Can Utah Jazz escape luxury-tax mess?

Published: Sunday, July 5 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

The Jazz now have more than $73 million in payroll for next season committed to 11 players, and they still must add two others.

They're looking at paying millions in fines for excessive spending — a dollar-for-dollar tax for exceeding the NBA's luxury-tax threshold, which later this week is expected to be set in the $70-to-$72 million range.

How did they get into this mess? And, more importantly, how do they escape it?

First things first: A small-market team running up a showy Knicks/Lakers-like payroll isn't an overnight happenstance.

Quite to the contrary, it's been building for years — and was pushed over the top by power forward Carlos Boozer's somewhat surprising decision on Tuesday not to opt out of the final year and last $12,657,233 of his current contract.

But it all started in 2004, when the Jazz gave small forward Andrei Kirilenko a six-year, max-money, $86 million contract extension that pays more than $17.8 million in the 2010-11 season.

It may seem like crazy money now. But it was a completely sensible thing to do then.

The franchise was still trying to find its footing after the exits of future hall-of-famers John Stockton and Karl Malone. Kirilenko had just played in his first (and only) NBA All-Star Game, and losing the Jazz's newfound face would have riled the know-it-alls before most even knew what a message board was.

The Jazz could have gotten out from under Kirilenko's contract in 2007 by trading him to Phoenix for Shawn Marion, but Marion wouldn't commit to staying in Utah.

Now, Kirilenko is on the books for $16,442,000 next season — consuming a sizeable chunk of that $73 million-plus payroll.

Earlier in 2004, the Jazz also lured Boozer away from Cleveland with a six-year, $68 million contract that put the option for next season in his control. Ditto for making it a player-controlled early termination option and not a team option on the '04 contract for center Mehmet Okur, a one-time All-Star who on Tuesday decided to return next season for $9 million.

Flash forward to last offseason, when the Jazz extended point guard Deron Williams for max money. There's no question it is what they absolutely had to do — but it still added $14 million-plus to next season's payroll. That's more than $52 million for four players next season.

Then there is the small stuff. Rather than trade one of coach Jerry Sloan's bigger headaches, Gordan Giricek, for another expiring contract late in 2007, the Jazz acquired shooting guard Kyle Korver. On Monday, that put another $5,163,636 on next season's salary count by declining to exercise his early termination option.

And rather than allowing swingman C.J. Miles to go to Oklahoma City last offseason, the Jazz curiously matched the offer sheet he signed with the Thunder — adding another $3.7 million for not only this past season but for at least the next two.

The Jazz also exercised their third-year option on reserve center Kyrylo Fesenko's rookie contract when they could have shaved a few hundred thousand by giving it to an unproven rookie, and they opted against selling last month's first-round draft pick.

The Lakers' pick later in the draft went for $3 million, but if the Jazz had sold theirs and brought in a cheaper, run-of-the-mill reserve point guard instead of rookie Eric Maynor, they surely would have been criticized for putting money ahead of winning.

How the Jazz can regain control of a runaway payroll:

One is to simply endure it for a year. And Jazz family ownership rep Greg Miller has vowed to pay the tax, if need be.

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