Can the Jazz Snag a Superstar? Evaluating Trades for Love and Griffin

January 31st, 2016 | by Matt Pacenza
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

It’s trade season and the Jazz find themselves in a fascinating situation: loaded with young talent and draft picks, but with a few clear holes to fill.

The great Zach Lowe wrote a terrific state-of-the-Jazz column on ESPN.com last week. He took stock of the current roster and asked the obvious question: Is now the time for the Jazz to package talent and picks to make trades and fill holes? Or should they wait and see how several key returning pieces fit, rather than taking a rash step now they might later regret later?

Lowe leaned toward the latter, recommending patience. It’s a perfectly defensible position – and quite possibly the right one. However, events of the past couple weeks have opened up a few tantalizing possibilities – a chance for the Jazz to land a roster-transforming star. Those are of course, Los Angeles’ favorite slugger, Clippers forward Blake Griffin. And Cleveland’s underachieving forward Kevin Love.

Let’s take a look at those two options. First, however, the Jazz roster now:

The Context

Lowe wrote the Jazz have “least seven players 25 or younger it might consider part of its core…”

Those are, in age order:

Gordon Hayward SF 25
Derrick Favors PF 24
Alec Burks SG 24
Rudy Gobert C 23
Rodney Hood SG 23
Dante Exum PG 20
Trey Lyles PF 20

First of all, how great is that? Despite what feels like a disappointing season, the Jazz continue to have what is quite possibly the best collection of young talent in the game. (The Timberwolves have a strong case as well.) Injuries aside, none of the seven have taken a major step back, Hood has emerged as a genuine force and Lyles has surprised most of us with a rapid rise to competence.

However, it’s not a flawless roster. Here are the two obvious concerns:

  • Exum’s rookie year simultaneously tantalized (his rapid emergence as a defender) and raised major worries (his subpar and generally passive offensive game.) It’s fair to say no one knows whether he will grow into being a point guard capable of starting on a good playoff team.
  • The Jazz two excellent young bigs don’t pair together super well in today’s NBA. Gobert and Favors have limited shooting range and struggle with chasing the league’s most mobile bigs. The Jazz may find themselves, ala the Memphis Grizzlies, of hitting a ceiling if they build a roster around two low post players.

Here’s the case for trying to put together a big deal. First, it feels like the Jazz will struggle to sign a significant free agent in the next year or two. The reason is a mix of Salt Lake City’s (unfair) reputation as Siberia for a young athlete, plus the reality that new TV money flooding the league means nearly every team will have cash to spend.

That leaves two options for adding additional talent: the draft and via trades. The Jazz have done very well with the former, but their own pick in 2016 will likely be in or near the teens (and hopefully even worse in the years to follow.) Their Golden State first rounder in 2017 and the Oklahoma City pick in 2018 won’t land in the lottery. The Jazz may add role players from these slots in the coming years, but getting a starter who is good when the Jazz other young talent is at its peak seems quite unlikely.

Which brings us to trades. Now, the Jazz have assets to exchange for a role player, or even perhaps a player better than that, without disrupting the best of their young core. A great example is the speculation about trading Burks and Trey Burke for Hawks point guard Jeff Teague. Such a move would rob the Jazz of two scoring guards, but the emergence of Hood has made that move palatable. It’s certainly a trade the team could and should consider.

But the 27-year-old Teague – while a big upgrade for the Jazz – isn’t likely to dramatically improve to “best guy on a team that goes deep into the playoffs” status. And every team – especially one loaded with assets and picks like the Jazz – should have their eyes option for such a guy, right? They rarely change teams and they even more rarely make their way to teams like Utah.

But there are two other names kicking around out there that fit that bill. Let’s take a look.

