Offseason Target Roundtable Discussions: Al Jefferson

May 7, 2012; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson (25) and San Antonio Spurs forward DeJuan Blair (45) battle for position and who gets to go first in the conga line. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

As the NBA Finals gets underway, and the Miami Heat battle the Oklahoma City Thunder for supremacy over who is the best team to have their season ended last year by the Dallas Mavericks(that's what their playing for, right?), the rest of the league is left to idly sit on their thumbs and ponder how they might improve.

Last week, as the Memphis Grizzlies were still in the process of finalizing an ownership sale, rumors began to circulate that the team was shopping their star(ish) small forward, Rudy Gay. The SB Nation blog Straight Outta Vancouver decided to open up the floor for trade proposals from other blogs in the SB Nation family, an exercise that saw numerous responses.

Prompted by this fun bit of fantasy-GM'ing, the good people at SLC Dunk followed with their own version and Big Al Jefferson as the prize.

Dallas doesn't have as sexy a trade bounty to offer as other teams, but, giving it a long look, this was the best offer I could come up with:

DAL trades: Lamar Odom ($8.2 mil ETO), Vince Carter ($3.12 mil ETO), Rodrigue Beaubois ($2.3 mil), and the 17th pick

UTA trades: Al Jefferson ($15 mil)

This reduces Utah's total salary next year to approximately $37 mil, gives them a young developing player with upside at a position of need, and gets the Jazz back into a very deep draft.

Although we didn't end up submitting this trade proposal by email, the writers here at Mavs Moneyball did have a discussion on the merits of Jefferson, as well as the center market in general, and what the Mavs have to offer any potential trade partner. I decided to post a transcript of this in what may be the first of many OFFSEASON TARGET ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSIONS.

AllThatJazzBasketball:

Encouraged by the awesome work done by Tom at http://www.straightouttavancouver.com/ and his on-going Rudy Gay trade-a-palooza we at SLC Dunk have been getting reader requests to do a similar thing for Al Jefferson. I'd love it if each of you smart, talented bloggers would throw me an offer. It is as if our manager is out of town and we must liquidate all Al Jefferson stock.I would accept Pistol Pete VHS movies for him.

andytobo:

Didn't we already turn him down when we could have had him for two draft picks?

tomkanti:

I can come up with something, but Al's high salary made our GM shun any potential trade for him, even if it was for a few draft picks.

Tim Cato:

Didn't get him with Dampier's contract, we got Chandler instead.

Alan Smithee:

I think Jefferson makes some sense, given that his contract comes off the books next year. The big reason I think Dallas passed on him two seasons ago was because the years left scared them off, not necessarily the annual salary. Defensively he's not a great fit with Dirk, but it's intriguing, at least.

The best Dallas can probably do without involving a third team is Odom+Carter+DoJo/Roddy. I don't know if Utah is quite that desperate to lose him. They could probably do better.

Boweman55:

Jefferson's defensive liabilities pretty much make it silly to even think about. And he'd take away even more touches from Dirk.

andytobo:

Let's just Indecent Proposal it. I will trade one night of passion for Al Jefferson

Alan Smithee:


I think if Jefferson was paired with a defensive minded center, he could be a terrific super sub guy, a third big man. Dallas has had success using an overqualified player in this capacity before(Jamison). I'm not worried at all about taking touches from Dirk, since Dirk is one of the most adaptable superstars in the league. I'm worried about the team finding anyone who can score. Dallas went from 7th last year in defensive efficiency to 8th this year; they went from 8th in offensive efficiency to 20th. Chandler's departure hurt them so much more at the offensive end than on D.

Jefferson has warts, but, I think Carlisle is smart enough to use him in a way that downplays his weaknesses and best utilizes his strengths, which is low block to midrange dominance punctuated by the most turnover-averse offensive game in basketball. And, Jefferson, unlike most of the guys the blogosphere is tossing around, fits perfectly if the goal is still to sign Dwight Howard. He's good enough to be a decent trade chip if they want to put together a blockbuster package, and if not, he comes off the books next year, so he wouldn't interfere with a free agent pursuit.

And, for what it's worth, his defensive plus/minus, while not great, was much better this year than in previous years.

Okafor is banged up and has a tricky contract. Camby is starting to look like the crypt-keeper. Kaman is decent but, on the whole, pretty unexceptional. Omar Asik is unproven and may be even more of a headache on offense than Haywood. That's probably the best Dallas can do with the center crop on the market.

And Fisher's note from yesterday: "We're told the Mavs are completely unsold on the idea that there is a true draft-elible center ready to step in and be a rotation player here. "

It's worth noting that Utah doesn't have a draft pick. And, I remember Roddy had some of his best games against the Jazz, who are a little light at guard. Would Odom+Carter+Roddy+17th pick for Jefferson be enough?

