Attention Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson: Utah is not big enough for the two of you.
It's not due to petulant behavior, exorbitant contracts or any particularly bad fits; however, the need still exists for Utah to send one of its talented post players packing.
Utah's wealth of frontcourt talent, normally a valuable commodity any team would kill to have, has created an elephant in the room that has not yet been definitively addressed by head coach Tyrone Corbin.
Either Millsap or Jefferson will have to come off the bench.
Starting both is no longer an option due to the meteoric rise and stellar defensive play of former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket Derrick Favors. Favors' defensive presence and world-class athleticism are too valuable and rare to be used less than 30-35 minutes a night.
Despite Millsap and Jefferson's veteran statuses, neither trumps starting Favors—a fact that seems to be universally agreed upon by Utah Jazz writers, bloggers and various other talking heads.
A popular solution to this problem is to shoehorn Millsap into the starting small forward position—an option Corbin used with notable success toward the tail end of the 2011-2012 season. Stat geeks will point to the dramatic improvements the numbers seem to indicate when the three players were on the floor at the same time, smile smugly and declare the problem solved.
This option sounds good, and admittedly it could work, but it's not without risk, if not blatant flaws.
Millsap has always been stuck with the undesirable label of a tweener—too small to be a dominant power forward, too slow to guard the quicker and more athletic small forwards.
As Millsap logged relatively few minutes at small forward last season, the sample size is too small to draw any definite conclusions about the long-term success of the "big" lineup that would feature Millsap at small forward. Also, as Millsap spends additional time at small forward, teams would have additional time to tweak their own lineups to exploit Millsap's weaknesses at the position.
In addition, Utah's acquisition of small forward Marvin Williams, and Ty Corbin's marked hesitance to go with Millsap at the small forward (Corbin didn't attempt starting all the post players until the Jazz were in a 3-0 hole against the Spurs) seems to indicate a strong preference for a more traditional starting lineup.
So why not just bring Millsap off the bench and allow him to feast on backup big men on a nightly basis? Millsap has come off the bench for the majority of his career, and he isn't the type to pitch a fit over playing time.
This is all true, but Millsap is still a proud NBA player who wasn't shy about vocalizing the fact that he wanted to start when Corbin began 2011-2012 by starting Favors and bringing him off the bench.
On an overachieving team on which chemistry plays such a significant part, why even risk a discontented player causing a rift between players and coaches?
Utah is in a position to parlay its frontcourt depth into an All-Star-caliber guard. It makes a lot of sense for Utah to package Millsap or Jefferson with one of its many guards in a trade-deadline deal and get a dominant scorer and/or a significantly better perimeter defender than what it has now. Utah would then be a much better balanced team and would take a significant leap forward in Western Conference contention.
Finally, Millsap and Jefferson are both free agents after this season. The odds of retaining both players are low, while the chances of losing both players are significant. Why not deal one if the price is right?
While it sounds crazy, the possibility exists that both Millsap and Jefferson could be moved due to their expiring contracts.
Let's say that, hypothetically speaking, the Lakers get off to a somewhat disappointing start, due primarily to the inability of Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard to play together cohesively. The Lakers ownership then begins to have second thoughts about paying so much money for a team that doesn't quite fit together very well.
This prompts the Jazz and the Lakers to consummate a deal that is essentially Pau Gasol for Al Jefferson. In this scenario, the trade makes a lot of sense for both teams.
The Lakers get a completely different low-post player in Jefferson and, more importantly, get some much-needed cap relief when Jefferson's contract expires at the end of the season. If Jefferson doesn't work out, at least they won't be saddled with another year of an expensive contract as they would have been with Gasol.
Utah would be able to absorb Gasol's mammoth contract thanks to a ton of cap room. Gasol would also be a much better fit in Utah's offense, as he is a significantly better passer out of the post, and would be at least a slight upgrade on defense.
After the Jefferson/Gasol deal is consummated, what if a team devastated by a frontcourt injury offers a great swingman capable of filling up box scores for Millsap? Certainly, Utah wouldn't say no just because Jefferson had already been jettisoned.
After watching Millsap and Jefferson work so hard in Utah uniforms, it feels almost unfair to assert that one or both of them should be traded. However, the fact remains that the NBA is a business, and dealing one of the big men would be a smart business decision.
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