All signs continue to point toward 21-year-old big man Derrick Favors as a major centerpiece of the Jazz’s future.
While Favors crisscrossed Utah this week, strengthening his bond with fans by visiting remote towns as part of the annual Junior Jazz program, initial contract negotiations quietly began between the small-market organization and longtime power forward Paul Millsap.
The sturdy six-year veteran was offered a three-year extension worth about $25 million, The Salt Lake Tribune has learned, which is the maximum extension Millsap can receive under the new collective bargaining agreement. The proposed deal features an annual 7.5 percent raise, would kick in after Millsap’s current contract expires June 2013, and could keep the career Jazzman in a Utah uniform through June 2016.
Initial indications are Millsap won’t agree to the extension, though, preferring to enter free agency in 2013 with plans to cash in on an inflated 2012 market that saw mid-tier forwards such as Gerald Wallace, Andrei Kirilenko, Nicolas Batum and Ryan Anderson recently receive lucrative multiyear contracts.
Millsap became eligible for an extension July 17, which marked the third anniversary of his “toxic” 2009 deal — a four-year, $32-million frontloaded contract Portland created via a restricted free-agent offer sheet, which Utah matched.
The Jazz’s decision was controversial at the time, and some believed Utah wildly overpaid to keep Millsap, the No. 47 overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft and a backup during his initial four seasons in the league.
Three years later, the 6-foot-8, 253-pound forward has evolved into one of the premier pound-for-pound players in the NBA. He’s the lone holdover from Utah’s 2006-07 team that advanced to the Western Conference finals, and rivaled center Al Jefferson as the Jazz’s most valuable player the last two seasons.
Millsap, 27, averaged career highs in points (17.3), assists (2.5) and minutes (34.3) during a chaotic 2010-11 season that saw All-Star guard Deron Williams traded and Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan resign. The former Louisiana Tech standout followed with an equally strong 2011-12 campaign, averaging 16.6 points and a career-high 8.8 rebounds while shooting 49.5 percent from the field in 64 games (62 starts).
Millsap is open to remaining with the Jazz, and Utah ideally would like him to end his career in Salt Lake City without changing teams. But everything from the Jazz’s long-standing frontcourt logjam to the economic realities of the NBA are pushing Millsap toward free agency. Moreover, little has changed from the start of the 2011-12 season, when Millsap was the Jazz’s best overall player yet most tradable asset.
Utah general manager Kevin O’Connor has often said the Jazz’s frontcourt buildup is a blessing, comparing it to the “problem” of having too much starting pitching in baseball. But while Utah would like to keep Millsap — the Jazz wouldn’t have offered an extension this week if that wasn’t the case — the organization must also keep its long-term vision intact.
Utah could have as many as eight players under expiring contracts this season and one with a 2013-14 player option. A Jazz organization once widely associated with multimillion-dollar luxury tax payments has spent years building toward the summer of 2013, either by shedding overpriced veteran contracts or drafting/trading for young athletes still playing under rookie-scale wages.
While the Jazz have exceeded expectations post D-Will, they’ve also yet to make a full, clear commitment to their next era. All-Star point guard Devin Harris and his $8.5 million expiring contract were recently traded; Utah holds a team option on coach Ty Corbin for 2013-14; the Jazz have yet to sign even a mid-tier free agent to a long-term deal.
Millsap’s future is the first issue Utah must confront. All signs point toward Utah’s longest-tenured player entering free agency in less than a year. And Jefferson could join him.