On Dennis Lindsey’s Summer Bet

December 7th, 2015 | by Aaron Hefner
Dennis Lindsey, from June. (Getty Images)

Dennis Lindsey, from June 2014. (Getty Images)

Every professional sports team has injuries during a season, it’s inevitable. Unfortunately, the best players on each team have the greatest chance of getting injured, because they usually play the most. Last season, the Jazz were quite fortunate when it came to injuries. While the Jazz did have a slightly above average number of games missed by all players, between Utah’s three best players, they only missed a combined 14 games (Hayward missed 6, Favors missed 8, and Gobert missed 0). What were the chances Utah would go another season with their 3 best players not missing any significant time? History says not good.

Understanding that, the question that was asked by many wise Jazz fans last summer was, “If one of those three players gets injured, how will the Jazz fare?” The answer, given Utah’s shallow bench, is truly grim. Sadly, now the Utah Jazz are living that scenario. It’s true that after having watched 17 games, we have the benefit of hindsight to know that the Jazz have a really weak bench. But many fans and analysts suspected that this was true well before preseason even tipped off. Dennis Lindsey probably did too, but he decided to bet big on current Jazz players (Trevor Booker, Joe Ingles, Chris Johnson, and Elijah Millsap), players Jazz held rights too (Raul Neto and Tibor Pleiss), and one minimum salary free agent (Jeff Withey).

Head coach Quin Snyder has relied heavily on the impressive trio of Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert and Gordon Hayward. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

As September rolled around, Lindsey went all in on Jazz players and almost entirely disregarded free agency.

If the Jazz limp to the finish line with a sub-.500 record or finish in another disappointing fashion, who is to blame? Surely it can’t lie on the active players (assuming they continue to play at their normal level). Even the end-of-bench players can’t take blame for accepting an offer sheet given to them by Utah’s front office. By the same token, the fault can’t land on Coach Snyder, who is being asked to win games with two rookies, two D-leaguers, a minimum salary contract player, and a bunch of sub replacement level players.

Does the blame then fall on chance, which caused Jazz players to get injured? Considering that chance strikes nearly every team equally over the course of several years, statistics say chance should get a pass on the issue as well. The only other remaining party is the front office, who is in charge of constructing the best possible roster.

Dennis Lindsey received league-wide credit for his masterful picks of Gobert and Hood, which he unquestionably deserved. He also has earned frequent praise for his impressive salary strategies, thorough draft process, and D-League talent digging. Dozens of analysts, writers, and rival front offices have lauded his impressive leadership and strategy for rebuilding the Jazz. Given this appreciation, should he not also be eligible for criticism for his failed bet this previous offseason?

To properly answer that question, an analysis of the 2015 free agency is necessary. Doing so will provide insight to whether Lindsey had a legitimate opportunity to bolster the bench this last summer. The two main areas the Jazz needed help in were backup point guard and backup power forward/center. Below is a list of big men that are arguably better than Booker and that were available over the summer.

Kosta Koufos

Ed Davis

Aron Baynes

Brandan Wright

Alexis Ajinca

Jonas Jerebko

Jason Smith

Lavoy Allen

Jordan Hill

Kyle O’Quinn

Drew Gooden

Brandon Bass

Luis Scola

Bismack Biyombo

Dante Cunningham

Undoubtedly there are players in that list that readers think could/should be removed either because Booker could be better than them or they wouldn’t have considered signing with the Jazz. Fair enough. But even after removing those names, 7-10 players remain that are better than Booker and that were available on the market. The Jazz had ample cap space to sign each of those players (and probably two). Take Brandan Wright, for example. He signed for a measly $6 million per year with the Grizzlies. Couldn’t the Jazz have swayed Wright to join Utah for $7.5 million per year? Or $8 million per year? Maybe, maybe not. But going down the list asking that same question for each of those players, it’s hard to believe that every single one of them was unattainable, even understanding the “takes two to tango” principle.

It also needs to be noted that, while many fans are ready for a contender right now, the front office continues to hold long-term development in the highest regard moving forward. They’re cognizant of the low odds their current squad has at actually competing for a championship this season, and want to carefully balance getting their young group reps in a competitive environment with maximizing their future outlook. It’s fair to wonder whether certain players listed above or below would fit with a long-term approach while also improving things on the court right now. That said, the exact details therein are tough to gauge from the outside.

AP Photo/Jim Urquhart

AP Photo/Jim Urquhart

Some critics might question if each of those players fits the Jazz system. Most likely a few wouldn’t, but does Trevor Booker? As much as his fire and hustle is appreciated by coaches and fans alike, he can’t stretch the floor, he isn’t a skilled dribbler or passer, and he is undersized for his position.

These exact same questions could be asked about the point guard position, which was an even bigger hole in July before Trey Burke began to demonstrate that he could alter his game. Below is a list of point guards who were better than 2013-2015 Burke who were available in free agency this last summer and could have fit into Utah’s cap space without issue.

Cory Joseph

Rodney Stuckey

Patrick Beverley

C.J. Watson

Jameer Nelson

Will Barton

Austin Rivers

Norris Cole

J.J. Barea

Leandro Barbosa

Aaron Brooks

Jeremy Lin

Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images

That list doesn’t scream revolution; in fact, some of the names are admittedly a bit underwhelming. But considering, for example, that Jeremy Lin was signed by Charlotte for a puny $2.2 million a year ($500,000 less than Trey Burke), the list starts to look better. For context, the Jazz still have more than $7 million in cap space, even after signing both Pleiss and Withey and guaranteeing Booker.

