The Utah Jazz are in a unique position this offseason.
They're not exactly accustomed to having the luxury of the lottery and this year they have two of the Top 12 picks for the June 23 draft in Newark, New Jersey.
In addition, over $20 million is coming off the books—mostly in the form of Andrei Kirilenko's bloated salary—which will leave the Jazz room to work in free agency as well.
Here is a breakdown of exactly what the Jazz should do this summer, draft included. It is built around an atypical 13- to 14-man roster that General Manager Kevin O'Connor doesn't typically go for. But with last season's injuries, it's been built to last.
Bring on 2011-12!
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For three consecutive years the Lakers have knocked the Jazz out of the playoffs. Then, last year, Raja Bell snubbed Kobe Bryant’s personal helicopter ride to join the Jazz.
Again, the last laugh belonged to Bryant, as Raja Bell struggled to contribute on both ends of the floor.
There’s no doubt that Bell has a competitive spirit in him that leaves most NBA players wanting. But if his game isn’t doing the majority of the talking, it’s time to dump him.
In 2010-2011, Bell shot less than 41 percent from the field and 35 percent from downtown. And to boot, he was good for an illegal screen or two every game.
In many ways, Bell’s game actually did do the talking last year—it just wasn’t what Jazz fans wanted to hear.
C.J. Miles is an enigma.
From game to game, there may not be a more inconsistent player in the league—bordering on extreme extremes of potential All-Star skill to wondering whether or not he’s even D-League material.
One night he’s dropping 40 points on the Minnesota Timberwolves on 14-for-18 from the field, and two weeks later he goes five consecutive games without scoring more than six points. And those five games included being bear-hugged by 24- and 18-point outings.
Jazz Nation, this is C.J. Miles. If Kevin O’Connor could sign only half of the team option, he would.
Nonetheless, Utah should keep him and never look back.
Financially speaking, it makes sense. The tumultuous season that Miles had last season is worth the same $3.7 million that the option for next season is worth. And that’s a relatively cheap price for Miles’ talents.
The 2011-2012 season will be Miles' seventh year in the NBA. He also turns 25 years old in 2012. That’s right, he’ll be a 25-year-old, seven-year veteran next season.
If the Jazz let him go and he all of a sudden becomes the player they wanted him to be, the Jazz will be kicking themselves for it.
Why should the Jazz keep AK? He is consistently injured, they overpaid for him last time around, he never lives up to his contract, etc.
The past is in the past. Let it lie.
What I’m proposing for the Jazz to do with Kirilenko is much more extensive than just re-signing him.
Bring Him Off the Bench
Kirilenko’s offensive game is too spotty for him to be a starter. Whatever defensive presence he brings to the floor is forfeited on the other end of the ball. It’s too big of a glaring weakness for the Jazz to start him anymore.
Monitor His Minutes
Only once in his entire career has Kirilenko played the entire 82 games—his rookie year. It was also the year he played the least amount of minutes.
Since he’s played more than 27 minutes or more per night (every year since his rookie season), he’s missed more than 100 games in nine years.
The math here is quite simple. Limit him to 20-23 minutes per night. With less minutes, he’ll be able to go 110 percent, like the AK of old, without the fear of his body falling apart.
Acquire Him Cheaply
Nobody is going to argue that Kirilenko has been one of the most overpaid NBA players of the last four years. The Jazz should offer him a two-year deal worth $8.75 million.
The bottom line is that Kirilenko is one of the most versatile players in the league defensively and the Jazz have already experienced a major roster reconstruction—with two additional lottery picks now on the way.
Keeping him at the right price with some Jazz know-how would be mutually beneficial to all sides, especially with minutes that ultimately limit his ability to get hurt.
If keeping Miles and AK wasn’t going to catch enough flak, this one will.
Let Jimmer go elsewhere.
The Jazz were one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA last season. Defense always begins with the backcourt and ends near the basket. Putting another slow-footed, non-defensive player between opposing teams’ offenses and their goals is a bad idea.
If you thought that Al Jefferson was bad in the pick-and-roll defense, wait until it gets paired with Jimmer Fredette’s foot speed. It spells disaster.
