They’ve got too many big men.
Currently they have four serviceable players in the frontcourt: Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. Barring an unexpected trade, Favors and Kanter will remain in the Beehive State for the time being. The question for Utah is whether to keep Jefferson or Millsap.
Both players are 27 years old and are going to be free agents this summer. The Jazz cannot, and should not, sign both players even though they both have proven they are bona fide NBA stars.
Right now it looks like the right move is to keep Jefferson.
For starters, Jefferson is bigger. At 6’10”, 289 lbs. he has a larger frame than 6’8”, 253-lb. Millsap. While the former may seem dwarfed by the seven-plus footers in the league, he’s got enough weight to be a force inside, especially when paired with another premier player like Favors.
On the other hand, Millsap is by no means small, but he’s not as big as Jefferson and looks out of his element playing at the 3. Certainty there will be teams that seek his services at the power forward position, but Jefferson’s size makes him expendable.
Secondly, Jefferson has shown more potential as a player.
Considered the lynchpin of the trade that sent Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Boston Celtics, Jefferson was drafted directly out of high school with 15th overall selection in 2004.
He was by no means considered an impact player as a rookie. In fact, when he signed his five-year, $65 million contract extension after landing in Minnesota, he said he was satisfied with not getting a max deal because he did not think he was worth that kind of money.
“I would’ve been a fool to go up there and ask for max,” he told the Associated Press at the time, “having not really proved myself for that.”
Remember that in 2007, when the Garnett trade went down, he had already played three years in the league. As Minnesota’s cornerstone return in the transaction, it’s not hard to think that the Wolves thought highly of him.
Millsap took a completely different route to the NBA.
A lightly recruited player from Monroe, La., Millsap stayed local and committed to Louisiana Tech, a WAC school. He spent three seasons in Ruston honing his game before Utah used its second-round pick (47th overall) in 2006 on him. Millsap not only made the team that year, but also led all rookies with six double-doubles and was in consideration for the Rookie of the Year Award.
I’m a firm believer that it doesn’t matter where you start, but where you end up in professional sport,s and that achievements in the NBA should trump accolades earned in college or prep basketball.
Furthermore, there’s a sentimental side to this too.
Millsap has played in Utah his entire career and is a self-made man. He went to the same school as Karl Malone. He didn’t come into the league from a large basketball program. He was never considered a Golden Child, projected to be a franchise player.
“Millsap is one of those rare players who only serves to help a franchise,” wrote Ian Thomsen for Sports Illustrated this November, “he improves every year, sets a high example of integrity for teammates and seeks to help a team in every way he can.
“He has applied his career to fulfilling the values established by Malone and John Stockton, and the Jazz should do everything they can to keep him.”
Thomsen argues that by keeping Millsap, they would move Favors to center, where he’ll probably end up anyway. Favors is no taller and significantly lighter than Jefferson (250 lbs.), however, and Jefferson is already capable of handling his duties as a 5. In fact, if may serve the team well to have the option of interchanging both players in order to learn which role works best, knowing that neither is going to be as tall as the pure centers in the league.
Additionally, it is not as though Jefferson is a me-first player that has issues off the court and creates trouble in the locker room. His honesty regarding his contract in 2007 is evidence that he is a team player that adheres to the values the team set during the Stockton and Malone era.
In short, don’t allow Millsap’s heartwarming story to allow you to think that he has better character. Instead, look pragmatically at the situation. The team cannot go wrong by keeping either player, but retaining Jefferson and pairing him with Favors gives them the best hope for the future.
Tom Schreier covers the Northwest Division for Bleacher Report and writes a weekly column for TheFanManifesto.com.