It’s hard to put an exact start time to the Jazz’s current rebuild. The beginning was more of a drunken stumble, with a few careless refurbishments of the marquee outside. Then Dennis Lindsey came along and knocked the whole building down with a wrecking ball. That happened when the Jazz renounced the cap holds of Paul Millsap and others, and agreed to acquire Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson, Brandon Rush, a fistful of dollars, and a pocketful of future picks. That was July 10th, 2013 and for intents and purposes, day 1 of the Jazz’s real-life rebuild process. Five hundred and some odd days later, where do the Jazz stand? How far have they come and how far do they have to go? Only Dennis Lindsey and the other front office guys know the answer to those questions. But what exactly has Dennis Lindsey told us about this rebuilding process? I’ve pieced together some of what I think are the important points and highlights by listening to and transcribing some of the interviews and conversations. I also used the help of the talented Moni of SLCDunk and jazzfanatical.wordpress.com in her transcriptions. Check her out at her website or follow her on twitter @monilogue.
“We skipped a couple steps post Deron Williams, but we’re right dead-set in a rebuild. And so the last two years, having a winning record, we’re proud of that. And there was nothing wrong with being in the middle because we had great flexibility and multiple picks coming due.
The problem with it going forward is (that) we would’ve become more concrete, there potentially could’ve been future offer sheets placed on some of our young players, and then you get leveraged.” July 12, 2013
It’s refreshing to hear Dennis admit what many Jazz fans felt after the Deron Williams trade. The Jazz were wishy-washy on winning or rebuilding, and it probably cost them some future assets that would have been available at the cost of losing. But more importantly, Dennis Lindsey lays the foundation for the rebuild and what I think was PLAN A: to have the financial flexibility to sign any or all of their young players to long term contracts. I don’t think that PLAN A is what the Jazz planned on necessarily, but Dennis Lindsey and the Jazz have always wanted that option to be available.
“…Kevin and Ty, and myself, and Randy, and Bob, and Greg, and Steve, and Mrs. Miller had (this conversation), literally from my interview process.
That was the first thought, the first mention to me that, ‘Hey, we have some young talent.’ And I had to come in and evaluate it and concur or disagree” July 16, 2013
Dennis Lindsey has always mentioned that the “empty canvas” of the Jazz rebuild was appealing to him and a reason for taking the job. It’s just important to note that the plan was always, from day 1, for Dennis to clear the decks and grow this team from the ground up, if you will. That was the understanding even from his interview for the job. But how long did Dennis Lindsey plan on the rebuild taking?
“I don’t know. I’ll say this…I’m not gonna tell you I have an hourglass. I’ll tell you this. We’re gonna talk about what our objectives are with the young guys.
And first and foremost is building a championship-caliber defense. And building a foundation that we can get stops on demand.
We won’t skip steps, either on the court or in discipline towards adding to our group on serious basketball players of strong character and mindset, a competitive mindset that we’ll want to compete with, and then we’ll all be judged on the results. But we’ll be very process-oriented in how we go about it.” July 23, 2013
Building a championship level defense is the number one objective in building a championship level team according to Dennis Lindsey. It’s important to remember that fact and the Jazz are definitely trying to work towards that goal. I don’t know exactly what Lindsey means by “skipping steps” but it’s something he repeats often and I have some theories on. But what else is important to building this team?
“I’ve been sharing a lot with Ty and the coaches about my experiences in San Antonio and how we wanted to have every guy on the court be able to either be a weapon, or a threat. A threat meaning being able to space the court.
I talked to Ty a lot about our spacing, you use the corner threes, and frankly, with an opportunity like this that came up with Ian (Clark) who can really shoot the ball, I felt like if I didn’t jump on this one, I’d be a hypocrite because I’ve been talking to the staff all about ‘more shooting, more shooting, how do we get more shooting?’ And then this opportunity presented itself.” August 2, 2013
If this sounds a lot like the keys to success the Spurs have had the last several years, and similar to what Atlanta is doing this season, then good job. You are paying attention. Championship level defense and spacing on the offensive side are key concepts to those teams as well as the Jazz now. The Jazz have worked towards both of these goals, pretty admirably. They are painfully short on the amount of quality shooters though. But how important is shooting?
“My general philosophy is you can’t have enough shooting. And look, many times adding shooting to your club, whether it’s free agency, trade or draft, is not something that’s real sexy.
But I’ve never been around a coach in my 19 years in the league that says, ‘Gosh dang it, we have too much shooting. Can we get rid of shooting?’ But almost yearly, we’ve had coaches come to us and say, ‘We don’t have enough shooting.’
