Friday, July 5, 2013

The Depressing Mystery of Al Jefferson

Entering Player Protection Program
I know way too much about Big Al, because I've owned him for years now in my NBA fantasy league. As the #1 option on a .500 Jazz team, he provides sneaky value as a big man, because he scores, rebounds, blocks shots and doesn't kill your percentages while doing so. He also stays healthy, for the most part. In real life, he's a bit too turnover prone, doesn't do much on defense, and is too willing to settle for the jump shot to be a major positive. If he's the best player on your team, you will be on the fringe of the playoffs and/or out in the first round. And he's always been the best player on his team.

As an unrestricted free agent in the theoretical prime of his career at age 28 (he's actually past prime as a big man who declared early, but let's not get into that right now), he should have attracted major attention from every team that didn't get Dwight Howard, and wanted what might actually be a better player. Considering that Golden State, Houston, the Lakers, Mavericks and Hawks are all said to be in the running for Howard, and that only one team is going to get him, you'd have to think there was going to be a market for Jefferson. Maybe even a bit of a bidding war. And that if you were him, going to a good team for once would be something of a must have, along with getting paid.

How useful would he have been in Dallas? Dirk Nowitzki could have taught him some moves, and they could have been a more offensive fun house mirror of Memphis. In Golden State, he would have had 15 uncontested jumpers a game as everyone chased the three point arc, and formed a monster rotation with David Lee and the presumably healthy Andrew Bogut. Houston would have had a second dimension, the Lakers, a guy they would have embraced after the failed Howard year. In Atlanta, he'd have been at least been able to have a prayer at seeing the second round. Hell, he'd have even been good in Boston as a homecoming move to keep Rajon Rondo from changing his last name to Trade Me just to make his message clear for every minute of every game.

Instead, Jefferson took what appears to be the first offer -- a three year deal from the woebegone Bobcats for $41 million. It's probably not the most years or money that he'd get. In Charlotte, he'll be the first through third options on a team where you are hard pressed to name the fourth. (Guard Kemba Walker, maybe, assuming you haven't already forgotten about last year's blown pick in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, or bust to be Cody Zeller.) The Bobcats are 28-120 over the past two years, and while Jefferson will make them better, I'd be stunned if they won 28 games this year. No one else is going to follow Jefferson here, and no one on the roster is a lock to be playing in the NBA in five years.

So instead of going to a team where he could appear on national television, play in games that matter, work with teammates that could make him better and avoid being part of every trade rumor... he decided to go the least relevant NBA team on the planet. For the money he was pretty much already making, since he took down $15 million last year in Utah.

Does the man own himself in his fantasy league? Did Bobcat Dictator For Life Michael Jordan own incriminating photographs, or dispose of a body or six? Does he enjoy obscurity, or being free to book vacation time in stone for mid April every year? Is he too nice of a fellow to take joy in being on a winning team? And can we all agree, once and for all, that Boston absolutely colluded with Kevin McHale to get Kevin Garnett for him? (Note: I hate Garnett. He's a cheap shot artist, a punk, a dime store wrestling heel and a raging hypocrite. But unlike Jefferson, he actually seems to care about winning and losing, and makes his teammates do the same. That's worth something, right?)

One final thing about this, and then I promise that I, like the rest of the people that write about the NBA, won't discuss Jefferson until Charlotte ships him out in 6 to 18 months for a sack of nothingness... can someone check to see if the worst player/GM ever (that'd be Jordan, seemingly on a quest to make Isiah Thomas look good by comparison) is aware that his big free agent plays more or less the same position as his reach / bust first round pick (Zeller)? And that neither of these guys is bringing the intensity and defensive stones of a Marc Gasol / Zach Randolph pairing, and that recreating a team that got curb-stomped (um, and without the defensive monsters in the back court that the Grizz have) by the Spurs might not be, well, the best way to build a franchise?

There's a lot to like about the NBA these days. The playoffs were amazing. The advanced metrics movement means that more and more teams aren't getting fooled by counting stats or highlight reels. Wing players matter more than ever, and there are lots of ways to build a team that's good now. You can go all-defense like Memphis, look for raining threes like the Warriors, mine international markets for pick and roll masters like the Spurs, get your superstars to buy in on defense and rule in transition like the Heat. It makes for different styles and engaging match ups, and slow and growl teams like the Celtics and Lakers wind up taking it in the neck. I like all of that.

But what I don't like, and what doesn't work, is bringing in a guy that's stretched to be the alpha on a mediocre team to, well, a terrible one. The fact that Jordan didn't know that isn't surprising in the least. The fact that Jefferson didn't as well, and didn't have the confidence to wait and put himself in a better position, is even more depressing.


Dirty Davey said...

Zeller is hardly GM Jordan's worst pick. Nothing can top Kwame Brown.

DMtShooter said...

Point taken, though to be fair, that draft was a train wreck. The next 10 picks were Tyson Chandler, Pau Gasol, Eddy Curry, Jason Richardson, Shane Battier, Eddie Griffin, DeSagna Diop, Rodney White, Joe Johnson and Kendrick Brown. Of that motley crew, at least Kwame is still in the NBA (kind of) and alive, unlike Curry, Griffin, Diop, White and Brown. In terms of lasting value, there's really only four star level players: Chandler, Gasol, Zach Randolph (19th) and Tony Parker (28th).

Jordan is still terrible, but the Brown pick is just part of the mix, not the shining star.

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