No one likes losing.
Painfully obvious observation aside, there are times where a patient, long-term development plan is subject to the unpalatable side-effect of piling up losses in the interim. The loss of interest among casual fans, dip in ticket sales and decreasing satisfaction of players, coaches and front office personnel, all of which are part and parcel of a losing, can be too bitter a pill to swallow for some even with the knowledge of the (hopeful) eventual payoff.
With young teams clearly in a state of rebuild, as is the case with the Jazz, a heaping helping of losing is nearly inevitable. That is not to say that roster shakeups and player transactions can’t be utilized to hasten the transformation to contender status. Judging from comments Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey made during the season, this is precisely what he would like to do.
So what would a so-called “accelerated rebuild” look like? This strategy would affect every facet of the offseason NBA schedule. First and foremost, shoveling more coal into the furnace of the rebuild train would almost certainly have to lead to a significant loosening of the Miller family’s purse strings. There are three major aspects of the offseason roster construction process that could be significantly altered, dependent upon what moves are made.
Free Agent Acquisition
The alternative to the patient route of drafting talent and taking fliers on young, inexpensive free agents with upside is to pony up the dough for proven commodities who can be immediately relied upon to significantly contribute. The increased expenditure on free agents will roughly be directly proportional to the magnitude the front office would like to expedite the process. If Lindsey finds himself ready to shell out max contract money, the risk taken by the Jazz in doing so will skyrocket along with the payroll. Unless Greg Miller is prepared to go full Prokhorov and turn a blind eye to an exorbitant luxury tax, the Jazz can’t afford to be hamstrung with a max contract for a player producing more like a role player. (See Stoudemire, Amar’e.) An accelerated rebuild could also require trading one or more young assets who have not reached their full potential for an established veteran. Any such move would also involve a significant financial expenditure and a possible increase in risk.
The list of impending free agents is a long one, but the number of definite and potential free agents who are likely to consider the Jazz a possible destination are significantly fewer and farther between. LeBron James, who has an early termination option after this season, will undoubtedly be the most sought-after player. Despite Jimbo Rudding’s Twitter campaign, it’s all but certain LeBron won’t be coming to Utah. Ditto for Carmelo Anthony. This leaves the Jazz with a slew of second-tier vets and role players from which to choose. Names like Luol Deng and Marcin Gortat are tantalizing, but both would likely have to be overpaid to consider Utah. The same goes for Lance Stephenson, with the added complicating factor of Stephenson’s personality and playing style. The Jazz could make a run at veteran big men on the downside of their respective careers in Pau Gasol and Zach Randolph, but that would also come with a laundry list of questions. Will the young core peak before the free agent in question completely tails off? It seems that backing up a Brinks truck to the home of a prospective free agent may not be the optimal route for Utah to take.
Trading 2014 Picks
With the treasure trove of assets Lindsey has accumulated, in the form of young players, draft picks and cap space, it seems much more likely and feasible he will choose to combine a good deal of assets in exchange for a franchise player. There are multiple All-Star caliber players whose deals soon expire and have allegedly expressed either dissatisfaction with their current team or the desire to test free agency. It seems logical to me that Lindsey gathered his current assets with such a scenario in mind. Now that there are a few such situations, Lindsey has the ammo to pull the trigger on a deal.
The most notable name who is likely available, and who Grantland’s Bill Simmons asserted will be moved before the Draft is Minnesota’s Kevin Love. One potential complication with Love and with any other trade target the Jazz would face is the target’s willingness to sign with Utah long-term. The deal could certainly still be consummated without an extension, but that would significantly increase the risk assumed with the trade. Would a package of the #5 and #23 picks along with Enes Kanter and a future 1st be sufficient to land Love, especially with other suitors well-stocked with assets (Cleveland) or that are likely more attractive destinations (Golden State?) A similar package could be offered to Boston for Rajon Rondo, though the Jazz may be hesitant to bring another surly point guard aboard.
One very interesting possibility is Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez. With vets Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett virtually untradeable, the championship window rapidly shrinking and an impending luxury tax bill about the size of the GDP of Ukraine, the Jazz may be able to obtain Lopez for a good price. The deal would likely involve a third team, as the Nets would be looking for more immediate impact than a rookie or even a Jazz “Core Four” member may be able to provide. In a three-team scenario, the Jazz could supply the third team with the rebuilding blocks Brooklyn is so sorely lacking. In return, the Jazz would get a potential franchise center, albeit one with an extensive injury history.
Keeping the Pick(s)
Accelerating the rebuilding process would also affect who and how Lindsey drafts, albeit to a lesser extent than it would trades and free agency. The desire to more quickly build a winning program would most likely eliminate the drafting of major projects or foreign players being stashed overseas, especially considering Utah already owns the rights to two high-profile overseas players, Ante Tomic and Raul Neto. This mindset could come into play as early as Utah’s own first-round draft pick at #5. If Lindsey wants to win now, foregoing project players with immense upside (Noah Vonleh) in favor of NBA-ready players with arguably lower ceilings (Doug McDermott, Julius Randle) seems likely.
Right out of the gate, Dennis Lindsey proved he’s not afraid to take immense, albeit carefully calculated risks by taking on an enormous sum of salary from Golden State in exchange for future assets. Lindsey is undoubtedly prepared to pull the trigger on a risk-filled transaction that warps the Jazz closer to contention if he feels it’s the right move.