing a key player on an expiring contract for a marginal return or letting said free agent walk and risk obtaining no assets in exchange for a valuable piece.
It's not an ideal situation, and yet at least the Jazz have the benefit of their own agency; if nothing else, Utah has established the ability to make their own choices as to which players factor into the team's long-term plans, of which only Favors' place seems to be cemented.
Beyond Favors, Utah is left with three talented but relatively incompatible players. Jefferson and Millsap were able to establish some offensive rhythm over the course of the 2011-2012 season, but defensively they pose a bit of a problem; Millsap on his own is a solid enough defender, but he lacks the ability to sufficiently make up for Jefferson's flaws.
With Favors coming into his own, one of those two figures to be on the way out. Yet given the fact that Corbin has shown a strong leaning toward playing Favors as a power forward in Utah's system and that Millsap—who's slotted for that same position—is likely the more compatible frontcourt partner for Favors, Utah is left in a bit of a bind.
It's highly unlikely that Kanter would grow into the kind of player who could either further complicate or move to settle this debate by season's end, meaning that one way or another the Jazz front office will be working from a great deal of faith.
There's little way for Utah to make the most out of the current core—either on the court or the trade block—relative to its pure value, but if nothing else this team has Favors, Kanter and the flexibility to re-sign either big.
Among the more critical questions facing the Jazz this season:
- Can Favors evolve into the kind of defensive player that could make bringing back Jefferson a heavier consideration?
- And conversely, supposing that Millsap goes on to draw a lot of external interest around the league, could Utah—faced with the possibility of losing both bigs—be pressed into re-signing Jefferson out of desperation?
There are a lot of potential outcomes to consider, and a lot of time to unravel them; this year figures to be an interesting one for a grouping of players without pressing need for separation nor compelling reason to be kept together, and a trial for a front office tasked with navigating a difficult time in their team's construction.