Dennis Lindsey Channels his Inner Daft Punk

June 14th, 2015 | by Ryan Hess
Dennis Lindsey from June 2014 (Getty Images)

Dennis Lindsey from June 2014 (Getty Images)

Perhaps more so than any of the other major professional sports, luck is a major factor in winning a championship in the NBA. In the 1996-97 season, the San Antonio Spurs finished with a record of 20-62, despite having completed the prior year with 59 wins. Their ’96-97 campaign was derailed early due to injuries to superstar David Robinson and Sean Elliot, and the team finished with the third worst record in the league.  Then, they managed to jump the two teams with worse records in the draft order when they won the draft lottery. It just so happens that they were rewarded with Tim Duncan, a top ten player of all time. It’s impossible to revise history, but I’d put the odds of the Spurs winning a single championship, let alone four, pretty low had David Robinson not gone down in 1996 with an injury.

Good NBA general managers recognize the importance of luck and put their organizations in position to get lucky.  They do this by maintaining as much flexibility as possible through acquiring assets which enable them to keep their options open. The more assets a team has, and the more diverse those assets are, the more ways it can be involved in player transactions that will improve its future.  Poor NBA general managers focus on solitary objectives without maintaining a large set of options and flexibility.

Both sides of the flexibility coin can be seen in the trade deadline trade between the Trailblazers and Nets in 2012. The Nets were attempting to build a team of stars, with the hope of winning a championship within a season or two.  To accomplish this, the Nets sacrificed all of their financial flexibility, maintaining a roster that had them well over the luxury tax line.  They further reduced their roster flexibility by shipping their first round pick to the Blazers in exchange for Gerald Wallace.  The Trailblazers, on the other hand, were reeling from the loss of their star, Brandon Roy, and their hopeful franchise player, Greg Oden.  Both players suffered chronic injuries that ended their careers early.  Trading Wallace gave the Blazers another asset (i.e., another chance to get lucky) for their rebuild. The pick ended up being the 6th pick, which was used to draft Damian Lillard.  Since the trade, the Nets and Blazers have gone in opposite directions. The Blazers, behind stellar play of Lillard and Aldridge, have returned to the playoffs, while the Nets have limped along with an aging and very expensive roster.

Danny Ainge managed to transform a bad Celtics team into a champion in one summer. (Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images)

Danny Ainge managed to transform a bad Celtics team into a champion in one summer. (Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images)

Another example: the 2006/2007 Boston Celtics were a terrible team.  The team was comprised of a disgruntled superstar (Paul Pierce), an up-and-coming post player (Al Jefferson) and middling NBA players at various stages of their careers.  The little that Danny Ainge had going for him were the aforementioned players, and options via their own picks, which had not previously been traded.  This is not an obscene amount of flexibility, but was enough for Ainge to pounce when the moment was right in the off-season.

Out West, two former playoff teams were facing the reality that hits every NBA team when it becomes clear the championship window has closed.  Both of these teams decided to gut their teams and start building for the future, this meant trading away their best players for assets.  The SuperSonics were the first that Ainge courted with his options. He was able to pry Ray Allen from them in exchange for a bevy of players and their first round pick (Jeff Green).  The bigger prize still lay ahead for Ainge.

Ainge cashed in the rest of his options later that summer when he acquired Kevin Garnett for Al Jefferson, a future pick, and more of those middling players that were wasting away in Boston. Granted, these two trades can be chalked up to shrewd salesmanship on the part of Ainge, but even a skilled salesmen has to have something to sell.  Unlike a team like the Nets, who are over the tax threshold, with few assets such as picks to use in trades, the Celtics had maintained a certain level of flexibility and were able to strike when the iron was hot.

During the locker room cleanout, Dennis Lindsey said something which indicated very clearly how he feels about flexibility and options.

“Good decisions are born out of a good set of options.”

Lindsey has done a masterful job of maintaining flexibility and keeping his set of options well stocked. He has brought in countless (well, I guess you could count them, but that seems like a lot of work) free agents to both mini camps as well as 10-day contracts with the squad. Rather than simply letting the majority of the 10-day contract players walk after evaluation, Lindsey signed as many of them as he could to reach the maximum 15 players on the roster.  The key is that he signed them to non-guaranteed multi-year deals.  This means the Jazz can keep one or more, let one or more walk, or use one or more as trade filler to facilitate a trade.  This is forward thinking that gives the Jazz part of a good set of options.

