SALT LAKE CITY — The free agent feeding frenzy begins tonight at 10 (MT), and it should be quite the smorgasbord of expensive dishes. Step up to the table and make your choice. There's wagyu beef (Dwyane Wade) and matsutake mushrooms (Chris Bosh). Or you might consider the rare blue lobster (Dirk Nowitzki).
Don't forget the most expensive item of all, Almas caviar (LeBron James).
Are you drooling yet?
Among the free agent side dishes: Amare Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, Tracy McGrady and Paul Pierce.
Not that this has much to do with the Jazz. They're over the salary cap and on a peanut butter budget. Their hope is to retain Carlos Boozer, but even then it would have to be at a discounted rate. As if. Boozer is the guy who guaranteed he'd get a raise when he became a free agent.
But even if the Jazz did have cap room, they wouldn't get a superstar. On a national scale, they just don't sizzle. If you're a top free agent, you want to play where it's hot, literally or figuratively: New York, Chicago, Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Boston. The biggest free agent the Jazz ever signed — besides their own — was Boozer, who produced nice numbers but has missed 138 games.
The list of free agents who rejected Utah is significant: Derek Harper, LaPhonso Ellis, Mario Elie and Sam Perkins among them. Top free agents like Shaquille O'Neal and Kevin Garnett never did consider Utah. A Sports Illustrated poll among players in 2006 listed Utah as the least desirable destination in the league, by a wide margin. Twenty-seven percent apparently considered it a cross between Siberia and water torture. That won't change, no matter how much money the Jazz have. They'll have far more cap space after Andrei Kirilenko is off the books in 2011, but that doesn't mean any dominant player will come here.
The prevailing thought — but only occasionally admitted — is that even if it means earning an extra few million bucks, playing in Utah also means living in Utah.
It's not like the place has nothing to offer. For instance, skiing, though it's safe to say King James didn't get in much skiing while growing up in Akron. Utah also has Delicate Arch, which would make a dandy backdrop for a poster of James dunking.
The state produces a ton of "American Idol" and "So You Think You Can Dance" contestants, whatever that means. It has a Hall of Fame coach, who can take you on a tractor ride, too.
Free agents who come here can see an Olympic park and visit a big hole called Kennecott copper mine.
Plus, those new luxury condos downtown should make a fine place to live.
Nevertheless, don't expect anyone truly big to ever come here as a free agent. As a player destination, Salt Lake doesn't stir the imagination. But Utah isn't alone in this dilemma. Free agents don't often want to go to Milwaukee, Indiana, Memphis, Toronto or Sacramento, either.
Frankly, there aren't many giant free agent transactions, anyway. Top players usually re-sign or opt-in with their own team. Shaquille O'Neal's move from Orlando to L.A. was epic, and Steve Nash's switch from Dallas to Phoenix worked out wonderfully. Kevin Garnett's change from Minnesota to Boston certainly made sense. But for every successful free agent move, there are more that didn't take flight: Elton Brand, Darius Miles, Ben Wallace, Jermaine O'Neal, Vin Baker and Jim McIlvane, to name a few.
None of this has much to do with the Jazz, who this year will be happy just to re-sign restricted free agents Wesley Matthews and Kyrylo Fesenko. Keeping Boozer will be nearly impossible, as he can demand far more than the seven figures (per year) the Jazz can offer. Which means they'll just have to do things the hard way — through drafting, trades and development.
Salt Lake is a nice place to live, if you like the mountains. But not everyone likes mountains — or Jerry Sloan's rants. Good basketball is a constant in Utah, but flashy deals and championships?
This is more of a meat and potatoes place.
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