Thursday, May 10, 2007

Kirilenko's Resurgence is Win-Win for Jazz

Forgive me for jumping ahead a little here (I've never been great at living in the moment), but Kirilenko's amazing turnaround could mean a whole lot more for the Jazz than an extended playoff run.

Certainly AK-47's great play is most noteworthy because of the way it impacts the here and now. If he hadn't turned things around, the Jazz wouldn't even be in the second round, let alone be up 2-0 on the Warriors and suddenly looking like a legit title contender. His shot blocking, energy, and passing are the glue to this Utah team right now.

However, there is always a bigger picture. And while the Jazz seem like they could matchup pretty well with the Spurs and are playing with a touch of magic right now, the odds are they will not be the team holding the trophy at the end of this long playoff journey. For starters, they aren't the best team, and second, the simple fact that they are one of eight remaining squads (we are still counting the Bulls, right?) makes an NBA title a very remote possibility.

All of which means they will head into the offseason looking to make some tweaks and find a way to get over the next hurdle. This is life in pro sports, where adjustments are the name of the game and what you do in the offseason is just as important as what you do during the season. And Utah GM Kevin O'Connor (not to be confused with Kevin Connolly, who plays "E" on Entourage) has been a front office beast the last few years. Stealing Boozer from Cleveland was arguably the heist of the decade. Signing Okur has proved to be a stroke of genius. Trading up to get Deron Williams (who would have thought that passing on Paul for The Kingpin - again, credit the blog Retire Sloan for that nickname - would be the right move?) and nabbing proven workhorse Paul Millsap in the second round were draft coups. Bringing in Derek Fisher for leadership and toughness was brilliant. The guy has been on fire.

Not only that, but now O'Connor is heading into summer that is short on free agent firepower and long on teams needing to make moves, and he is sitting on a fantastic trade piece in Kirilenko.

Many NBA Insiders have speculated all year that Kirilenko could be jettisoned in the offseason, because he's a max dollars type of guy (just over $12 million per) playing out of position. With Boozer entrenched at power forward and Okur at center (which prevents Boozer from sliding over), Kirilenko is forced to masquerade as a small forward for pretty much the entire game. This despite the fact that he can't shoot, can't use his quickness to exploit mismatches, and gets pulled away from the basket and sees his prodigious shot-blocking skills mitigated. He has no business playing small forward and because of that fact, many figured that Utah would try to move him. The problem is that his value was sinking lower and lower with each passing day. He has always been injury prone, but on top of that he had a terrible regular season (ask any fantasy basketball junkie). Then, things really started caving in. During the first two games of the Houston series, he looked as bad as any player in the NBA and O'Connor had to be stressing out. In fact, there was probably a "crap, now we have to keep him" moment at some point during those incredibly long four days in H-Town.

Then, AK-47 shed a few tears, laid his soul bare, stood up to the challenge, and turned the whole thing around. It was like when Superman got his powers back in Superman II and crushed Zod's hand (maybe my favorite movie moment of all time). The transformation has been stunning. Now Kirilenko is flying all over the court, sending back shots from impossible angles, hitting big jumpers, and even handling point guard duties in a pinch.

This reinvigorated Kirilenko is doing all this on the biggest stage, during the biggest moments, and he's doing it at a time when the NBA is becoming more matchup driven and predicated on speed than ever before. For that reason, there have to be countless teams salivating at the prospect of entering the 2008 postseason with this guy as their power forward. Plus, Kirilenko's fat contract is probably a good thing, as it will open up a lot more trade possibilities in a league that finds most of its teams over the salary cap and severely restricted in the trades they can make.

AK-47 just transformed himself from Utah's biggest postseason disaster into one of the best bargaining chips in the entire league. In two weeks! Now Utah can dangle him to go get the perimeter athlete and scorer they so desperately need (off the top of my head I'm thinking Rashard Lewis - in a sign-and-trade - or Ray Allen from Seattle, Maggette plus a contract from the Clippers, or, as a long shot, perhaps Odom from the Lakers). The Jazz can put a playmaking weapon on the wing next to a dominant low post scorer (Boozer), floor-stretching center (Okur), and stud point guard (Williams). And with Millsap's defense, Brewer's athleticism, and Harpring's scoring, they can gobble up all of Kirlinko's minutes with the guys they have now. Add a shot blocking backup big man (Sean Williams, Dominic McGuire, Herbert Hill, Stephane Lasme, and Darryl Watkins would all work) in a deep draft and suddenly the Jazz have one of the top three or four teams in the league. Seriously.

