Enes Kanter is ready to flip ahead to the page where he’s in another city, another jersey, and another coach’s rotation.
According to a late-night update from Aaron Falk1 that was then corroborated by Jody Genessy, Kanter wants this point in his career to function like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. And why not?! Those things are fun.
“To go through the swinging door and face the dragon, turn to page 96.”
“To climb up the rope ladder into the helicopter, turn to page 42.”
“To continue your pro career in a different NBA city, find a beat reporter and speak your mind.”
The only problem is: it doesn’t work like that. The Jazz’s hand isn’t forced here just because Kanter isn’t happy, and this can still end in a number of different ways. Sure, as my plugged-in SCH boss Andy Larsen points out, Utah may not want the distraction of having a player in the locker room who doesn’t want to be there. But they’ve been at the brink with others in the past2 and have smoothed things over. Bottom line: they have some options but, just like in a CYOA book, each option has its consequences.
In the spirit of “Choose Your Own Adventure,” let’s look at the scenarios open to the Jazz and Kanter.
Option 1: Trade Kanter
Many assume this is a foregone conclusion at this point, but there are plenty examples in recent NBA — and even Jazz — history of a team essentially saying to a player, “We’re sorry you feel that way, but you’re under contract. See you at practice.”
Andy’s right: there’s a cultural risk to doing that. But some of that can be mitigated by a proverbial come-to-Jesus meeting where everybody looks each other in the eye and says the right things. Happens all the time.
And it could happen in this case, too. Kanter isn’t easy to trade right now, for reasons that others have spelled out, but mostly because he’s a pending restricted free agent. The only teams that would give up an asset to obtain eight weeks of his services are the one who have interest in leveraging those RFA rights in July, so that limits the field. And, given that Kanter is unhappy on a team that has given him 27 minutes per contest, teams are going to be nervous about trading for him if they don’t have a major role carved out. That further limits the pool of prospective trade partners. Then they have to have something that the Jazz are interested in, so keep whittling.
Noise about Kanter’s, um, strong belief in himself and concerns about what kind of reinforcement he gets from his entourage might give some teams pause, but let’s not overblow this: Kanter still has some value. He’s having a career year by many measures and can confidently score even against first-tier defenses. As I pointed out two weeks ago, the starting lineup change has even done nice things for Kanter’s defensive outcomes3.
But these declarations and demands don’t do anything to raise his value. I’m sure most teams that have called since the FalkBomb have been hoping for fire-sale conditions, and it’s reasonable to expect that the Jazz are not going to get an upgrade in return unless they append picks to the deal or take back salary.
Andy’s analysis includes some thoughts on what the Jazz might want in return, and you can also check out the trade deadline Q&A for more on Utah’s asset position and objectives.
Bottom line: the Jazz might have to settle for $.60 on the dollar if they trade Kanter right now. Is that better than getting nothing if he walks later, or having him around sewing seeds of discontent? Maybe. But that’s only door number one.
Option 2: Mend fences, try to keep Kanter along for the long haul
Let’s just jump all the way to the other extreme, and then we’ll backtrack and hit the middle-ground approaches.
As the Jazz and many other teams have done, one option is to sit down, level set expectations, hug it out and get back to work. This seems unlikely — and even some of the most ardent Kanter-supporting fans seem to be ambivalent at this point — but the Jazz have invested time, development and minute on the 22-year-old, so it needs to be mentioned.
Maybe Quin Snyder and Dennis Lindsey can convince Kanter to embrace the reality: namely, that he’s one of four rotation-quality bigs and that his minutes aren’t set in stone, but that he’s an important piece of the puzzle. There’s still a chance that the Jazz could retain Kanter this summer for something that will feel like a discount when the new TV money hits.
But this option feels less likely right now, so let’s turn the page to the next iteration of our Kanter adventure.
Option 3: Mend fences temporarily, keep Kanter until the summer, then offer him the QO and see what happens
In terms of pure asset management, this one still makes the most sense. It keeps the Jazz’s options open. He might wind up leaving without providing Utah any compensation, but at least Utah would get to be in control.
The major risk here isn’t that he leaves, though. The biggest risk, if he’s really serious about wanting a pathway out of Utah, is that he accepts the QO and looks to unrestricted free agency in 2016. Now, the Jazz would have someone eating their cap space and sitting grumpily in the locker room for 12 more months. Snyder would be under no obligation to guarantee his role or minutes at that point, but it could still be problematic in terms of chemistry.
Not to mention — and this gets overlooked a lot! — it would effectively be the end of any trade value Kanter might have. A player on a one-year tender offer can’t be traded without his consent, and even if he is traded, his Bird Rights don’t move with him. The receiving team would basically be getting a rental that they had no right to keep past the one season without using an exception. That makes Kanter virtually untradeable on a QO contract, which is why it’s not as peachy an option as a lot of people make it sound.
Option 4: Keep Kanter until the summer, don’t extend the QO, and watch with a wistful tear as he inevitably walks away
Let’s call this the “screw you” option. If the Jazz just want to, on principle, send the message that they don’t let players dictate to them when they must settle for an unfavorable trade.
And don’t fully buy the logic that Utah would be “letting him go for nothing” in this scenario. The Jazz’s 2015-16 cap situation is such that paying or not paying Kanter makes the difference between being able to go after a coveted free agent with a near-max salary slot vs. having to operate as a capped-out team with only exceptions. Whether he’s an UFA or a RFA, Kanter’s cap hold will be almost $11.4 million until he is signed or rescinded, so the easiest way for the Jazz to ensure they can make a run at one the 2015 free agents is to not offer a QO and to rescind his player rights early. The Jazz may actually prefer that flexibility — and the possibility of a Draymond Green or Paul Millsap — to the prospect of getting unequal value on a February trade.
So there we are. Kanter wants to turn the page. We’ll see if the Jazz want to as well, or if they’re happy staying in the current adventure. In less than seven days, we’ll know a little bit more about Lindsay and Snyder’s inclination, as the deadline for in-season trades is 3:00 p.m. EST next Thursday.