Monday’s Morning Huddle is a weekly column that highlights all the teams from across the great state of Utah, as well as some national sports news. Author Spencer Durrant can be found on Twitter here, @Spencer_Durrant
About a week ago, some rumors started cropping up about the San Antonio Spurs being interested in trading for Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson (an example of these rumors can be found here and here). While most people not looking to make a living off anonymous sources can agree that the Spurs or Jazz leaking something about a trade is a downright ludicrous proposal, this trade does bring up some interesting questions for Jazz fans. Should the Jazz trade Jefferson? Can they afford to?
Well, if the Jazz decided to pull the trigger on this deal, the proposed trade would send Jefferson to San Antonio in return for Patty Mills, Stephen Jackson, and Tiago Splitter.
While Mills isn’t exactly an enticing point guard prospect (he’s averaged 5.5 points per game with only 1.4 assists in his 3-year career) and Jackson would most likely not sign an extension in Utah following this season, picking up a solid backup big in Splitter is a major plus for the Jazz.
It’s no secret that both Paul Millsap and Jefferson will not return to Utah next season. With potentially both starting big men for Utah walking away, the Jazz would have only Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter to play in the frontcourt. Acquiring Splitter adds depth; he’s a solid backup for the Spurs, averaging 10.5 points and 5.8 rebounds this season.
Now, this brings us back to my earlier point about the Jazz being able to afford trading Jefferson. By afford to, I’m not thinking about the money – I’m thinking about the offensive production that Jefferson gives to Utah. Jefferson is leading the Jazz in scoring at 17.4 points per contest. By trading away Jefferson, the Jazz would be trading away 17 points a game, and I can’t help but wonder which players on the roster will fill that void?
Splitter would bring nearly 11 points a night, but he’d most likely be coming off the bench – unless of course Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin doesn’t want to start Favors at center, in which case either Kanter or Splitter would start. I don’t see Kanter getting the starting nod from Corbin, and that would mean the Jazz traded away their starting center for a backup. To me, that doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Why not keep Jefferson and trade Millsap? Millsap already declined the Jazz’s extension offer earlier this season, and wants to test free agency. Some fans will cite Millsap’s defensive prowess and knack for finishing wild shots around the rim as reasons to try to re-sign him this summer. However, Millsap has always been and will continue to be an undersized power forward in the NBA. Also, trading Millsap frees up the starting power forward slot, a position that Favors is ready and willing to fill. By retaining Jefferson and trading Millsap, Utah gets to keep a veteran starting center and give their power forward of the future a starting role. That option makes much more sense in the long run.
While getting Splitter, Mills, and Jackson from the Spurs for only Millsap probably won’t happen, a myriad of other deals exist in which Millsap could be swapped for some talent. Whether or not those deals happen is up to Utah’s front office.
Enough of this trade talk. Let’s take a look ahead at the schedules for the teams across the great state of Utah.
Utah Jazz (28-24, 5-5 in their last 10)
The Jazz take on only two teams before the All-Star break this weekend, the Thunder of Oklahoma City and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Utah takes on the Thunder at home Tuesday night, then flies up to Minneapolis to play the Wolves Wednesday night. Both of those games are against division opponents, and are important wins for the Jazz to get.
The game against the Thunder is at home, and I give Utah a fighting chance to win. If the Jazz can come out strong and play with energy early against Oklahoma City, they should be able to put themselves in a position to win.
Playing a Minnesota team the night after a battle against the Thunder is going to prove difficult for the Jazz, especially on the road. The Jazz will probably drop this one, going 1-1 this week.
BYU MBB (18-8, 8-4 WCC)
Matt Carlino was named the West Coast Conference player of the week on February 4th, his first time winning those honors this season.
The Cougars are in the midst of league play as they try to prove themselves deserving of an NCAA tournament bid. However, home losses to San Francisco and San Diego pretty much sealed the Cougars’ fate of not going dancing. The Cougars only play one game this week, a Saturday night contest against Portland at 7:00 in Provo. BYU beat Portland the first time around, and should have no problem doing so again. If BYU hopes to make a 7th straight trip to the big dance, their only ticket is to win the WCC tournament, a feat they’re likely to not accomplish.If the Cougars manage to get themselves into the bracket in March, they will own the longest streak of NCAA tournament appearances out of any school in Utah.
USU MBB (17-5, 7-4 WAC)
The Aggies up in Logan are going to be featured in ESPN’s BracketBusters again this season, and that will start on Feb. 23 against Illinois State.
Utah State was a favorite to win the WAC this season before they were hit with injuries and a losing streak through two weeks in January. Sitting at 17-5 and 4th in their conference, they still have a shot to win the WAC.
USU has two games this week, both of them being home contests against Denver on Thursday and New Mexico State on Saturday. The Aggies lost their first game against Denver in Denver, 68-57. Despite that, Utah State is playing better than they were in mid-January and should win this game in the Spectrum.
Saturday’s game will be huge, because it was in Las Cruces against New Mexico State that Utah State had it’s 13-game winning streak snapped. That game also saw injuries to key players Kysiean Reed (torn ACL, out for the season) and Preston Medlin (broken wrist). Look for Utah State to avenge that loss and come out strong against New Mexico State. I think the Aggies can sweep this week, and go 2-0.
UofU MBB (10-13, 2-9 PAC-12)
The Runnin’ Utes are certainly improving from where the were last season, a campaign fans just want to forget. They picked up a good PAC-12 win against Washington, and also beat Colorado. While neither of those teams is exactly a powerhouse, winning conference games is an important element to rebuilding a program that’s been mired in losses for the last few years.