Love and Griffin

Age Pts/G Reb/G Ast/G PER Yrs on
Contract
Salary/Yr
Kevin Love 27 18.5 11.7 2.4 22.2 4 $23m
Blake Griffin 26 21.6 9.6 4.0 22.9 2 $20m

Two of the NBA’s best power forwards, both in their prime. Undoubtedly, you already know why each is theoretically on the market: Perhaps Love – whose numbers have slipped this year and last — fits poorly on Cleveland’s roster and doesn’t mesh with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.  Griffin recently punched a Clippers staff member and there is a growing sense his very good team just may not be able to topple the Warriors or Spurs without a major roster change.

While Love and Griffin have similar numbers, they obviously are quite different players. Love is a versatile forward with terrific range, a career .364 3-point shooter who has hit as many as 2.5 a game. Griffin is an explosive athlete who thrives both close to the basket and as a mid-range shooter, but almost never takes 3s. Both pass well (especially Griffin) and neither is considered a great defender, although Griffin has the slightly better reputation.

Of course, it’s highly unlikely either Love or Griffin is dealt. However, if either were available, the Jazz could put together a competitive offer.

And, although it pains me to say it, that offer would best built around Derrick Favors. You only get a great player by giving up a great player (or one who could be great.) And I think Favors is the piece you would grudgingly part with – if doing so could bring back a true star.

While Favors is a good defender, he isn’t on par with Rudy Gobert, whose rim protection skills and influence on the entire team’s defense grew even more obvious after the team slumped during his recent absence. And in today’s NBA, where shooting and length on the wing are paramount, Hayward and Hood seem not redundant, but complimentary. Burks, Exum and Lyles would each attract some attention on the trade market – and could be the best piece along with picks to trade for someone like Teague – but aren’t enough to lure a Griffin or a Love.

Lastly, Favors has an enormously favorable contract, very attractive to other teams, with three years remaining (including this year) at around $11 million per year.

The Case for Love

Blake Griffin would help any NBA team. He’s a terrific offensive player in his prime years. But I don’t think I’d trade Derrick Favors for him. Two big reasons why. One, Griffin is only signed for this year and next. (He then has a player option for 2017-18, which he’ll almost certainly decline.) Given his injury this year, he’d really only have one year in Utah. Maybe he’d grow to love Salt Lake City, and eagerly re-sign to play with our young core, but that’s far from certain.

Second, and less importantly, Griffin also isn’t an ideal frontcourt mate to pair with Gobert. He is probably slightly more capable of chasing quicker bigs than Favors, and has slightly more range, but isn’t a classic stretch 4. I’m also not sure that the Clippers would want Favors, who would not mesh that well with D’Andre Jordan.

That brings us to everyone’s favorite Beach Boy, Kevin Love. And here I see mostly positives. Love is signed for three more years after this one (and has a player option the year after that.) The Jazz would be able to count on him remaining with the team as their other young pieces are maturing and hitting their primes.

And Love is a classic stretch 4 – an excellent complement for Gobert, who would help hide Love’s defensive weaknesses. Imagine Dante Exum matures into a great defensive guard who’s also at least a competent three point shooter. Then the Jazz surround their mobile, dunking, shot-stuffing Frenchman with four above-average shooters in Exum, Hood, Hayward and Love. Love would also initiate offense, driving the offense from the elbow, taking some of the pressure off of Hayward. That is a heck of a team with a nearly ideal balance.

Here’s the big question with Love: Which one are you getting? Let’s look at his number from this year and his last year in Minnesota. Because he’s playing slightly less now, we’ll use per 36 minutes numbers:

Year Age Points Rebounds Assists FTAs PER
13-14 25 25.9 12.4 4.4 8.1 26.9
15-16 27 17.7 11.8 2.7 4.3 19.3

There is no way the Jazz would want to give up the cheaper, younger, superior defending Derrick Favors for ’15-16 Kevin Love. But what if they think the Love from two years would return? That freed from an offense built around the ball-dominating LeBron and Kyrie Irving, Love would at least get close to his dominating production of two years ago.