I'm sure there would be a few in Mavsnation that would be less than thrilled with that, but looking at the approach Dallas has had in the past, and with what their realistic options are for upgrading the center position, it wouldn't be a completely shocking move.

andytobo:

Overall, I think you have to decide how into a low post threat you want to be. The Mavericks single-minded dedication to stretch fours-fives has survived every Raef LaFrentz, Keith Van Horn and Nick Fazekas over the years and appears to remain perfectly intact. Have never tried to get a post guy. Have never shown much interest.

He's also a pretty decent rebounder, and, because of his contract and defensive deficiencies, pretty underrated. 19-10-1.7 last year, 22+ PER, 27 years old.

But, ultimately, if the Mavs are going to do what they want to do, and specifically because they CAN'T afford it, and Williams, and a defensive center to clean up afterwards, they can't take him on period--and especially not behind a guy who'll play 35 minutes a game or so. PF is literally the only position they don't have an absolute need at, at this point.

Alan Smithee:

Jefferson can and does play in the low post, but he's drifted away from the basket more and more since his days in Minnesota. In '09, 70% of his shots were inside ten feet. That percentage dropped to 58% last year, and was at just 53% this year. As he's become more adept from 16 feet out, that shot has become more and more a part of his game. Honestly, I'd prefer him to play inside more often, since he's so good in there.


Defensively, he's slow moving laterally, but he can block a shot or two. He's averaged close to 2 blocks a game for his career, and if we remember he had a huge block on Ian Mahimi late in that crazy triple OT game against Dallas, in addition to 28 and 26. You don't want him overexposed on D, but that's where Carlisle comes in. If he's getting 28-30 minutes as a bench ace(the center version of Jason Terry), then he becomes immensely useful.

I'm not exactly sure if I'm following you on the money: They currently have 41.4 mil under contract, not including options on Odom, Carter, and the six figure options on Wright and Azubuike. If they traded Odom+Carter+Roddy+pick for AlJeff, then they could should still have enough cap space to sign Deron, based on what are still projected cap numbers for next year. They'd also have the MLE, and they have bird rights on Jason Kidd, Terry, Mahinmi,and Cardinal, all of which would allow them to exceed the cap. The thing is, exceeding the cap in '11-'12 is OK, or, rather, I'm guessing would be acceptable for Cuban if it put a title contender out there. Exceeding the cap after then is where it gets dangerous. This is why Chandler was let go, and why I think trades for guys like Okafor, Biedrins, etc. are iffy.

The talk about amnestying Haywood and getting a defensive ace at center glosses over some key issues. 1) How are they going to get this player 2) Is that player really better than Haywood 3) If you amnesty Haywood you the task becomes not just replacing one center position, but replacing two, in addition to whatever else.

I think it is possible that, when the free agent market comes into focus better, and the options are on the table, Dallas might decide there isn't any real advantage to amnestying Haywood. In the aftermath of his disappointing performance against OKC, we were maybe expecting it to happen at the first opportunity, but that is a reactionary move, not necessarily the right one. Based on the way the team is talking about Haywood and his "stretch" provision, I feel like they would much, much rather trade him than amnesty him. Not being able to pull off the former doesn't mean they'll settle for the latter.

andytobo:

Would that it weren't true, but in general following me on cap matters is a Donner party level mistake though I'd like to think--we're all friends here--that we'd eat each other in common, and have no need of murder. That being said, you're right to point out that Odom, Carter, Roddy works perfectly well, salary wise, and is actually not that bad a trade since Odom and Carter have cap perks and Roddy has some potential left--though, unfortunately, it predominantly shows itself AGAINST Utah.

There is even some evidence that Jeff is underrated as a defender. His .84 ppp allowed is just .04 under Tyson's, and though he gets ate up in Iso (.88 to Tyson's .59), he's not too bad in the post, against the roll man...

But the problem, in my eyes, is this. No way Terry comes back for a one year deal, and someone will almost certainly want to pay him more than the Mavericks in any case. Besides that, Mahinmi can do better than a one year deal but didn't much look like a salary cap buster in his performance last year which is both good (for the bottom line) and very bad (being able to retain Ian Mahinmi isn't the most exciting news I've heard even in this last hour). So let's say we have Dirk, Haywood, Marion, Kidd, Azubuike, Wright, Cardinal, Mahimni, and we're going for Al Jeff and Deron. Let's say we get them. Well, we only gotta pay Jeff next year, so in some ways it's a perfect chance to fill a nearly Dwight Howard sized hole for exactly the amount of time we might need, in the off chance that D-Howard gets to the next offseason without A) signing an extension with Orlando or B) Getting traded because he won't sign an extension and mutual patience doesn't last forever.