Utah will play Arizona State on Wednesday, their only game this week. This will be a rematch of the overtime thriller in Temple on January 2nd, where the Utes only lost by 1 point. I give Utah a fighting chance to win this game, and fully expect it to go down to the wire.
WSU MBB (16-5, 11-2 BSC)
The Wildcats of Weber State are also playing in ESPN’s BracketBusters, starting with a game against Oral Roberts on February 23rd.
Interestingly, the Wildcats have a better shot of making the NCAA tournament than any other team in the
state. The Utes have already lost too many games, Utah State will have a hard time winning a conference tournament due to injuries, and BYU would most likely have to beat Gonzaga or St. Mary’s in the WCC tourney to get a spot in the brackets. However, Weber State is playing in a Big Sky conference in which they’ve gone 11-2. If they can win the Big Sky Conference tournament (a feat that the folks at http://www.teamrankings.com/ncb/conference-tournaments/big-sky/ think they will achieve) then the Wildcats will be in the big dance come March.
Post-season projections aside, Weber State has three homes games this week. Monday they play Idaho State, Thursday Montana rolls into town, and the Wildcats wrap up their 4-game homestand Saturday against Montana State. Montana and Montana State are the two teams the Wildcats will most likely face in the Big Sky Conference tournament, so winning those two games is important. Even with their close losses to Montana and Montana State in January, I think the Wildcats can sweep the week and go 3-0.
Each week I’ll ask a question via Twitter for fans to weigh in on, bringing you multiple viewpoints on a subject related to a sports team in Utah.
This week, I asked if Jazz fans are satisfied with the development of Favors and Kanter, the potential big men of the future here in Utah.
Tiffanee Gurney (@t_gurney) replied:
As far as the development of the future bigs goes, I’m at a crossroads. Half of me believes that a trade must be made in order for Favors and Kanter to continue their development, and in some sense, break out. I realize that the Jazz want to win while developing the young guns, but for me true development will come when they are given more minutes to produce and thrown into those high pressure situations (4th quarters, overtimes, etc.) Don’t get me wrong, I understand that Al Jefferson is the focal point of our offense and that Millsap is a stud. I just don’t think the Jazz will get any higher in the standing with Jefferson as our #1 option. Ideally I’d love for Millsap to stay and the Jazz to ship out Jefferson. However, if Millsap wants to test the free agent market there’s a good chance we could lose him for nothing. If this is the case then the Jazz need to do something sooner rather than later. Sorry I feel like I’m rambling. To answer your question, no I am not satisfied with the development of Favors and Kanter because of the logjam of bigs. I believe their development is hindered so long as the Jazz play the waiting game. Hopefully I made some sense here.
Cody Christian (@New_OrleansJazz) replied:
For the most part I think Tyrone Corbin has done what he can to attempt to develop them and keep his vets happy. With having Paul and Al in the line-up, Coach Corbin has needed to play a juggling act between keeping them happy and playing Derrick and Enes. When Millsap and Jefferson are on their game, they bring an offensive power that is hard to match. Jefferson has some moves that make it very hard to guard against. Millsap has that same kind of argument to keep him in the game and starting. But my opinion is that Tyrone Corbin has not done enough to develop these two more. I know that the starting lineup should be getting more minutes; but keep playing the hot hand and leave the young guns in the game if they are playing well.
I am a fan who believes that this season is kind of a transition between losing Paul and Al and next season when Favors and Kanter become the big men Jazz fans have looked for. I believe the Jazz are in a very tough spot. Keep the Jazz winning, and develop the young guns to be ready to take over. Favors seems to have the knowledge and the skill to step right in and be a starter at this point in the season. I think Favors should have been starting from day 1; but this is easy for me to say since I am a fan.
Kanter is more of a project though. He is very young, and still is pretty rough. Kanter has his games where I feel that he is going to be a better player than Favors. I feel if we would have started him from day 1 also, he would not be where he is at right now. Playing behind Jefferson has seemed to help show him skills that he needs to succeed in the league. But his playing time has been very inconsistent. He is averaging 14.3 minutes a game; and I think that is way too low. His game against the Bucks showed fans the potential this young player has. In 17 minutes Kanter had, 17 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 assists. I figured he was going to get more minutes in the second half and keep his hot game going. I was wrong; it seemed that Kanter didn’t play much more in the second half and Corbin stuck with Paul, Al, and to a lesser point Favors.
I really think that these two players are the Jazz’s future big men. I feel that if we surround them with the right players; we could have a very good team in a few years. I believe that Favors is ready to be our starter. The Jazz have not had that type of player ever. I am not saying that he is better than Karl Malone; but he has a different skill set from The Mailman did. Kanter is also a player we have not had before. He is so strong and can power his way to the rim. But he is still rough around the edges and is still developing towards being a dominant force in the center. I am looking ahead to the Jazz’s future with anticipation. I really think we have a great future team that will be a force in the west.
My take: patience. If there was one thing that Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan exemplified during his legendary tenure here in Utah, it was patience. A championship team isn’t built overnight. Learning how to win and keeping a group of players together to build camaraderie takes a while. Jazz fans have been used to winning and being in the thick of the Western Conference standings. These last few years, however, that hasn’t been the case. Fans want to see change simply for change, not because it will actually make the Jazz a title-contending team. Give this current group a chance before deciding to blow it all up and start over.
Tune in next Monday for another installment of Monday’s Morning Huddle.