That is a player the Jazz should consider making a run at. Talents like that – signed for this year and three more – don’t become available.

The Actual Deals

One final question: Would Cleveland make that deal? They’d lose shooting and they’d further clog up their big rotation, with Favors joining Tristan Thompson, Timothy Mozgov and Anderson Varejao. Favors would be the best of that bunch, but he doesn’t fill a clear need.

A Love for Favors trade then would likely need a third team involved. One could imagine Portland, who would send, let’s say, CJ McCollum and Al-Farouq Aminu to Cleveland, who would send Love to the Jazz, who would send Favors to Portland. That gives the Cavs better wing players to play with Irving and James, and to compete with the Warriors, probably their greatest need. It begs the question for Portland of why they just wouldn’t go get Love, a hometown boy, but Favors is younger and would help address the Blazers’ biggest need: defense.

Or how about Boston? The Celtics could send Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley and one of their young bigs like Jared Sullinger to Cleveland, and then get back Favors. Again, Cleveland would add young talented depth, especially on the wings, while Favors would become a key piece Boston would build around along with Marcus Smart and their bounty of picks.

These trades aren’t obviously one-sided. The Jazz would be making a bet on Love returning to form, and carrying their young nucleus deep into the playoffs in the coming years, while Cleveland would be choosing several key pieces over the one that just didn’t fit quite right. Boston or Portland would see Favors as a competent two-way All Star for years to come.

Whaddya think?

Matt Pacenza

Matt Pacenza

When he isn't writing about the Jazz, Matt Pacenza is an environmental activist, Arsenal fan and world-class blowhard about many matters. A native of upstate New York, with a background in journalism and nonprofits, Matt lives near Liberty Park with his wife and two sons.
Matt Pacenza

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24 Comments

  1. LKA says:

    No Thanks

  2. Spencer says:

    I like favors over both of these guys for many reasons.

    1-more efficient offensively
    2-light years better defensively
    3-much much much better teammate
    4-great fit with Gobert/Lyles where he splits the difference.

    I would much rather wait until summer and go after Ryan Anderson who would fit. Love is a ball stopper much like Carmelo. No thanks. Favors has a game like Duncan without the never-before-seen basketball IQ. I’ll take that any day.

    Jazz need quality depth, good health, and time. All easily obtained.

    Exum still has potential to be the best two-way PG In The game. His floor if he stays healthy is great defender and below-average on offense. More likely he makes the same progression the rest of the Jazz players are making. That would put him at fringe all-star who fits like a glove in the team concept. Love it.

    • Robin Rodd says:

      I agree. Love’s numbers with Minnesota were inflated on a bad team. He is an awful defensive player. Griffin is an average defensive player who relies on athleticism because he has short arms. However, Griffin shoots a high percentage on long twos, so he could be transformed into a three point shooter… really not sure why LA hasn’t done this. I think we’re one year off making trades though, and need to see how we look with Dante in the mix.

  3. Steve says:

    No to Love. Doesn’t fit the Defensive First mentality needed. He is the big man equivalent of James Harden. Griffin cant even be traded this year given his injury. Favs has been a solid Jazz man. He is here for the long haul. Never has he talked about go elsewhere. Jazz will honor his commitment to the team by staying committed to him.

  4. Matt Pacenza says:

    You all underappreciate how good Love is. There’s a reason Cleveland traded Wiggins for him. He was one of the best offensive players in the game, period. And, yes, he’s not a great defender, but you’re overstating his woes.

    • Spencer says:

      Hey Matt, you let me know when a team wins a championship with its best player as a ball-stopping, no defense, unathletic,often-injured guy. Then I’ll be with you.

      He’d take my city league to the championship though.

      • IDJazzman says:

        Totally agree with Spencer. Cavaliers have made some dumb moves and that will prove to be one of the dumbest, trading Wiggins for Love.

