State of the Cap: Utah Jazz
By Josh Redetzke
2007/08 Utah Jazz Payroll: $58.9 million
2007/08 Estimated NBA Salary Cap: $55 million
Roughly: $3.9 million over cap
[img_assist|nid=3808|title=Deron Williams|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=250|height=256]The Good: To find the answer to Utah’s surprise run to the Western Conference Finals, look no further than Deron Williams. The second-year point guard out of Illinois showed phenomenal improvement this season, increasing his production to 16.2 points and 9.3 assists per game. He basically equaled the numbers of last year’s top rookie, Chris Paul. After a rocky first season, Deron appears to be headed for stardom. He still has two more years under his rookie contract for $4 and $5 million, respectively. By then, there is no telling what more this young man can accomplish. The sky is the limit.
Helping Deron out is one of the best frontlines in all of basketball, led by Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur. Both players signed large contracts to come to Utah and they are finally paying off those investments.
Boozer was a major bust because of bad injuries in two straight seasons. This year, however, Boozer was a force to be reckoned with. He exploded for career highs in points (20.9), rebounds (11.7), assists (3.0), and shooting percentage (56.1). If he can keep those numbers up, Boozer will easily earn the three years and $35 million left on his contract.
Mehmet Okur’s breakout season was last year, but he was able to maintain similar numbers, averaging 17.6 points and 7.2 rebounds and raising his three point shooting to 38.4%. Like Boozer, Okur is also signed for the next three years, but for only $26 million. His deal now seems like a pretty good bargain. Together, Boozer and Okur will keep Utah’s frontline full of talent for quite a while.
Adding to that mix is rookie Paul Milsap who was an incredible find in the second round of the draft. Milsap averaged 6.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, and nearly 1 block per game while playing just 18 minutes a night. Since he was a second rounder, Milsap will make much less than one million a year each of the next two seasons. Utah is getting more than their fair share out of that contract.
The Bad: The career of versatile forward Andrei Kirilenko is in critical condition. The highest paid member of the Jazz, still owed $63 million over the next four years, was once the kind of player who could really fill up a box score. Last year, he averaged 15.3 points, 8 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 3.2 blocks per game, something few players in the league could accomplish. This season, Kirilenko’s numbers plummeted nearly in half. Any player making that kind of superstar money should not be averaging just 8.3 points and 4.7 rebounds a game. A healthy and resurgent Carlos Boozer would explain a small drop in Kirilenko’s production, but not that much. AK-47 needs to get back on track in a big way.
Derek Fisher’s emotional playoff moments were gutsy and admirable considering his family’s situation. Fisher is there to provide veteran leadership and he has done that very well. Unfortunately, his play on the court hasn’t been that great. Fisher averaged a dismal 38% shooting from the field and 30.8% shooting from the three point line. He still has three years remaining on his deal for more than $20 million. The Jazz need Fisher’s outside shooting and those percentages are not worthy of his contract.
The Future: With all the major players signed up for the next few seasons, the Jazz should be a factor in the Western Conference for a while. Their frontline, consisting of Kirilenko, Boozer, and Okur, is easily the most talented group in the league and provide all kinds of matchup problems. With Deron Williams breaking out at the point, all they really need is better depth at guard. Utah doesn’t really have an answer for their backup point guard position and they could use another good three point shooter to help space the floor. A few tweaks might be all this team needs to make a Finals run.
Kirilenko’s play is the only red flag the Jazz need to worry about. With that much money invested and the team on the verge of playing for a championship, AK must overcome the emotional antics he displayed in the playoffs and get back to playing basketball like he used. If Kirilenko can regain his form, Utah will be very tough to stop.
Free Throw: The team took a lot of flak when they selected Deron Williams ahead of Chris Paul in the draft. Then they took even more when Paul won the Rookie-of-the-Year award and Williams struggled through a tough first season. Well, who is laughing now? Williams was able to take his team deep into the playoffs and he just might be the best point guard from the 2005 draft. I have a feeling that will be a close debate for a long time to come.