Kragthorpe: Jazz fans need patience as lockout lingers
While owning and operating the Jazz, the late Larry H. Miller was shrewd and impulsive, calculating and emotional.
For all of his business acumen, a big part of his game came from the heart. His good intentions came back to bite the Jazz last season.
As detailed in a study of the biggest payrolls based on average player salaries in pro sports worldwide, the Jazz paid a lot for little in return in 2010-11. It all stemmed from Andrei Kirilenko's max contract, which even Miller, the ultimate visionary in this state, could not picture becoming such a problem for his franchise.
Others could, but they were unsuccessful in stopping Miller from giving Kirilenko the full six years. Sometimes, pro sports owners need to be saved from themselves. And the A.K. contract becomes a relevant example these days. Less guaranteed money is a key component of the owners' stance regarding a new collective bargaining agreement.
That might keep teams from hurting themselves in trying to help themselves, as happened with the Jazz. That's the lesson going forward, and the reason that Jazz followers need to have the most patience of any fan base involved in this process.
As illogical as it sounds, the longer the lockout lasts, the better it will be for Jazz fans. That's unfair to them, because of the way they were cheated in 2010-11, when Jerry Sloan quit, Deron Williams was traded and the team performed poorly at EnergySolutions Arena with a 21-20 record.
Yet if there's going to be anything to cheer about in the coming years, the Jazz's ownership and the other NBA governors need to remain strong and secure a deal with the players that will protect and even benefit small-market teams.
That starts with shortening guaranteed contracts, a phenomenon that effectively ruined the Jazz's season and set the franchise back.
It's true that Kirilenko was the team's best player in 2004, when the contract was awarded. Yet not long after the deal went into effect the following season, it became apparent that whatever growth the Jazz experienced would come mostly from Williams, Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur.
Last season was the killer. While being forced to pay Kirilenko his remaining $17.8 million, the Jazz were stuck. They managed to replace Boozer with Al Jefferson, but also lost Wesley Matthews and Kyle Korver to free agency.
Matthews would have meant the most to the team, based on his continued improvement and the disappointing play of his replacement, Raja Bell. The Jazz's not being able to match Portland's offer sheet for Matthews directly resulted from their Kirilenko obligation.
So now, just when Jazz fans are eager to forget that 39-43 season, those memories may linger awhile. As much as everyone would like to witness the development of Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks four of the top 21 picks in the last two drafts their growth is likely delayed.
The NFL's bargaining talks may have seemed arduous, but those were easy, compared with what the NBA is facing. The football players were motivated to make a deal and the owners could afford to make concessions. That's far less true on both sides of the basketball talks.
Last weekend, the Jazz tried to conduct business, holding a select-a-seat open house to sell ticket packages. I can't fault them for acting as if the season will begin as scheduled in three months, because the alternative is laying off staff members.
But the reality is that the negotiations are just starting and Andrei Kirilenko, once the face of this franchise, is now a symbol of everything that went wrong in the NBA.
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