There are a lot of places the Utah Jazz could go talent-shopping as they look to turn all their promise and potential into a competitive club. For example, they could look to the North. Way North.
The Jazz are a few steps away from really being relevant again. In general, they need to add more rotation-quality depth to consistently win against very good teams, but they have some specific needs as well. Through some combination of internal improvement, drafting and targeted additions, they need improved production from the guard line, skilled big men, and more shooting.
One place where all those things exist — either in the form of free agents or ostensibly gettable trade targets — is Toronto.
The Raptors are in an odd state1 of mind after laying a postseason egg this spring. I’ve had leftovers last longer in the fridge than Toronto lasted in the playoffs, and the fact that their brief playoff existence ended with a listless 31-point blowout loss has GM Masai Ujiri searching for answers. According to the Toronto Star, Ujiri and his staff have already started to “go over every facet of the roster.”
“Everybody is going to be held accountable, everybody is going to be evaluated,” Ujiri told the Star. Later, he added: “I couldn’t tell you what’s going to come our way this year. July is going to be very telling.”
In the same interview, he preached patience, so there’s no guarantee that a fire sale is taking place in Canada. But as Ujiri makes those “telling” decisions, other teams will be watching close to see how it plays out. One of those teams could be Utah.
Speculating on specific free agent or trade targets is, of course, an often futile game. For actual GMs, it’s not as easy as it for those of the arm-chair variety, just picking names off of a list the way wedding guests pick waffle irons off of a Bed, Bath & Beyond registry. Making deals work is hard in real life even when they look intuitive from our vantage point, so I spend more time looking at the types of players or deals that the Jazz can pursue rather than trying to forecast specific signings or trade ideas.
Some people dare to go there, though. It’s a bit impossible to ideate the Jazz’s 2015 offseason blueprint without at least mulling some names. Ben Dowsett did so when he offered his Jrue Holiday idea earlier this week. A deal that like makes sense both in principle and specifically, so I’ll follow Ben’s inspiration and look at some specific names on Toronto’s roster that could be of interest.
It’s obvious that not everything in Toronto is up for grabs. Kyle Lowry is coming off a career year and his first All-Star appearance. That he completely disappeared in the playoffs2 doesn’t mean he’s not the engine of a 49-win team. His apologists point to backcourt injuries and Lowry’s heavier load as a reason he wore down in April, and whether or not that’s fully accurate is probably moot: I can’t imagine Lowry going anywhere.
Likewise, Jonas Valanciunas is part of the foundation. He’s their second best player3, just barely turned 23, and is still on a friendly scaled contract as a recent first-rounder. It’s also doubtful Toronto seriously shops rookies Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira, just because their low cost makes it worth waiting on the upside.
But after those four? Make an offer.
The reasons Toronto might mull an upgrade over DeMar Derozan are the same reasons why I’m not sure he answers any major needs for Utah. He’s elite at getting into the paint and to the free throw line, but he lacks any kind of reliability as a shooter, especially from deep. He’s also a bit duplicative of some of the things Alec Burks gives Utah, though he’s certainly ahead of Burks in terms of talent on an absolute level4. He’d add star quality and another guy who could create his own shot, but it’s hard to imagine Utah emptying the piggy bank for someone who is neither a floor spacer nor a great passer.
Staying with the guys who still have contract left for a minute, Patrick Patterson is interesting. He’s turned himself into a legitimate stretch big with both pick & pop and spot-up abilities. He has pretty consistently shot in the high 30s from three throughout his career, but now he’s taking more than ever. More than half his shots were threes this past season, and not coincidentally, the Raptors’ offense was great with him on the floor (122 ORtg). His rebound rate is a tad anemic for a four, and he’s not the most deft passer, but he also wouldn’t command a huge trade package. He has two years left on his deal, each at just over $6M.
Terrence Ross would be harder to grab, but he’s a legit 3&D player. His overall offensive efficiency isn’t great, but he adds two-way value, a skill set that’s en vogue. The Jazz probably only need somebody like Ross if another deal they make costs them Burks or Rodney Hood.
My favorite Raptors trade target is probably Greivis Vasquez. Bias alert: I’ve long been a Vasquez fan. A part-time starter, General Greivis gave Toronto 24 quality minutes per game, shooting 38% from three and sporting nice assist percentage and even defensive rebounding for his position. He’s a solid P&R guard and, while not an ace defender overall, he plays physically and with energy.
Holiday is clearly a better player than Vasquez, as are any number of other options, but Utah could likely grab Vasquez without parting with their pick, and he is a great situational fit. He only has one year remaining at $6.6M, so he wouldn’t eat into future flexibility while providing some immediate-term steadiness at the PG spot while Utah waits on Dante Exum’s growth.
He and Exum are both 6’6″, so Utah would have great size everywhere if they had those two cycling the PG minutes or even occasionally pairing up. And, since the price tag for Vasquez certainly wouldn’t be a lottery pick the Jazz could still use #12 to address other needs, like a stretch big or more shooting.
The Raptors also have some pending free agents who may be up for grabs. Amir Johnson is a much-improved big who flies under the radar despite being a positive on both ends for Toronto. He is pretty choosy about shooting threes (less than 9% of his attempts), but makes 41% of them. He does most of his work in close, which is why he sports a 60+ TS figure. He started most of his games, but split minutes pretty evenly with Patterson. Either would be an interesting get for Utah.
Lou Williams, the league’s best sixth man, might be tough to get in an open market, but he’s a nice change-of-pace bench scorer, in the mold of a Marcus Thornton or Jamal Crawford. If he were a better shooter (40% FG, 34% 3PT, though he does get to the line a lot), I’m sure Utah would attempt to enter a bid.
Landry Fields is only mildly interesting. He looked his best when everything in New York was sparking in the magic Linsanity dust and Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo offense, and since then has been a spotty shooter with middling defensive results. I also don’t think free agent bigs Chuck Hayes, Greg Stiemsma or Tyler Hansbrough fit the “skilled” profile Utah is looking for.
Still, that’s a roster with at least three semi-realistic trade targets and a couple of potential trade targets as well. Most importantly, it’s a franchise with a motivated GM and open phone lines. Keep your eyes on Toronto.