So even though we’ve added a great shooter in Steve Novak, I think there’s a lot to add in a great shooter. When you have a Steve Novak, when you have a Kyle Korver, what it does, the ball tends to find those guys, especially in stretches where you can’t make a shot. And when they get on a few of their runs, it gives everybody else some confidence.” July 22, 2014
Agreed. Any other core concepts you want to describe?
“So we would like to speed up the process as best we can, growing these young players without skipping steps. There’s a fine line. You don’t want to give them too much too soon, or you’ll create entitlement. You don’t want to give them too much too soon, or you’ll have an injured player. So there are a lot of factors that we’re trying to balance right now.” February 14, 2014
“No matter who we select (in the 2014 NBA Draft), they’re coming behind a very significant young veteran, if you will. So, I think that’s good news. And we’re trying to send the message during the interview process (about) the right steps and what it means to be a member of the Jazz and delaying gratification.
Pop (Gregg Popovich) has a great term, helping players get over themselves to realize that they’re part of a team, and frankly that’s really tough for young guys coming in the draft. They’ve been so pursued. So many of these guys are prodigies and have been well-known since the seventh and eighth grade.” May 23, 2014
There’s that “skipping steps” theme again. This is an important concept. It’s within the fiber of the Jazz makeup, for reasons I cannot explain, but Dennis Lindsey is being forward and honest about it. The Jazz don’t want to give their young guys too much credit, or too much responsibility or power over the team, or minutes. Does it seem like it’s difficult for Dante Exum and Rudy Gobert to get minutes or a starting role? Does this seem like a recurring theme for the last few years? Whether you agree with it or not, the Jazz have made it a core concept moving forward. They are delaying gratification and making their young guys work towards minutes, leadership roles and main seats on the proverbial team bus. Get used to it, I guess.
So we can definitely see some themes in what is important to the team moving forward, but what is the game plan ?
“We’re a small market, and there’s just certain ways that it’s the best way to team-build, and to team-build here, it’s build your foundation through the draft; parlay up via trade, and augment in free agency.” July 16, 2013
“With our young guys, look, if we start trending well, we don’t have to use the first pick that we have in the Golden State pick, and what looks like it’s gonna be an early second round pick to draft young players. In some level, we got enough players to develop. We can go get a veteran, and boom, let’s build our team from there.” January 11, 2014
“You draft your core, you trade up when available, and parlay up, and then you augment in free agency…” April 4, 2014
“Who knows when, you know, that tide could change and you know, we can get our Reggie White of Green Bay? You know, he left the big market to go there, and so, you know, I go to bed dreaming about that scenario a lot. And you know, if we commit to someone like that, they need to be the right guy and the right player. And, but we have that wherewithal.” April 18, 2014
“We’re just trying to make as many good decisions as we can, and line those up. I’m still hopeful that [a franchise player] can come within our group.” May 23, 2014
“When you’re in a small market, in my opinion, it’s the best way. I’m not saying it’s the only way. There’s certainly the Reggie Whites. They can happen. That’s a different sport, and a different collective bargaining agreement. And you don’t want to rule out free agency and trade in your team building.
But when you are able to draft and develop a base, there’s just something about it. It’s a little bit like raising your own kids and there’s an organic feel. It’s just, it feels right. It tastes right. It looks right.” September 26, 2014
The consistency in Dennis Lindsey’s explanations are almost eerie, even down to the use of the word “augment” and his obsession with Reggie White signing in Green Bay. But he lays out the rebuild plan in black and white. Draft your own players and hope to get a star, even if you have to trade up. Develop those players and support, or compliment, or augment, those players through free agency. So do the Jazz have a core? That’s an argument the Jazz fan base can have. But here are some of Dennis Lindsey’s thoughts.
“I think we have a very good idea of who Gordon Hayward is, and Derrick Favors. And now we’re going to see them play even more minutes inside the roles that they’ve had, and you know, possibly some different roles in leadership position.” July 23, 2013
“Now Gordon, the commitment that we made to him, the one thing that we talked about is that he’s gonna have a key seat at the decision-making table. And we’re going to include Derrick and Gordon about the things that we’re gonna do going forward, whether it’s style of play or who we add to the team going forward.” July 12, 2014
“Derrick’s a foundational piece. He’s someone that we wanna build our defense around. He improved his offense, his finishing specifically, last year. We made a big push to have Derrick agree to, understanding it to be, to lead this group he’s gotta be part of the community. Derrick’s committed to Salt Lake, committed to summer league. He’s committed to open gym. So I’m just thrilled with the summer that he’s had. He’s taken all the messages and challenges, and he’s scored an A+ so far.” Media Day 2014
Well, what about Enes and Alec?
