A lot has gone wrong during this season. You know that old joke you would tell your friends before every Jazz season? The one about how there are 3 things in life that will never change? Death, Taxes, and Jerry Sloan? Unfortunately all three of those things combined together to result in a highly overpaid, underachieving, and Sloan/Deron-less Utah Jazz squad.
The Jazz are currently in rebuilding mode no matter how Kevin O’Connor phrases it. But just because the Jazz are rebuilding does not mean the Utah franchise has left its fans out in the cold. Some fans out there are feeling hopeless. Today I want to show you the light at the end of the tunnel. Introducing The Steps of Rebuilding: OKC Edition.
Take a look at the best teams in the West by Age:Lakers – 29.64 Mavericks – 29.26 Spurs – 27. 57 Denver – 26.57
Notice a trend? The best 3 teams are getting old. The next great team, OKC, is by far the youngest of the elite teams. The scary thought is they will just continue to improve. The Jazz are rebuilding their team around the OKC model: Accumulate a lot of draft picks in a 3 year span, trade them around for best value, get young fast, cut out expensive veteran salaries, and prepare for an extended playoff run in the twilight of the elite teams careers. The Jazz did not make these moves to be playoff ready for the Lakers, Spurs, and Mavericks this year. They made this move to be competitors to the Trailblazers, Nuggets, and Thunder in two years.
As it stands right now the Jazz have an average age of 27. Now in the 2011/2012 season if you take an average age of 21 years old for every rookie the Jazz draft (for the sake of this I’m only counting 1st round picks) and eliminate those whose contracts end after this year (Kirilenko, Elson, Watson, Price, Fesenko) the Jazz’s average age will be about 25.6. Then after that year in the 2012/2013 season the Jazz’s average age with two more 1st round picks (using an average age of 21 for each draft pick) and minus Okur will be about 23.23. In just two years the average of the Jazz will go from 27 to 23.23. Kevin O’Connor not only hastened the rebuilding process about a year early he shot it with a dose of steroids.
In the 2007 NBA draft the OKC Thunder hastened the rebuilding process by trading away Ray Allen. They received Boston’s lottery pick, #5, in addition to their own #2 pick. In that draft they selected Kevin Durant and Jeff Green.
The following year in 2008, they played their young players long and often giving them vital development time which resulted in the #5 pick in that draft. With that pick they selected Russell Westbrook, who by the way no one was billing as an elite PG, but the Thunder had other intentions and knew he would be something special. They also drafted Ibaka later in the first round with the Phoenix Suns’ pick (#24) and D.J. White with the 29th pick.
In 2009, the Thunder had the #2 pick as a result of their own record by playing their young guys and giving them precious development time. They drafted James Harden. A guy who would never become a star in this league but a guy who could be the Steve Kerr to the Thunder’s Westbrook/Durant.
Then in 2010 after playing their young guys all season long and accumulating development time over the past 2 years their young players turned the corner a year early. Westbrook became a budding star. Durant became a star. They made the playoffs and scared the Lakers. In that draft they decided they needed size down low. They traded up and picked Cole Aldrich with the #11 pick. Aldrich will never be a star in this league but the Thunder already have two. They just needed B.J. Armstrongs and Steve Kerrs.
Now flash forward to the present. The Jazz have two draft picks this year, #6 and #12. They also have a lot of assets to use for future draft picks whether they come this year or next year. Lots of teams will be trading picks around this year due to the weak draft. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. The Jazz could get good value in current draft if they play their cards right.
Next year they will have their own pick provided they land in the lottery. They also have Golden State’s pick next year in what should be a deep draft. If the Jazz follow the OKC model and play their young guys often then their own pick could be a lottery pick. I know what a lot of you just thought when you read that. Is he really saying the Jazz should tank? No, it is called development. What good would the Jazz be doing if they played guys who are not part of the Jazz’s future?
