Who's the most valuable player on the 2012-13 Golden State Warriors roster? There are four reasonable ways to answer that question.
The most logical answer is probably Stephen Curry, followed closely by David Lee. Both should have been All-Stars; one is a budding superstar and the other an All-NBA candidate.
Andrew Bogut is also a plausible answer, as his defensive presence is a prerequisite for a deep Warriors playoff run.
Which brings us to Jarrett Jack, the Warriors' all-world sixth man.
Jack has averaged 13.4 points and 5.7 assists coming off the bench, both top numbers for NBA backup point guards this season. Beyond that, his ability to drain run-stopping shots, lead the break and come up huge in the fourth quarter make him invaluable to Golden State.
Even if he isn't as valuable as Curry, Lee or Bogut, Jack is still an integral part of the Warriors. The team is winless with Jack out of the lineup this season and 7-13 when he is held to less than nine points or less than three assists.
The Dorell Wright-for-Jarrett Jack trade could turn out to be one of the best in Warriors history.
However, that possibility will only begin to come to fruition this summer.
That's because Jarrett Jack's current contract will expire at the end of this season, and the Warriors will have to make some tough decisions in order to keep him.
Assuming the front office makes no trades, the Warriors will enter next season with $46 million in guaranteed contracts. Assuming Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson and Brandon Rush take their player options, they will be at $70 million, $2 million beneath the salary cap.
Carl Landry is the X-factor here.
If Landry takes his player option, he will push the Warriors to $74 million. Short of trading Curry, Lee, Bogut, Klay Thompson or Harrison Barnes, the team will be slightly into the luxury tax and in no position to re-sign Jack. The only hope would be moving Andris Biedrins or Richard Jefferson, two of the least tradable players in the NBA.
If Landry doesn't re-sign, there will still be a tough decision to make on Jack. They will need to clear more cap space than $2 million, as Jack will likely command at least $6 million after this season.
If the Warriors can't trade Biedrins or Jefferson, moving Brandon Rush would be their most realistic option.
Rush's role will be somewhat undefined entering next season and his health will be in question after missing this season with an ACL tear. At the same time, he got injured while playing the best basketball of his career, and moving him for a future first-round draft pick would certainly be doable.
Landry has even greater value, although his role on the Warriors is likely to be greater should he stay.
Ultimately, the Warriors will have to decide between Jack or Rush and Landry.
When making this decision, the Warriors should take notes from their neighboring baseball franchise, the Oakland Athletics.
A team with a far more decorated history, far more recent success and far less money, the A's have shown that winning requires a sort of lack of compassion. After a magical 2012 season in which the A's won a division title, the A's said goodbye to several players who were leaders on the field and in the clubhouse.
Every new season brings new chemistry, so retaining players based on "mojo" can be futile.
That isn't to say that the Warriors shouldn't re-sign Jack; it's to say that they must evaluate him objectively.
The list of things that Jack brings to the table is fairly lengthy and incredibly unique: He's a durable, starting-caliber backup for an incredibly fragile starter.
He's a flammable scorer off the bench that can come into a game and get the offense going by hitting tough shots. He's an excellent facilitator that allows the Warriors to play Curry, their best shooter, off the ball.
He's arguably the best penetrator the Warriors have due to his ball-handling and strength. He's incredibly clutch, hitting shots when the pressure is on and the defense is tight. Finally, he's a locker room leader, a tough guy, a grinder, a guy you want on your side.
However, Brandon Rush's presence would bring several things that Jack's does not.
Rush has excellent size (6'6") and length for an off-guard, and a Rush-Curry backcourt would be superior to a Jack-Curry backcourt both defensively and on the glass. Rush's athleticism would give the Warriors an all-important second slasher after Harrison Barnes, breaking down the defense in ways that a Jack-Curry-Thompson trio cannot.
Rush's three-point shooting is every bit as deadly as Jack's. His ability to play the three would allow the team to keep Klay Thompson at the 2, and his energy is every bit as contagious as Jack's.
All things considered, the impact that either player can make is fairly comparable. The deciding factor here is that trading Rush would allow the team to add an asset (a future pick or a cheap depth big to replace Landry), while letting Jack walk would leave the team with Rush—fresh off an ACL injury—as the only proven bench player.
In other words, if Landry leaves, Brandon Rush should be traded. If Landry stays, the decision becomes much tougher.
Re-signing Jack would require moving both Rush and Landry. If Rush is comparable to Jack, Landry decisively tips the scales. Of course, Rush and Landry could net the Warriors a better bench big than Rush could on his own, but the whole idea here is a salary dump.
In other words, should the Warriors lose Carl Landry against their will, they should complete the two-for-one swap and trade Rush to make room for Jack.
Should Landry decide to stay, however, the Warriors would be ill-advised to give up two excellent bench players for one. The goal isn't to be the same team next season; the goal is to be better.
Ideally, the Warriors could keep Landry, Rush and Jack and roll out arguably the best eight-man rotation in the NBA. But unless they figure out a way to trade Andris Biedrins or Richard Jefferson, the Warriors will lose someone this summer that no one will want to see go.