Jazz: It’s Time to Escape Purgatory

In the March 5 edition of ESPN the Magazine, Jordan Brenner uses this lead:

When Sam Presti left his gig as the Spurs’ assistant GM in 2007 to take over the Sonics, he inherited a team that had been two games over .500 in the previous nine seasons. That’s the NBA’s version of purgatory — neither chasing a championship nor lousy enough to rebuild in earnest.

Unfortunately, Jazz nation, this is where your 2012 Jazz are. With veterans like Raja Bell, Al Jefferson, and Devin Harris, the team has veterans on the team that are getting minutes while young players like Alec Burks, Enes Kanter, and Derrick Favors toil away with the second unit.

Coach Ty Corbin has tried to mix things around to give the young guys time to develop. While the team is winning, it’s hard to give too many minutes to the young players and watch the leads slip away. But when your team is collapsing the way they did against Minnesota on Wednesday, it may be time to seriously think whether this squad can reach the ultimate goal.

Aren’t all teams trying to win the NBA Finals? I can’t see any team going into long-term planning sessions thinking, “It’s time to lock up the fourth seed in the conference,” or, “If all we can do is make the playoffs and exit round one, year after year, that’s good enough.”

Can the Jazz, as currently assembled, do that? No.

So it’s time to mix things up – and time to follow a recipe that has worked.

The Sonics/Thunder got Serge Ibaka – the Jazz have Derrick Favors.

The Sonics/Thunder got Russell Westbrook – the Jazz have Alec Burks.

The Sonics/Thunder got Kevin Durant – the Jazz have Enes Kanter.

What’s the disconnect? Okay, KD is a top-five player in the league. But the Jazz have the opportunity, with two picks in the upcoming draft, to potentially grab a top player, someone who can dynamically improve the Jazz and put them over the threshold and into competition for the NBA Final representation for the Western Conference.

Step One – Use the Okur trade exception

The Thunder shed big contracts (Rashard Lewis, Ray Allen) and loaded up on skilled players who did things the right way while nurturing young talent.

The Jazz? They have a lot of young talent, they just need a player who can do things the right way.

That means trading Al Jefferson – yes, Big Al, the Kleenex of the post (because he has soft touch – and can’t play defense).

*It’s hard to notice, because the Jazz are third in the NBA in blocks. But guards and wings are streaking past the perimeter defense and are putting up shots near the rim. Big Al can’t rotate on the pick-and-roll, and the excuse of drawing them into the shot blockers shouldn’t cut it. That leads to fouls – which the Jazz do A LOT of*

The Jazz have the ability to make trades, because they have the Okur trade exception. Why not use it? The trade, linked above, means the Jazz end up with Pau Gasol – yeah, Pau Gasol. One of the best post players in the league, he is better than Al Jefferson. Despite having a larger contract than Jefferson, he can get paid that because he plays the game better than Jefferson.

When I used to waste my money, my dad would, “Why don’t you spend your time digging  a hole, and toss your money in there? Then I can go get it later.” I have the same opinion about Devin Harris. Ship him to the Lakers, and ride the Earl Watson-Jamaal Tinsley wagon to the end of the season. I can’t imagine it being any less productive than having Devin Harris constantly turn the ball over or miss threes.

Step Two – Draft Wisely

Utah, you have two picks in the talented 2012 draft! Unfortunately, most of the talent is in the trees, and the Jazz need perimeter help. Since it isn’t likely that the team will land in the playoffs, and they have the Warriors draft pick, they will likely be in a similar position as last season – right outside the top 10.

Their first pick? I really like John Henson, a lanky power forward out of North Carolina. The Jazz need perimeter help, especially a good shooter/defender. I think they should try to trade down for either Austin Rivers, from Duke, or Terrence Ross, from Washington. I feel that Ross fits better in the Jazz lineup, but Rivers has the ice water to make late shots – like he did against North Carolina, on the road, with the game-winning shot, as a freshman.

Ross/Rivers could slide into a time share with Burks, until one of the two young players earns the starters spot. Or Corbin could take the George Karl/Scott Brooks/Gregg Popovich approach, and just go with the hot hand to lead the second unit while the starter plays strong defense and shoots.

The second pick in the first round will likely be under 15 but above 10. But that’s great this year. That puts them in position to grab a Tar Heel, Kendall Marshall, that is drawing comparisons to Andre Miller, a former Ute. Chad Ford says the following about Marshall:

Scouts want to focus on what Marshall can’t do (like shoot or win dunk contests), but it obscures the fact that Marshall is the best pure point guard in the game right now. He makes so many good decisions with the ball it’s hard to believe he won’t have some place at the next level. A number of scouts have used the Mark Jackson comparison on him. I think Andre Miller might be another one for Marshall down the road.

In my opinion, that is a player that can really help the Jazz. Miller averages nearly 10 assists per 40 minutes, and although not known for his outside shot, uses his high basketball IQ to back down his defender into the post and set up his teammates.

Marshall is a 6’4″, 190 lbs point guard who averages five shots a game on a talented roster, but usually contributes around 20+ points per game because of his passing ability.

Scouts don’t like his shooting touch, so he isn’t ranked as high as other scoring guards like Damian Lillard of Weber State. But I think a scoring point guard is a mistake for the Jazz, a team with so much talent around the point guard. He’ll likely be available for the Jazz’s second pick in the first round.

Step Three – Commit to the system

This is a great lineup for the NBA:

PG Earl Watson
SG Alec Burks
SF Gordon Hayward
PF Paul Millsap
C Pau Gasol
PG Kendall Marshall
SG Terrence Ross
SG Raja Bell
SF Quentin Richardson
SF Josh Howard
PF Derrick Favors
C Enes Kanter

Given the young talent that the Jazz would have, and the integration they have had, this team would have the talent necessary to compete in the West. The best teams – Thunder, Clippers, Spurs, Mavericks – would find a difficult match-up against this young, lanky team. The Jazz would have slashers/shooters on the perimeter, a wing who can create his own shot, and big men who shoot at a high percentage and move the ball well.

The second unit would be led by the rebounding of Kanter/Favors, while Marshall moves the pieces into position and Ross/Richardson can shoot from outside.

As a Nuggets fan, I would be scared to face this team. They counter the fast-paced offenses in the West by developing a team that shoots at a high percentage in set offenses – something I remember about the Jazz in the late 90’s. If they were able to control the pace, this team would be incredibly difficult to beat – at home or on the road. The young guys would have to keep control of the ball, but with the veteran presence of Watson, Bell, and Gasol, the leadership would be there to make it happen.

You can call me crazy, but with the season looking destined for .500, or no-man’s-land in the Western Conference, it may be time to start calling up the other teams and make some noise on the trade wire.