  5. Casey says:

    Favors is a good forward but Love has the potential to be great in our system. With Gobert and Favors in the paint you’ll always have a team with terrible spacing trying to play in a pace and space offense. The Jazz will continue to improve with their current roster but their celing is too low. A player like Love could open up our offense and turn us into a great team. He is a poor defender but will the right mix (ahem, Rudy) of players around him his downside could be minimized.

    This team is not winning a title as is. Take a shot at someone who could propel the Jazz to the next level. Ryan Anderson is like a homeless man’s Kevin Love. Remember when the Jazz went to the finals, they had two Hall of Famers. You need a (or two or three) superstar(s) to take an NBA team to the promised land.

    • Spencer says:

      Casey, please don’t tell me you think Love is a superstar. Please don’t tell me you think he is a hall-of-famer. please.

      Curry, Butler, Millsap.

      These are all guys who were sort of labeled as good players, but not champions or starts until four to six years in the league. Gobert, Favors, Hayward, Hood, and possibly Exum could all take a leap. They may not, but they are all getting significantly better each year. If that continues for the next 4-5 years we are there. Lyles, Burke, Neto, Burks, Withey, Boozer all fit roles. If we had a stretch four who could really fill it up like Anderson, or Millsap, but did not need the type of touches Love needs, and a wing to enjoys doing the dirty work. (Think Demarre, or Bazemore, etc.)

      We have players who can form a core that is not that different from current San Antonio. I’ll take my chances with this group thank you very much.

      • Matt Pacenza says:

        Spencer, it’s not a terribly controversial opinion that the Love of 3-4 years ago was one of the games best. He made two All-NBA second teams, meaning he was considered one of the league’s best 10 players. Now, the last two years haven’t been as good, but your aggressive dismissal of the suggestion that the guy who averaged 26 and 14 is one of the game’s best is more than a little unfair.

        http://www.nba.com/history/all-nba-teams/

        • Spencer says:

          If you had to put money on Love or the Jazz roster for which would have the best player after all is said and done what would you pick. I’ll take the Jazz roster and bet there are at least two who end up with better careers than love.

          You are correct that three years ago he was having one of two second team all-NBA years. whoopie! That and two dollars will get you a bag of chips.

          • Matt Pacenza says:

            That’s in interesting question — and the answer depends of course on whether you think Love is on the decline (somewhat surprising for a 27 year old) or whether you think the Love of just two years ago will return. Assuming the latter is possible (and I do) then I’d be fairly surprised if any of the Jazzmen reach that peak. My best guess for who would be Gobert. He’s so young and if he can become a better offensive player, and really solidify his role as the best defensive player in the league, then, yes, I suspect that will overall equal a better career than Love.

            Hayward and Favors, on the other hand, I don’t quite see it. Here’s one way to look at it: When Love was the age they are now he was second team All NBA (on a non playoff team.) Neither Hayward nor Favors has made even an All Star team yet, let alone an All NBA team yet. Unless your default assumption is “I know better than all the journalists and coaches who pick those teams” then I’m afraid you have an uphill battle, proof-wise.

            I should say, by the way, that I really, really like both Hayward and Favors. I think both will be All Stars. But I don’t see either as “best player on a team that goes deep into the playoffs” while I think Love COULD be that guy.

          • Spencer says:

            Those are great points Matt. I guess I have always felt that players like Love, Carmelo, Blake, Harden etc. give back enough on the defensive end of the floor that they are just not as valuable as the numbers say.

            They also dominate the basketball so much that they actually steal stats from teammates and make the offense worse.

            In stark contrast, players like Duncan, LeBron, Green,and Kawaii are the opposite. They are more valuable than their numbers. That is why their teams are the ones who have all the rings. The two-way play of Favors and Hayward to me is incredibly valuable.