“They’re both valued members, and we’re really proud of where they are at, as people and as players. And we’ll see if it dictates that we can get something done early or if we go into the July period, but we anticipate both of them being with the Jazz for a long time.” Media Day 2014
“And we certainly know, and no one knows more so than Alec, that he’s got to continue to grow in areas, and we expect that he will do that, and we think he can be a core piece on a contender…and we think we have our starting 2-guard locked up for the next five years and at 23 years old with the ability to improve. So we’re excited about that.
Alec–all of our young guys have done a really good job with our off-season programs, but never once have I had to call Andy Miller or Alec Burks to find him. He was the first one here for the last two seasons of open gym. He’s been in our open gym period in September.
He’s never skipped a day, always honored our request to be out at P3 for training, and testing. He’s developed a really good relationship with Johnnie Bryant, and he’s improved on his non-dunk finishing. That was an area that we really wanted to emphasize this year, so he’s really worked hard at that.” October 31, 2014
I am not a big fan of Enes Kanter or Alec Burks’ game. I was, and am, very skeptical of Alec Burks’ extension. I think it was a bad move. But it is undoubtedly the case that the Jazz always had the plan of having those guys be on the team for the long haul. Neither has lived up to the offseason expectations that have been put on them, but there is still a lot of time for them to write their individual stories in Jazz uniforms. How will Dennis Lindsey deal with this Rudy Gobert, Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors situation moving forward, though?
“Look, Derrick just turned 23. Enes is 22. Rudy just turned 22, and I think at this stage in our evolution, when we went with a rebuild, it’s more about talent accumulation, and then we’re gonna have to figure out fit a little bit farther down the line.
Now, with that said, I do think Enes and Derrick can play together. Enes can really shoot the ball on the perimeter. Derrick had a great year last season rolling to the paint, and finishing and being really efficient.
I do think Derrick is working really hard to develop “four” skills, if you will, that would allow him in concept to play with Rudy. And look, there’s other players that we could have now that we haven’t had in the past that we could bring to the equation that would allow Rudy and Derrick to play together. So, I do think it’s possible” Sept 8, 2014
“You guys saw Derrick’s finishing last year; really, really improved. We hope to capitalize on that. With Enes, he has a variety of talents and skills. We’ll allow him to shoot deeper shots this year. That’s a natural progression. He’s worked very hard at increasing his range, and so we’ll take a look at that.
If you can get your bigs to really be able to make good decisions–they don’t have to be Vlade Divac every night–but if they just make good, solid decisions with the ball, it allows you to play five-man basketball and be more effective.” Sept 25, 2014
Most of this is pretty well explained in the quote. I just loved the Vlade Divac reference. Out of all the big men to praise, Lindsey chooses Vlade Divac. Funny. I do think the quote was insightful into the current dilemma we have with the big men now. Derrick was already working to be able to play with Rudy this last summer. But the pairing of Enes and Derrick was, and probably still is, supposed to work. I do think that Dennis Lindsey, like many Jazz fans, was a little wrong about Derrick being able to defend at the center position. He hasn’t been able to yet, and that hurts the long term prospects of Enes and Derrick playing together. If the Jazz are going to emphasize a championship-level defense, like he mentioned, they are going to have to abandon the Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors front court. I think everybody realizes this now.
From these quotes, we can see what the direction of the rebuild is. It’s fairly clear. But here is what I think on top of that: I think we have some special pieces in Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward. They are foundational pieces that are as good as Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer of the previous Jazz generation. I think they are worth building around. Rudy Gobert is fantastic and Favors and Gobert should be the front court pairing we move forward with and “augment.” I don’t know what that means for Enes Kanter, but whatever needs to happen to him to make Favors and Gobert a full time thing, needs to happen.
Like Dennis Lindsey, the free agency augmentation cannot include too much shooting. The Jazz need shooting. If they had more of it, they might be playoff competitive. Not this season, but they would be able to play like a playoff team as soon as they got more shooting. The Jazz have a handful of picks in the upcoming drafts that they can either use to draft cheap talent, trade to move up a spot or two, or trade for veteran presences (and shooting).
In short, I’m still very excited for the future of the Jazz and I hope that the answer to the question, “when will the Jazz be contenders?” is “sooner than you thought.” I think the Jazz should start by competing for the playoffs next season. A couple savvy trades and a little draft luck could get us there pretty easily.