Looking forward: Utah Jazz hopeful their core of big men rise again

Published: Sunday, May 13 2012 7:55 a.m. MDT

Utah's Al Jefferson as Utah makes a run as the Utah Jazz play the San Antonio Spurs in game 4 of the first round of the NBA playoffs Monday, May 7, 2012, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz feel the same way about big players as Marvel comic books creator Stan Lee and moviegoers feel about superheroes.

The more, the merrier.

Ask anybody on the Jazz — from general manager Kevin O'Connor to up-and-comer Derrick Favors — and they'll tell you they hope Utah's bigs all assemble again next fall.

Like the Avengers, they'd love to put a Hulk smash on the league for a blockbuster 2012-13 season, and the fantastic foursome of Favors, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Enes Kanter is Utah's most powerful weapon.

Be forewarned, villains.

"I can see this team actually growing to be something very special," Jefferson said about the Jazz as a whole. More specifically about Utah's abundance of big players, Jefferson added, "We do have a great group of guys. In my opinion, you need bigs to win championships, and you need a lot of them."

But will the Jazz have as many bigs when they rejoin forces next fall?

And what will their roles be if they're all back?

Those are two of the biggest questions facing the franchise this offseason as the Jazz try to use the momentum of this surprising playoff season to propel them into accomplishing bigger and better things in the future.

Among the Jazz's other concerns going ahead: point guard play; perimeter shooting; pick-and-roll defense; continued progression of young guns; and bolstering the lineup.

"One of the things we can't fall prey to is thinking because we had success and made the playoffs that it's automatic we'll have success next year," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We have to come out and be ready to compete, because everyone else will be better. We have to make sure we understand we have to get better."

Utah ended its 36-30 playoff season with 15 players, but the Jazz only have nine current guys under guaranteed contract for the 2012-13 campaign.

That group includes Jefferson ($15 million), Devin Harris ($8.5M), Millsap ($7.2M), Favors ($4.8M), Kanter ($4.4M), Raja Bell ($3.5M), Gordon Hayward ($2.7M), Alec Burks ($2.2M) and Earl Watson ($2.1M).

Bell, of course, has expressed that he hopes to not be back for next year. It remains to be seen if the Jazz handle that situation by trading him, using their amnesty or simply calling his bluff and forcing him to return.

Josh Howard, C.J. Miles and Blake Ahearn will be unrestricted free agents, so their futures are fuzzy. But it wouldn't be surprising for the team to take its options on Jamaal Tinsley ($1.4M) and DeMarre Carroll (less than $1M).

That would put the Jazz's payroll in the $53 million ballpark with 11 players, giving the team about $5 million and multiple exceptions available to flesh out the roster (13-15 players required) through free agency and/or the draft.

The Jazz lost their own No. 18 pick to Minnesota to finish off the Jefferson trade, but they still remain in the running to pick up Golden State's top-seven protected pick. Somebody behind the Warriors has to leapfrog them in the upcoming lottery for that to happen. Even if Utah doesn't get that pick this year, the team is set to receive the Warriors' first-rounder (still protected) in either 2013 or '14, so it could trade that.

The Jazz also have the $10.7 million trade exception obtained in the Mehmet Okur deal, which they could use to acquire a player while exceeding the salary cap (but staying below luxury-tax levels).

One popular line of thinking is that the Jazz must trade either Jefferson or Millsap in order to allow Favors and Kanter to get more minutes and fully blossom.

Don't count O'Connor among that group.

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