Well that was a rough seven days, Jazz people.
Since we last gathered here for the Salt City Seven, Utah has suffered four losses in as many games. Fewer wins, though, does not mean less to talk about. Let’s dive into this week’s seven bit of Jazz themes and conversation-starters, beginning with a timely look at trade likelihood.
It happens to be the first Salt City Seven after the de facto start of the NBA trade season on Tuesday. December 15 is the day when most recent signees are trade-eligible, meaning the majority of the league is officially available now through the February 18 trade deadline.
For that reason and that reason only, let’s talk about trades for a few minutes1.
To be sure, anybody who thinks the Jazz should intensify trade efforts as a reaction to a 4-game slide without a major piece of their team is missing the point. The Jazz aren’t in a position where they need to reach for the nuclear launch codes because of a bad week. They’re still playing the long game here. That said, Rudy Gobert’s absence is highlighting a depth issue that tells us that, even in view of said long game, Utah’s stars could use some help.
Jazz fans everywhere are on the case, constructing trade machine deals with varying levels of realism, market understanding, patience, short-sightedness and all-out wishful thinking.
Usually around this time of year, I chime in with my ranking which Jazz players are least to most likely to be dealt2. This year, it’s a little more murky than that, for a number of reasons we’ll get into. As such, all I dare do this time around is talk broadly about what I see as groups of players to whom a general set of principles seem to apply. Take this as less of a prediction and more of a read on where I think different players’ value — to the Jazz and to the marketplace — currently sits.
Not Going Anywhere: Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, Dante Exum
Very few players are 100% untouchable, but the Jazz really like their current three-man core as the basis for both the short and long term, and they’re still believers in what Exum could become.
But with that needs to come a realistic understanding of what the Jazz could acquire. When you call up an opposing team to discuss a framework but take four of your best guys off the table, you’re not coming away from that phone call with their best player. Or their second best. Or really probably anything that’s going to drastically transform you.
You just don’t trade mid-tier rotational players and get stars in return. And once you take your three best players plus a tantalizing young prospect off the table, that’s about what you have. Not every GM abides by the tier rule, but it’s a good way of thinking about it: for the most part, stars get traded for stars,starters get traded for starters, role players get traded for role players and spare parts get traded for spare parts.
In other words, if you’re hoping for Danilo Gallinari or Mike Conley, you might just want to take a long winter’s nap and we’ll wake you on February 19.
Probably Not Going Anywhere: Rodney Hood, Tibor Pleiss
I’m not ready to put Hood in the near-untouchable group just yet. Not yet. Some are. I’m just not there.
What I can say is that the Jazz are not going to trade someone they think might be that good while he’s still making rookie-scale money on a contract that gives them long-term control. In the long-term, it makes very little sense to trade someone in that situation for a guy who probably has a year or two of contract left and then you’re back to wishing you still had Rodney curling around elbow pick-and-rolls. Plus, he’s a pretty damn good basketball player already.
Pleiss makes this section for a totally different reason: right now, he’s just not as good as his contract. Teams can acquire a player contributing what he contributes far more cheaply than for the $6.4 million guaranteed that Pleiss is owed. He has some tools and will probably get better as the game slows down and his feet speed up, but right now he’s upside-down in the value-to-salary ratio.
Min-Level Crew: Raul Neto, Elijah Millsap, Chris Johnson, Jeff Withey
Minimum-salary, replacement-level players are always less likely to move than some of their counterparts, for the simply reason that usually the only way they are dealt is when attached to one of those bigger transactions. The latter three are particularly useful for salary matching because of their non-guaranteed status that can help even out sides of a deal but without requiring an actual financial commitment.
Modest Value Chips: Trevor Booker, Joe Ingles, Trey Lyles
“Modest” here means that, on their own, these guys aren’t getting you much. Booker and Ingles are basically playing at replacement level so far, but both have had stretches that might lead a GM to believe they could be helpful, and both have favorable contracts3.
Lyles hasn’t blown anybody away with his first quarter season, but he’s just six months removed from being a lottery selection. He was considered as high as the mid-lottery, which means there are teams out there that believe in his skill set. At the front end of a rookie contract, he could be intriguing in a low-risk sort of way to some of the teams who liked him a lot in June.
The Pieces: Trey Burke, Alec Burks
Even though it’s not the intention, it feels like an annual tradition to conceptually shop the Burk(e/s) Bros. The reality is that you don’t get good players without giving up good players, and this is the best of what Utah has to offer without disturbing their core of four borderline untouchables.
