Let’s play a fun game with 2013’s marquee free agents. I’m going to give you a player, then I’ll tell you what he was traded for.
Dwight Howard: Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless, Arron Afflalo, three first round picks.
Chris Paul: The right to pay Eric Gordon max money while he sits on the bench, Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu, one first round pick.
Al Jefferson: Kevin Garnett in his prime.
WHAT THE HELL?!?!? This actually happened! Yes, I know there were extenuating circumstances, but someone who was the centerpiece of a trade for Kevin Garnett in his prime is suddenly a free agent and nobody cares? For God’s sake, he put up 18 and 9 last year! He’s only 28! He’s one of the four or five best low-post scorers in basketball!
It’s the Jazz effect. Post-Sloan Utah is where NBA careers go to… well, not die… but at least mire in obscurity. Bet you didn’t know Mo Williams played there, either. Here’s the best way to judge the relevance of someone’s time with an NBA team: check their Wikipedia page. Here’s what Jefferson’s says about his time in Utah:
“On July 13, 2010, Jefferson was traded to the Utah Jazz for two future first round picks and center Kosta Koufos.”
That’s it? That’s the whole thing? He’s been there for three years and Wikipedia barely has 20 words on it! Here are a few notable Wikipedia entries longer than Jefferson’s with the Jazz:
-Matt Leinart’s “Television and film appearances.”
-J.J. Redick’s “Awards and honors.”
-Peyton Manning’s “Broncos Franchise Records.”
-The entire “Minnesota Vikings boat party scandal” page.
-Micheal Ray Richardson’s “Lawton-Fort Sill Cavalry” coaching section.
-Lance Stephenson’s “Born Ready” nickname section.
-My high school’s “Facilities” section.
Does Utah even know they still have a professional team? There has to be one super dedicated Wikipedia editor in that state, right? Don’t blame Jefferson for this, he was just lost in a sea of Mormons. Now he’s gonna come out clean on the other side.
If you can hide his defensive deficiencies, Jefferson is the third most valuable free agent on the market behind Paul and Howard. You can count on one hand — and maybe half a foot — the number of true low-post scorers in basketball today, and he’s one of them. Two thirds of the time he’s going to present an enormous mismatch, and again, he was traded for freaking KG.
Which is why Utah’s moves over the past two years have made absolutely no sense to me. They have a pair of big men in Jefferson and Paul Millsap who they can compete with right now if they trade their young big men — Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter — for backcourt help, only they can’t seem to decide what direction they’re going in, simultaneously wasting both the rookie contracts of Favors and Kanter and the primes of Jefferson and Millsap.
Now they’re probably going to lose Jefferson for nothing when they could’ve used him as trade bait to build around Favors and Kanter. Supposedly, they might’ve been able to get Eric Bledsoe for Millsap, and someone definitely would’ve given up a few picks for Jefferson.
I’m not going to pretend to understand the inner workings of the Jazz organization. I haven’t agreed with anything they’ve done since Jerry Sloan “resigned.” But their loss is going to be someone else’s gain, and unlike the Paul and Howard sweepstakes, this one’s wide open.
Atlanta makes sense on paper. If they paired Jefferson with Al Horford, they could use the rest of their cap space to bring in a point guard (Brandon Jennings?) and a few role players to try to play Memphis’ style. I doubt it would work; they can’t match the Grizzlies’ defense and Horford isn’t Gasol as a passer, but it at least gets them to 45 wins and the right to get swept by Miami or Chicago in the second round.
I wouldn’t rule out the usual suspects of bad teams with cap space to waste like Charlotte (has it really been four years since the DeSagana Diop signing?), Sacramento (in their ongoing quest to prove that passing is optional), Phoenix (please, take our money! Michael Beasley and Josh Childress aren’t expensive enough!) and Portland (it seems like they miss out on a restricted free agent every year, maybe this is how they beat the system). It might just be Jefferson’s destiny to play on bad teams and put up big numbers. It might explain why he’s never made it out of round one, and his defense doesn’t exactly scream “I can be the third guy on a title team!”
The one X-factor here is Houston. If they miss out on Howard and Paul, this becomes a real option, and if Kevin McHale is willing to change up his playing style a little bit, this could work. Any team with Omer Asik and Jefferson couldn’t run nearly as much as Houston did last year, when they led the league in pace factor.
But Jefferson could hide behind Asik on defense. On offense, Jefferson would thrive playing off of James Harden, and Chandler Parsons would get a ton of open looks from long distance. They’d have to slow down the pace, but the Houston offense would be more effective in playoff-type situations.
Can a Harden-Jefferson-Parsons-Asik core with Lin, Robinson, Beverley and two minimum salary guys win a title? Probably not, but they could at least make the best teams sweat a little bit. If they miss out on the top two, that’s all Daryl Morey can really ask for.
Prediction: Houston Rockets, four years, $48 million
By: Sam Quinn