Al Jefferson to Utah Jazz?
Al Jefferson may soon be traded to the Utah Jazz, according to ESPN's Marc Stein. In the prospective exchange, the Minnesota Timberwolves would receive draft picks and the traded player exception Utah took in the sign-and-trade which sent Carlos Boozer to Chicago. Utah has its own draft picks in the next few drafts as well as a protected Memphis first-round pick. It's not clear what package of picks the Wolves would get back.
Likewise, it's not clear what on Earth and the High Heavens Wolves GM David Kahn is doing.
Jefferson is not a salary dump player, and that's how Kahn is treating him. Jefferson has his flaws, especially as a poor passer and a questionable defender. That said, he's a 25-year-old who already has two 20-10 seasons under his belt. He's a plus rebounder (vital in today's smaller NBA) and a crafty, high-volume scorer. Teams travel the world to find pivots like Jefferson. When you have one, you don't cough it up for future draft picks of dubious value. (I say "dubious value" because with Jefferson at age 25 and Deron Williams at age 26, those Jazz first-round picks will be in the 20s.)
Kahn has been shopping Jefferson all offseason, and he likely knows the value out there. If it's this bad, that it's worth only cap space and a pick package from a good team, then don't trade Jefferson! Selling low wrecks portfolios, and to be honest, Minnesota's asset list is sparse enough already. If the team really needs to clear this cap space to sign, I don't know, Luke Ridnour, then don't sign Darko Milicic to a $20 million contract! Don't trade for Martell Webster the same day you draft Wesley Johnson! Don't help the Heat assemble a championship team by trading for Michael Beasley when you have Jefferson and Kevin Love on your roster!
It's not like the issue of Jefferson-Love incompatibility is new to the Wolves. Coach Kurt Rambis decided last training camp -- about 10 months ago -- the pairing couldn't work on the court. Kahn has had that much time to either move Jefferson (before his value tanked, thanks in part to the knowledge the Wolves want to unload him) or Love, who has strong value. Acquiring Beasley with cap space clouds the issue further -- and further sunk Jefferson's trade value. I mean, the Wolves had no choice but to move Jefferson after making the Beasley trade. You think other GMs couldn't sense that?
So Minnesota's already long-term plan gets pushed further into the future, which makes the trade for Webster, the reported chase of Ridnour, and the locking-up of Darko all the more mind-blowing. If you want to win now, you play Jefferson. If you want to maximize flexibility while building for the future, you don't blow your cap space on the first day of free agency on veteran players.
Meanwhile, if Jefferson does make it to Salt Lake, the Western Conference will have finally gotten one massive improved contender. The Spurs have added Tiago Splitter and the Mavericks Ian Mahinmi, but Jefferson is a big fish, really bolstering a weakened Utah frontcourt. Boozer was a better passer than he was ever given credit for, so it will take some work for Williams and Jefferson to get a flow between them. But it'll come, and the Jazz will be challenging for the top contender spot behind the Lakers in the West for the next few years.