The Championship Template: Should the Jazz trade Millsap?

Here’s what we know about winning a title. First and foremost, you need a big man who can protect the rim and be your defensive anchor. This is a necessity. If NBA history has taught us anything about winning championships, it’s that unless you have Michael Jordan, you need a game-changing defensive presence in the paint. The Mavs had Tyson Chandler, the Lakers had Bynum/Gasol/Odom in 2009 and 2010, the Celtics had Garnett and Perkins and so forth. In fact, if the Knicks hanging Chauncey Billups and Ronny Turiaf out to dry to fork over big money to Chandler teaches us anything, it’s that the Knicks are finally serious about defense, and more significantly, winning a championship. You have to have an inside defensive presence. That’s why Tyson Chandler, Nene, and Marc Gasol are all going to get really rich in the next two weeks. That’s why the failed-Chris Paul trade would have made (or still will make) the Lakers worse, and that’s why the Blazers thought it was a good idea to draft Greg Oden over Kevin Durant (which, by the way, wasn’t a good idea; it was a really, really bad idea).

Self-Indulgent Tangent: This is also why Jordan was the greatest ever. His big men during those championship years were some mix of the following players: Bill Cartwright, Horace Grant, Luc Longley, Toni Kukoc, and Dennis Rodman. Of those players, only Dennis Rodman could have been considered in the top 50 players in the league during their championship seasons with the Bulls, and Bill Cartwright, the center the Bulls trotted out during those first three championships, was all kinds of terrible. Somehow, Jordan won 6 championships anyway. And don’t tell me that Scottie Pippen could make up for the lack of a post presence. Sure Scottie Pippen was a top 20 player at the time, but LeBron James had Dwyane Wade, a top 5 player, as his sidekick and couldn’t win it all (or wait, who was the sidekick?). Unless you’re Michael Jordan, you need a center who can protect the rim. You know, someone not named Chris Bosh.

You also need at least one dominant scorer. Nothing surprising here. You need some role players who can fill a variety of roles: Own the Glass Guy (often same person as Protect the Rim/Defensive Anchor), Perimeter Lockdown Guy (Ron Artest during the Lakers championships), Instant Bench Scoring Guy (J.J. Barea for the Mavs), Team Chemistry Guy (known in some circles as White Guy Who Never Gets Minutes but Who is Etched into Basketball History for Dancing at the Championship Parade),and so forth. Those guys fill holes, and necessary holes, but the last absolute necessity, if it isn’t being filled by the dominant scorer, is the Go-to Guy. The “I Refuse to Lose this Game” Guy. The Clutch Guy. Call him what you want, but every team needs someone filling the role. Dirk, Kobe, Paul Pierce, and Manu have all played the part on championship teams. Even the 2004 Pistons, generally known as the least star-oriented team to win it all, had Chauncey Billups playing the Clutch Guy role. You have to have it.

So how do the Jazz line up? Here is my rough outline for how the Jazz fill the necessary big man slots:

Protect the Rim Defensive Force = Derrick Favors (assuming he starts accessing that potential)

Low-Post Scoring/Rebounding = Al Jefferson/Paul Millsap

If the Jazz are going to win a title, they absolutely need to have a defensive presence in the middle. The only player on the roster with that kind of potential is Derrick Favors. Unfortunately, Favors’ minutes will be eaten up by Jefferson at the 5 and Millsap at the 4. This can mean only one thing: Millsap has to go.

Jefferson and Millsap both give the Jazz low-post scoring and rebounding. Jefferson rebounds better and has a superior low-post game, whereas Millsap is a better mid-range shooter and works better off the pick-and-roll. Now, assuming Gordon Hayward molds into the Go-to Guy who can average 18-5-4 (which really is possible, but more on this at a later time), the Jazz’s primary need is the dominant scoring force. Of the two, Jefferson has higher scoring averages and has the ability to create his own shot on the block. Millsap’s numbers dipped after the departure of Deron Williams, because a huge portion of Millsap’s points were assisted.  That means Millsap. I love Millsap. He has an incredible motor, and he functioned much better in Sloan’s system than did Jefferson. If Derrick Favors becomes the defensive force, what the Jazz need from that Jefferson/Millsap tandem is pure scoring. Having added Enes Kanter though the draft, Millsap has become obsolete. Certainly he could offer the Jazz a lot, but there are deeper needs (i.e. a passable back-up for Gordon; and no, I don’t mean Raja Bell), and Millsap’s presence would inhibit Favors’ development.

Obviously, there’s a pro-Millsap argument. Which would break down something like this: Millsap is $5 million a year cheaper. Millsap is younger. Millsap doesn’t demand the ball every single trip down the court. Millsap has a higher FG%. Millsap plays with heart, and if organizational loyalty means anything, then we should keep Millsap.

That’s a very valid argument, and to be completely honest, I would not be devastated if the Jazz didn’t trade Millsap. In fact, somewhere in my sentimental heart, I’d be relieved. Unfortunately, they do have to trade one of them. In other words, one of them has to go, and because Jefferson fills our need for a dominant scorer, I’d rather keep him.

Once the team has solved the Jefferson or Millsap issue, there is really only one question remaining: What can we get for him? Or more aptly put, how can the Jazz turn Millsap into the next piece of a championship team?

  1. It was interesting to read through this. Keep up the great work, I will keep visiting to see all the latest updates.

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