I’m a proponent of development. If the Jazz were to acquire 6 lottery picks in 3 years that would trump anything OKC was able to pull off. The Jazz already have Favors and Hayward. They will have two lottery picks in 2011. Right now Draft Express has the Jazz selecting Bismack Biyombo at #6 and Alec Burks at #12. Not superstar talent but solid talent. If the Jazz can manage to get lucky enough to get into the top 2 and select Derrick Williams or Kyrie Irving they will have the opportunity to capitalize on a weak draft. If they develop their young guys they will have a chance for two lottery picks next year. Their own and a Golden State pick that’s protected 1-8. If they were to package those draft picks plus a known talent they could get a star-potential player. I know the draft is sometimes a crapshoot but having that many picks in the lottery is like idiot proofing your future. You can’t strike out that many times, well, unless your name is the Clippers.
OKC used their cap space as a storage unit. They became a place to send old stuff (players) that teams didn’t use anymore because they had the room. But those rental units came at a price. A steep price. Look at this list:Thabo Sefolosha Eric Maynor Nate Robinson Kendrick Perkins Nazr Mohammed
These players were sniped away from other teams needing to dump salary. Sefolosha was a defensive minded SG picked up from Chicago. Perfect compliment to Durant and Westbrook. Eric Maynor was traded from the Jazz in a cost cutting move that included Matt Harpring’s contract. Nate Robinson and Kendrick Perkins were taken on when Boston couldn’t afford to give Perkins his extension. The Thunder traded Jeff Green (who ironically Boston traded to the Thunder) back to Boston for a solid starting C with playoff experience. They threw in Nenad Krstic and called it a day. They then traded D.J. White for Nazr Mohammed as Charlotte was cutting salary.
For the Jazz to hasten the rebuilding process they have to get under the salary cap. Far below it. If they do they could make out like bandits with the upcoming CBA. There are talks of a hard salary cap. Even if that does not come to fruition the salary cap will be lowered. Teams will be trying to get below it not to pay a likely increase in luxury taxes. The Jazz if they cut salary now will be in a great position to play the OKC role and use their cap space to save teams from luxury taxes and be able to accrue some good assets: draft picks & players.
The Thunder have not been successful solely because of their drafting and trade-making skills. They have a stable organization. Which is saying a lot. The fact that a team can come out of the Seattle mess and a few years later be seen as a dependable organization with a clear vision says a lot. It also gives hope to Utah fans.
This past season has been one of the most tumultuous in recent memory. Jazz lost Jerry Sloan, Phil Johnson, and Deron Williams. That doesn’t even include the mass exodus of Jazz players to Chicago before the season began. Injuries ravaged this team. Fans were frustrated by the front office decision to trade Deron Williams. Even with all that the season ended on a good note with the Jazz’s future, Hayward and Favors, putting on a show in the season’s final game. The important thing is to have an organization underneath everything that is capable of riding out the storm and the Jazz organization is capable of that. The Jazz do with Kevin O’Connor and the Miller Family.
Luck can turn silver into gold. If you take a look at the Thunder they have caught some serious breaks. The draft is an inexact science. No matter how much money is put into scouting, how “can’t miss” the prospect is, and how great your developmental coaching is a team is bound to find a few duds. But in a 3 year span the Thunder, for the most part, were able to draft solid talent and have players rise above their known potential. We sometimes credit a General Manager prematurely for their amazing drafting skills because of their luck when drafting. The Thunder didn’t strike gold when they drafted D.J. White. He was later traded for Nazr Mohammed. Cole Aldrich, #11 pick of 2010 draft, has spent most of his rookie year with the Tulsa 66ers. But their successful picks of Durant, Green, Westbrook, Harden, and Ibaka mask the mistakes.
In 2008, Scott Brooks took over midseason for P.J. Carlesimo as an interim coach. Who knew that Brooks would coach the Thunder to the playoffs the following year and receive the 2009-2010 Coach of the Year Award then? No one did. He was a good coach but under the right circumstances Brooks showed he could be a great coach. Oklahoma City got lucky. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than to be good.
The Jazz need some of that luck. They need that luck to go their way and win the lottery. They need that luck to go their way with Millsap making a transition from PF to SF. They need that luck to go their way with Hayward, Evans, and Favors continuing their development in a potentially long offseason. Most importantly, they need that luck to go their way with Corbin coming into his own as a head coach.
The most important thing the Jazz can do is set the stage for that luck to take effect. The Jazz have the draft picks, the assets, the coaching, and soon they will have the cap space to create the right conditions for something special to happen. With a little luck, the Jazz can out-OKC OKC.