Utah Jazz refuse to stay the course

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Over the past few years, many Utah Jazz fans have been frustrated with the direction of their team. After the Deron Williams trade, we continued to be in “win now” mode, even though we had made a clear move to rebuild for the future. We sacrificed giving minutes to promising young players Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and Alec Burks in order to make a run at the 8th seed. There were some fans that liked us competing at all costs, but I think most of us saw the ceiling with that group and wanted to turn the page. That page finally turned last summer under the direction of Dennis Lindsey.

Last Summer, the Jazz finally started their long awaited rebuild by letting Big Al and Paul Millsap go, and turning that cap space into Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins. They received two future first round picks, and opened up plenty of playing time for their young guys. Hayward, Burks, Favors, and Kanter are all playing career high minutes, and let’s not forget our rookie point guard is starting (when does this even happen in Jazz land?). From these moves, it seemed that the Jazz were committed to the rebuild. Dennis Lindsey has even been quoted on multiple occasions that he didn’t want to skip any steps in the rebuilding process.

All of these steps seemed to line up perfectly for our draft pick this summer, in a draft that is supposed to produce multiple all-stars at the top. By mid-December, we were well on our way to a top 3 pick, and a chance at a future star that would complete our rebuild. But when Trey Burke and Marvin Williams came back, we started to win games. We’ve since “fallen” in the tank standings and are currently sitting at 8th, with a 10% chance at landing a top 3 pick. What happened to our lottery chances, and was there a way to ensure we end up with a top 5 pick without sacrificing our future/core group of players? Was getting a top 5 pick even that important to begin with?

Right now the Jazz have a promising group of young players, but it’s clear to most that we don’t have a guy who can be our number one option night in and night out. We had hopes that it could be Gordon Hayward or Alec Burks, but both have fallen short of that lofty bar. And that’s ok, you need players like Burks and Gordon on your roster to compete in this league. But that doesn’t change the fact that we’re missing the guy that can take us to the top, and Dennis Lindsey agrees. In a recent interview on 1280 the zone, Lindsey was asked what the biggest thing our team was missing right now. He said we needed a number one scoring option you can build a team around.

So with that in mind, how can the Jazz get a player like that? Utah is not known as a free agent destination, and it’s highly unlikely that we can get a max player here through free agency. Likewise, nobody is lining up to trade franchise players unless they themselves think they won’t be able to retain them in free agency. Kevin Love is possible example of this, but I don’t think Utah would have a better chance at retaining Love than Minnesota does. Remember, we just traded Deron Williams because we didn’t think we could retain him in free agency. I doubt enough has changed to make us believe otherwise.

So if the Jazz can’t get franchise players through free agency, and it’s very unlikely that we can get one through a trade, (much less keep him long term) what options are left? The one option that has always been available to small market teams- the draft. The draft is how the Jazz got Malone and Stockton. It’s how we get Deron Williams. It’s how Cleveland got Lebron, and it’s how Minnesota got Kevin Love and Kevin Garnett.

Now, let’s return to our current draft prospects. In a year where the draft has been hyped to be the best since 2003, the Jazz were staring at a top 3 pick in December, and all they needed to do was stay the course (i.e. lose). But our team has too much talent, and we started to win games. The problem with these wins though is that each win (in respect to other teams W/L record) gives us a smaller chance at landing a top draft pick, and worse odds at landing a superstar in the draft. That’s right, winning now worsens our odds at getting the key ingredient we need going forward. The question is, how do we lose now without sacrificing our future?

The Jazz surely don’t want tell our players to not try, and likewise they’re not incentivized to give up because it will affect future contracts they sign. Jazz management could tell Tyrone Corbin to sit some of our better players, but that takes away developmental minutes for our young guys. The front office has also been adamant that it won’t interfere with coaching decisions, so it’s unlikely that this will ever happen. That leaves the front office with trading away players that are helping us win games. They wouldn’t want to trade away players who they want to be a part of the future, so that leaves our vets who are on expiring contracts- a.k.a Marvin Williams.

Trading Marvin Williams back in December would have made the Jazz lose more games this year (and better draft day odds), while not costing us future pieces to do so. It was the perfect move, and one that would have signaled to Jazz fans that the front office and ownership were serious about rebuilding our team for the future. Instead, and for some reason that I do not understand, the trade deadline came and went last Thursday without the Jazz making any moves. Chad Ford (ESPN insider) reported that the Jazz had trade offers for Marvin Williams, but that they preferred keeping him because they wanted him to be a part of the future. Basically, they chose Marvin Williams+8th pick in the draft this year over a top 5 pick. In a draft where scouts and draft experts believe there to be 5 franchise players at the top, the difference between the 8th pick and 5th pick is a HUGE difference. For a team that was a lock for a top 5 pick through January, why couldn’t they stay the course?

I was happy with the Deron Williams trade. It jumped started our rebuild, and gave us promising young talent that would otherwise be hard to come by. What I didn’t like was the Jazz refusing to complete the rebuild. Instead of trading Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson for assets, and giving their minutes to our young guys, we waded in the waters of mediocrity for two years with nothing to show for it. The Jazz started the rebuild, but they didn’t see it through. In Dennis Lindsey’s words, the Jazz “skipped steps” in rebuilding. Likewise, I liked the Golden State trade last summer. It was a great move that started our rebuild. What I didn’t like is that we didn’t make the necessary moves to see our rebuild through. We didn’t trade Marvin, which in turn has made it highly unlikely that the Jazz get the franchise player that we so desperately need. Is anyone else frustrated that we are perpetually stuck in mediocrity? Maybe next year the Jazz will stay the course.