The Jazz’s Options With Enes Kanter

December 22nd, 2014 | by Ben Dowsett
AP Photo/Joel Auerbach

AP Photo/Joel Auerbach

The Jazz have a 6’11, gregarious, occasionally Santa-themed, oft-bearded Turkish elephant in the living room as they play out another rebuilding season.

Just as with burgeoning star Gordon Hayward last year, Utah faces the restricted free agency of big man Enes Kanter this upcoming offseason after they passed on extending him this summer. This means the team is operating within the same sort of layered context they experienced both last season with Gordon and in previous campaigns with guys like Paul Millsap and Wesley Matthews, only with the added wrinkle of a first year coach implementing a new system to factor into the arithmetic.

How to properly evaluate Enes both presently and with an eye to his potential future and role with the team is a careful enough balance. But toss in a couple extremely relevant dates1 and the fact that, barring a trade, 29 other teams will have a chance to toss potentially silly amounts of money at the big Turk come July and force the Jazz into tough calls. Big elephant spilling red wine everywhere, indeed.

Kanter himself isn’t making things any simpler recently. After a start to the year that had many writing him off as yet another sunk cost with uneven play, particularly defensively, Enes has put together a number of strong showings in recent weeks. SCH’s own Dan Clayton touched on his improvements generally last week, and despite a strange game team-wide Saturday night that curiously saw him play just a hair under 20 minutes, Kanter has indeed kicked it up a notch. He’s begun to slowly piece things together on the defensive end, finding little bits of comfort within Quin Snyder’s slightly more conservative approach and learning from his coach’s frequent teaching moments. He still has large warts here, some of which will never subside entirely, but his effort and fire are clearly there and he doesn’t appear to be openly thinking about his next move in such a painfully obvious way as many of us are accustomed to. He also put up a career-high point total last week versus New Orleans, and is showing an aggressiveness and comfort level with the ball that must make offensively-minded GMs around the league salivate.

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, though. While process is absolutely a huge theme for this team, it’s very different than tangible results; the Jazz would love to see some of the latter to aid in what might be a difficult decision with regards to Kanter’s long term status, but have thus far mostly seen only the former. His shooting efficiency figures are actually down a bit from his season averages since the beginning of December, though still up on last year’s numbers overall, and he’s rebounding at roughly the same rate on both ends of the court in this period. Meanwhile, any improvements defensively haven’t translated to team results just yet, as his already team-worst (among rotation players) defensive efficiency figure while on the court has actually gotten worse in the last three weeks. The team overall has somehow regressed here over this period as well, and in all fairness Kanter hasn’t actually been the worst rotation player in that time, but it’s tough to get too overjoyed with a performance that, at least as far as the numbers go, really isn’t much of an improvement.

All of this is a way of saying that Kanter’s situation is a tough one, and one unlikely to reveal any end-all solution before the Jazz have to make a decision or series of decisions regarding his future. So with that in mind, let’s briefly look at Utah’s general options going forward:

Move Him Before the Trade Deadline:

A pretty unlikely scenario, for a variety of reasons. It’s rare to see any team give up real assets for a guy slated to hit RFA in just six months given the lack of full control they then maintain over his situation, and it’s unclear whether the Jazz would be able to bring back anything of real value. Teams like Memphis, Atlanta, and Washington are all at least pseudo-contenders or better in what’s currently as wide open a title race as we’ve seen in many years, and all might have both a desire for an upgrade at a third big position and a later first round pick plus the sort of mixture of cap fodder and veteran presence the Jazz would likely ask in return. But it’s so tough to evaluate how any of these front offices would view Kanter, and whether they’d even want to part with those sort of assets for what could end up being a six month rental.

Complicating the process to some degree could be Kanter’s agent, Max Ergul, who retains zero other NBA clients and could end up being something of a wild card. Teams can have issues dealing with solo agents they aren’t accustomed to working with, and there have been whispers that Ergul will attempt to squeeze every dime possible out of his most lucrative talent2. Don’t expect to see Kanter moved before the deadline unless the Jazz brass is more down on him than most of us had realized, or unless a godfather offer comes along.

Sign-and-Trade Him in the Offseason:

Perhaps even more unlikely, if for no other reason than the simple rarity of this happening outside deals for megastars changing teams (a la the S&T Cleveland and Miami struck when LeBron took his talents to South Beach in 2010). The value returning would likely be even less than a midseason trade, and would essentially amount to a last-ditch effort to salvage some value for Kanter that could actually end up making Utah’s front office look a tad silly. It’s a vague possibility for technical reasons, but quite improbable.

Push Him to Sign the Qualifying Offer:

If interest is light around the league in July, the Jazz could lean on Kanter to sign the one-year, $7.8 million qualifying offer they’ll offer him as standard practice. This is a very unconventional route to restricted free agency, and one that would see Enes become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2016. Pistons big Greg Monroe took this door in September, and he and Kanter share several on-court characteristics.

