Thursday, June 21, 2007
Is Big Al Overvalued?
First off, props to Tim for unearthing that priceless photo of Mark Blount standing against a wall and yawning. How fucking perfect is that. A friend of mine's Dad once ran into Blount in a mall or some shit, near the end of Blount's tenure, and tried to talk to him and Blount told him to go fuck himself, literally in those terms. It's so rare that you get such a perfect combination of a terrible athlete and an even more terrible human being... he is sorely missed.
In any event, last night I'd whipped up a typically long-winded and self-indulgent post further obsessing over the possible Garnett trade (which the Herald reports today is closer to happening; I'll stop now), and then I read Tim's exceedingly rational moratorium on all such speculation and was like, shit, he's right. So I'm basically re-working the post into something that's not explicitly Garnett-related but taps into what appears to be an increasingly pressing and controversial issue this offseason, namely the potential overvaluing of Big Al Jefferson. Away we go.
First of all, let me say that I love Big Al fairly passionately. He's without a doubt the premier acquisition of the Ainge era, and provided he can stay healthy, he will be an outstanding player for years to come. He is, by all accounts, a very good dude and an increasingly hard worker, someone who you can put out front as a face of the franchise and not worry for a second about, say, getting pulled over on the FDR Drive at 4am while in possession of a small armory.
All of that said, it's come to my attention during recent discussions surrounding the possible acquisition of a player who we'll refer to as "Gevin Karnett" that certain C's fans might be getting ahead of themselves a bit in terms of Big Al, transforming a guy with loads of potential who recently averaged 16 and 11 for a terrible team into the second coming of Karl Malone. The general sentiment among such fans is that giving up Big Al and the number 5 for GK is unequivocally too much (again, see Simmons' column yesterday for this take). I'm not so sure this is true. Al Jefferson is an exceptionally gifted offensive player who will probably never be a great defensive player, a situation that's as much due to his being slightly undersized as it is to his abilities. The idea that acquiring Karnett in exchange for Jefferson et al will provide only "superior defense at the 4-spot and a slight points/rebounding upgrade" (Simmons' assessment) is preposterous. It's not unreasonable to speculate that Gevin Karnett could average 25 and 14 in the Eastern Conference next year; reversing the hypothetical, while there's certainly a decent chance Big Al improves on his numbers next year, playing in the West is sure to slow his statistical learning curve more than a bit. More compelling is Simmons' argument for keeping Al over KG in terms of salary discrepancy, but that only becomes a meaningful argument if management is serious about using cap space to bring in legit veteran talent, which they haven't shown an ability to do.
Marc Stein recently wrote a column on ESPN.com in which he flatly stated that "a Garnett-Paul Pierce tag team will have real hope of getting to the Finals no matter who's around those two." This is a provocative statement, but you know what? He's right. The Eastern Conference is abysmal, as this year proved beyond a shadow of a doubt. Sure, there's probably no way they'd win, but in all honesty, do you think that in 3-4 years a C's team built around Big Al, Corey Brewer, Rajon Rondo and a geriatric Pierce would have a better shot at beating a Blazers team with Greg Oden, LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy?
When all's said and done, I'll be more than happy if Big Al is still a Celtic come November. If Thursday comes around and Ainge throws in the towel on talks with Minnesota and drafts Corey Brewer (which seems the increasingly likely choice, as Yi is allegedly slipping, thank God), hey, I'm on board. But make no mistake: Al Jefferson is not Gevin Karnett, even Gevin Karnett at 31, and in reality it's hard to believe he ever will be.