There is no doubt that some of Jimmer’s game is going to translate to the NBA, mainly his shooting, but for the most part he’s going to struggle against NBA-type defenses.
He’s not a terrific passer and he doesn’t finish around the rim very well. So what happens when he gets to the basket in the NBA? If he can’t make the necessary pass to cutters, and can’t finish over defenders, he’s going to be forced to remain on the perimeter—which makes him a one-dimensional player in the NBA, just like in college.
Jimmer simply isn’t good enough to be the third overall pick and there are players aplenty at the 12th that can fill bigger roster holes than he can. People can talk all they want about Steve Nash, but there’s a lingering argument surrounding Nash’s game: two MVP trophies, zero rings, one of the worse point guard defenders in the NBA.
Sorry BYU-Jazz fans, let Jimmer go.
There wasn’t a more pleasant surprise for Utah last season than Earl Watson.
He displayed veteran leadership and a Jazz-type toughness that was undeniable game in and game out. Watson isn’t a stat-sheet stuffer, but he plays with a certain heartiness that was lacking last season from most other players on the roster.
Watson will be a cheap buy, and his effect on the court is invaluable. Keeping him will allow the Jazz to add some aged seasoning to the meat and potatoes of the team.
He’ll help build and shape the character of the younger players around him.
The NBA is a funny place.
It’s a point guard’s league, but not one that typically gets major results (Larry O’Brien Trophies) from point guards.
Nonetheless, Brandon Knight may be the best long-term answer to the point guard position in Utah for years and years to come.
The general consensus around the NBA is that the Cleveland Cavaliers will take Kyrie Irving with the first overall pick—let them. The last thing the Jazz need is an unproven player who wasn’t able to showcase his talents. That isn’t to say that he’s not the top prospect. It’s merely an observation.
The Minnesota Timberwolves' plans may have changed dramatically with Ricky Rubio announcing that he’ll be lacing up in the NBA next season. They’ve addressed their need for a point guard. Now, they’ll have to choose between Derrick Williams—a Michael Beasley play-alike—and Enes Kanter—potentially a solid running-mate for Kevin Love.
That will leave the Jazz to pick between Kanter, Williams and Knight.
The frontcourt is already crowded in Utah, and Derrick Favors has yet to see any solid minutes. Bye-bye Kanter.
Then there’s Williams, potentially the second D-Will in Utah. But here’s the knock on Williams, two knocks, actually:
He’s a two-footed jumper without a clear position. There isn’t an elite scorer in the NBA that jumps off two feet. It’s a costly extra step in a league where timing means everything, and it leads to shots getting blocked.
Add to that the fact that he’s not a small forward or a power forward and, to me at least, it spells a flop in the NBA. And even if it doesn’t, it means minutes and management problems around Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors and potentially Mehmet Okur.
Brandon Knight has an incredibly high ceiling with an already established skill-set. Pairing him next to Earl Watson and Devin Harris could rapidly speed his growth.
He has a mental toughness and willingness to learn that will only be beneficial next to Gordon Hayward, Favors and this year’s 12th pick (keep reading).
Simply put, what Alec Burks did in college directly translates to an NBA game.
He uses screens in a smart way and knocks down shots when open. He can put the ball on the floor and finish around the rim. And he draws fouls very well because he’s not afraid to use his body.
Finally, he can create his own shots.
Alec Burks could be the sleeper All-Star in this draft class, and he fits a role that the Utah Jazz desperately need—a shooter-slasher with athleticism and an offensive knack. He’s been loosely compared to Brandon Roy in some conversations as well (minus the knees).
If the Jazz can draft both Burks and Knight, they’ll have largely prepared for their future backcourt with Hayward and Favors ready to add to that.
These two picks are long-term investments that also immediately address some weaknesses from last year’s roster.
Wilson Chandler may be the best free agent on the market. This will also be his first opportunity to seek a large contract that reflects the way his game is going.
Where Andrei Kirilenko fails offensively, Chandler can take over—and without sacrificing anything on the defensive end in the starting unit. He’s long, athletic, finishes around the rim well and can be a dead-eye shooter at times.
