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Utah Jazz: Utah faces likely roster shakeup during bad economy

Published May 2, 2009 11:03 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The only thing safe to assume is that the Jazz will not be bringing back 13 players from their current roster for next season, much as they did for the 2008-09 season, an almost unprecedented number in today's NBA.

With as many as nine players who could be free agents, the Jazz will head into an offseason of uncertainty at a time of economic uncertainty, with salary-cap numbers projected to drop and NBA teams expected to be hard hit by the recession.

For the Jazz, the offseason will be defined by the opt-out decisions Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur and Kyle Korver have to make by June 30. Each can opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent.

The advisability, however, of doing so in this free-agent market is unsure. The NBA's summer very well could resemble Major League Baseball's winter. Sixteen of 30 MLB teams slashed payroll, with Opening Day payrolls down a collective $47 million.

Boozer is set to make $12.7 million, Okur $9 million and Korver $5.2 million for 2009-10. Should none of those three opt out, the Jazz would have more than $71 million in salary committed to nine players, not counting restricted free agent Paul Millsap.

That would position the small-market Jazz to be luxury-tax payers, something ownership is determined to avoid. The Jazz's payroll this season was $65.3 million, the big difference coming with Deron Williams' contract extension kicking in for 2009-10.

The biggest questions all pertain to Boozer, who voiced his desire to return to Utah as the Jazz cleaned out their lockers Tuesday after their five-game elimination at the hands of the Lakers in their first-round playoff series.

It is far from simple for Boozer. The best advice might be to play out the last season of his contract -- in Utah or elsewhere -- and hit the free-agent market in 2010, when teams are clearing salary-cap space for a class that could be headlined by LeBron James.

The Jazz, meanwhile, could sign Boozer to a contract extension before June 30, but doing so would be a huge leap for a player -- even a two-time All-Star -- who has played in only 276 of a possible 410 games (67.3 percent) in five injury-plagued seasons in Utah.

Given his desire to sign a long-term contact, Boozer is expected to opt out, though that decision would not come without risk. The only teams with the cap space to sign Boozer outright as a free agent are likely Detroit, Oklahoma City and Memphis.

If Boozer opts out, the Jazz could either re-sign him -- as Washington did with Gilbert Arenas last summer -- work out a sign-and-trade to acquire players and/or draft picks in return, or watch Boozer sign elsewhere while receiving payroll relief.

If Boozer doesn't opt out, the Jazz still could look to trade him, with Boozer having added value as an expiring contract . With the NBA salary cap projected to drop by as much as $2 million, the trade market is expected to be hot and the free-agent market frozen.

The Jazz are likely to face a decision of keeping Millsap or Boozer. Millsap has been far more durable, missing only six games the last three seasons, and had a streak of 19 consecutive double-doubles starting while Boozer was out with a knee injury.

With Millsap a restricted free agent, the Jazz can match any offer he receives from another team. They have every intention of doing so, but the question is whether they will push to sign him immediately July 1 or wait for Millsap to bring them an offer to match.

Williams seemingly offered his endorsement of Millsap this week, saying: "That's what you want on your team. You want those type of players, guys who are going to come out and do their job and work hard."

Both Okur and Korver would be happy to stay with the Jazz and sign extensions this summer, but the likelihood of the Jazz making such long-term commitments given the economy seems slim unless they feel they are getting a below-market deal.

It appears unlikely the Jazz can avoid being luxury-tax payers and bring back both Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko. Kirilenko is owed $34.3 million through 2010-11, an especially unappealing contract for teams trying to clear cap space for the summer of 2010.

Kirilenko is projected to be tied with Pau Gasol as the NBA's 11th-highest paid player next season. There could be a taker for Kirilenko's contract in Golden State, where coach Don Nelson long has been among the Russian forward's biggest fans.

Nelson has threatened to trade Jamal Crawford unless the guard opts out of the final two years and $19.4 million on his contract. The Warriors also owe Corey Maggette $39.7 million for the final four years on the contract Maggette signed just last summer.

Maggette signed a six-year, $42 million offer sheet with the Jazz as a restricted free agent in 2003, which the L.A. Clippers opted to match. The Jazz reportedly expressed interest in Maggette as a free agent again last summer.

Speaking generally, Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said he would not be opposed to taking on a long-term salary commitment in a potential trade if it was the best basketball decision.

The Jazz also have to decide this summer about trading the unprotected first-round draft pick they are owed from New York in 2010 or holding on to it for themselves. It likely would be one of the most attractive trade chips on the market.

If they keep it, the Jazz could have a lottery pick coming from the Knicks. If this season was any indication, New York finished with the league's eighth-worst record and will have a 2.8 percent chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick and a 10 percent chance of a top-three pick.

Such a pick could provide a sweetener should the Jazz try to pursue a center with a bloated contract such as Philadelphia's Samuel Dalembert (owed $24.9 million), the Clippers' Chris Kaman ($33.9 million) or Milwaukee's Andrew Bogut ($60 million).

As for the rest of the roster, Ronnie Price, Jarron Collins, Brevin Knight and Morris Almond are unrestricted free agents, with Almond the only certainty not to return. The Jazz also have until June 15 to exercise an $870,000 option to bring back Kyrylo Fesenko for 2009-10.

By matching the four-year, $14.8 million offer sheet C.J. Miles signed with Oklahoma City, the Jazz cannot trade Miles without his consent until July 25, the one-year anniversary of that move.

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Super salary

Andrei Kirilenko is set to be the NBA's 11th-highest paid player next season, assuming nobody eclipses his $16.5 million salary in free agency.

Player, Team, 2009-10 salary

1. Tracy McGrady, Houston, $23.2M

2. Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers, $23.0M*

3. Jermaine O'Neal, Miami, $23.0M

4. Tim Duncan, San Antonio, $22.2M

5. Shaquille O'Neal, Phoenix, $20M

6. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas, $19.8M

6. Paul Pierce, Boston, $19.8M

8. Rashard Lewis, Orlando, $18.9M

9. Ray Allen, Boston, $18.8M

10. Michael Redd, Milwaukee, $17.0M

11. Andrei Kirilenko, Jazz, $16.5M

11. Pau Gasol, L.A. Lakers, $16.5M

*Bryant can opt out of his contract this summer. Also, Bryant and O'Neal are not tied, even though their salaries round to be the same.

Where they stand

Carlos Boozer » Voiced his desire to return to Utah as the team cleaned out their lockers Tuesday. He is set to make $12.7 million million for 2009-2010 but can opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent.

Mehmet Okur » Is set to make $9 million for 2009-2010 but can opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent.

Paul Millsap » Is a restricted free agent, the Jazz can match any offer he receives from another team.

Kyle Korver » Is set to make $5.2 million for 2009-2010 but can opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent.