My Managing Act: Which Utah Jazz Players I'd Keep Around

A shell of my former selfCorrespondent IJanuary 19, 2010

Officially 41 games through the 2009-10 season, the Utah Jazz are exactly where they were a year ago.

Well, not exactly, but damn-near close enough.

Once the Jazz hit the halfway mark a year ago, they were 24-17 with 41 more games to come.

This season, Utah's 23-18. 

Coming off a 119-112 loss to the Denver Nuggets in the Pepsi Center, the Jazz hit a wall they have to come to know as Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, and the Nuggets as a whole.

If there were kryptonite to this Jazz team, it would be these Nuggets.

Sunday's loss cemented the reality that this roster has hit a proverbial wall. 

This isn't a team that can win the Northwest Division. Not anymore. 

Last season, the Jazz's second-half surge was due to a 12-game winning streak that vaulted them well back into the mix of things.

Then someone returned from injury.

And then came the inexplicable losses.

I'm not trying to pin last year's late season fall from grace on the shoulders of Carlos Boozer, but there's something obviously behind the curtains with this team that's not being exuded. 

There are certainly skeletons in someone's closet. 

As most expect, the Jazz will finish with the seventh or eighth seed in the Western Conference. There's also a strong chance they would become lottery bound for the first time since 2005.

There's a strong possibility that every team in the Southeast Division could make the playoffs. 

The Oklahoma City Thunder are, well, making noise. 

They're 23-18. Right there with the Jazz. They're younger and sport more talent and desire than this regressed squad. 

So, with the trade deadline approaching a month from today on Feb. 18, let the rumblings begin. 

But it's more than Boozer. It's a number of players that the Jazz should take a good, long hard look at and see if they're part of the team's future. 

Starting from the top:

Carlos Boozer ($12.3 million)

He's returned to form, in some sense. Earlier in the season, he was on a tear. He won a Western Conference Player of the Week award. Whoop-dee-doo. A power forward averaging 19 points and 10.6 rebounds per outing is something worth keeping ahold of. Right?

Anyone familiar with Boozer knows what he said in New Jersey last season. Staying true to his nature, Boozer went against what he intended to do. He opted back in (along with Mehmet Okur and Kyle Korver). 

Now that they've endured an official half season with Boozer, the Jazz are no closer to winning a title. Boozer's in his last year of his contract, raking in a cool $12.3 million. 

Right now, the Jazz stand as defenseless as Boozer on the defensive end of the court. They're tempted to give this crew one more shot before Boozer skips town and the Jazz get nothing in return but three playoff series victories. 

The front office are playing possum and it's unfortunate that GM Kevin O'Connor and Greg Miller aren't showing the cajones to make a deal and build for the future. They have said they're not going to give Boozer up for "nothing". They've said they want a player that can contribute, not just a few expiring contracts. Boozer's venomous attitude has either leaked its way through the entire league (having no one wanting to take a chance on him) or the front office is playing chicken with itself. 

I'm willing to guarantee that the Jazz do not part ways with Boozer this season, giving it one more desperate, flawed shot to win a few playoff games. 

Which won't happen. 

Bottom line: Should've been gone by now, but will be going nowhere. 

Andrei Kirilenko ($16.4 million)

To summarize it easily: This is an epic fail. Kirilenko is making $16.4 million this season. It'd be easy to rattle off four-to-five paragraphs like Boozer, but it's not.

It's too absurd.

His contract expires after next season, and barring a Pau Gasol-Kwame Brown Christmas Miracle, the Jazz are saddled with a player that should be playing with Phoenix, Golden State, or New York

The media has said that the Jazz would jump at the bit to abandon the Kirilenko ship if some team was willing to take his contract, but like Boozer, O'Connor's so concerned with getting something "useful" back in return that it's just so up in the air. 

Bottom line: If Kirilenko made $6 million a year, things would be kosher. But $16.4 million is daylight robbery. But as aforementioned, epic fail. (Should-be-would-be) goner.

Mehmet Okur ($9 million)

The Okur of three years ago was a breath of fresh air for Jazz fans. A big man that could score. No more nightmares of Greg Ostertag.

Three years later, Okur's regression is a major cause for concern, especially this season. Averaging 12.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per outing, Okur will be making $9 million a year, having opted back in over the summer.

Problem: The front office re-upped with Okur after he decided to opt in. The Jazz brass gave Okur $21 million over the next two years. 

Three players in, it seems the front office is as accountable (if not more) for the failings and decline of this formerly up-and-coming team. 

Okur and Boozer are the Batman and Robin of the Jazz front-court, but unlike the super heroes, the Jazz big men couldn't stop anyone if their lives depended on it.

In a league of big men becoming more and more athletic, Okur's lost more than a step, he's lost a few. He cannot keep up with the likes of Nene, Amare Stoudemire, Gasol, Lamarcus Aldridge, and the list goes on and on in the Western Conference. 

