Despite injury, Utah Jazz should aim to keep Thabo Sefolosha

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - DECEMBER 30: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks to pass around Thabo Sefolosha #22 of the Utah Jazz during the first half at Vivint Smart Home Arena on December 30, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - DECEMBER 30: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks to pass around Thabo Sefolosha #22 of the Utah Jazz during the first half at Vivint Smart Home Arena on December 30, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images) /

Although Thabo Sefolosha is likely done for the season and is on a non-guaranteed contract for 2018-19, the Utah Jazz should still aim to keep him around.

As if the 2017-18 season hadn’t already been full enough of bad news for the Utah Jazz, they received yet another blow of bad fortune on Saturday as it was announced that Thabo Sefolosha is expected to undergo season-ending surgery on an MCL injury in his right knee.

With yet another devastating injury for the Jazz, all I can do is agree with the statement below from the Salt Lake Tribune’s Tony Jones:

When will this ever end? Utah’s injury woes have essentially derailed them for the past three seasons now.  Yes, last year they were an impressive fifth seed in the West and won a first-round playoff series, but they likely would have been even better had it not been for all their injuries which included missing George Hill for the final three games of the playoffs and playing an ailing Rudy Gobert for much of the postseason as well.

There is a tiny ray of hope as Sefolosha’s injury being season-ending hasn’t been absolutely deemed a sure thing since multiple reports have indicated that he’s evaluating other options. However, at this point it seems the most likely outcome is that he’ll be done for the remainder of 2017-18.

And while the Utah Jazz already boasted few “untouchable” players in terms of who they should aim to trade or part ways with in free agency, this further muddies the water for the future of Sefolosha. The Jazz needed to use 2017-18 as a year to evaluate the talent on their roster, then decide who would fit in to their plans long-term and who should be moved.

Now that he’s hurt, it’s even less likely than before that the Jazz could trade Sefolosha for any sort of value this season. But with the second year of his deal being non-guaranteed, should Utah aim to keep the 33-year-old veteran, or just cut ties with him at the conclusion of this season and look to utilize his salary amount on somebody else?

Well, in my opinion, while unforeseen circumstances could arrive, if I were the Utah Jazz front office, I would still hold on to Thabo for dear life.

In a recent piece describing the tradability of each Utah Jazz player, I mentioned that while Sefolosha’s superb play this season coupled with the nature of his contract could result in him being one of Utah’s most valuable trade pieces, I still didn’t think it wise for the Jazz to trade him unless he was packaged in on some sort of breathtaking deal, the likes of which doesn’t even seem feasible this year. Given how well Thabo has played and how friendly his contract is, the Jazz would be hard-pressed to come out winners in a deal involving him.

Now that he’s likely done for the year, teams that might have wanted him as a savvy veteran to aid in a playoff push aren’t going to be interested at all. Therefore, even if Utah wanted to trade him, they likely wouldn’t be able to find an appropriate suitor.

So then, with concerns about age and this recent injury, would the Jazz be better off just thanking Thabo for his services and parting ways with him for the 2018-19 season? Well, considering that he’s on an absolutely reasonable $5.25 million deal for next season, I don’t believe the Jazz should be quick to let him go.

Sefolosha has been absolutely phenomenal for the Jazz this year and figures to continue to be moving forward. While each of Dennis Lindsey’s savvy veteran additions this offseason has been solid, there’s no doubting that Thabo has been the best fit. He leads the team in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus statistic and of players who have logged at least 30 games, he leads the Jazz in net rating at 4.9.

He’s also been their best wing defender, an essential stretch-four option and an efficient offensive presence who’s converted on 49.2 percent of his field goals and 38.1 percent of his three-pointers this season. In every way imaginable he’s been just the Swiss Army Knife that the Jazz needed, capable of doing a little bit of everything on the court whether it’s been as a starter or off the bench.

And that’s absolutely the kind of role player and glue guy that an elite-tier team needs. If Utah wants to get back to being a contender in the Western Conference, they’ll need guys after the mold of Thabo Sefolosha to get there. Not only has he been exceptional on the court, but he’s also been one of Utah’s most critical veteran leaders.

Earlier in the season Alec Burks praised Sefolosha for aiding his defense. Several guys all year have mentioned how important his vocal leadership has been and there’s no denying that his example as well as knowledge of the game has helped mentor and improve every player on the roster. Add all that up and you’ve got exactly the kind of quality winning guy that Utah should absolutely want to hold on to, especially at his asking price.

In fact, depending on how things go in 2018-19 after Sefolosha presumably comes back from surgery, I could see it being wise for the Jazz to look to keep him on for another couple years. Although he’s only been in Utah for half a season, he’s absolutely proven himself capable of being a part of the Jazz’s long-term plan thanks to his exceptional fit on the court and in the locker room.

Last of all, it’s been crystal clear all season long that Sefolosha and Donovan Mitchell have a tremendous chemistry and relationship. Considering that Mitchell is undoubtedly the future of this Jazz team that will likely go on to be Utah’s most important player, it could pay enormous dividends to keep his mentor and teacher around.

The two have played well on the court together and it’s pretty obvious that Sefolosha has greatly influenced Mitchell in every aspect of his game.

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So while the injury to Thabo Sefolosha is without a doubt a tremendous disappointment, hopefully his absence for the remainder of 2017-18 will be far from the last time he suits up in a Utah Jazz uniform. He’s proven to be a perfect component of this Jazz team in every possible way and while he isn’t “untouchable” per se, the Jazz should still view him as a critically important part of their future and abstain from trading him or failing to bring him back for the second year of his contract.

Get well soon, Thabo. And we’ll wait anxiously to see you back in action soon.