Larry H. Miller dropped somewhat of a bombshell at the press conference he held after being released from the hospital last month.
And this one had nothing to do with his health.
Though Miller officially handed over control of the franchise earlier this summer to his son, Greg Miller, the Jazz owner raised some eyes when he talked about next year's offseason when among many other things the franchise will likely be challenged to keep Carlos Boozer in the fold.
"We're going to have to make some very, very tough decisions next year," the elder Miller said. "I do not intend us to be a luxury-tax payer, but only because we have to have an economically stable franchise regardless of anything else."
With just two weeks until the kickoff of the Utah Jazz's fall training camp, it's worth revisiting two major points that can be gleaned from Miller's statement:
1. Even though he stepped down as the boss, Miller will likely play a significant role in the franchise's future decision-making. That especially appears the case for next summer, which he says will be "one of the most important" in Jazz history. His son has publicly stated that he wants the business mogul to remain active in helping mold the franchise's future.
2. Having to make those "very, very tough decisions" will mean either Utah's financial bottom line will take a hit from paying luxury taxes to keep the current group together or Jazz fans will be cheering on a team that looks significantly different in several key spots.
Have fun picking your poison, Jazz brass.
General manager Kevin O'Connor and the Jazz's other top decision-makers might not be making too many vacation plans for what should be a wild summer of '09 for multiple reasons:
• The Jazz's team salary for the 2008-09 season will be $65.3 million. While that is above the salary cap, it's well below the more important luxury-tax threshold, which will be in the $72.4 million range. For 2009-10, however, the Jazz's salary could skyrocket to $74.4 million about the same as the projected luxury-tax threshold if all players with options remain with the team.
The problem? The Jazz would still need to sign two more players to reach the required 13-player mark, meaning their salary level would be at least a million or so into the dreaded luxury-tax zone where Miller said his team won't go. Teams that surpass that level must pay a per-dollar-over toll to the league. Likewise, those taxed teams do not receive a share of the luxury-tax bonus that is divvied up equally to franchises under the limit. The Jazz reportedly received a $4.2 million share for being frugal last year.
• Based on contracts and attached options some owned by players, others by the team it's possible that only five current members of the Jazz will be back in 2009-10. How's a starting lineup of Deron Williams, C.J. Miles, Matt Harpring, Andrei Kirilenko and Kosta Koufos sound? While that scenario might be a tad far-fetched, those are the only five players whose contracts extend through the next two years without strings attached.
• Dealing with six different players and their options could make next summer a frantic one for the Jazz.
That list includes one superstar (Boozer), a former All-Star (Mehmet Okur) and a player who helped engineer last season's strong second half while becoming a fan favorite for various reasons (Kyle Korver).
It also includes Ronnie Brewer, Morris Almond and Kyrylo Fesenko, whose 2009-10 destinies the Jazz control.
Thanks to clauses in their contracts, Boozer, Okur and Korver can each opt out of their Utah deals at the end of this season. That would give the Jazz plenty of financial flexibility, but losing all three would also leave a huge void in the current successful scheme.
Much of the opting-out talk has revolved around Boozer. He's been rumored to be headed to Miami, where he resides in the offseason. He is also good friends with Heat owner Micky Arison. Boozer even fueled some talk about leaving the NBA for Europe with a comment he made while in China. Williams tried his darnedest to convince Boozer to stay in Utah while they were teammates in Beijing this summer, but it's widely speculated that the power forward will test the free-agent waters next summer. The Jazz could still re-sign him, but he would be an unrestricted free agent, and the price tag would probably be higher than his current $11.6 million salary.
"Whether he opts out or not I don't know. Hopefully he stays," Williams said this summer. "He knows he's a big part of this team. He knows that we have that great chemistry together, and it will be hard to develop that same chemistry with another point guard. And maybe he goes to a team that doesn't have the caliber of point guard that he has here."
At their relatively young ages, Okur (29) and Korver (27) also could decide the iron is now hot enough to strike for potential jackpot long-term contracts. Neither has talked about their deals publicly, but they both have the options to see how much other teams think their worth is come next summer. Or not.
O'Connor said he couldn't comment on Boozer's contract situation, which won't be discussed until next summer. And like Jazz fans and management, Williams says he "can't predict" what the big three will choose to do. He only hopes they stick around.
"They know that I love it here," Williams said. "They know that this is where I want them to be with me, and hopefully those guys can win a championship with me."
One double-edged factor, though, is that Williams' impending salary jump with his new multi-year extension that will kick in next summer will contribute to the Jazz's financial quandary. He will make about $15 million in 2009-10 up from $5,069,449 this season and could tie up almost $70 million in salary space over four years.
Then there's Kirilenko's beefy contract, which will swallow up $15.1 million this year, $16.4 million the following season and nearly $18 million in 2010-11. Would the Jazz be willing or able to move him in order to clear space for Boozer or others?
• The contracts of Paul Millsap, Jarron Collins, Ronnie Price and Brevin Knight expire at the end of this season, which will leave the Jazz without a backup point guard (not counting, ahem, Kirilenko) and without their top two big bench players.
Millsap, it would seem, has the most to gain financially this season. Based on the power forward's production as Boozer's backup, his $797,581 contract for 2008-09 has to be considered one of the bargains of the league and is, no doubt, only a fraction of what he'll demand on the open market next year.
But will Millsap's all-around offensive game (particularly his mid-range shot) be fine-tuned enough to merit a starting spot in the Jazz lineup if Boozer goes elsewhere? Or can he be satisfied in a reserve role if the Jazz can afford to pay his increased salary?
Either way, keeping both Boozer and Millsap beyond this season will be an expensive luxury the Jazz might not allow themselves, even if they have the chance.
• Utah must decide is whether or not to take the team option on rookie deals in place for Brewer, its starting 2-guard, and third-year-to-be pros Almond and Fesenko.
Picking up Brewer for his fourth season at a discounted rate seems a no-brainer at this point, but will the Jazz see enough progress in Almond's defense and Fesenko's consistency and work ethic to continue investing in their futures?
• The Jazz will also have to add the salary of a 2009 first-round pick to the sum total, assuming they don't trade it away or pick a player who postpones his NBA career.
E-mail: [email protected]