Lindsey has also managed to acquire several picks that will be realized over the course of the next few years. Many of these picks are in the second round and may not amount to anything, but having them is like keeping spare change in your car. You never know when the three dollars in quarters, dimes, and nickels will come in handy and help you in a bind.  The second-rounders, along with the non-guaranteed contracts, will likely never be key components of a trade, but they can certainly grease the wheels, and enable a trade to be completed.

Like the writers of Lost, Lindsey doesn’t know exactly how his story will end. He would like to win a championship with the Jazz, but he knows that he will have to get lucky once, or possibly multiple times, with his player transactions. He knows that the more options he has, the more likely he is to get lucky.

Ryan Hess

Ryan Hess

Ryan Hess was born a Jazz fan thanks to his mother, who comes from a big sports family. Some of his fondest memories are of curling up next to his mom on the couch while the Jazz game was on TV. He currently resides in Aurora, Colorado and works as a SharePoint consultant. While he enjoys writing code, the Utah Jazz are Ryan's true passion in life.
Ryan Hess
Ryan Hess

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4 Comments

  1. Brent says:

    The last time the Jazz went to the western conference finals, the team sported several 2nd round picks. Starters – Carlos Boozer and Memhet Okur as well as key reserves, Paul Millsap and Kyle Kover. All 4 of which have made at least 1 All Star game (our current roster of 5 lotto picks with one more to come, has no All Star appearances). As DL has said “Everybody Pooh Pooh’s a second round pick until you hit on one”.

    • Mewko says:

      Actually, the Utah Jazz never advanced to the western conference finals with Korver on the roster. The last time the Jazz went to the western conference finals, they had GORDON GIRICEK, who was a 2nd round pick.

  2. Spencer says:

    Thanks Ryan for brining this concept to the forefront. What you are talking about here is the counter argument to most of the articles on here about whom the Jazz should trade for this summer.

    This summer I hope and believe that Jazz will do the same thing. There are not a lot of players who are worth tying up cap space and sending young players on rookie contract with potential away to acquire.

    This is my list:
    Lebron
    Anthony Davis

    Maybe
    Curry
    Westbrook

    If healthy
    Durant

    Every other player is either too old or injury prone or just not as valuable as the combination of potential, flexibility, and assets.

    If we can sign Butler or Kawaii, or Middleton or Millsap or Carroll or Danny Green with cash, then let’s get them by all means. If not. Lets not send players who could end up as good or better to get them and send away our assets and flexibility.

    A year from now, almost every player on the team will be a better asset than they are now because we will be a better team and they are young and improving. That means we are closer to the goal with more assets. That is every GM’s dream.

    What I think we really need is our players we have right now with two more years of growth and experience. That plus all the picks will give us options if things don’t turn out as hoped for a few of them.

    Tons of potential, (the best young core in the league I believe) and tons of flexibility. This is a great spot to be in.

  3. Mewko says:

    I’m really excited for what the Jazz built last year, post all-star break. I think under a full healthy 82 games, with their roles clear cut, Jingles, Alec Burks, and Rodney Hood will impress the rest of the league. Slo ‘mo Joe is due for a good shooting year, Hood could pick up right where he left off, and have scoring outbursts, and Alec Burks has perfected his jump-shooting form, and has a better b-ball I.Q. Trey Burke can improve his shooting numbers if he doesn’t try to do too much, and stays out of hero mode. Less shooting with better efficiency. Dante Exum dished out 12 assists when he finally broke out of his shell against the Nuggets. He can improve his good defense this summer, and sustain being an effective offensive weapon, like he did the last 10 games of his rookie year.

    With all of those internal improvements, plus an addition or two (Alexis Ajinca, Frank Kaminsky), the Jazz will be deeper and more talented than in 2014-15. They can make the playoffs. Dallas is at the mercy of free agency, New Orleans is at the mercy of injuries, San Antonio is at the mercy of father time, and title windows are beginning to shut for the Clippers and Grizzlies.

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