First there was the Core Four. Then Four turned into Five. Next month could make it Six.
Dennis Lindsey has talked about Jeremy Evans becoming a core-type player, and for those excited about Rudy Gobert or overseas Jazz draftee Raul Neto, who knows what the number is. The point is, the idea of “Core” is getting so nebulous that it’s starting to be the opposite of a core. Core means the central or most important part of a thing. By definition, the “core” of something can’t be the whole thing, and yet it seems nearly everybody wearing a Jazz jersey is part of a supposedly central group.
Folks within the Jazz organization have never liked the “Core” moniker, and it’s not hard to surmise why. First, do you really want to get into having to explain — to media, to fans, to players themselves — who’s core and who’s not? What’s the determining factor in being regarded as “the central or most important part” of the team versus another piece of the puzzle? Draft position? Age? Accomplishments to date? Perceived potential? Based on whose perception? You can see how tricky that is.
But the other reason, one that becomes really obvious as this offseason unfolds, is that some of the guys you and I think of as core members of the team might actually have more value as trade pieces than as parts of a future hypothetical title run. At some point, the Jazz have to think about cashing in part of their impressive asset stockpile, and the hard reality is that some of these guys — “core” or not — are assets.
If 100% of young NBA players reached their best case scenario, this conversation wouldn’t matter. Utah would just wait for their guys to turn into All-Stars and then plan the parade.
But odds are good that not everybody pans out to impact-player-on-a-title-contender levels, and if that’s the case, the Jazz need to figure out soon if the value of Player X relative to the NBA talent market is greater than the on-court value of Player X to the 2017 Utah Jazz1.
What the Jazz need to start answering is who is each one of these guys relative to a championship-contending team. As I have watched the league’s final eight teams battle in the conference semis, I’ve wondered which of Utah’s young players would start on those eight teams if they were delivered gift-wrapped the night before game one of the series. I could see Derrick Favors or Gordon Hayward starting in a couple of cases. Alec Burks maybe gets a look to start from someone like the Nets. As much as I believe in Trey Burke, I don’t see him supplanting the eight starting PGs who made it to round two2, at least not today. Ditto for Enes Kanter. Who is sitting down so Kanter can play? TD? Aldridge? Griffin? Ibaka? West? They’re All-Stars.
It’s just the reality of where this roster is. There is a lot of hope, a lot of talent, a lot of possibility… but no real guarantee that we have the pieces in the short term.
The Jazz have made it clear — both between the lines and explicitly3 — that they’re after a star. A franchise-level, alpha-dog-on-a-contender type guy. If Tuesday’s draft lottery goes well, they can get their guy without giving up the house.
But if the lottery leaves them outside of superstar range, then suddenly the Jazz need to know — in pretty short order — what they’re willing to part with to get a franchise-changer, either in a draft night deal or a swing-for-the-fences move for an existing star-caliber player. That means being ready with an assessment of whether Kanter is more important to your future basketball goals than Burks, or whether Neto’s draft rights more important to you than Ante Tomic’s. Is Evans a better deal-sweetener than Gobert, and which one has the best odds of helping that 2017 squad go to the next level? They basically will be thinking about every asset they have both in terms of basketball value AND asset value.
And when it comes to getting a franchise player, everything is on the table. The way it should be.
Even if the lottery takes care of Utah’s star need, I think they’ll have another ace or two up their sleeve. Looking at the Jazz’s depth chart, I can’t even remotely imagine they show up next season that way. Here’s everyone currently under contract or with rights of refusal held by Utah4:
(* = Non-guaranteed, ** = Rights of refusal, either per RFA or draft rights.)
That’s actually two over the roster maximum5 with no room to do anything but hope for the best from 15 guys who, for the most part, are 26 or younger. There’s no way the Jazz open up in October like that, so that means what we’re looking at right there isn’t just a depth chart: it’s an asset list6.
If you missed our piece on Lindsey’s end-of-season interview, it’s a must read. It has a lot of several gems about how Lindsey and his Jazz front office colleagues are thinking about several of Utah’s current pieces, including the burning questions and next development steps.
In it, Lindsey talked about improving through three areas: “We will just continually try to do the right thing from a development standpoint, a procurement standpoint [and by being] aggressive in the draft.”
Pay attention to that whole quote. This franchise isn’t only thinking about internal development and a good haul on June 26th. I’d be shocked if all the Jazz did this summer was draft their picks and sign a free agent or two. It might be time to start spending assets, and that means it’s time to make decisions about how the future “core” might look different from today’s.