Rumors are swirling that the Utah Jazz have entered into talks with the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are doing their best to offload Andrew Bynum. Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst, of ESPN, suggest that the Jazz are willing to part with Richard Jefferson in exchange for Bynum. The most likely scenario involves the problematic Bynum being immediately waived, allowing Utah to save about $6 million of Bynum’s contract and avoid paying Jefferson’s full salary (a far too high $11 million for the year).
Dollars aside, the move would be an interesting look into the Jazz organization. Utah entered this year fully expecting to be a poor team, using the season to develop a glut of young potential. To some extent this has been the case. The Jazz have spent nearly all of the season having one of the worst records in the league. Beyond their record, Utah’s offensive rating is 24th in the league and their defensive rating is 29th. One of the things that hasn’t really fit the narrative however, is Richard Jefferson’s role on the team. Utah prefers to use Gordon Hayward at the SG position, which is a better fit than SF if only for the effect it has on his rebounding. This makes the two most likely candidates for minutes at the SF position Marvin Williams and Richard Jefferson. As Marvin has been utilized as a stretch 4, Jefferson has locked up the role of SF, it pushes Enes Kanter to the bench in a much reduced role. Two of general manager Dennis Lindsey’s main objectives for this season, development of Kanter (which requires minutes) and defense, are not looking good.
Jefferson has played the third most minutes for the Jazz so far this season and has started every game. While it’s somewhat hard to fault coach Tyrone Corbin for awarding the minutes to him (due to injuries to start the season and Marvin’s success as a stretch 4), it doesn’t seem to be the most efficient way attack a season that was designed to develop the kids and garner a top draft pick. Jefferson, at 33 years old, isn’t helping very much in either aspect. Though Utah only has 11 wins, they currently have more wins than four teams and have the same amount of wins as three other teams. More disturbing than that is this trend: Since getting Trey Burke and Marvin Williams back, Corbin has been heavily reliant on a starting lineup of Burke, Hayward, Jefferson, Williams, and Derrick Favors and the team as a whole has seen more success going 10-11 in their last 21. If Jefferson is moved, it likely means Marvin Williams moves to the SF spot and Kanter moves back into the starting lineup, relieving concern of under developing Kanter. Jefferson’s removal (and possibly more important, the removal of Marvin as a stretch 4) may help the team fit into the image Dennis Lindsey had originally imagined: Burke, Hayward, Alec Burks (who’s fourth in minutes played despite not starting), Favors, and Kanter getting thrown into the fire, getting better, losing games, getting a top draft pick.
Ty Corbin has found a lineup that has been winning games more quickly than expected. And though it may seem counter intuitive to give so many minutes to a past-his-peak 33-year-old in a development year, it’s also unfair to ask a coach (in a contract year no less) to avoid playing someone he feels makes his team better at that moment. If Jefferson has indeed been offered to Cleveland, it is because Lindsey feels the need to tie Ty’s hands a bit. Depending how how the season progresses, it’s possible we see similar conversations about Marvin Williams who would certainly intrigue many teams pushing for playoff spots.