By David Aldridge, TNT analyst
Posted Jul 14 2009 6:08AM
LAS VEGAS -- I'm trying to get worked up about this Paul Millsap offer sheet. I really am.
The way it's being written and discussed by some, the future of the Jazz future is in the balance. The next seven days will determine all. The statues of Stockton-to-Malone will melt in the summer sun if the Jazz doesn't match Portland's four-year, $36 million sheet on Millsap, the restricted free agent forward. And if they do match, they may have to trade Carlos Boozer, and how could they possibly go on if that happens?
People, get a grip.
The Jazz, most NBA types at the NBA Summer League believe, will take the full seven days they're alloted, and then match the offer sheet. Then, they'll trade Boozer. Simple as that. Either way, the Jazz will be okay.
If Utah doesn't match on Millsap, it keeps Boozer for the last year of his contract, then holds its breath as Boozer explores free agency following the season. In a normal economy, Boozer would have numerous suitors that would pay him something approaching, if not exactly, the mega-contract he'd be expecting. But in a severe recession, with the luxury tax projected by the league to fall as low as $69 million for the 2010-11 season, the number of teams that will be active in free agency could well be cut in half. Maybe a bigger fraction. Bottom line, Boozer may not find the $80-$90 million payday he'd anticipated before this summer, and that's advantage, Jazz. For that will make the team's options greater; a smaller contract will be easier to shop in potential sign-and-trade manuevers.
If Utah matches the Millsap sheet, it will look to move Boozer before the trade deadline next February. This notion, advanced by some, that Utah is somehow under the gun and has to make a decision on Boozer in the next couple of weeks is nutty. The Jazz will write the $10.3 million check owed to Millsap within 10 days of matching, as is required under the terms of the deal, and then methodically move toward a Boozer trade. Whether that takes days, weeks or months is irrelevant.
The Miller family, which is now running the franchise since the death of patriarch and owner Larry Miller last March, has already given general manager Kevin O'Connor its okay if it has to pay luxury tax next season and in the immediate seasons to come. O'Connor had already braced them for the implications of going into the tax before Mehmet Okur, Boozer and Kyle Korver each opted to play out the final years of their respective contracts instead of becoming free agents.
"They're committed," O'Connor told me two weeks ago.
Those who think Portland's going to roll over the Jazz don't know who they're dealing with. Utah isn't flashy or sexy, but the people in the Jazz organization aren't chumps, either. The very stability that allows Jerry Sloan to coach the team his way, year after year, allows O'Connor to do his job, day after day. He has the complete trust of the Miller family to do whatever he thinks is best for the team. There is next to no micromanaging. And while the Miller family doesn't want to pay tax in perpetuity, Larry Miller's, shall we say, hardline approach on salaries has left his team in excellent financial health, relative to other teams around the league.
So O'Connor, a tough guy from Central Casting, isn't going to be pressured by local or national media into any kind of panic move.
Ask yourself: If the Jazz's bank account was in arrears, why would they have so quickly given Okur a two-year extension at more than $10 million per year?
Nor was it much of a secret that the Jazz wouldn't have minded in the least if Boozer had opted out of his deal and sought greener pastures elsewhere. Boozer's history of injuries the past few seasons has eroded his base of support in the SLC; Utah fans were quite nonplussed when Boozer, last December, said he was opting out of his contract. And he's never made a secret of his affinity for Miami, where he has an offseason home. (To be fair to Boozer, part of the reason he's so fond of Miami is that his son, Carmani, was able to get the treatment there for his sickle cell anemia that helped save the boy's life. Any parent understands this, just as you understand why Derek Fisher felt compelled to play again for the Lakers, knowing that his daughter could be treated better for her leukemia in Los Angeles than in Salt Lake City.)
At any rate, it's clear that Boozer is due for a change of scenery. But the Jazz won't have much problem making a deal happen. Remember, Boozer is now an expiring contract, at a large number ($12.6 million) that will be attractive to teams looking to be 2010 ready. If the Heat wanted to make a deal, a package of Udonis Haslem (expiring at $7.1 million) and James Jones (partially guaranteed in each of the last three seasons of his contract, which has four years remaining) would get the job done easily. Miami also has a juicy $4.3 million trade exception from last season's Shawn Marion deal that it could use to take, say, a C.J. Miles from Utah for a draft pick.
If Detroit, which has been rumored for some time now, wants to move Rip Hamilton for Boozer, a straight up deal for Hamilton ($11.6 million) fits the bill. And Hamilton fits the bill of a Jerry Sloan two-guard, running sets to perfection, the best in the league at coming off screens, and able to run all day.
If Houston wants to hedge its bets against Yao Ming's future, and give Luis Scola some help inside, if only for a year, it has the document -- Tracy McGrady's expiring $22 million contract -- to get to chatting. It's unlikely Utah would part with Boozer and Matt Harpring, long a Sloan favorite, for basketball reasons. But that would be a relatively painless way for the Miller family to get out of tax hell relatively quickly.
What is not going to happen is a three-way deal between Utah, Chicago and Portland that was out in the trade winds last week. I don't deal in rumored trades because they're just that -- rumors, and someone else's sources are not mine. I will just say this: two of the three teams mentioned in that potential deal have told me, flat out, that there was never one minute's discussion about that reported deal in their offices. If these guys are lying to me, it's the first time, and while anything is possible during this silly season, it would be terribly disappointing.
The spreading of that rumor has led more than one team to repeat the charge, often heard around the NBA, that potential "deals" that involve the Blazers -- and, pointedly, always seem to favor the Blazers -- are conveniently leaked at optimum times.
"Those guys spend an awful lot of time making sure everyone knows how smart they are," sniffed a rival GM, and how much of that sentiment is jealousy from teams that don't have the wherewithal to buy draft picks at will and stash prospects overseas, the largesse of a billionaire owner at their backs, I leave to your good minds to discern.
For their part, the Blazers are in a no-lose situation with Millsap -- get him, and they add to their already formidable frontcourt depth, with enough potential flexibility (the expiring contracts of Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw) to absorb the deal and still be able to get extensions to Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. If not, the Blazers get their $7 million in room back and will still be the team that anyone looking to do an unbalanced deal will have to call -- and that's a scenario under which they might be able to pry, say, Kirk Hinrich from Chicago. And Portland also has a $2.9 million trade exception available from last year's deal with Sacramento for Ike Diogu. They also have a 54-win team to build on, with Greg Oden looking like he'll be ready to rock.
Don't cry for them, Salt Lake City.
All of this will be made clear when Utah makes its decision on Millsap. It should not surprise you if the Jazz take six days, 23 hours and 59 minutes before making it public. They're ornery that way.
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