The Jazz could write a manual: How to Recover From Losing Your Star Player.
When Karl Malone left Utah (in vain) for a championship ring, the Jazz rebounded by snagging Carlos Boozer from Cleveland. With Boozer now gone to Chicago, Utah again seamlessly made up for it, this time by acquiring Al Jefferson from Minnesota for a couple draft picks.
This was possible thanks to the trade exception created by signing and trading Boozer to Chicago, so in a roundabout way, Utah basically traded Boozer for Jefferson. It’s not a bad deal.
Jefferson’s stats present a slight drop-off compared to Boozer’s, but that can be attributed to Jefferson’s recovery from knee surgery the year before. The injury (torn ACL) is severe enough that the first year post-surgery is often a warm-up season before the player really returns to form.
That’s what Utah is hoping for, because the pre-surgery Jefferson was a low-post beast who averaged over 23 points and 10 rebounds-per-game. That and Jefferson’s age (25) is preferable to that of Boozer (28).
Jefferson is also a much better defender in the paint, swatting 1.5 blocks-per-game to Boozer’s half-block-per-contest. Jefferson is also a much wider and stronger body, which may prove a better foil to the Lakers’ frontline than what Utah saw from Boozer last spring.
The only negative outcome from this deal (for Utah, anyway) is the effect on Paul Millsap, who seemed tailor-made to slide in as the team’s starting power forward. As a starter during Boozer’s frequent trips to the injured list, Millsap showed tantalizing talent with his rebounding and grunt-worth underneath. Despite that and Millsap’s above-average salary (over $20 million for the next three years), it looks like Utah is content keeping him in a super-sub role.
Time will tell if Millsap feels the same.
Still, it’s nothing short of a coup for Utah to come away this unscathed after losing Boozer and Kyle Korver (rookie Gordon Hayward and, assuming he’s kept, Wes Matthews are ready to step in at shooting guard). They’re still hurting at center, but that’s no different than when the summer started.
That’s what you call seamless recovery.