Paul Millsap has served six long seasons in the Salt Lake City for the Utah Jazz. The first four were spent shackled to the bench as he played behind the once dominant Carlos Boozer before Boozer bolted to the Chicago Bulls. Since Boozer’s departure, Millsap has developed into one of the Jazz’s unlikely stars alongside fellow big man Al Jefferson. With Millsap set to become a free agent in 2013, Jazz fans have been debating all season who to sign this coming offseason – Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap? The team has remained tight-lipped on the situation, but it is beginning to appear more and more likely Jefferson will return for Jazz next season while Paul Millsap suits up in a new jersey.
Millsap’s numbers are currently sitting slightly above his career averages, indicating little room for improvement for the 27-year-old former second round pick. However, despite seeming already reaching his peak, there are still a whole lot of teams that would be more than happy with what the 6’8” power forward can bring to the table in his current state.
Fuelling speculation that Millsap will find his way elsewhere either through a mid-season trade or in the coming free agency period has been recent coaching decisions by Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin. Millsap hasn’t seen more than 30 minutes in a game since a victory over the San Antonio Spurs on the 12th of December. That’s nine straight games – two wins and seven losses – where Millsap has failed to his minute average from last season. He had seen over 30 minutes in seven out of the nine games prior to this stretch. If he was playing 27-30 minutes consistently, it wouldn’t be a concern. But nights like the 20 minute performance against the Clippers last Sunday are a cause for concern for those who want Millsap back in Utah next season.
The expressive Millsap also sat out the entire last quarter, despite the Jazz only trailing by 3 at the final break. Coach Corbin instead gave the nod to promising back-up Derrick Favors who contributed 11 points and 7 rebounds in the double-digit loss. When asked whether he was frustrated with Corbin’s decision post-game, Millsap let his feelings be known.
“What do you think?” he told Jody Genessy from the Deseret News, “I’ll let you answer that.”
Benching Millsap was a bold statement by Corbin who felt that the Jazz had a better chance at victory with 21-year-old Derrick Favors. For an undecided free agent, it’s moves those that will linger in his mind when the organization attempts to convince him that he’s a valued member of the team; and that’s if they try to convince him to stay.
Putting aside the money and production, the reason the Utah Jazz must stick with Al Jefferson over Paul Millsap is very simple – the Jazz already have their future power forward, but need their current Center. In a cruel twist, the Utah Jazz has the wonderful headache that they had 2010: an embarrassment of riches at power forward.
Just as the Jazz let Carlos Boozer walk in 2010 because they had their new power forward in Paul Millsap, they look set to and rightfully should depart with Millsap in 2013 to make way for an increased opportunity for Derrick Favors. Since being drafted third overall in 2010 for the Nets, Favors has began to develop a potent post game while improving his already stellar interior defense to become one of the Jazz’s best two-way players.
While the Jazz have a ready-made replacement for Millsap in Favors, they lack one in Jefferson. Only Enes Kanter sits behind Jefferson in the depth chart and is yet to show any sign of being a capable starter just yet.
With Kanter still far too raw to assume starting responsibilities into the future, the Jazz would have to seek a new starting Center if they decide to try to keep Paul Millsap and let Al Jefferson walk. The 2013 free agency doesn’t yield much promise, unless the small-market Jazz can miraculously woo top flight prospects Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum away from the shores of sunny Los Angeles and the hometown tidings of Philadelphia respectively. Besides those two, the next best options would be Dallas’ Chris Kaman and Milwaukee’s Samuel Dalembert. Alternatively, the Jazz could try to boldly snare a Center in the upcoming draft which is set to be heavy with big men. Centers that may be within the Jazz’s draft range include Pittsburgh’s Steven Adams and Kansas’ Jeff Whithey. They could also trade up to take Maryland’s Alex Len or Frenchman Rudy Gobert.
Ultimately however, the Jazz would be taking a radically risky approach by trying to find a new starting Center through the draft, and the 2013 free agent pool is very bare at Center. It doesn’t make sense to let your only quality Center go while keeping a disgruntled quality power forward to start over another young power forward with a tonne of potential. It must also be noted that Derrick Favors could opt out of his contract in 2015 and hit free agency, so the Jazz must try to appease their young gun in the next two seasons or risk losing him.
The decision in the Utah front office going forward should not be whether or not to resign Paul Millsap when the season finishes, but only what deal to take when trading him before the deadline. He’s been a loyal and solid contributor to the franchise for almost seven years, but it’s in the best interest of the player and the team that Millsap finds a new team before the trade deadline in February.