Reconstructive Jazz

April 27th, 2011 | by Mychal

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.

Get Younger

Take a look at the best teams in the West by Age:

Lakers – 29.64
Mavericks – 29.26
Spurs – 27. 57
Denver – 26.57
Portland – 25.8
Thunder – 24.71

This day is coming soon....

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.

Get Good Draft Value

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.

Durant and Green drafted by the Super...Thunder?....

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?

Part of the Future (Djamila Grossman | The Salt Lake Tribune)

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.

Swiping Good Players

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.

Stable Organization

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.

We miss you Larry...

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.

Get Lucky

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.





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  1. JT says:

    Excellent article. Hopefully KOC, the Millers, and the coaching staff are all on the same page and realize that next year needs to be used for development.

  2. Mike says:

    I like the article, and agree. But how to you suggest the Jazz get far below the salary cap? The Jazz have 52 mil in salary next year, and that is not including resigning anybody or picking up CJ’s option (which I figure you would want them to do considering the whole get/stay young idea). I believe the salary cap is 58 mil this year but it should get much lower next year with the owners get their way in the CBA.

    Lets say we pick up the option on CJ for 3.7 mil and resign Earl for around the same contract at 1.3. That puts us at roughly 57 mil. Add two lottery pick rookie contracts at average about 2.25 mil a piece than we are at 61.5. I just don’t see the Jazz being able to get under the cap even if they can pull of a miracle and dump Okur’s 11 mil contract without giving up too much or taking much salary back.

    • Dave says:

      I agree with this. I love these articles, so well thought out and really insightful, even for the most die-hard; up-to-date; and well-read fans. But we will stuggle will salary, particularly if we throw in AK’s contract for next year, as I fully expect him to be re-signed for $3-5m, along with Earl and perhaps CJ. First instinct is to try and dump Okur’s contract, and this will have to be done almost certainly if we wish to be ‘way-below’ the cap. Any ideas?

  3. nickyjam says:

    Nice piece. Everyone talks about OKC and what a great job they did and how the Jazz need to emulate their last few years. Well, the reality is, they got extremely lucky pulling Kevin Durrant out of the draft. They did do a nice job, and I think Sam Presti is one of the best GMs in the league, I just hope we don’t think we failed if we can’t replicate what OKC did, or if it takes us longer to do so. I give them credit for hitting on draft picks like Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green, and James Harden, but they rebuilt as well as they did because they got Durrant after Portland choked away the #1 pick. I hope the Jazz look to their example, but I also hope Jazz fans realize that it’s not always that easy.

  4. BillM says:

    Nice piece. Jazz must go young and not try to limp into the 8 seed with the Elson’s & Bell’s of the world. Last year’s decisions were an understandable gamble, but no more.

    Al, Harris & Sap are all above-average players with reasonable contracts, so they’re fine as is unless a great trade is out there. CJ’s option is reasonable, so give him one last final chance.

    Fes can probably be re-signed dirt cheap; you can’t coach size, he’s still very young, and he’ll prolly do better under Corbin than ol’ No Rings. Watson is fine as a backup vet on year to year minimums, heart Ronnie P but he’s not an NBA player. Offer AK something no more than 4-5 a year for no more than 2-3 years.

    Bell is just a complete disaster, both he and and the noble but finished Memo need to be offered 50% buyouts which they might take fearing the lockout will kill all of next season. No more grumbling vets.

    But everything needs to be focused on developing Favors, Hayward & the lotto picks, forget the playoffs for a year or two more. I’d be over the moon if we snuck off with Biyambo & Burks from where we are now; both have shown great flashes, are very young and have huge upsides.

    Yes, try to turn Evans into an effective 10-20mpg mismatch weapon, and see what Al, Sap & Harris can do under Corbin’s new system. But it’s all about #3 & #9 learning together with #6 & #12 for now.

    Nit: Harden was actually picked 3rd in ’09, how soon we forget the immortal Hasheem Thabeet.

  5. BillM says:

    I wonder if the Millers have $8 mil to buyout Bell & Memo at 50% and get ’em off the books. Neither has any trade (never mind playing) value whatsoever at this point. I like ’em both on a personal level but Father Time has spoken.

  6. BillM says:

    I believe the 2012 Golden State pick is top 7 protected, not top 8.

  7. JT says:

    To Mike and Dave. I don’t think he means that the Jazz necessarily need to get under the cap for next season. It should be easier with Okur off the books for the next off-season though.

  8. Mike says:

    “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.”

    If we can get far below the cap, let alone under it, in the next 2-3 years I will be impressed.

  9. Brian says:

    Just a thought – Mychal, You say your’re showing us the “light at the end of the tunnel”? I look at the age distribution shown and argue it takes AGE not YOUTH to win a championship. Look at your top three teams: Lakers, Mavs, Spurs. Who were the three best teams in the Western Conference this year? Hmm. And the next three, Denver, Portland, Thunder. Oh yeah, the next three best teams in the Conference (arguably in any given order).

    I would contend that age and experience gives you a chamionship a la the last four NBA Champions (including the Celtics). The problem I see with your train of thought is the fact that when the Lakers and Spurs have gotten up there in average age, they turn around around and bring a few youngsters in to replace the ancients and still contend and even win championships with the new mix (time will tell what happens to the Mavs). The Thunder look promising, but they still lack. I’m sorry but as for the Jazz, until we can get a better mix of experience and youth (focusing on experience) we will be looking up. Love Jefferson but he’s not the experience we’re looking for. And what well experienced, top player free agent has ever come to us? We needed to groom a Deron Williams et others to try and acheive stardom again. I just don’t see it any time in the near – medium future. Not with who we currently have.

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