Money concerns force Jazz trade

OKC Thunder » Receive Harpring and Maynor.
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Nearly seven months after Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur and Kyle Korver declined free agency and opted to play out their contracts, sending the Jazz's payroll soaring into luxury-tax territory for the first time, the bill came due Tuesday.

The Jazz were able to save more than $10 million by trading injured forward Matt Harpring to the Oklahoma City Thunder -- the one team with the salary-cap space to absorb his contract -- but also were forced to give up rookie first-round draft pick Eric Maynor.

They received the draft rights to Peter Fehse, a second-round pick by Seattle in 2002 who plays in the German League. The Jazz have no immediate interest in signing Fehse, a 6-foot-11 big man who is little more than a placeholder in the deal.

Harpring is all but officially retired, but he is still in the final year of his contract, making $6.5 million. Given the Jazz's payroll, Harpring would have cost them an additional $6.5 million in luxury-tax penalties at season's end.

The Thunder were the lone team with the cap space to take on Harpring without having to send the Jazz players making approximately matching salaries in return.

"To do that, we had to give up an asset, and that asset was Eric Maynor," Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor explained at a news conference in Salt Lake City. "It was a difficult decision. We're disappointed that we had to do that.

"But in these economic times, we saved a great deal of money and we're able to be aggressive still going forward."

Both Harpring's salary as well as that of Maynor ($1.3 million) will not count toward the luxury tax. The Jazz also will not have to pay their prorated salaries the rest of the season. The Thunder will recover about half of Harpring's remaining salary through insurance.

A Virginia Commonwealth product, Maynor was the No. 20 pick in June's draft and was averaging 5.2 points and 3.1 assists in 14 minutes a game as Deron Williams' backup.

He filled in for Williams for two games in November and showed promise as a starter, totaling 13 points and 11 assists in a victory over Philadelphia and scoring 24 points in a loss to Cleveland, earning praise from LeBron James afterward.

"It made it doubly difficult because I think Eric was somebody that fit our DNA," O'Connor said. By Tuesday night, Maynor had changed the background on his Twitter page to the Thunder's logo and wrote that he believed "everything happens for a reason."

With Williams averaging 38.5 minutes a game and Ronnie Price returning to health after a foot injury, O'Connor said the decision to trade Maynor was slightly easier. Maynor will back up another top young point guard in Russell Westbrook for the division-rival Thunder.

"I'm not going to say that it doesn't hurt us from a competitive standpoint, losing a good young player," O'Connor said by phone, "but I will say with Deron and Ronnie, I think we have that position covered."

Down to just 12 players, the Jazz will look to sign a third point guard after returning home from their pre-Christmas trip following tonight's game against the Heat.

The Jazz are likely to consider multiple options, but the Utah Flash's Dontell Jefferson is a leading candidate given his proximity and familiarity with the Jazz system. Jefferson was called up from the D-League last season and played six games with Charlotte.

Whoever the Jazz sign is likely to be released before the Jan. 10 deadline for all players on an NBA roster to have their contracts guaranteed for the season. The Jazz could then re-sign that player or audition another point guard.

Even after the trade, the Jazz are still facing a nearly $5 million tax bill, with a payroll of $74.7 million before signing a 13th player to meet league requirements. The luxury-tax threshold is $69.92 million this season.

The Jazz have suffered a drop in attendance this season to go along with their record payroll, averaging 18,624 a game, down from 19,903 last season when they sold out all but one game.

Maynor will have to wait barely a week to face his former team, with the Jazz playing Dec. 31 in Oklahoma City. The Jazz were sympathetic to Maynor, who was traded just 28 games into his rookie season and three days before Christmas.