If the Jazz have to choose between Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, what’s the call?

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There’s been a lot of talk about Paul Millsap and his contract situation. The young under-All-Star has decided to reject extension offers and instead opt for unrestricted free agency next summer according to reports, and so the Jazz will have to determine just how much they want to keep him. But kind of snuck under that headline (and beneath the lack of coverage the Jazz get) is that their other big-name big man Al Jefferson is also up for a new contract.

So the Jazz could go from this glut of big men to a downright dearth.

They can obviously elect to re-sign both players. But what if it were to come down to a choice between the two? They’d want to make it before the trade deadline so they don’t risk losing both for nothing. But which one? Derrick Favors complicates the situation, with the young athletic freak playing very well last year in a reserve role and openly interested in getting a starting position. Jazz blog SLC Dunk examined the position, and began to rethink the idea of focusing on keeping Millsap and letting Jefferson walk:

1) Keeping Jefferson allows him to start with Derrick Favors at power forward, and playing predominantly at that position seems to be a priority for our young potential-franchise player. While I think a Favors/Millsap duo would work as well—or better—it would not allow Favors to continue to mature at the position where he is most comfortable. (I’m assuming the team chooses not to play Millsap at SF a great deal, which I believe would be foolish and harmful to the team in both the short and long term.)

2) Enes Kanter is probably a few years away from starting, and having Jefferson as our starting center in that time would be about as well as we could do at the position. Even with his weaknesses, Jefferson is a probably a top five center in the league.

3) Millsap’s current trade value strikes me as far greater than Jefferson’s, partially due to his contract, partially because he isn’t the same defensive liability Jefferson is. Given how their respective careers have progressed, I think the sentiment across the league would hold that Millsap is also the more amenable of the two to the possibility of coming off the bench—if he feels his role and money are sufficient. As the more tradable, more flexible, and generally more desired of the two in a trade, moving Millsap gives the Jazz the greatest possibility of getting a worthwhile asset in return.

via An Open Question: Re-Sign Al Jefferson or Not?|SLC Dunk

Millsap on the market could draw huge offers. That’s the kind of difference-maker move that near-contenders shop for at the deadline. The Jazz could wind up with a great package of young players and picks if they trade either one, but Millsap in particular will draw the kind of combination that could allow for major changes. But the Jazz are still in the middle of a rebuild after Deron Williams, despite returning to the playoffs last season. Do they want to surrender on that plan so soon?

But Millsap-Jefferson-Favors just presents too much of a cluster of big men long-term. Ty Corbin has done a terrific job of making it work and turning it into a plus. But they need balance, and have the luxury of depth to use it to improve other positions. They have talent the can move to make the team better. That might be the best approach. Jefferson has a lot of draw backs defensively and in terms of ball movement. But he’s also one of maybe five post players you can give the ball to inside a minute and watch him deliver. It’s one of his biggest strengths and something few notice. He’s a killer crunch-time scorer in the post. That’s a huge weapon to be able to draw out because of his free throw shooting.  (78% last season, nothing groundbreaking but good enough to keep you from hack-a-Jeff’ing him).

The Jazz have so many directions they can go this season, so many things in motion. This is a big one for the franchise, not just on the floor but up in the offices. It’s complicated, but it could also bring huge rewards if management can pull it off.

 

Heat’s Justise Winslow fined $15,000 for stepping on Embiid’s mask

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NEW YORK (AP) Miami’s Justise Winslow has been fined $15,000 by the NBA for attempting to damage Philadelphia center Joel Embiid‘s facemask during Game 3 of their playoff series.

Winslow intentionally stepped on Embiid’s mask after it had fallen onto the court with 7:51 remaining in the second quarter of the 76ers’ 128-108 victory on Thursday night.

The NBA cited Winslow for unsportsmanlike conduct in announcing the penalty Friday.

Embiid was wearing the mask for the first time after returning from a 10-game absence caused by a broken orbital bone around his left eye.

Philadelphia leads the series 2-1. Game 4 is Saturday.

Defense found: Bucks overwhelm Celtics for 116-92 win

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Khris Middleton scored 23 points, Giannis Antetokounmpo added 19 and the Milwaukee Bucks used a dominating first half to overwhelm the Boston Celtics 116-92 on Friday night, narrowing their deficit in the first-round playoff series to 2-1.

Eric Bledsoe and Jabari Parker each added 17 for the energized Bucks, who held the Celtics without a field goal for nearly an 11-minute stretch of the first half.

Milwaukee found its defense after a disheartening 14-point loss in Game 2, getting contributions from up and down the roster.

Backup center Thon Maker scored 14 points and had five of the Bucks’ 12 blocks. Pesky guard Matthew Dellavedova, a veteran of a championship run with the Cleveland Cavaliers, helped hold young Celtics point guard Terry Rozier to nine points on 2-of-7 shooting.

“The activity, if you take the stat sheet out of it, the activity and the energy that we brought … as you go through the game, that’s what you need, is the energy first,” coach Joe Prunty said.

Al Horford scored 16 for the Celtics, who fell behind by 23 at halftime and got no closer than 76-62 with 3:06 left in the third quarter on Jayson Tatum‘s 3-pointer.

The game was so well in hand that the Bucks closed out the victory even with Antetokounmpo on the bench for much of the fourth quarter with five fouls. Middleton had eight points in the fourth.

