By Art Garcia, NBA.com
Posted Oct 18 2010 7:19PM
The dice were rolled last season with Carlos Boozer. The burly power forward, one of Utah's franchise cornerstones, was going into the last season of his contract.
The Jazz didn't extend Boozer's deal, as they did with Mehmet Okur in the summer of 2009. General manager Kevin O'Conner also didn't pull the trigger on a Boozer trade, which would have been easy enough to do.
The Jazz instead held on to Boozer, figuring the former All-Star and Olympian was due for a bounce-back year. And while it would probably be his last in Utah, Boozer coming up big would pay dividends for the Jazz.
For a franchise that carefully guards its bottom line, finances play a part in most every Utah decision. And getting the most out of Boozer helped Utah finish 53-29 -- a five-game improvement on the previous season -- and reach the Western Conference semifinals.
Can the Jazz repeat the same stroke of good fortune and receive a better output out of Andrei Kirilenko? The lanky Russian is the owner of the second-largest expiring deal in the NBA, meaning AK-47 is as desirable a trade chip as Boozer was last season. Kirilenko's name was bandied about prominently in a proposed multi-team swap involving Denver's Carmelo Anthony.
"We want Andrei here," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "He's a huge part of what we've done and we need him."
Kirilenko, an All-Star in 2004, was once considered among the league's most-versatile performers at both ends of the court. Should he find that form once again, the Jazz would stand to benefit..
"Look, for the last the 10 years there's so many rumors around me, so I can end up on any team in NBA, but I'm still a Jazz man," Kirilenko said. "Hopefully, I'm going to stay the same way."
Kirilenko isn't the only one being asked to pick up the slack, and Boozer wasn't the only loss. Wesley Matthews signed a monster free-agent contact with Northwest Division rival Portland and Kyle Korver followed Boozer to Chicago.
Among the new pieces joining All-NBA second team point guard Deron Williams are Sloan-favorite Raja Bell, lottery pick Gordon Hayward and double-double machine Al Jefferson.
"We've lost some good players," admitted Sloan who, entering his 23rd season, is easily the league's longest-tenured coach. "Hopefully we have someone that can come in and take their spots and move on. We lost John Stockton and Karl Malone, and came back and won 42 games. And that's the nature of this business. Our job doesn't change."
The Jazz have reached at least the West semis three times in the last four seasons. Jefferson not only replaces Boozer, but the former Minnesota standout is filling in at center while Okur recovers from Achilles surgery. No timetable has been placed on Okur's return.
Jefferson has added about 10 pounds to his 6-foot-10 frame, getting up to 275 to handle the rigors of playing in the middle. Williams figures his passing is going to net Jefferson another 6-8 points a game. Big Al averaged 17 last year with the Timberwolves.
"He's going to score points," Sloan said. "He's still getting comfortable with us and we're still trying to get comfortable with him as well. It takes time and I appreciate his hard work."
Sloan isn't sure how the new-look Jazz will come together. The no-nonsense coach is nothing if not honest.
"We'll see. There's no guarantee of anything," Sloan said. "That's what makes it exciting to see what you come up with. I'll be honest, I hate to lose those players because I thought we were developing some continuity, but they were free agents. That worked for them."
It's also worked out for Paul Millsap. No longer having to worry about Boozer blocking his path, the power forward gig belongs squarely to Millsap. The organization matched a $32-million offer sheet before last season for the 2006 second rounder in another calculated risk.
Such moves illustrate how the Jazz do business. Trading for Jefferson instead of getting into a bidding war for Boozer and sticking with Kirilenko, for now, could come back to bite Utah. Or they could pay off big.
"I know they're committed to win," Williams said of management. "The moves they made this year, I think, made our team better after we lost the guys we lost."
1. GOTTA BE ON POINT
Deron Williams may have graduated to the top of the playmaker class last season. Without his orchestration, the Jazz are an unlistenable tune.
2. FINDING THE RIGHT BLEND
The system in Utah is sound. Getting the additions such as Al Jefferson, Raja Bell (second tour) and Gordon Hayward acclimated quickly is crucial.
3. DOUBLE POWER FORWARD LOOK
Much was made of Paul Millsap and Carlos Boozer playing together. Now it's Millsap and Jefferson who have to make it work.
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LAST YEAR: 53-29, 2nd in Northwest
FINISH: Lost in Western Conference semifinals
2009-10 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2009-10 Stats|
PAUL MILLSAP, FORWARD
11.6 PPG | 6.8 RPG | 1.2 BPG
Scoring and rebounding numbers dipped last season, but so did his role with Carlos Boozer healthy. Poised to step into some bigger shoes again.
ANDREI KIRILENKO, FORWARD
11.9 PPG | 4.6 RPG | 1.4 SPG
Can impact game at both ends, but injuries and attitude have knocked him off track in recent years. This could be a redemption season.
AL JEFFERSON, CENTER
17.1 PPG | 9.3 RPG | 1.3 BPG
Owns nearly 100 career 20-point, 10-rebound games. Takes over at center with Memo Okur on the mend. Finally getting a chance to play for a winner.
DERON WILLIAMS, GUARD
18.7 PPG | 10.7 APG | 4.0 RPG
Consummate quarterback finished third in assists last season and seventh with 44 double-doubles. Also earned first and long overdue All-Star nod.
RAJA BELL, GUARD
11.8 PPG | 3.8 RPG | 2.2 APG
Returns for second stint with Utah after missing most of the last season. Known for his grit, defense and willingness to stand up to anyone.
|C.J. Miles||6-6||210||G||Averaged 9.9 points last season. Can easily move from sixth man to starter if needed.|
|Gordon Hayward||6-8||200||F||Ninth overall pick hopes to make a name for himself as a team-first guy.|
|Sundiata Gaines||6-1||185||G||Former D-League standout provides a burst of energy and enthusiasm, and can light it up.|
ADDED: Gordon Hayward, Raja Bell, Francisco Elson, Earl Watson, Al Jefferson
LOST: Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, Wesley Matthews, Kosta Koufos
PAUL MILLSAP, FORWARD
The questions about his role are gone. Millsap knows he's a starter from Day 1. The challenge now is to remain focused throughout games and expand his presence. There's no need to worry about when he's going in or coming out. "This is the first year he's going to get the minutes he deserves," Deron Williams said.
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