The Utah Jazz really only needed Al Jefferson for three quarters in their victory over the Charlotte Bobcats Wednesday night.
Jefferson had 26 points and eight rebounds, a statline he’s matched 27 times in two and a half seasons with the Jazz. It’s only been done three times in the same time period by two Bobcats big men.
Tyrus Thomas and Bismack Biyombo started for the Bobcats against the Jazz. The two combined for zero points in 34 minutes and looked like crash test dummies for Utah’s frontcourt barrage. Every Bobcats big man from Gana Diop to Hakim Warrick has started for Mike Dunlap.
Fortunately, it’s a frontcourt that won’t be able to disappoint for much longer.
Diop is in the last year of his contract, and probably won’t return next season. Thomas, who has a little over $18M left on his deal, would be a logical amnesty candidate. Warrick has a team option for $4M next season, which isn’t the best bargain for the Bobcats.
Byron Mullens, who is currently sitting with an ankle injury, is a restricted free agent. Mullens could return, but hasn’t made the strides fans hoped for coming into the season.
Biyombo has the best chance of returning next season, though he could be a trade piece.
The Bobcats could have more than $20M in cap space in the offseason and they could really use Jefferson for four quarters and all 82 games.
Jefferson is expected to hit free agency in the summer and there’s been plenty of speculation in Utah as to whether he’ll remain with the team. Bill Oram of the Salt Lake Tribune writes that Jefferson is hoping for a max contract in the offseason.
Jefferson, who turned 28 five days ago, is making $15M in the last year of a five-year, $65M deal. A first year salary for Jefferson on a max contract would be a little over $17M, which is a lot for the Bobcats or Jazz to commit to a player who isn’t a legitimate all-star. If Jefferson doesn’t re-sign with the Jazz, he’d only be eligible for a four-year max contract. I’d be surprised if Jefferson got a max contract, but if the Bobcats gave it to him it would be the largest deal in their history.
The Bobcats need for a scoring big man is no secret and evident by their interest in Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins. While Cousins name has been whispered around the trade block, there’s no guarantee he’s dealt. Other options currently on the trade market aren’t as attractive either. Things can change during the summer, but one thing that doesn’t look like it will, is Jefferson being a free agent.
Oram mentions the Dallas Mavericks as a suitor for Jefferson. The Mavericks could be desperate to put a winning team around Dirk Nowitzki, who’s voiced concerns over the teams direction. Jefferson is a Mississippi native, and playing in Dallas wouldn’t be too far from his hometown. Other teams are sure to emerge for Jefferson’s services, but the Bobcats should make a serious run at him.
Jefferson is the type of center the Bobcats need to balance out their roster. Tonight we saw his ability to play inside and out offensively, and for some teams he’s a terror to guard with his bulk. His rebounding is still very good, and defensively he can contest shots and hang with bigger frontcourt players.
The Bobcats on their road to building a good team will eventually find themselves needing to take a big risk financially to fill a hole. Ideally fans would love for it to be on a superstar who would be guaranteed to change the course of a franchise. However, it’s unlikely that such a player elects to play here in the Bobcats current state.
Jefferson isn’t a superstar, but he’s a very good player who fits like a glove with the Bobcats nucleus. Is that worth a contract close to or at the max? While money is a major factor, Jefferson shouldn’t be too much of a worry with his production. He would play years 28-32 during the course of a four-year deal, which isn’t bad at all. Jefferson also doesn’t have a bad injury history to be concerned about, nor a troublesome personality.
Each night Jefferson is a threat for a double-double. It’s something you can’t say about any other big man on the Bobcats.