Contemplating the Jazz Core

May 15th, 2014 | by Dan Clayton
Alec Burks & Enes Kanter: core pieces of a future contender... or assets? It's decision time. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

Alec Burks & Enes Kanter: core pieces of a future contender… or assets? It’s decision time. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

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:

  • C: Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, Ante Tomic**
  • PF: Enes Kanter, Jeremy Evans, Erik Murphy*, Malcolm Thomas*
  • SF: Gordon Hayward**, Pick 1-7, Pick 35
  • SG: Alec Burks, Ian Clark*, Pick 23
  • PG: Trey Burke, Diante Garrett*, John Lucas III*, Raul Neto**

(* = 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.

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
Dan Clayton
Dan Clayton

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10 Comments

  1. LKA says:

    No way should Lucas come back. Thomas, Clark, Murphy, Garrett are there through summer league only. One or two out of this group might be the fifteenth man. I hope Neto makes it this year. Depending on the three draft players (assuming there is no trades) should make an interesting summer camp and pre season. I think the “core” would be three at the most. A lot depends on the draft, Hayward situation, and free angency…

  2. Aaron says:

    You don’t see Trey being better than George Hill or Mario Chalmers? Really? I bet you that at least 90 percent of the league would take Trey over either of those two, without even blinking.

    • Don says:

      I’ll take that bet.

      Chalmers: 14.06 PER, .567 TSP
      Hill: 13.28 PER, .563 TSP
      Burke: 12.64 PER, .473

      Burke had the 51st best PER for point/combo guards in the NBA. Why did he look so good to many Jazz fans? Garrett was 68th and Lucas was dead last at 70.

  3. Mewko says:

    I think the Jazz won’t start pulling off shrewd trades, wheelin’ and dealin’ these young assets until 2015 or 2016.

    They are keeping Favors permanently.
    They have to let Kanter go if he can’t start next to Favors.
    They have to see if Alec Burks can be a good scorer.
    If Alec can score at an elite level, than the front office should let him be more important than Hayward.

    Alec or Gordon will have to go if Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins comes to Utah.
    Bottom line is they won’t select who goes and who stays until they see more of what they can do. They must also apply who can play together well, and not be stupid like Detroit’s Monroe-Smith-Drummond lineup.

  4. cw says:

    The problem with aquirring a franchise player outside the draft is, who will that player be? What franchise players are potentially available? What teams have franchise or potential franchise players they are willing to trade?

    OF the FA the only near franchise players I can see even remotely coming to utah are lowery and bledsoe. And are either really franchise players?

    As far as teams with franchise players who ,might be avialable becasue they won’t resign only Kevin Love, and as a very long shot Kyrie Irving seems available. Would either consent to a trade and sign with UTah? when they know they can probably force thier way to LA?

    Of potential stars maybe avialable I can think of Dion Waiters and Lance Stevenson. Who else is there that’s available/willing to come to Utah?

    I think what is most likely is if the Jazz don’t get a top 4 pick they try to move up. They might try to move up even if they do pick at 4. What really worries are guys with maybe more upside but less ready like Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine. THe Jazz picked Kanter third but Kawhi Leonard who went something like 14 is most likely going to be better. So what if the Jazz pick third and they take Parker but in three years Gordon is tearing up the league? I have a feeling Gordon is going to be a really special player. Maybe not a “franchise” player but someone who really helps you win games in all kinds of ways. He has size, athelticism, motor, is a great defender. All he needs to do is work on his shot and ball handling. It seems to me that only Wiggins and maybe Embiid have more potential. And maybe Exum, but who really knows anything about him?

    And finally, what about Burks? Burks showed the kind of improvement in the third year that can signal an emerging star. What if the Jazz put him at the two and put Hayward back in his secondary role at three? Have Burks work on his drive and dish with hayward standing out at the three point line. Of course you don’t pay Hayward $12 mill a year to be a three and d guy.

    But you are right about one thing, somebody has to go.

    • Mewko says:

      Maybe if we get the 7th pick, then we can trade it in a package for Terrence Ross. He did drop a 51 point game this season.

  5. Clint Johnson says:

    If I had to guess, put Jazz management’s feet to the fire and make them say who they consider core building pieces at this point, I think they say Favors and Burke, in that order. They’ve been open with the fact they think Favors has two more levels of development, which would make his contract a bargain. And a rookie point guard at Burke’s age, and on his contract, given his performance thus far? They make sense competitively, financially, and in combination, as they have the potential to substantially increase each others’ effectiveness via the pick and roll.

    • Hazel says:

      I really hope they don’t put more weight on a 6 foot pg who cannot guard any other starting point guards and is a poor shooter. I understand that he can improve defense and shooting but he cannot grow four inches get faster or more athletic.

      I really like Trey but if he starts we need four above average to elite athletes around him or he needs to be a 6th man.

      That does not sound like a core player to me.

      Alec Burks on the other hand is an elite finisher, driver, defender and athlete. He has the potential to effect the game to a much greater degree due to his athleticism.

      I like Trey but he can’t be a top three player on the team unless he develops Steve Nash type skills.

  6. chad says:

    Why is everybody in love with Trey. Great guy. Professional. Below average point guard. Again the Jazz went after the 2nd best PG in the draft (Williams/Paul) and the kid cannot shoot or pass. 6 assists a game and 12 pts on below 40% shooting!

    Burks showed the most improvement last year and should start at the 2, If the Jazz cannot get into the top 2 and pick up Parker or Wiggins, Exum looks like a distinct possibility and could replicate a MCW year. 6’6” PG along side 6’6” shooting guard. that is a large and very athletic front court with Exum and Burks. Burks 3pt game was much better last year and if he continues to improve there he is an all star in a year or two.

    Round out the lineup with a versatile Hayward (if he stays) at the 3 or coming off the bench in a Ginobli type role. Favors should get a bit better as well although he may have reached a ceiling in being a defensive presence and 13/10 guy.

    Finally throw all this away if you can get Love. Trade Hayward and the 1st pick for Love and you would have an offensive juggernaut in the post and Favors to play D on their best big. I know Love wants to be in LA but can the Lakers really put the pieces together with Kobe making 23.5M and 25M over the next 2 years? Love will make $15M and almost $17M over the same time. That’s 40M+ to 2 players. Then when Kobe leaves LA is rebuilding yet again. Finally he may not be the same after returning fro injury. The Clippers are maxed out on flexibility. The Jazz have a solid young core, could be good for years, are only a 2 hr flight to LA.

    Could you imagine:
    Burk, Burks, Evans/Williams, Love, Favors or
    Exum, Burks, Hayward, Favors, Kanter or
    Burke, Burks, Hayward, Parker, Favors or
    Burke, Burks, Wiggins, Favors, Kanter
    Burke, Burks, Hayward, Favors, Embid

    Anyway you stack it those lineups look promising.

    I love thinking about Exum and Burks paying side by side of Love and Favors.

    Add in a playmaker like Hayward dishing, rebounding, and scoring as a 2 or 3 option and the Jazz future looks bright!

    • Don says:

      Forget Love. He cannot be signed to an extension so we get him for a year then he moves on to the Lakers.

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