NBA Saturday: Top 5 Destinations For Jefferson
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Top Five Destinations for Al Jefferson
Few big men in the NBA have been as consistent and productive as Al Jefferson over the last seven years. He’s never made an All-Star team, but has been right on the cusp several times. As far as low post scorers are concerned, he’s one of the best in the league. He has also grabbed at least nine rebounds a game since his third year in the league. Yet, as the 28-year-old gets set to enter free agency, he’s rarely discussed as one of the most coveted guys on the market.
Jefferson’s lack of postseason success has a lot to do with that. He’s only been in the playoffs twice in his nine-year career, never making it out of the first round. He’s also much more highly regarded on the offensive end of the court than he is on the defensive end, but the fact is that Jefferson is one of the best on the market this summer. He may enter free agency wanting the max, but he could likely be obtained for less, especially if it’s in a wining situation.
While most teams with cap room will shoot for the stars and try to sign Dwight Howard or Chris Paul, the best free agents on the market, Jefferson is going to be far more obtainable. He’s spent the last three years with the Utah Jazz and they have his Bird rights, so they could offer him more than any other team. However, it seems like both sides are ready to mutually part ways. Utah has had Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter waiting in the wings for the last couple of years to eventually replace Jefferson, and they finally seem ready to take over.
With that being the case, we take a look at the five teams most likely to sign Jefferson outright.
The Hawks are going to enter free agency with hopes and aspirations of being the big winners and luring both Chris Paul and Dwight Howard away from Hollywood. It’s a lofty goal that is unlikely to come to fruition, though, and having a strong, viable backup plan is absolutely vital for Hawks general manager Danny Ferry.
When Ferry took over last summer he immediately started cleaning house, shipping off the hefty contract of Joe Johnson and trading away Marvin Williams as well. He was very close to dealing Josh Smith at the deadline, but in the end decided that just letting his contract expire was a better move than any of the deals that were on the table.
Moving Al Horford to the four has long been on the Hawks’ to-do list and it’s something that signing Jefferson would help them too. Jefferson, who as mentioned above is not a defensive stalwart, could really benefit from playing alongside a defender like Horford. The two of them would form a very formidable interior duo and help them keep their six-year playoff streak intact.
The 76ers recently made a change at the general manager position, bringing in Sam Hinkie to replace Tony DiLeo. Hinkie had previously served as the Houston Rockets’ vice president of basketball operations and he has a variety of options to consider. He’ll be able to offer a free agent slightly less than the max, if that’s what he decides to do.
The 76ers acquired Andrew Bynum last offseason, thinking that they had landed a big-name center who could hold down the paint for them for many years to come. At the time they were so excited to acquire him they probably would have offered him a max deal right then and there if they could have, but oh how things can change over the course of a NBA season. Bynum never actually suited up for the 76ers and, with Hinkie coming in, there’s no telling if he would rather just let the oft-injured big man walk rather than hoping he can stay healthy and be worth the max, or near-max, money that he is going to command.
If Hinkie lets Bynum walk but still wants to add an offensive center who they can run through in the halfcourt, Jefferson instantly becomes his next best option. Hinkie is highly analytical and serving in a role where moves will be publicized for the first time, so it’s virtually impossible to get his read on Bynum and whether he even likes Jefferson enough to sign him to be the team’s center for the next four to five years.
This is the offseason where the Bobcats have to make some type of major splash. The closest they’ve come to being relevant was in 2010 when they finished right around .500 and were swept in the playoffs. Year after year they’ve made high picks in the NBA Draft, hoping they find a franchise player to turn their fortunes around, but it just has not happened yet.
With ample cap space, Jefferson may not be the sexy name that their understandably impatient fan base is hoping for, but he would instantly be the best player in the history of their franchise and provide them with a legitimate go-to scorer. They’d have to get him some help, as he’s proven he cannot carry a team to the playoffs on his own, but signing him would be a move in the right direction and give them a reliable 18 points and nine rebounds a night that no other player on their roster can provide.
As the Bobcats must do with any upper-tier free agent they want to sign this year, they’ll likely have to overpay in order to get his name on the dotted line. Jefferson has to be tired of losing at this point of his career, so if he’s going to go to Charlotte, where just making the playoffs as a lower seed would be a huge and difficult, feat, he’ll want to be very well compensated.
Portland Trail Blazers
At the end of the season, Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey made it quite clear that the team is looking to upgrade at center. They played the undersized J.J. Hickson out of position there for most of the season, but they understand that getting a true five man to go alongside All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge is probably the biggest key in their quest to get back into the playoffs.
The Blazers are going to be far enough under the cap to where they can offer Jefferson what it would take to sign him, but there are a couple of different factors at play.
Aldridge is the undisputed top option in Portland and point guard Damian Lillard, the 2012-13 Rookie of the Year, is right behind him as the orchestrator of the offense. Jefferson would have to be open to being the third option on most plays, which would be a vast change to what he’s used to. Jefferson has been a go-to guy since early on in his career, but sacrifice is one of the keys to team success. If Jefferson embraced playing off of Aldridge and Lillard, he may see the most wins he’s had in his career. The three of them would form a very intriguing trio and who knows, Jefferson may enjoy not having to shoulder as big of an offensive burden as he has in his career up to this point.
