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Kragthorpe: Utah Jazz shouldn't rush to trade Al Jefferson

Published February 13, 2014 10:38 am

NBA • Any deal should benefit Utah's rebuilding process.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Jazz center Al Jefferson displays some traits of the greatest low-post scorers in franchise history, including Adrian Dantley's artistic footwork, Carlos Boozer's mid-range shooting ability and Karl Malone's grammatical charm.

Jefferson also embodies some of the Mailman's competitiveness, which is among the reasons my opinion of him is becoming more favorable.

The Jazz's biggest issue, as they head into the All-Star break after Wednesday's game at Minnesota and anticipate the NBA's Feb. 21 trade deadline, is what to do with Jefferson. His expiring contract will make him a free agent in July, creating options for the team. How the Jazz's management addresses the Jeffersonian Dilemma is central to the franchise's immediate and long-term future.

It's complicated, that's for sure. The answer is not as simple as saying the Jazz should trade him just to get something in return before he walks away. Any deal they make next week must genuinely advance their rebuilding process, not merely bring them some temporary assets that the other party wants to unload.

The Jazz keep showing enough flashes of potential, such as Tuesday's convincing win over Oklahoma City, to make this season's goals worth pursuing, as opposed to starting over with two months remaining. When the injured Mo Williams and Gordon Hayward return, the Jazz should be able to solidify a playoff spot in the Western Conference, and I'll always endorse postseason play as meaningful.

The tricky part of this discussion is that the Jazz have become so dependent on Jefferson that he's both the solution and the problem with their offense.

Averaging 17.5 points and 9.4 rebounds, Jefferson has done more than anyone could have expected of him in his third season with the Jazz. He's the team's closest thing to an All-Star and he cares about winning, by all accounts.

It's just while I've come to appreciate his game more and more, I still say his style — backing in, holding the ball, faking and working for a shot — just doesn't fit the Jazz's traditional offensive approach that calls for the players and the ball to keep moving. To his credit, he's become much more willing to pass in the last month, resulting in the team's field-goal percentage finally climbing above .450, ranking in the top half of the league.

The summary is that even though I don't see him as a long-term fixture here, trading him is not necessarily the right call.

The Jazz should move Jefferson only if they can net a return that's a reasonable percentage of the package they received from New Jersey/Brooklyn for Deron Williams two years ago. They got Derrick Favors, Devin Harris (later traded for Marvin Williams), a first-round draft choice in 2011 (Enes Kanter) and a future first-round pick, which will be conveyed via Golden State this year.

Marvin Williams has been a disappointment, reducing the ultimate worth of the deal, and the other first-round pick is losing value because of Golden State's resurgence. Just imagine if the Warriors had lost a coin flip last spring; the Jazz would have received the No. 8 pick and may have been able to acquire Weber State point guard Damian Lillard, who went to Portland at No. 6. As it was, the Warriors delayed having to give up the pick.

In any case, the D-Will deal should be somewhat of a model for any trade of Jefferson. It actually would make more sense for the Jazz to trade Paul Millsap, as popular as he is, because Favors is better prepared than Kanter to assume a bigger role right now.

For the sake of their future, the Jazz have to commit themselves to Kanter, at some point. I'm just not sure that time is next week.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com Jazz shouldn't rush to trade Jefferson