It should be noted that Lindsey likely inquired about several of the players in the above lists, but ultimately either Dennis was unwilling to increase the offer, or was rebuffed by the player’s camp. In case of the former, it means either Lindsey misread the free agency market or misread the quality of Utah’s depth.

So, the next time Lyles bricks an open jumper, or Booker pump fakes an invisible defender, or Snyder is forced to play four wings while the Jazz are trailing an inferior team, remember that they aren’t the ones to blame for the loss. Just as we praise players and coaches for strong performances but critique them for weak performances, so must we with the front office. And the fault for having a shallow bench (even in times of health) falls on the same man who stole Gobert from Denver and somehow snatched Rodney Hood with the 23rd pick. This time, however, Dennis Lindsey’s strategy may have backfired by passing on free agency. Apparently even the best can’t win them all.

Aaron Hefner

Aaron Hefner

Aaron Hefner, a maniacal Jazz addict, currently resides in Austin, Texas. He is a recent BYU business grad and a current supply chain project manager. When not working, he enjoys quality time with his pregnant wife and his daughter. Aaron writes about the Jazz to avoid annoying his family and coworkers with NBA propaganda.
Aaron Hefner
Aaron Hefner

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  1. IDJazzman says:

    I don’t think Dennis Lindsay miss read anything. He’s been in this game too long to have misjudged what he wanted to accomplish this year. I suppose everyone weigh decisions and hope they make the right choice, but I personal think he’s looking more seriously at the trade market and that is why he has kept his options open this year, so it is easier to launder a trade. That 7 million below the cap could play big in a valuable trade for the Jazz, so I think DL is just keeping that option paramount.

  2. Robin Rodd says:

    I think it has become clear this year that the Jazz need another decent front court player coming off the bench. I’m not so convinced that we need/needed another point guard, however. Looking at the list of forwards, Wright, Davis, Biyombo and O’Quinn are the only ones that would have been worth adding because they are the only two-way players on that list. But there is nothing wrong with having money up our sleeve. this isn’t a year we need to be going all out to make the bottom rungs of the playoffs.

  3. Jason says:

    Out of that list of guards, I would have liked to see Stuckey or even Aaron Brooks with the Jazz. Maybe Ed Davis now with how he is playing in Portland. But without knowing Dante would be out and with Neto coming in, it’s hard to say I wouldn’t have done the same thing as Lindsey. I think this year of growth will be great experience. We’re not making a title run this year, but maybe another piece will materialize this offseason that will get us there.

  4. Paul Johnson says:

    I felt that backup center was a big issue for the Jazz. Brandon Wright would have been the perfect signing, because he could play both PF and C. My preference was JaVale McGee, who signed with Dallas for only $1.2 mil. He was recovering from injury to start the season, but could have stepped in for Rudy almost seamlessly when Rudy went down (despite his reputation for making bonehead plays–as one of the Shaqtin’ the Fool all-stars). Withey seemed like a pretty good signing, but for whatever reason, despite a pretty good performance so far in the season, has played very sparingly.

    • Paul Johnson says:

      As far as backup point guards go, Jeremy Lin was the steal of the off-season, and probably would have fit in pretty well with the Jazz. I would much rather have Lin on the team than either Chris Johnson or Elijah Millsap.

  5. LKA says:

    I’ll take Lindseys choices thank you. Blyombo ?? Really??

  6. T says:

    It is clear that DL hasn’t done a very good job in FA. Overall he hasn’t been as good of a GM as Jazz fans generally believe. He did nail the Rudy pick and the Hood pick looks really good. But he is the guy that made a trade that helped make GS unbeatable. He didn’t get anything for Al or Millsap. He traded up to get Trey Burke. He held on to Ty too long. He isn’t terrible but is very middle of the pack and has a team with depth issues and punts on FA. Not too impressive.

  7. Spencer says:

    I LOVE what DL is doing. Three years ago people were putting Demarre Carroll and Kent Bazemore in the D-League replacement level conversation. Now they are considered high-level 3 and D guys. They developed. The Jazz are developing guys who have the potential to easily be better than most of the players on this list. Will Barton, Ed Davis and Brandon Wright are the only guys getting better. The Jazz need a stretch 4/5 not a poor man’s backup that can’t shoot and is in their prime as such.

    Give me Booker who defends on the perimeter and brings it every night with his trampoline hops. Then give me Lyles who will most likely be better than anyone on the list in two years. Light years better with a jump shot who can handle and pass.

    As for PG, the absolute last thing we need is a poor defending mid range clanker like Linsanity. Give me Trey with his 40% three and experience in the system, and Neto with great hands, passing and a solid J with his feet set out to three.

    Two years from now we will be so glad we didn’t have those guys. Plus, some combination of Jungles, CJ, Millsap and future draft picks will give us a GREAT bench when combined with Withey, Lyles, and the Burks brothers and oh yeah, Neto.

    I think the overall assumption of this article is actually quite off-base. I would rate our bench as above average. Most teams would love to have two players as skilled as the Burks Brothers coming off the bench and as much young energy and buy-in as we have with the rest.

    Now if NO comes shopping Anderson’s expiring contract, I would throw a few late picks at them.

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