            The Spurs model is the best to look at because that is what they have been for two decades. (And who we are tryiing to be). Nobody on that team (but David Robinson pre-Duncan) had the statistical line of Love, but nobody in the league would dream of putting Love in the same stratosphere value-wise as Robinson, Duncan, Leonard, or even Ginobily and Parker for their respective positions during their peak 10 years. They just fit a team concept on both ends of the court. Their teams won 25 more games per year and five rings.

            Heat did that same thing as did the Warriors. Less ball domination more movement, scoring, defense and titles.

            The Clippers and Rockets are the best teams right now that feature one or two ball-dominant players who take the wind out of the sails in other ways leading to a team nobody really believes can compete with the big boys. Even OKC is running into the same problem. Unless they find ways to involve players more beyond the big 2.5, they have given themselves a ceiling that is lower than the other three elite teams. Their saving grace is their elite players play both ends and can dominate in any way they choose.

  6. rvalens2 says:

    I don’t see the Jazz trading for either Griffin or Love. It’s not in their DNA to do such a move. Barring an incredible deal (that’s clearly in their favor) Jazz management will stick with what they have.

    What the Jazz lack is a great point-guard. A trade for a top-tier point would be a big help to this team. The big question is whom do you trade in order to get one?

  7. Don says:

    The assumption that Gobert and Favors don’t pair well together is overstated, and disregards Lyle’s potential. Considering the health issues of both players (and NBA big men in general), it is not unreasonable to play them 30 minutes/night each. If we are playing against a small team, that leaves them on the court together a minimum of only 12 minutes. That leaves 36 minutes of Gobert/Lyles or Favors/Lyles. Sounds to me like a nightmare for small-ball teams.

    Of course there will be traditional lineup opponents, and nights that we make the small-ball teams put on their big-boy pants and play our game.

    In any case, if Lyles reaches near his potential, his strengths will perfectly complement Gobert/Favors’ games.

    • Spencer says:

      I agree. Great points.

    • Matt Pacenza says:

      I think you’re largely right. But it’s HIGHLY unlikely that all of the “ifs” surrounding the Jazz break in our favor. Exum MIGHT get a lot better on offense and turn into a very good point guard. Lyles MIGHT continue maturing and turn into a creative PF with range. Maybe the best thing to do is just to sit tight and be optimistic, but I’d like to think that the FO recognizes that the team is in a unique position loaded with young talent and picks where a grab for a big start might be both possible and smart.

  8. Paul Johnson says:

    What about seeing if the Jazz could trade for Carmelo Anthony. Anyone interested in that trade?

    • Don says:

      Anyone interested in splinters under their fingernails? Dude can score, but ughhhhhhhh…

    • Matt Pacenza says:

      I think Melo is at this point under-rated, but I think his age (31) makes him wrong for the Jazz cycle. The appealing part of Love and/or Griffin is that two-three years from now, when the Jazz’ young core as at its peak, Love and Griffin should be still in their primes as well. But Melo, not so much.

      • Spencer says:

        I disagree Matt. I believe that Love and Griffin (especially Griffin) are on the decline. Mainly because of mental makeup. Not leaders, just like a better version of Boozer as he left Utah.

  9. Spencer says:

    Here is my plan:

    Go after Durant this summer like you’ve never chased a free agent before. If he wants to win for the next decade, he has to at least listen.

    After you likely miss there, go after a solid bench and grow.

  10. BiggyWyoming says:

    Could you imagine both Griffin and Hayward on the same team? Forget Swat Lake City, it will be more like Flop Lake City!!

    But it would still be awesome…

  11. Love would be amazing in our system and his D would cover up by our great team work/ Quin master minding. Love offense in Q system would free up Hood, Hayward, and would who else was playing. Image Dante, Gobert anchor Defense with the Love, Hayward and Hood power offense. Remember Hayward and Hood are both above average defenders. This would a strong five man power line up. This could a really special team.

    If the Jazz could trade something like
    Jazz
    Favors
    Burks
    2 first round picks (top 7 protected)
    All the second round picks

    Cavs
    Love

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