They're veterans, guys who've been around this league. You look at our roster and they're probably going to be the three older statesmen of the team. We're excited to have them. —Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin, on Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson and Brandon Rush
SALT LAKE CITY — If heads continue to be scratched about why the Utah Jazz traded for Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson and Brandon Rush, fans should remove all fingers from their scalps.
We don't want any hair to be pulled out by accident — or because the Jazz's intentions aren't understood.
Yes, those three Warriors will become California transplants in Utah this fall.
No, the Jazz didn't make the trade just to acquire them.
You've heard that phrase players occasionally spout about how the "NBA is a business," right?
Biedrins, Jefferson and Rush are heading to the Beehive State because they made a transaction work — not because Jazz management believes they have the potential to get the team further than Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Mo Williams and Randy Foye could.
While Jazz management has spoken positively about its new players, this trade was clearly done with the future in mind — a future that may or may not even include any of the additions who'll all be free agents next offseason.
Before Utah's "championship-caliber" distant dreams are realized, the organization first needed to reach the payroll minimum for the upcoming season. Its key returning pieces — Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks — are all still on their very affordable rookie contracts. Even with Marvin Williams' $7.5 million obligation and new deals for Trey Burke and Rudy Gobert, the Jazz's payroll was only at about $29 million going into free agency.
Because the organization decided not to bring Jefferson, Millsap, Mo Williams or any other veteran free agents back from last year's team, it required multiple big salaries from elsewhere to get to the NBA's minimum payroll level of $52 million.
There weren't a whole lot of prized free agents within Utah's reach this offseason, so general manager Dennis Lindsey & Co. went wheeling and dealing for a solution. A quick fix presented itself via Oakland. Biedrins and Jefferson make a combined $20 million next season, and Rush is due $4 million. Eh, voila.
Keep in mind, Jazz brass also hoped to maintain the coveted flexibility Kevin O'Connor, the executive vice president of basketball operations, purposely arranged past the 2013-14 season. This was a non-negotiable part of any deals made this offseason. In this case, it was accomplished by adding the three ex-Warriors' expiring contracts and a handful of draft picks, including Golden State's unprotected first-rounders in 2014 and ’17 and three second-round selections.
Over the next few years, this will allow Utah to re-sign its own guys — Hayward and Favors are eligible for extensions this summer; Kanter and Burks next offseason — while still having enough salary-cap space to lure other enticing players and draft even more promising talent.
Welcome to rebuild mode, Jazz fans.
Bonus: The Jazz got a "significant amount of cash" (Lindsey's words) for helping the Warriors clear enough salary space to obtain shooting guard Andre Iguodala from Denver. That undisclosed amount of money, the GM noted while thanking the Miller family, will be used for basketball-related facilities, to improve scouting and/or to sign and trade for other players.
"We're going to invest that money in ourselves," Lindsey said.
In another element of the complicated three-way deal, Utah signed and shipped Foye to the Nuggets in exchange for a 2018 second-round pick — instead of getting nothing had he merely inked a free-agent deal in Denver.
Not to forget, the Jazz also wanted to add veterans and shooters to complement their young guns for this season. That's where Biedrins, Jefferson and Rush come into the equation.
Lindsey didn't claim it was a perfect solution. But, he added, "We checked a few boxes there."
Eligible roster? Flexibility uncompromised? Added experience and shooting?
Check, check and check.
Excitement in Jazzland over these veterans?
Check back on that.
Concerns about these three particular players are understandable. After all, Rush missed almost all of 2012-13 because of knee surgery, while Jefferson and Biedrens combined to score 3.6 points and grab 4.4 rebounds last season for the Warriors. Don't expect any marketing plans to be built around that productivity.
Even so, Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin acted enthusiastic about his new old men.
"They're veterans, guys who've been around this league," Corbin said after his team finished its schedule at the Orlando Pro Summer League. "You look at our roster and they're probably going to be the three older statesmen of the team. We're excited to have them."
The 33-year-old Jefferson will especially feel old amongst his new team, considering Burke, 20, was only 8 years old when he started his NBA career with the New Jersey Nets in 2001. (The 27-year-old Biedrins is two months older than the oldest Jazz returnee, by the way.)
Another hint this trade wasn't about the Golden State cast-offs?
It's still uncertain whether or not the Jazz will even have an introductory press conference for Biedrins, Jefferson and Rush.
Now that the draft and summer league are in the rear-view mirror, Corbin hopes to meet soon with Jefferson and Biedrins so they can begin determining "where they fit in with us." He also wants to make sure they formulate a good plan to have both vets come into fall camp in great shape and "ready to go."
Rush's situation is a bit different because he is rehabbing from mid-January ACL surgery after injuring his left knee in the second game of the 2012-13 season on Nov. 2. His camp expects the 28-year-old to be 100 percent when the Jazz reconvene in late September.
Lindsey, openly giddy about the other aspects of the trade, is optimistic that this portion of the deal might pay off.
"We hope that Andris can re-create himself. We hope Richard can extend his career past this season," Lindsey said. "We look forward to rehabbing Brandon Rush and getting him back on the court, so he can shoot 40 percent on threes."
Jefferson does bring in a career scoring average of 15.0 ppg on 46.6 percent shooting, so it's possible he could find time behind Hayward and rehabbing Marvin Williams. The 7-foot Biedrins has totaled 6.4 points and 7.1 rebounds an outing over his nine-year career, and it's certainly plausible that he could get minutes with Favors and Kanter.
If this were 2009, Jazz fans might be ecstatic. Biedrins averaged a double-double of 11.9 points and 11.2 rebounds for the Warriors that season, while the 6-foot-7 Jefferson put up 22.6 points a night in 2007-08 and 19.6 points per outing in 2008-09.
Rush, who recently turned 28, has had ACL tears in both knees, but he's also been reliable from outside when healthy. The 6-foot-6 shooting guard's career, 41.3 percent shooting from 3-point range is better than Foye (37.7 percent), Raja Bell (40.7 percent) and Mehmet Okur (37.5 percent) and a shade under Kyle Korver (41.9 percent).
"We added veterans that are big for their positions. They can shoot the ball when left open," Lindsey said. "All three guys are high character, which adds quality."
As was reported last week, the general manager isn't about to admit the team is going into tank mode for next season. He did admit that Utah will focus on "building a defensive foundation" instead of focusing on numbers of wins and losses.
"The Utah Jazz, as you know the history, we're never going to cede anything," Lindsey said. "We're going to compete to the best of our ability."
And, perhaps more importantly, protect future interests and allow the youthful core to flourish. Or flounder. No time like the present to discover that.
"We needed to find out what this young group could do," Lindsey said, "and then we can make decisions from there, and we'll live with the results."
For the Jazz, though, the risk is worth the reward.
This trade helped them fill the aforementioned boxes with checks and could pay off in the short term if the veterans somehow muster career resurgences.
Even if this group fails, the vets might actually help the Jazz win by losing. NBA teams are drooling about the 2014 draft class and — as strange as this sounds about a franchise with a rich playoff history like Utah's — this could be a great year to have a lot of ping-pong balls come lottery time next spring.
It will be a big bonus if the Jazz shock the basketball world and make the playoffs next season with their new Warriors while Golden State accidentally relapses into tank mode and gives Utah a lottery pick that way.
Whatever happens this season, Jazz fans might want to keep this phrase in mind: "Short-term pain for long-term gain."
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