Where do the Jazz go from here?

First of all, after watching the first few episodes of “Treme,” I find it even more ridiculous that the Utah Jazz took the “Jazz” nickname with them to Salt Lake City. The franchise should apologize to the city of New Orleans and give the name back to the Hornets, who took their name from Charlotte, whose team is now named “Bobcats” after the franchise’s former owner, Bob Johnson.

Sigh.

But back to the Jazz. They were swept out of the playoffs last night by the Lakers, which marks the third straight year that L.A. has eliminated Utah in the playoffs. Over the past three decades, the team has been the model of consistency, with just one losing season in the last 27 years. That has a lot to do with the guy at the top, Jerry Sloan, who has coached the Jazz for 21 straight seasons. One of the biggest travesties in the history of the league is that he’s never won the Coach of the Year award.

Looking ahead to this summer, one big name free agent comes to mind — Carlos Boozer. The 28-year-old forward averaged 20-11-3 this season and shot 56% from the field. Of course the Jazz want him back, right? Not so fast. This was one of Boozer’s “healthy” years. He appeared in 78 games, which marks just the fifth time in eight years that Boozer has played in 52-plus games. In short, he’s an injury risk, but when he’s healthy, he’s an All-Star. Throw in the fact that he’s getting older and it’s obvious why the Jazz are a little leery about handing him a big contract.

The other issue is Paul Millsap, whom Utah signed last summer to a four-year contract worth $32 million. Millsap also plays power forward and has proven over the last two seasons that he can be very productive in a starting role. This year, he averaged 15-8 and 51% shooting in eight starts and last season he averaged 16-10 and 54% shooting in 38 starts. Is he as good as Boozer right now? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean he’s not going to be just as good or better. In Boozer’s third season, he averaged 18-9 and 52% shooting, which are awfully similar to Millsap’s numbers (in starts) last season. To top it all off, he has only missed six games in four seasons and he’s quite a bit cheaper.

Boozer and Millsap do play pretty well together, but when they do, Utah’s front line is pretty undersized. Will they ever get past the Lakers with Boozer and Millsap playing big minutes together?

The answer to that question probably determines whether or not Boozer plays for the Jazz next season. He’s going to be an unrestricted free agent, so he can sign anywhere, but Utah would be wise to try to work out some sort of sign-and-trade to bring in a true center with some length. Whether or not they are willing to make that kind of financial commitment to the new player is to be determined. The luxury tax threshold should be around $68 million, so if the Jazz want to stay under that level, they’re going to have to avoid adding more than $10 million in salaries this summer. That’s not enough to pay Boozer.

Let’s not forget that the Jazz own the Knicks’ first round pick, which should be in the top 10 in this summer’s draft. They could have a shot at a big like Kansas’s Cole Aldrich, Lithuania’s Donatas Motiejunas or Marshall’s Hassan Whiteside.

The other free agent decision is Kyle Korver, who is a great fit for Utah, but he missed 30 games this season due to injury. He shot almost 54% from long range, which is outstanding, and is a career 41% shooter. Players that can space the court like Korver can are in demand around the league, so I fully expect him to sign a mid-level (or near mid-level) contract this summer. That will probably be too rich for Utah’s blood, though if the Jazz can cheaply shore up the front line, they may elect to retain Korver as well.

There’s something to be said for Utah’s consistency, but this looks like a team that is destined for a first or second round exit in the tough Western Conference playoffs every season, so maybe a shake up is in order. That’s the question — do you re-sign Boozer and take the sure 50+ wins while retaining the same ceiling, or do you roll the dice and move Boozer for some assets that give your front line a new look?

The one constant here is All-NBA point guard Deron Williams, and his happiness should not be taken lightly. If the Jazz do not re-sign Boozer and don’t get anything for return, expect some grumbles from the outspoken Williams.


Photos from fOTOGLIF

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