If you listen to SCH radio, you’ve heard that the market for Burke wasn’t exactly popping this past summer. But Trey may have played his value back to “interesting.” He’s suddenly a 39% three-point shooter, where he takes two of every five attempts, and he has an improving floor game. He also has one year left on a rookie contract, after which the team that holds his rights will have leverage if they want to keep him. That could be appealing to teams in a certain situation, particularly those looking to get young as they get further removed from the 2016 playoff race.
Burks is the Jazz’s best shot to bring back a quality rotation player — because he is one. And precisely because of that, I have no idea if the Jazz are interested in dealing him. Here’s what I do know: Burks has been a slow adopter of certain things the coaching staff has implored him to pick up on, particularly in terms of decision-making, shot selection, letting loose from three and defense. So there’s a chance they’d look at his value as one of the league’s best sixth men this season and decide to sell high. If they don’t, then any changes they make will likely be around the periphery and won’t yield huge difference-makers.
As we continue looking at Utah’s trade asset arsenal, that’s the minimum number of picks Utah has in the next five drafts.
Fans are pretty quick to add “+OKC” or “+GSW” to any trade proposal, meaning tack on picks the way TV infomercials throw in an extra set of laser ear hair trimmers if you “act now.”
I’d be a little more judicious than that. Those picks could come into play at an important time for the Jazz’s fiscal planning. Hayward and Gobert will negotiate their new deals during a one-year cap jump. Then the cap falls back down in 2018-19, so if you pencil in even conservative estimates for those two, Favors and Exum on top of committed salary, the Jazz are already butting close to a $121 million tax threshold. Having the opportunity to add talent on the cheap at that point could be important.
That said, there’s no way Utah is drafting 18 players over that span of time, so expect them to use these assets to grease the wheels if necessary. They also hold rights to drafted players, most notably Olivier Hanlan and Ante Tomic.
In a week where fan dialogue had a lot to do with lineups, Quin has a message: cut it out.
“You know, I don’t even want to get into our lineup, lineup change, frankly, or even our substitutions and everything right now. It’s — our team didn’t play well… As a group, this isn’t about looking to a starting lineup or a go-to guy or matchup situations, this is about our group as a whole needing to compete more at the right times and make plays .”
The point the second-year coach is making is that it doesn’t behoove the Jazz to wait for some magical combination of players to unlock the basketball universe. At some point, they just have to play better basketball.
Even when Snyder acquiesced on Wednesday to the two popular fan demands of starting both Withey and the Triple Wing, the lineup wasn’t panacea. The group scored well, but couldn’t stop anybody (130.4 DRtg) and lasted less than six minutes together because of foul trouble.
Snyder will tinker, but he’s right: all of that won’t do much unless several guys, simply put, just play better.
This one wasn’t even all that fancy compared to previous plays we’ve deconstructed in this spot. But in a week that left a little to be desired in the highlight department, we’ll take what we can get.
This was just some basic stuff the Jazz generated out of the flow, but I like it because the Jazz didn’t panic as they ran through their options and because multiple actions gave them an advantage they exploited with a Hayward three. He’s actually super preoccupied with the threat of a Withey-Burks hand-off P&R here, but spacing is tight so there’s not much the Jazz can do to exploit that.
No problem, though, as Withey just flips the other direction and goes right into a P&R with Burke, pulling Gee way into the lane and giving Hayward a good 20 feet of space between him and the closest defender.
Burke, as he has done a lot lately, makes a really good of the third defender, and Hayward gets a wide open shot. But it worked precisely because the Jazz forced Gee to make choices by piling multiple actions on top of each other: the initial UCLA cut, right into a fake P&R at the angle, then into a high screen. And props to Withey for keeping the roll tight so that he sucked Gee in as far as he could to give Gordon the extra daylight.
Hayward breaks a tie and the Jazz pulled away, only to surrender the lead in a fairly disastrous fourth quarter. Alas, at least it produce this beauty.
Error 404: no game ball found.
Ok, no technical difficulties here, just basketball ones. No leather to dole out for this winless week. But don’t worry, we’re pretty sure Game Ball will be back next Thursday. Right? We think…
On the “need to win to sufficiently weather the Gobert injury without adversely impacting playoff chances or team chemistry” scale, the next two rank pretty high. Denver and Phoenix at home are more than just opportunities to end a skid and get things back on track; they’re games Utah needs to get if they’re going to get through Hurricane Rudy with anywhere near the record they would have otherwise gotten from a favorable December schedule.
After those two, they have Golden State in Oakland. The 25-1 Warriors. In Oracle. Without Gobert. Let’s just assume that if the Jazz (as presently constituted) come close in that one, it’s a Christmas miracle.
There wasn’t a lot to celebrate this past week, but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a lot of celebrating.
Just for fun, invest a minute of your life reliving the moments that inspired some of Lyles’s recent vine-o-rific bench jubilations.
We need a name for this occurrence, right?