The pressure is on the Mavericks to make something big happen this offseason. They’re only two years removed from winning a championship, but they opted for future financially flexibility the following offseason rather than keeping the team together. While Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has maintained that this was the best route to go, it’s hard to imagine that they would have been one-and-done the following season and lottery bound this season as has been the case.
Cuban is going to go hard after the big names in free agency just as he did last offseason. It’s his best hope at getting the most out of Dirk Nowitzki and however much the 34-year-old Hall of Famer has left in the tank. Signing guys to a bunch of one-year contracts was the contingency plan last offseason, but the results were far from stellar. If Cuban is unable to land a Paul or Howard, he’s going to have to consider signing a guy on the next tier like Jefferson just to help ensure the team doesn’t go through another season like the last.
As a true low-post scorer, Jefferson seems like a good fit with the perimeter-oriented Nowitzki on the surface. The appeal of playing with a guy like Nowitzki, who would be one of the best players he’s ever played with next to Paul Pierce during his time in Boston, and an owner who is as passionate about winning as Cuban could be enough to get Jefferson to come for less than the max, but he will definitely cost more than the $8 million the Mavericks paid Chris Kaman to be their starter last year. He’ll also want a multi-year deal. It will basically come down to whether Cuban feels comfortable using the cap space he coveted so badly on Jefferson in the scenario where Paul and Howard sign elsewhere.
There is always the possibility that the Jazz could sign-and-trade Jefferson, which would allow him to receive a five-year deal and give them something in return for one of the league’s premier big men. That would open up a slew of other options, including the San Antonio Spurs, who were rumored to be interested in Jefferson prior to the trade deadline this past season, and the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are in desperate need of low-post scoring, among others.
Thoughts from the NBA Draft Combine: The NBA conducted their annual pre-draft combine in Chicago this past week. HOOPSWORLD was in attendance and here are some of the more interesting news and notes to pass along:
- Steven Adams’ freshman season at Pittsburgh could be described as mediocre at best. However, the young seven footer had to leave Chicago feeling pretty good about his chances to go in the lottery and go no later than 20 if he doesn’t. Teams are really intrigued by his combination of size, speed, strength and potential. He has good character and by all accounts is a hard worker. Whichever team takes him in the 10-20 range could feel like they ended up in the top three a couple years down the line.
- Every year there is a large portion of players who claim they were not used properly in school and that they can play a different position at the next level. North Carolina State point guard Lorenzo Brown was not one of them this year. He was constantly asked whether or not he was a point guard, by both the media and NBA teams, and seemed quite puzzled by the insinuation that he’s anything but.
- When the list of combine invites came out, two players were really considered surprises: Duke’s Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly. NBA teams vote on who they want to be at the combine and the list is formed by the consensus from those votes. Typically, the combine list consists of 45-50 of the 60 players who are going to get drafted. Those who aren’t there tend to be international players who are still playing overseas. The main reason why Curry and Kelly were there wasn’t necessarily that they are going to be a part of the usual 45-50 combine participants who end up getting drafted. It’s due to the fact that they are both injured and aren’t going to be able to work out for teams prior to the draft. Bringing them to the combine to interview them and conduct testing there ensured the teams that wanted to talk to them would be able to without having to spend money to bring them in injured over the next six weeks.
- Center Colton Iverson was listed at 6’10 throughout the season. As a fifth year senior with only one good season under his belt, coming in at under 6’11 would be quite damaging to his stock. Iverson measured in at a full 7’0 in shoes, though, making him one of the few players to actually come in bigger than expected. Add that with his 9’2 standing reach and 9.6 percent body fat, and Iverson came in where he needed to at the combine to keep his stock on the rise at it has been over the last few weeks.
- The center position may be the deepest in the draft, but shooting guard is starting to become a real close second and maybe even just as deep. Victor Oladipo and Ben McLemore tested off of the charts athletically. They’re positioned nicely to go in the top five. The next tier is stacked with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jamaal Franklin, Tim Hardaway Jr., Allen Crabbe, C.J. McCollum, Archie Goodwin, Glen Rice Jr. and Ricky Ledo among others. Teams in the first round wanting to pick a shooting guard will have no shortage of options. Private workouts over the next six weeks will be key in creating some separation from each other. A few will inevitably slip, which will create some really great value picks in the second round.
- So far, only the measurements have been officially released by the NBA. Athletic testing results will be available early next week. The tallest player in attendance (with shoes on) was Rudy Gobert, who came in at a massive 7’2. He also had the longest wingspan at 7’8.5 and standing reach at 9’7. The shortest player was Pierre Jackson at 5’10.5. His wingspan was also the shortest, coming in at 5’10. Ryan Kelly’s 14.8 percent body fat was the highest; he blamed his injury, which has prevented him from being able to work out since the end of the season. Iverson weighed the most, coming in at 262. The lightest was Dennis Schroeder, who came in at 164 pounds.
- Speaking of Schroeder, he was the only player to have rumors of a promise being made to him. He had a hard time disguising his smile when probed about it, but refused to confirm. Schroeder is coming off of a brilliant performance at the 2013 Nike Hoops Summit. He stood out at the event that featured almost a dozen players who are projected to be future lottery picks. The Utah Jazz are slated to pick 14th and seem like the most logical team to promise Schroeder considering their need at point guard. However, don’t be shocked if he doesn’t last until then. A team outside of the top five made a promise to Dion Waiters at the combine last year, only to see the Cleveland Cavaliers fall in love with him upon further evaluation. The same could happen with Schroeder.