It’s tough to imagine Ergul (or Kanter, for that matter) accepting such a low figure, though the promise of UFA as the new TV money kicks in could tip the scales a bit. The Jazz would then get one more year to evaluate Kanter in this system and alongside his teammates3, though they would relinquish matching rights and risk losing him for nothing. This route also seems fairly unlikely given a number of factors, and the Jazz should probably plan on making a final decision on Kanter’s future in Utah by this offseason.

Let Him Enter RFA and Proceed Accordingly:

Far and away the most realistic scenario for the Jazz is simply to let the process that they in part chose to initiate this offseason play out. Utah still has a good bit of flexibility on their cap and a fully loaded stockpile of picks and cheap, movable contracts, and they can afford to gauge the market for Kanter with Rudy Gobert waiting in the wings. Monroe proved just how thin the market can be for Kanter’s sort of player, a power forward incapable of guarding centers who isn’t a true floor-stretcher in the vein of a Channing Frye, and Dennis Lindsey and the Jazz brass may count on a similar trend placing much of the leverage firmly in their hands.

But it only takes one (expletive), as they say, and Kanter’s offensive skill set has to be desirable to a team with a coach confident he can coax league average defense out of him. A brief canvas of some smart folks I talked to revealed a ridiculously wide array of offers some might be willing to tender him given the right team construct; from three years, $20 million to the same sort of four-year, high-$40 million figure Derrick Favors signed for last offseason. The new TV money set to kick in in 2016 may throw things like RFA into an absolute frenzy as teams race to be the first to exploit potential imbalances, and letting Kanter receive offers that might even top out higher than Favors’ number is a major crapshoot. How Enes compares to guys like Nikola Vucevic (signed for four years, $53 million starting next year), Kenneth Faried (four years, $50-plus million), or Tristan Thompson (also entering RFA this offseason) is also a topic that garners a wide array of viewpoints, with some opining he belongs in that class – or will receive an offer that says as much, at least – and others placing him firmly a tier below.

The Jazz relinquish some control with this approach4, but very little they weren’t already aware of after letting this previous offseason pass with no extension. They get the benefit of making their draft pick(s) beforehand, a process that could play a huge role in Kanter’s future. Names like Towns and Okafor, or Porzingis and Kaminsky a bit further down, have a great deal of potential appeal and would come at a fraction of Kanter’s immediate cost.

There are so many moving parts here, regardless of how the Jazz choose to proceed. Where the team feels it falls on the rebuilding timeline is a big factor5, as is how well Kanter continues to adapt to Snyder’s system over the course of the year. The TV money is a massive confounding factor that looms over any and all major salary moves for every team, and how it plays into Utah’s specific salary construct will be of paramount importance. Lindsey and his staff are in the rough stuff now – these sorts of decisions will become more regular and more important over the next few years as the Jazz attempt to claw their way back to relevance. It’s a fascinating game of give-and-take in this ever-changing NBA world, and it should be an intriguing several months ahead.

Ben Dowsett

Ben Dowsett

Ben Dowsett is a life-long Jazz fan and current in-depth analyst based in Salt Lake City. He also writes for Basketball Insiders and BBallBreakdown, and can be heard on SCH Radio on ESPN 700 weekly. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.
Ben Dowsett
Ben Dowsett

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14 Comments

  1. Shane Chapman says:

    Hey Ben – small pedantic complaint. “Dearth” means scarcityso your first FN’s a bit confusing where you follow it with “deepest such classes.” I think you mean “excess?”

    Have Kanter’s defensive deficiencies looked any better when he’s playing with Gobert or without Burke? Curious if his D can be compensated for given his offensive smoothness.

    Great piece as always

    • Ben Dowsett says:

      Correct, my 2AM editing brain is not the optimal one to be using, and this was pointed out to me by someone else on Twitter as well and has been fixed. Much appreciated.

      It has indeed been better than his overall average when he plays with Gobert, as is the case for basically every Jazz player, but those lineups have scored at a bottom five rate and are still below league-average overall defensively. They’d have to show a lot more offensively to offset Kanter defensively – Rudy can only do so much. Thanks for reading and the comment!

  2. Mickey Mouse says:

    Gobert will affect Kanter’s future more than Kanter will.

  3. Mewko says:

    If Kanter played with the right teammates, in the right system, he could be a productive starter, and his defensive woes would be hidden.
    He’s got natural talent on offense, (he should be more alert when setting picks).
    His defense, doesn’t look like it will ever be average.
    David Lee found a way to be an all-star.
    If Enes is in the perfect situation, I think he can average 15 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 2 APG, 47% FG, 26% 3pt.

  4. Steve says:

    Kanter is making me have Ostertag flachbacks! I do believe Kanter will definitely be better, but overpaying for a underachieveing center. (although all fairness to Greg, he did overachieve based on his draft position)

    • Spencer says:

      Remember, Ostertag was paid 8 million a year when the cap was around 45 million. That is like paying a max contract to Kanter. Not going to happen. He’ll get paid a lot, but I don’t think it will be something that handcuffs the franchise like Ostertag’s contract did.

