Questions Abound as the Jazz Dive into a Pivotal Offseason
By Matt Payne – Utah Jazz
Note: This article contains lots of questions that I don’t have the answers to—sorry. This is more about throwing out ideas and creating a forum for discussion. I’m curious to find out, in the comments section below, what Jazz fans think about the direction of the team.
So … we’re here.
The Utah Jazz have no coach. Their leading scorer is heading into restricted free agency. And they didn’t win the NBA Draft Lottery, instead falling to No. 5 (not the worst thing that could have happened, but top three—heck, even top four—would have been nice).
And yet … things look promising, right?
Change can be good, and the Jazz are currently in the initial stages of an offseason that should define the direction of the franchise for the next several years.
Directly after the NBA Draft Lottery, Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey shared his thoughts with Spence Checketts and Gordon Monson on 1280 The Zone.
“We’re ecstatic with [No. 5],” Lindsey said. “Certainly you want to move up when that potential is there, but we’ll resolve that we didn’t move up and look toward what [that pick] means to us relative to our roster—whether we select it or trade it, or trade up or trade back, we’ll look at all those potential options. … Our job is to make great decisions no matter where we pick … we’re very confident in our diligence.”
In a nutshell: Lindsey is going to explore every single possible option to improve this team, and he hopes that Jazz fans trust him and the rest of the executive management team to make the right choices.
You’ve probably heard the term “asset accumulation” used widely around the NBA in recent years (especially by ESPN’s Chad Ford)—most often regarding teams that are rebuilding. These “assets” for rebuilding teams generally include young players (who are often on their rookie contracts), current and future salary cap flexibility, draft picks, etc.
The Jazz certainly fall into the group of asset accumulators, and they have for the past few years. They’ve acquired, through the draft, young and potentially valuable assets in Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Enes Kanter and Rudy Gobert. They also received Derrick Favors, who was the No. 3 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, as a key piece when they traded away Deron Williams. Even a player like Jeremy Evans (only 26 years old and entering the final year of an affordable contract) is a low-risk asset for the team.
A few other young players—Malcolm Thomas, Erik Murphy, Ian Clark and Diante Garrett—are also under team control going into next season.
And don’t forget about Brazilian point guard Raul Neto, who thrilled fans with his flamboyant play during last year’s summer league before returning to his team in Europe for another year.
The Jazz also own the rights to Croatian center Ante Tomic, who has been one of the top players in Europe since the Jazz drafted him in 2008.
Besides the players, Utah has positioned itself with plenty of salary cap space moving forward. Per Basketball Insiders, the Jazz are set to have anywhere between $20–$30 million in cap space this offseason depending on what happens with Gordon Hayward, who will have an $8.6 million cap hold until his contract is resolved.
Utah is one of 10 teams that are likely to have significant space under the cap.
The Jazz also own the Nos. 5, 23 and 35 picks in this year’s NBA Draft, plus a 2016 second-round pick (from Golden State), a 2017 first-round pick (from Golden State), a 2017 second-round pick (from Golden State) and a 2018 second-round pick (from Denver) in addition to their own picks moving forward.
So if the goal has been to acquire as many assets as possible, the Jazz have seemingly done a really good job. For a few years now, NBA analysts have hailed the team as an up-and-coming force with a strong, young core.
How Good is Good Enough?
The question is: When will the franchise take the next step, from collecting assets and gaining experience to fielding a legitimately competitive team?
It’s unrealistic to want both of these things—the accumulation of young assets and on-court success in the form of wins—during an exhaustive rebuild, simply because high draft picks don’t come to teams that are fringe contenders (e.g. Minnesota, Phoenix).
The Jazz were competitive as recently as the 2012-13 season, when veterans Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap led the team to the brink of the playoffs with a 43-39 record.
Is that the kind of team the fans want—one that has a legitimate chance of winning every time it takes the court, even if it’s not a championship contender?
Or do fans want a title or bust? And is that even possible for a market like Salt Lake City?
Where Do the Jazz Go From Here?
Let’s examine this question through another series of questions that Utah’s front office is no doubt sorting through as it continues to build the team.
- How long will Utah’s young assets keep building in value? Or have they already peaked?
- What is the trade value of Utah’s current players?
- Which young players do you keep?
- Would you even consider trading Derrick Favors or Trey Burke?
- As far as draft prospects go, do you want another really young player who has loads of upside but might take a few years to make an impact (like Noah Vonleh, Aaron Gordon or Zach LaVine)? Or would you prefer an older player who has a more developed game but less upside (like Doug McDermott or Adreian Payne)?
- In the draft, do you try to trade up despite the probably high cost, trade down if you get a good offer, trade out of the draft completely or stand pat?
- Are there any potential (and affordable) free agents the Jazz should pursue aggressively? If so, who?
- Is Deron Williams a cautionary tale? How long would a star player (acquired through the draft, a trade or free agency) actually stay in Utah?
- Are Jazz fans patient enough to suffer through another year of consistent losing—with a few exciting moments of success sprinkled in to maintain hope for the future?
So many questions, and so few concrete answers. I guess that’s why this is shaping up to be such an intriguing offseason.