Obviously there'd be more guys than the 10 listed above, but basically:
Depth chart:
PG: Deron, Kidd
SG: ....Azubuike? Jones? Draft pick?
SF: Marion, Draft pick?
PF: Dirk, Cardinal
C: Al Jeff, Haywood, Mahinmi, Wright

It's not that the Mavericks can't afford Jefferson and Deron, they probably can, especially since I do believe this year's cap will be the highest one in some time and for some time (though, again, me and cap, like Sigourney Weaver and face-eating monsters. It's that that's all they'll be able to afford, and I'm not even worried about the fact that it's hard not to imagine them, after this signing, being Callista Flockhart thin at SG and SF (is that a joke that people still get?). We've been spoiled by having such a deep team, we forget that most teams have pretty bad players at important positions, and certainly pretty bad benches. Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals featured 2 Celtics bench points (from Ryan Hollins) and 19 Heat bench points (from Bosh, usually a starter). And that's it.

But with five positions in need of some help, an Al Jeff signing seems, more or less, exactly what it seemed like when it was offered before last year--putting money in one place when it was desperately needed elsewhere. The Mavericks are paper thin at every position. Though Al may be a little more of a Cthan a PF, it's not by much, and you certainly wouldn't want to put Dirk and Al together too often--if Roddy kills the Jazz with Al Jeff and Millsap, who would appear to be, though not considerably, a better defender than Dirk or Jefferson, imagine those two together. He's a black hole, having broken 2 assists a game for the first time last year. He doesn't seem to me to have too much of a motor, and I don't think Rick Carlisle would like him very much.

If the Mavericks did swing a friendly trade for Big Al, I wouldn't be too upset, I would be intrigued, and it would be the first time the Mavericks had somebody of his skillset. But though, after Deron, there are ways to have more money than people need, there are also needs out the whazoo and it's hard to see that using it all in this way, even if only for one year, is the right thing to do.

Side note: Isn't it amazing how many of the Mavericks problems are the same they've been having for over a decade? How many offseason are we going to go looking for an athletic swingman with some dribble penetration potential, or defensive help at the 5? Sheesh.

Alan Smithee:

Though I do like the player, I think I am less advocating Jefferson than I am a advocating having a realistic outlook on what the Mavs' options are at the center spot.

I mean, when you look around the internet, beit blogs, supposed "news media", or just random fansanity scribbled on the walls of cyberspace, you kind of get the impression everyone thinks "Hey, we have money now! Amnesty Haywood! Go get better! Yay!"

While it is true that Dallas has some financial flexibility, and certainly more than they've had at any point in recent memory, I think maybe the thought process about what to do now is a bit off. They'll have enough cap room, theoretically, to money-whip a big fish, but there's really only one of those out there, if that cap space goes to said big fish, their remaining assets are not plentiful. Odom's contract might get you something but I doubt much. Roddy or Wright might still have some value to select teams as a developmental piece. And there's the draft pick(next year's pick will go to Houston unless the team is at the bottom of the playoff picture again).

None of those three, individually, I think, guarantee you a quality rotation player. Odom's contract might net you a reclamation project, like Dampier got us Chandler, but that's a best case scenario, and those type of gambits miss more often than hit. Roddy is Roddy, in that we don't know what he is, and I doubt too many other teams would give up a lot for that. The 17th pick could get you a rotation player, or it could get you a guy who sits for a year or two(or three), or it could get you a bust.

Meanwhile, I think the parameters for any potential trade target are limited by what I continue to see as an organizational goal to limit as much as possible the salary due past this next season. It is evident in the fact(s) that they let basically all their free agents from a championship team go, that all the replacements for said free agents had contracts that allowed for termination prior to the end of next season, and that for one of the few times I can ever remember in the Cuban era, there was virtually no talk of taking on salary or otherwise bolstering the unit at the trade deadline, or in post-deadline waiver scavenging.

So, keeping that in mind, as well as what I've said previously about Haywood and that there may not really be any advantage in amnestying him right now, what is the best reasonable alternative to a Jefferson or Jefferson-like maneuver? That's really the question. Looking at the assets you have, you're either looking at three to five "meh" pieces, or you try and put them all together for the one pretty good piece, or one pretty good piece and a throw in, and then fill out the roster by resigning whomever you can from the bird right guys, and veteran minimum deals.

If Al Jefferson, Shawn Marion and Jason Kidd are your third, fourth and fifth best players, you have a pretty good team, even if the rest doesn't light one's hair on fire.

Tim Cato:

An Al Jefferson/Dirk Nowitzki combo scares me defensively, but also remember that the mavericks will probably be lacking Terry and Kidd in the backcourt. Defense starts 20 feet out, not at the rim. if we pick up a versatile, good defending swingman in the draft and if Calathes can play a role, maybe it'd work.

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