Game 4 is Sunday in Milwaukee. The Celtics will need to get off to a much better start if they want to avoid going home for Game 5 with a 2-2 series tie.

“We got into a hole. This is new for our group,” Horford said. “They had it going … and we really didn’t have an answer for them tonight.”

Milwaukee hustled for loose balls and stayed active around the paint, used its length to get deflections and disrupt Boston in the lane.

The 7-foot-1 Maker, in particular, provided a huge boost to help Milwaukee counter what had been a decisive edge off the bench for the Celtics. Maker got extended minutes only because starting center John Henson missed the game with a sore back.

Nearly everything else went Milwaukee’s way, too.

Parker, who voiced displeasure this week after playing just 24 minutes over the first two games, was 7 of 12 from the field and played 30 minutes. Bledsoe, outplayed by Rozier in the first two games, shot 8 of 13.

“Good win, lots of positives tonight. Quick turnaround … so we’ll have to do it again on Sunday,” Prunty said.

 

Wizards show some fight, top Raps 122-103, get series to 2-1

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WASHINGTON (AP) — All of about 2 1/2 minutes into the game, Washington forward Markieff Morris and Toronto’s OG Anunoby needed to be separated after a near-fight that drew in other players.

Early in the third quarter Friday night, Raptors guard Kyle Lowry was called for a flagrant foul when he swiped a hand across Bradley Beal‘s forehead as the Wizards guard went in for a breakaway layup. Later in that period, things really came close to spiraling out of control, but John Wall‘s bodyguard interceded when Washington’s All-Star jawed with Toronto’s Serge Ibaka.

As that scene unfolded on the court, spectators directed “U-S-A! U-S-A!” chants at the opponents from Canada, and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” blared over the arena’s speakers. Amid all the ruckus, Beal and Wall kept their heads and helped the Wizards pull further and further away for a 122-103 victory.

What was once a dull, lopsided series is suddenly quite interesting.

Beal heeded his coach’s plea to “do his job” by scoring 21 of his 28 points in the first half, Wall delivered 28 points and 14 assists, and the eighth-seeded Wizards cut their Eastern Conference first-round playoff deficit to 2-1.

“We’re not going out to try to box every game,” Beal said, before describing Morris as “a bully with a smile.”

Added Beal: “We came out tonight with an edge about ourselves.”

After letting the Raptors grab the first 2-0 series lead in franchise history, the Wizards came home and checked off every box coach Scott Brooks presented. They got Beal more involved after he made only three shots in Game 2; they actually led after the first quarter, 30-29; they produced 19 turnovers that led to 28 points.

“They came out and punched us,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. “And we allowed them to.”

He meant that figuratively, of course, but the choice of words sure seemed apt.

The Raptors did appear to take the worse of the physical nature of the game.

DeMar DeRozan, who led Toronto with 23 points, wore a Band-Aid under his right eye afterward. Reserve Pascal Siakam held a bag of ice over a cut on his lip that required three stitches.

“Ain’t nobody fighting out here,” said Lowry, who had 19 points and eight assists. “I mean, it got physical, but ain’t nobody fighting. It’s a heated moment, but that’s the game of basketball.”

Each team boasts a pair of elite, All-Star guards. This time, Washington’s pair came out on top.

The start initially had the look of “Here we go again,” as Toronto moved ahead 27-18. The Raptors, after all, outscored Washington by an average of 11 points in the first period over Games 1 and 2. But this time, Washington responded with a 12-point run capped by Beal’s 3 with under a minute left.

Beal scored 12 in the quarter a day after he, Wall and Brooks met to discuss ways to get Beal more involved in the offense. Entering Friday, Beal was averaging only 14 points in the playoffs, well below his 22.6 average during the regular season.

“We need both our guys to step up,” Brooks said about Beal and Wall. “It was good tonight.”

 

Pacers erase 17-point deficit to take 2-1 lead over Cavs

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Bojan Bogdanovic scored 30 points, leading the Indiana Pacers back from a 17-point halftime deficit for a 92-90 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night for a 2-1 lead in their first-round series.

Cleveland was 39-0 during the regular season when leading after three quarters and kept that perfect mark intact with a Game 2 win.

The incredible second-half charge came exactly one year after Indiana blew a 26-point halftime lead in a historic playoff collapse against the Cavs.

This time, the Pacers delivered a devastating blow to the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs – on a night LeBron Jones joined Michael Jordan as the only players in playoff history to record 100 double-doubles. James finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Cleveland from losing its first game this season after leading following the third quarter.

The biggest reason for the collapse: Bogdanovic.

After charging back with striking distance, he completed a four-point play to finally give the Pacers an 81-77 lead with 6:10 left. Bogdanovic followed that with another to make it as seven-point game.

Then James answered with the next seven to tie it.

Bogdanovic came right back with a layup and another 3 before Thaddeus Young scored to give the Pacers a 91-84 cushion with 53 seconds left.

James knocked down a 3 to cut the deficit to four, and the Cavs got another 3 from Kevin Love with 7 seconds left to make it 91-90.

Darren Collison made 1 of 2 free throws with 5 seconds left, giving Cleveland one more chance. But J.R. Smith‘s long desperation heave came up short..