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:
Lowe wrote the Jazz have “least seven players 25 or younger it might consider part of its core…”
Those are, in age order:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.