Yes, Okur can shoot lights out. At times. Problem is, the lights haven't been out since the start of the 2008 season.

Okur's been glued to the bench for finishes of many games on account of his overall lack of being aggressive in all facets of the game. Yes, I know it's Jerry Sloan, but if you're benching your $10 million center on a consistent basis, shouldn't the writing on the wall be read?

Bottom line: In order for Okur to succeed, he needs a partner-in-crime at the center position who can bang, rebound, contest, and block shots. Outlook: Bleak. Analysis: Okur will continue to degenerate into a shorter, Zydrunas Ilgauskas-lite. 

Kyle Korver ($5.1 million)

Yes, he's a looker and the ladies of EnergySolutions Arena fancy him, but Korver should be packaged out of town with someone or brought back next year for much less money. 

He's a defensive liability, and if he's not knocking down open shots, it's a waste of a spot. Jeff Hornacek knew how to play defense and drive to the hoop at times. 

Korver has problems just dribbling the ball. I know Korver likes Utah and likes his teammates, but nowadays, one-dimensional shooters aren't cutting it in the NBA (see: Sasha Vujacic, Jason Kapono, Sasha Pavlovic).

Korver missed more than a third of the 2009-10 season because of a knee injury we never really had explained to us. 

He'll be 29 in March and knee injuries are a bad sign for any player. I would support the Jazz keeping him around if he could become more versatile. I just don't see him pulling a JJ Redick and figuring out how to do the other things necessary rather than just launch threes. 

Bottom line: The "best" shooter on the team makes too much money, misses too many shots, and is too much of a hindrance defensively. Trade him away and bring him back for about $3 million less.  

CJ Miles ($3.7 million)

O'Connor's high school sweetheart (pun intended) is now in his fifth year in the league and still makes rookie mistakes. Yeah, he's in a logjam at his position, but the Jazz matched a four year, $15 million offer from the Thunder to keep this guy.

They figured he would develop by now. He hasn't.

Miles, like Korver, is an extreme defensive burden, still making sloppy fouls. To make matters worse, once he makes a few jumpers, he thinks he just shot his way into the three point contest. 

Miles is a player with potential, but as we've seen, anyone can score in the NBA. It's the intangibles that make players mainstays in this league. Miles isn't doing anything to help his cause.

Also, it seemed like the Jazz were hesitant to dish off a player to a young up-and-coming rival when Miles signed an offer sheet with OKC. They did the same for Paul Millsap and his Portland offer. Yet they tossed the Thunder Eric Maynor in attempts to get under the luxury tax. I'd love to spend a day with O'Connor and see what he does. 

Bottom line: Is it a sign that an undrafted rookie has more of an all-around game than a four-year vet? Yeah, Miles is a lefty that can shoot, but give me Wes Matthews' all-around intensity. Miles could be an expendable piece in the right trade. 

Kosta Koufos/Kyrylo Fesenko ($2.1 million combined)

I hate to continually bag on O'Connor, but the Jazz are carrying two guys on their roster that are not ready to play in the NBA. Case in point, you saw a 6-foot-8 Millsap matched up against a 7-foot-1, 848 pound Shaq last week. 

Fesenko is nothing more than a big guy who tries to rebound. Tries to score. Tries to do a lot of things, but is currently on a gravy train because he's as big as a damn oaf. 

Koufos had some hype coming out of college, and like with Sloan, you must earn time. Koufos is obviously not ready, and I don't know if he'll ever be more than a garbage time player. 

Bottom line: If either player caught on with any other team and earned significant minutes, I'd be willing to give up all my best Super Nintendo games. 

These are the guys I keep if I'm the Jazz: 

Deron Williams (duh)

Paul Millsap

Ronnie Brewer

Ronnie Price

Wes Matthews

So, not exactly a lineup that will win championships, but it's a core. They didn't trade up to get Williams for no reason, and they certainly didn't match a $32 million offer for Millsap for no reason either. 

The Jazz need to build from a multitude of things.

The draft, for one, something in which the front office has tanked on for what seems like forever. 

Yes, it's hard to get guys to come to Utah in free agency, but you don't see the other small market teams feeling bad for themselves. 

Portland, Memphis, Oklahoma City. 

These teams built from the bottom. They also have a pretty steadfast front office, too.

What it will come down to is this: Are the Jazz going to try and assemble a winning team that can compete for a title?

If yes, Williams will be the second-coming. If not, he'll be winning championships in his hometown Dallas, LA, or someplace else. 

It's hard to get a bearing on a franchise that exudes continual consistency when everyone can see that the mirror they're hiding behind just needs to be stared into—rather than being used as a shield.

In the meantime, to save face, Sloan should always insert Sundiata Gaines whenever the game's on the line. 

Just to make O'Connor look like a genius.


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