By Marc Stein
Utah general manager Kevin O’Connor loudly insisted Monday that those of us who presume that the Jazz will do anything they can to get under the luxury-tax line between now and June 30 have it way wrong.
The Dallas Mavericks got the same message when they tested Utah’s resolve early last week.
The Mavs made a long-shot attempt to convince Utah to part with Carlos Boozer by proposing an all-about-money trade that would have provided the Jazz with another sizable chunk of payroll relief to follow up the significant savings from their recent swap with Oklahoma City, ESPN.com has learned.
Yet sources close to the situation say that the Jazz weren’t about to be tempted.
Using Drew Gooden’s partially guaranteed contract and two players it wound up trading to the New Jersey Nets days later – Kris Humphries and Shawne Williams – Dallas could assemble a package of contracts high enough to reach the salary range of Boozer’s $12.3 million expiring contract to make the trade math work ... but low enough to net an initial savings of $2.5 million for the Jazz.
Waiving Gooden before last Wednesday -- which was the last day he could be released and still clear waivers -- would have then sliced another $2.6 million from Utah’s payroll to essentially take the Jazz out of tax territory. It’s believed that the Mavericks also would have been prepared to throw in some cash to help offset the $3.2 million due to Humphries next season.
The Jazz, though, have been telling teams for months that they won’t give Boozer away. A recent slump that dragged its record to 19-17 before Saturday’s thumping win over the Mavs in Dallas apparently hasn’t changed that stance.
As noted in this cyberspace when Eric Maynor and retirement-bound Matt Harpring were dealt to the Thunder in December -- which sliced its luxury-tax bill this season from $12.6 million to a much more manageable $4.8 million -- Utah set itself up to be a lot more choosy when such attempts to steal Boozer inevitably rolled in.
Since the summer we've heard repeatedly that the Jazz want at least one keeper in return in addition to payroll relief if they’re going to consent to a Boozer deal. And that was when their luxury-tax bill was going to approach $13 million.
ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard reported Monday night that Jazz coach Jerry Sloan is hoping any decision about Boozer’s future is put off until free agency starts July 1.
Sloan’s superiors might ultimately decide they want to move Boozer before the Feb. 18 trading deadline, but they certainly don’t have to if. Instead they might deem a tax payment in July in the $5 million range – even though that’s way more tax than the Jazz want to pay – to be a one-season hit they can absorb to let the current group finish the season.
O’Connor tried to get that across in Monday’s media session when he said: “I think you guys are so focused on the luxury tax. We’re not.” The Salt Lake Tribune’s ever-sharp Ross Siler also quoted O’Connor as saying that the Jazz are not determined to getting under the luxury-tax threshold “at all costs.”
Only that sort of mentality would have led Utah to seriously consider this offer from the Mavs, who are presumed to be out of any upcoming Boozer bidding now.
They’re no longer in a position to pitch the same sort of payroll-relief package because Humphries and Williams became Nets property as of Monday and since Gooden’s $4.5 million expiring contract became guaranteed Jan. 10.
Offering one of its core pieces for Boozer, meanwhile, would appear to make little sense for Dallas. Erick Dampier and Josh Howard both possess what amount to expiring contracts, since neither’s salary is guaranteed in 2010-11, but how could the Mavs part with either one for Boozer when – before we even get to the basketball concerns – they’d have no guarantee of re-signing the free agent-to-be this summer?
The idea that Gooden would be the best player Dallas surrenders in a Boozer swap is one thing. Given Utah’s need to immediately release Gooden to maximize its savings, there might even have been a chance to re-sign Gooden after a 30-day wait.
A hypothetical Howard-for-Boozer swap, by contrast, would obviously force Dallas to surrender one of its two best trade chips for a player who – even if everything clicked offensively – would make the Mavs defensively vulnerable if they tried to finish games with a frontcourt tandem of Boozer and Nowitzki.