Consistency is the weakness in his game, although it seems to be more mental than anything else. But when you’ve played your entire career in New York and know that you’re going to be eventually supplanted by Carmelo Anthony, it becomes much more difficult to be mentally tough without job security.
Chandler could eventually be an All-Star in the NBA. He and Kirilenko would be a solid one-two punch to defend the league’s best small forwards—LeBron James, Danny Granger, Andre Iguodala, Rudy Gay, Kevin Durant, etc.
This is not a knock on Paul Millsap or a nod at Derrick Favors. This move is mostly due to Al Jefferson.
Big Al cannot defend the pick-and-roll. He defends the basket well as a shot-blocker, but as a lateral defender, he’s a failure.
Now, the knock on Millsap:
When Jefferson gets cemented in pick-and-roll defense, Millsap does not have the length or athleticism to defend the basket. Last year, every late-game situation was run against Jefferson with a high pick. It removes Utah’s best basket defender from the picture entirely.
Enter Derrick Favors.
Favors is a natural defender. His length, lateral speed and athleticism allow him to cover much more ground than most power forwards. Simplified, he masks Jefferson’s defensive inefficiencies because he can guard the basket if Jefferson gets stuck 25-feet from the hoop.
Also, putting Millsap on the bench leaves an All-Star type talent as Utah’s sixth man. It gives the Jazz instant offense off the bench—something which was lacking last year. It also puts him next to Kirilenko (in these scenarios), who is capable of guarding three positions and is a terrific weak-side defender.
The prayer here is that Mehmet Okur is healthy come tip-off time in 2011. If he’s not, the Jazz need to figure out what to do with his humongous contract. Even if he is healthy, Utah may need to move him.
Memo’s Achilles took him out of basketball for virtually all of last season. And with his return to Turkey, we may not know the status of his health in the near future.
But the Jazz must be ready for both scenarios, so they’re not sitting around waiting for him to come in and produce.
The truth is that Money’s a luxury. He stretches the floor in a Dirk-like way that allows guys like Hayward, Miles, Millsap and Jefferson to do damage around the basket.
With him healthy, a Jefferson-Millsap-Favors-Okur frontcourt could potentially be deadly on both sides of the ball.
This starting-five is loaded with length, height and a nice combination of speed. Devin Harris is obviously the shortest at 6'3". The next shortest is Gordon Hayward, who stands at 6'8". This lineup is built for size, but does not sacrifice much speed.
Defensively, its two weakest links are Hayward and Harris—not bad when you consider that Hayward is deceptively fast and athletic.
Favors covers a lot of ground, and Jefferson is a shot-blocking machine around the basket. Add Wilson Chandler to the mix, who was eighth amongst all forwards in blocks with 1.3 per game last year, and the Jazz would have one of the toughest defensive front lines in all of basketball.
The other major strength of this starting-five is versatility. Chandler, Favors and Hayward are all able to slide up a full position. Defensively, this is key in the NBA to having the luxury of switching on screens if need be. It disallows for major mismatches.
Offensive consistency looks to be the glaring hole in this starting-five. Al Jefferson is the only consistent one amongst them; and if Hayward, Chandler and Harris fail to knock down shots, opposing defenses will be able to sag into the paint against Big Al.
SG—CJ Miles/Alec Burks
SF—Andrei Kirilenko/Jeremy Evans
Familiarity. This bench, with the exception of Brandon Knight, knows each other very well. Millsap, Kirilenko and Miles all started together for much of last season. Add Okur into the mix and they've all been together since the beginning of the 2006 season.
Another major strength of the lineup is scoring. Millsap is near a 20-point per game scorer, and Miles hit career highs in scoring last year. Add a healthy Okur to the lineup and the floor becomes very stretchable very quickly.
Defense could be a major liability, particularly with Miles and Okur. But, although I have this lineup set up in a way that looks like they'd all be on the floor together, that probably won't be the case. It will be a mix of the starters and the bench; most players play multiple positions, leaving head coach Tyrone Corbin a lot of leeway to do as he pleases with the minutes and matchups.
13th and 14th
Alright, Jazz Nation, let's talk.