Kevin O'Connor is smiling tonight and it isn't just because the Jazz are winning thrilling playoff games.


Anonymous said...

No way the Jazz trade Kirilenko at this point. Not gonna happen.

Adam Hoff said...

I suppose that could be the case, but I would be surprised. O'Connor doesn't seem to be the type to get swept up in the moment. He seems like a Billy Beane type that will always trade ago if his market value is higher than his actual value to the team. AK-47 can't give Utah $12MM of production at SF, so it makes sense to trade him for someone who can. Getting someone like Ray Allen would take this team to the next level. The other way they could go would be to move AK-47 to a team with cap space (like the Bobcats or Magic) in exchange for high picks and young players. It just seems like they could get too much for him to keep him.

But maybe I'm way off.

UtesFan89 said...

I think the Jazz would be best off keeping AK, provided of course, that he is able to play his game (slashing to the hoop, strong D), and isn't forced to settle for jumpers.
And, despite being a huge fan of Ray Allen, I don't think the Jazz trade AK anywhere in the West. The fewer times you have to face him, the better.
As for trading him for picks, that doesn't work too well either, largely because Sloan seems to hate 1st round picks. And you don't want to trade AK (who, even if he's not scoring, is providing a ton) for a bunch of guys who'll sit on the bench (especially with the key players under contract for 3 more years each).
Just my $0.02.

Adam Hoff said...

Those are really good points. I guess the only thing worse than not getting total value for your $12 MM is to get beat by AK-47 in the playoffs. I also might be going overboard on what I believe to be an asset maximization approach by O'Connor. I didn't even really consider conferences. And to be honest, I'm already backing off this just a bit (note the draft picks throwaway comment), because I didn't realize that there just aren't that many good shooting guards on the market. And from the East? Forget it. There's Vince Carter (and I highly doubt Utah would want him) and then a vast wasteland. They might be better off just using the midlevel on a guy like Matt Carroll to replace GG and keeping Kirilenko.

The only other move that might make a lot of sense is a sign-and-trade with Atlanta for Josh Smith. Kirilenko is more of a 4 (which Atlanta needs) and Smith is more of a 3 (which Utah needs) and they provide some similar skills. Smith is set to make big dollars, so a sign and trade could work. Not sure Sloan would enjoy the profanity, but then again, I doubt J-Smooth would dare try that in SLC.

All in all though, I'm starting to think maybe there's not as much out there as I first surmised.

Either way though, O'Connor has to be pleased to see Kirilenko make this turnaround. If nothing else, he has more options and an improved bargaining position across the board.

LetItRide04 said...

You're right that Kirilenko will be traded but you're a year or two early.

The Jazz will need to dump AK's salary to give Max Deals to Boozer & Williams with bigger deals to Milsap & Okur.

They can play another year with the salaries as is to see if they can make a title run.

DDD said...

This was a great post, and I agree with your logic -- if Andrei hadn't had a resurgence there's no way they make it this far... O'Connor knows that, the team knows that -- even if many SLC fanzz and the sports media don't.

However, I think the first commenter is right.

One of the things everyone seems to forget (including sloan -- which is unfathomably weird) AK is the loadstone of the Jazz defense, in the same way Duncan is the anchor of SA.

He makes up for many other player's consistent mistakes (see: everyone on the roster except Kingpin and Millsap).

Andrei is the only top flight defender on a team with one of the top defenses in the league. Think about what that means for a minute.

AK's trade value will be high, but O'Connor designed this roster around him. If you take him away (or ignore him, as Sloan did until recently) the team falls apart.

Anonymous said...

well i like AK-47 he just is not worth the money the jazz are paying him. i am just saying that if the jazz got rid of him for ray allen the jazz team would win a title for sure. cause you got williams to start.and fisher to back those guys up when the get in foul troble. thats just my opinion but it should be taking accounted two.