Utah Jazz: Frenzy of free agency looms
All the Jazz know for certain on this final weekend before free agency is that they will have between $46 million and $74 million in salaries committed for next season and between eight and 11 players under contract when the market opens at 10 p.m. Tuesday.
Beyond that, all that exists are scenarios and contingencies.
The team still was waiting for word Saturday from Carlos Boozer ($12.7 million), Mehmet Okur ($9 million) and Kyle Korver ($5.2 million) about opting out of their contracts to become free agents. All three face a Tuesday deadline to make their decisions.
With Paul Millsap also set to become a restricted free agent, the Jazz's most critical decisions of the offseason are upon them, during a summer in which NBA teams are anything but inclined to spend given the national recession.
"Depending on what happens, it'll certainly be a challenge," Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said, adding, "You prepare that everyone leaves and then you work backwards."
The Jazz's preference would be to bring back all four players despite last season's eighth-place finish in the Western Conference and first-round playoff exit, with O'Connor saying, "We'd like to still see what we could do healthy."
Whether that is realistic is another story. Teams can begin negotiating with players Tuesday and signing them to contracts July 8. And O'Connor will be so busy, his attendance for the Jazz's summer-league games in Orlando, Fla., is no guarantee.
There is no pecking order for making decisions, O'Connor said, but there are issues to address with Millsap, Boozer, Okur and Korver.
The Jazz will make a push to re-sign Millsap as soon as free agency begins, O'Connor said, rather than waiting for Millsap to bring them an offer to decide about matching, as they did last season with C.J. Miles, also a restricted free agent.
"I think we'd like to show our loyalty back to him and try and make a deal with him," O'Connor said of Millsap, "and if it doesn't work, then we'd ask him to set the market for himself."
Millsap averaged 16.0 points and 10.3 rebounds last season in 38 games as a starter, including a streak of 19 consecutive double-doubles while Boozer was out with a knee injury, and finished fourth in voting for the NBA's Most Improved Player award.
The Jazz have been clear about their desire to re-sign Millsap, a former second-round draft pick, but the question is what happens if Millsap demands (or commands) a contract that the team considers exorbitant. After making an NBA-minimum $797,581 last season, Millsap's price tag is expected to be in excess of the midlevel exception -- five years, approximately $32 million -- that could be offered by all teams, regardless of their salary-cap situation.
O'Connor, meanwhile, believes the Jazz could make the situation work, if only for a season, if Boozer did not opt out and Millsap was re-signed.
"He's expressed to us that he likes it here," O'Connor said of Millsap, "that he appreciates the fact that he's gotten an opportunity and he's going to compete."
The Jazz have expected Boozer to opt out ever since he made comments asserting as much in December. A two-time All-Star, Boozer wants the security of a long-term contract and considers himself a franchise player for a team.
How much interest there would be in Boozer is uncertain. Only a handful of teams -- Detroit, Oklahoma City and Memphis -- will have the salary cap space to sign Boozer outright. Otherwise, Boozer and the Jazz would have to negotiate a sign-and-trade deal.
The Pistons are expected to have about $17 million to spend, but are believed to have strong interest in Chicago guard Ben Gordon. Even those within the Jazz front office speculate that the Pistons are more likely to make a push for Millsap rather than Boozer.
Boozer voiced a desire to return after the Jazz were eliminated in the playoffs and has received assurances from O'Connor and CEO Greg Miller that the team wants him back as well.
However, Miller questioned Boozer's defense and leadership during a local television interview last month, fueling speculation that the Jazz and Boozer eventually will part ways this summer.
Asked if dealings with Boozer should be straightforward given the professed mutual interest, O'Connor said: "I would say this: that everybody has a number that they like. If those numbers don't work, then it doesn't work."
Barring late agreement on a contract extension by Tuesday, Okur is expected to opt out, even if the decision is primarily based on gaining leverage to continue talks about re-signing with the Jazz.
"That's one of the things that should be on their plate," O'Connor said about players opting out with the intent of re-signing.
So far, extension talks with Okur and others are believed to have not gotten very far, with the Jazz said to be overly cautious and concerned that making a commitment to one player will hurt them in figuring out what to do with the other three.
"I wouldn't take anything out of the equation," O'Connor said about agreeing to an extension with Okur or another player by Tuesday.
Although Okur commented to his Web site earlier this summer about taking $3 million to $5 million less in a new contract to stay in Utah, the Jazz are said to have possibly misread the extent of that hometown discount
Okur, who averaged 17.0 points and 7.7 rebounds and was the NBA's sixth-best three-point shooter at 44.6 percent, would not even be one of the NBA's 20 highest-paid centers next season at $9 million.
Although he has been quiet about his decision, Korver has expressed to others a desire to stay in Utah and is believed to be working on a joint community project with Deron Williams for later in the summer, likely telegraphing his intentions.
The free-agent market is expected to be stronger next summer, with teams around the league clearing cap space to sign a class that could include LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and others, with a trickle-down effect even for players like Korver.
This summer, a third or more of the NBA's 30 teams are looking to cut payroll, as evidenced by last week's trades in which New Jersey (Vince Carter), Phoenix (Shaquille O'Neal) and Milwaukee (Richard Jefferson) gave up on players for relatively little in return.
The NBA's salary cap and luxury tax threshold, set respectively at $56.68 million and $71.15 million last season, are expected to dip for only second time in league history when they are announced.
O'Connor is prepared for chaos but said this offseason still wouldn't match the "misery" of the 2003 summer when John Stockton and Karl Malone both departed Utah.
"It'll be complicated," O'Connor said, "but we still have a decent core and with Paul, we'll negotiate a contract and we'll see what happens."
At the start of free agency Tuesday, the Jazz's roster and payroll could vary widely, depending on the opt-out decisions by Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur and Kyle Korver.
Scenario 1 » Andrei Kirilenko ($16.4 million), Deron Williams ($14 million), Carlos Boozer ($12.7 million), Mehmet Okur ($9 million), Matt Harpring ($6.5 million), Kyle Korver ($5.163 million), C.J. Miles ($3.7 million), Ronnie Brewer ($2.7 million), Eric Maynor ($1.3 million), Kosta Koufos ($1.2 million) and Kyrylo Fesenko ($870,000). Total: 11 players under contract, $73.6 million in salaries.
Scenario 2 » Andrei Kirilenko ($16.4 million), Deron Williams ($14 million), Matt Harpring ($6.5 million), C.J. Miles ($3.7 million), Ronnie Brewer ($2.7 million), Eric Maynor ($1.3 million), Kosta Koufos ($1.2 million) and Kyrylo Fesenko ($870,000). Total: Eight players under contract, $46.8 million in salaries.
Note » The exact value of Williams' salary as a max-contract player will not be determined until the NBA sets its newest cap figure.
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