By Ben Anderson
Follow him on Twitter @BenAndKFAN
There are a few players in the NBA that can be seen as a mirror image of the team of which they play for. Kobe Bryant’s flash, attitude and will to win represents the Purple and Gold of the Los Angeles Lakers to a T, with a long history of winning, and a showtime moniker to match, the Black Mamba is Los Angeles Lakers basketball. Carmelo Anthony’s overpaid, underperforming and image conscious style of play matches the New York Knicks organization that under the tutelage of James Dolan has managed just one playoff victory over the past 11 seasons, despite consistently ranking amongst the league leaders in total salary. It’s no coincidence that Melo has made it out of the first round of the playoffs only once, despite receiving multiple max contracts.
For the Jazz, Paul Millsap is that mirror image type of player. Like the organization, Millsap is undersized, underpaid, and under recognized. An always hard working, bring your lunch pail and hard hat, leave your drama and injuries at the door kind of guy; Millsap is chiseled from the same stone Larry H. Miller carved the Jazz out of when he bought the team nearly 30 years ago. There is only one problem, and it’s the same problem the Jazz organization have faced for two and half decades; a group of undersized, overachieving blue collar players couldn’t compete for an NBA championship then, and it certainly won’t cut it now.
Earlier this past summer, Brian T. Smith of the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Millsap was leaning away from signing a contract extension with the Jazz in favor of signing a more lucrative deal in the 2013 off-season when he will become an unrestricted free agent on the NBA market. Under the current collective bargaining agreement, the Jazz were able to offer Millsap a maximum 3 year contract deal worth upwards of 8 million dollars per season. The $8 million matches the salary Millsap has averaged over the life of the deal Utah gave to him when he became a restricted free agent in the summer of 2009. Millsap and his agent DeAngelo Simmons have undoubtedly seen deals given to former Jazz man Andrei Kirilenko and Brooklyn Net Gerald Wallace which average out to 10 million dollars a season. Millsap is younger, healthier, and arguably better than either Kirilenko or Wallace, and could demand a higher price than the two other forwards on the open market.
Even if the Jazz had inked Millsap to a 3-year, $25 million deal, a discount compared to what he may receive on the NBA free agent market, the Jazz can’t afford him, and should be pleased to enter the 2012-13 NBA season knowing he may be off the books at the end of the year. When the Jazz traded away Deron Williams, they did it with the understanding that they were getting a franchise player in return, and that man is Derrick Favors. At the age of 21, and on the verge of a breakout season, Favors is going to be the focal point of not only the Jazz front court, but the entire franchise. With nearly unmatched length and athleticism, Derrick Favors is a rare breed, even among the NBA’s finest. Millsap… not so much. Standing at around 6’7”, weighing in at 245, Millsap is undersized, even if his heart is too large to measure. Players of Millsap’s size can easily be slowed, as evidenced by his paltry twelve points on 34 percent from the field post season performance against the San Antonio Spurs.
What Jazz fans need to realize, is that as easily as Millsap is too slow, he may just as easily be replaced. While finding a starting power forward to produce 16 points and nine rebounds may be difficult, it’s a problem the Jazz won’t soon face. Given starters minutes, those are numbers Favors has produced since the day he dawned a Jazz uniform, and with Favors inevitable improvement, those are numbers he will likely surpass in the near future. What the Jazz will need to replace, in the event that Millsap leaves the team next off season, is a role which Millsap may himself face in the final year of his deal the organization, that of a back up.
Luckily for the Jazz, adequate backup power forwards are a dime a dozen in the NBA, and could make Millsap’s departure nearly seamless. In this past June’s draft, two highly sought after, and potentially better-than-back-up forwards were taken with picks in the early and late 20′s. Jared Sullinger at 21, and Perry Jones III at 29. The 2010 draft saw current Denver Nuggets starting PF Kenneth Faried fall to pick 22. In 2009, Chicago Bulls back-up Taj Gibson was taken with the 26th pick in the draft, and Spurs reserve big DuJuan Blair was selected in the second round. Being selected late in the draft guarantees these players contracts only a fraction of size of even a discounted Paul Millsap.
And beyond the draft, rotational power forwards are being picked up at discount rates due to the NBA’s new one time amnesty provision. Luis Scola, a borderline All-Star in Houston was acquired by Phoenix after being amnestied by the Rockets for what would be pennies on the dollar in the open market. Former All-Star Elton Brand was awarded to the Dallas Mavericks to back up Dirk Nowitzki after they placed the 2.1 million dollar winning bid using the amnesty process. With the pending tax penalty increase for teams above the tax threshold, which kicks in during the summer of 2013, the league is likely to see even more high caliber players being sold at massive discounts to avoid the enormous tax penalties.
With the Jazz having only committed salaries to Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks and Jeremy Evans beyond this season, the Jazz could be huge players in the bidding process. In addition, the free agent market in 2013 will feature names like Lamar Odom, David West, Nikola Pekovic and the previously mentioned DuJuan Blair, to make no mention of the possiblity of growth from Jeremy Evans and Enes Kanter which would render the search for a third big man unnecessary.
And so, as the Jazz evolve into the next era of NBA basketball, one made up of longer, faster, more explosive players in the model of Derrick Favors, the Jazz smartest move may be to mirror Paul Millsap once again; pass on this contract and find a better deal.