    • Matt says:

      Kanter is at least 2x better than Ostertag

  5. cw says:

    As I think you said somewhere up there, there are a whole bunch of big men available next summer, many better than Kanter. Plus, Kanter’s offensive skills are pretty old school at this point, which will make him even less desirable. Add to that the fact that the single-NBA client agent is by definition, inexperienced, which means that it is very likely that he overvalued Kanter in this summer’s negotiations. The only factor that argues for a big Kanter payday is the new TV money, but the jazz will have that money to spend too.

    For me, this all means that Kanter is not going to get a big offer this summer and the Jazz will welcome him back into the fold at a reasonable price. They will probably get a fairly decent draft pick and take another year to see where the peaches settle in the jello before making the kinds of moves necessary for cap and contending reasons.

  6. Spencer says:

    Ben,

    In reality, can’t the Jazz afford to give Enes a contract around the 12million range with a team option after two years and be under the cap still? (They could be paying him 9 million right now and be under the cap still and the cap is bound to go up next year)

    Unless the Jazz can use that money to pry Butler from Chicago they might as well spend it on him or Millsap. In a couple of years the salary cap will have an extra 40 million. Plus, even if he doesn’t feel like the perfect fit and we draft a young replacement player, we can always bring the young guy along slowly while we enter into win-now mindset next year. Then we have a pretty good trade asset going forward.

    (Keep in mind in two years a 12 million/year contract will essentially the same as an 8.3 million contract today and I have a hard time thinking he will be paid more than that or worth less in two years.)

    I just don’t see a scenario that the Jazz let him walk other than someone inexplicably maxes him out. (LA anyone?)

    My prediction:

    Jazz match a RFA contract in the 9-11million range and feel good about it most nights, but by next year Kanter is leading the bench mob and becomes a 6th man candidate in two years.

    • Ben Dowsett says:

      This is theoretically possible, but a couple snags that may run into:

      1. It’s unlikely offers from other suitors in the summer include such team-friendly items as a team option after two years or anything of the like. Any smart GM will know Utah’s cap situation and know they’d be very likely to match such a deal, and it’s actually more likely a team makes an offer in that range but actually includes poison-pill type attachments to try and dissuade Utah from matching. If he really gauges no interest around the league in this range and Utah gets a chance to offer their own deal, then i think it tells us something about what he’s accomplished by the end of the season as well and we can proceed accordingly.

      2. You’re likely right that barring a large offer the Jazz could fit a match under next year’s projected cap. But you’ve gotta think beyond just next year, and I think the TV money is giving some a slightly inflated sense of just how much space everyone will have. There will be plenty, to be sure, but the Jazz also have plenty of potential money to shell out in the next few years. Burke, Hood, Gobert, and Exum (definitely the latter two) will all perhaps need second contracts, and don’t forget that Hayward can opt out in summer 2017 and demand a mega max under the new cap if he continues his star trajectory, and Favors hits UFA the following year. These sound like forever away, but realistically, these are right around the years where this team is hoping to compete for a title, and structuring for that can begin all the way back here in the present. Whether they can or can’t afford to match right now is important, but the overall picture is far more so and they have to keep that in mind.

      I do like the potential idea of Kanter as a bench unit anchor, but I’m not sure he fits there money-wise and I do think there’s a good chance one of the guys in this draft fits a lot more snugly in a 3-man rotation with Favors and Gobert. A guy like Kaminsky may fall right in Utah’s range, is already 22 and with about as much big-game experience as a guy can have coming out of college, and would be ready to peak along with the rest of the squad in the next 3-4 years. Lot to figure out still.

      • cw says:

        I’m not sure the jazz are following the asset accumulation model. It might be more like the Wisconsin/Bo Ryan model where they recruit players they think they can train long-term into a system. We will find out I guess sometime in the next couple years. But if they are following the asset accumulation model (which I think they should, superstars not systems win in the NBA) then I think you would sign Kanter even if it creates money problems later because you don’t let assets go for nothing and know that you are going to make a bunch of trades.

        I think what Kanter really has in his favor is that he has played a really small number of minutes for someone his age and he has some fairly rare skills (I’m thinking footwork) for someone who has played so little. His upside is still up there.

        I think unless he gets a crazy offer they have to sign him with an understanding that everything is in flux.

        You are right about coming paydays though. That’s the limiter on this fun little experiment. I don’t envy Lindsey having to decide whether to pay Hayward a mega ultra max.

        • Ben Dowsett says:

          I’m not sure if I’d agree RE the model. Part of asset accumulation includes not limiting the future of said process with potential dead weight, and that’s a fairly large possibility here. I think they need to look far more deeply than “does he have the potential to be worth that money right away?” And even if I didn’t, given the offers he may get, the answer to that question might be a round “no” anyway.

  7. Nate Dalebout says:

    More like 20ppg and 50%fg and someday 36% 3pt, he is at 34% now. If he were to be traded to a team like Philly I bet he could put up HUGE #’s on offense, but like we all know… I would rather hang on to Gobert and deal Kanter for an true high volume and % outside shooter and a pick or two

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