Utah Jazz: Should They Trade Al Jefferson?

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The Utah Jazz seem set on trading one of the members of their front-line, and Al Jefferson may be on the move, as the San Antonio Spurs were the reported front-runners for the center.

Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com reported Wednesday that the Spurs are indeed the front-runners to land Jefferson.

Trading Jefferson does make sense for the Jazz. However, the logic doesn’t meet the eye instantly.

As of Feb. 7, the Jazz have the seventh seed in the Western Conference and Jefferson has played a monumental role in their success. He ranks 27th in the NBA in player efficiency rating (PER), the ninth-highest rating among centers.

This success puts him in line to land a strapping contract come the offseason, especially if Dwight Howard stays with the Los Angeles Lakers. I know, true centers like Jefferson aren’t exactly the most desirable pieces these days, but he has an acceptable mid-range jumper and excellent footwork.

But, why would the Jazz want to dump Jefferson if he’s been their primary contributor?

Some fans may claim that Paul Millsap would thrive if Jefferson was out of the picture, which wouldn’t be an inaccurate prediction, but it’d also be a fairly obvious one. Utah’s most demanding post player wouldn’t be there to take touches away from Millsap, thus resulting in bigger stat lines. In retrospect, trading Jefferson wouldn’t benefit the Jazz overall, as the center slot in their lineup would be significantly weakened.

However, Utah’s management is thinking ahead. Trading Jefferson now might benefit the Jazz in the long-run, not in 2013.

Realistically, if the Jazz make the playoffs, they aren’t going much farther than the first round, second at best. To be less polite, a championship isn’t in the cards. If it was, these Jefferson rumors would have never surfaced.

Moreover, there’s an extremely low chance that Utah would attempt to retain him in the offseason. No, this isn’t taking a shot at Jefferson’s abilities–he would actually still be in his prime at 28 years old–but the Jazz have a cheaper and suitable replacement in Enes Kanter, who’s averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds per 36 minutes this season.

Kanter would be thrown into the fire in the middle if the Jazz dealt Jefferson. The third overall pick in the 2011 draft would be responsible for keeping Utah’s frontcourt stabilized and ultimately contributing towards the Jazz’ effort to hold onto their playoff spot. For a 20-year-old raw and inexperienced sophomore, this would be quite the task.

To Kanter, however, Utah’s coaching staff would have to stress the fact that their goals aren’t to win a championship this season. Making the playoffs would even be a win. Since Utah would be sacrificing short-term help for long-term wealth, Kanter wouldn’t have much pressure to fret about. Instead, the emphasis would be on his development, which will pave the path for a successful future.

As for what the Jazz could receive in exchange for Jefferson…

Trading Jefferson to the Spurs, for instance, could fetch them a long-term solution at the point guard spot. This position is currently held down by a host of guards, but none of them will be part of the Jazz’ long-term plans. So, trading for someone like Patrick Mills would given them a potential panacea.

The point is, why not get something for someone that will be gone in a few months? The Jazz aren’t championship contenders, so they essentially have nothing to lose in trading their center.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference and ESPN.COM

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