There has been and will continue to be a lot of speculation and talk about what the Jazz will do with the 12th pick in the upcoming NBA draft. It’s fun to imagine which players will be available at 12 or which players would fit best with this young and upcoming Jazz team. But it’s also fun to imagine which players the Jazz could trade the 12th pick for, what it would take to trade up into the top 5 or how many future picks the Jazz could garner by trading out. That’s the fun of being a couch GM, which is as fun, if not more fun, than watching the games at times.
The Jazz are going to look into trading their pick, trading up in the draft, and they will make a list of which players in this draft they want and in what order. They may even consider drafting a pregnant woman. To use a cliche, they will exhaust all options. But ultimately, I believe the Jazz will draft a player at 12 in the upcoming draft. It seems like the most boring option, but here is why the Jazz will take the path of least resistance.
1. Trades Are Hard to Execute
It’s the most obvious reason, but warrants acknowledgement. Trades are less likely to happen than to happen. Salary matching, value matching, and good human interaction get in the way. Teams incorrectly value their own players and picks. Emotions are high at times in negotiations. The Jazz have to find a dance partner, which, as high school taught me, is very difficult. If the Jazz are trying to trade the 12th pick for a good player with a reasonable to semi-reasonable contract, then they need to find a team that is in the right developmental stage. That alone probably eliminates 80% of the teams in the league. The stars have to align for trades to benefit both teams on paper and that just doesn’t happen often.
2. The 12th Pick has Difficult (Little) Trade Value
For every Kawhi Leonard, Nick Collison, Richard Jefferson, or Giannis Antetokounmpo, there are a dozen guys like Earl Clark, Austin Daye, Jeremy Lamb, Anthony Randolph, or Julian Wright. It’s a decent place in the draft to find a contributor, but offers few stars, if any. And in the last 15 years, trades involving picks 11-15, if not attached to a larger trade for a star player, have yielded only average players. Outside of the George Hill for the 15th pick that became Kawhi Leonard trade, picks in the 12-15 range usually yield players like Joel Przybilla or Ike Diogu. And it bears mentioning that Dennis Lindsey was on the winning side of the mentioned Kawhi Leonard deal, but that fact may make his ability to repeat the performance less likely this year, not more. In short, if the Jazz trade the 12th pick for a player, that player is historically not going to be a difference maker. Why would teams give up a difference maker for a very average first round pick?
3. Drafting a Player at 12 is a Very Cheap Investment
Take almost any player that you can imagine trading the 12th pick for and look at their contract. It probably costs the Jazz at least $15 million for the next two seasons and then puts that player in free agency when they can command 40% as much, due to the increased salary cap. Take Jrue Holiday as a hypothetical trade target. Holiday would be a good player for the Jazz, but would cost the Jazz $23 million the next two years and would hit the open market after the salary cap takes a HUGE jump, even if the Jazz desired to re-sign him. If the Jazz draft a player at 12, that player is locked into a rookie scale contract that will pay that player about $10 million over the next 4 years, and will not go up with the salary cap increase. You can’t beat that value if that player becomes a rotational player and contributor.
4. The Jazz Will Have a Hard Time Trading Up
Since the Jazz find themselves at a position to compete for the playoffs now, it will be hard for them to part with a meaningful player and their pick in order to move up. Packaging Favors, Hayward, or Gobert would set the team back several years. Exum could be in play, I suppose, but I would put the chances of that happening at about 0.5%. And the Jazz don’t have extra first round picks whose value is known, like they did when they traded up to draft Trey Burke. I suppose the Jazz could take a bad contract back in order to move up a spot or two, but it’s certainly a long shot.
5. Front Office Types are also Ultra-Competitive
Obviously if a “can’t miss” free agent or trade acquisition became available to the Jazz, they would jump on the chance. But trading a pick for a more well known asset that may speed up the competitive side, while helpful, also feels a bit like cheating the process. I’m not saying it’s wrong, but it’s sort of the easy decision to trade for a more well known commodity. Front office types, in general, would rather find and develop the next Khris Middleton or Danny Green, rather than pay out the nose for them. Judging from his interviews, Dennis Lindsey believes in his coaching staff and the front office’s abilities to find and develop talent. I think that belief will win out the day on June 25th.