The 2012-13 NBA season was riddled with frustration for Jazz fans and players alike. The specter of uncertainty hung over the uniquely constructed roster, its presence becoming more discernible with each game. An amalgamation of established veterans on short contracts and young prospects itching to get more minutes, Utah’s roster lacked a tangible identity. It sent mixed signals about the team’s focus and its primary objective.
The 2013 trade deadline came and went. The Jazz front office chose to stand pat and made no moves, a decision that immediately drew the ire of many fans who hopefully eyed the trade deadline as an opportunity for the Jazz to definitively declare their intentions. Utah’s failure to make the postseason further stoked the flames of discontent among the Utah faithful, who watched Ty Corbin eschew giving young players such as Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors and Alec Burks more valuable playing time in favor of playing team vets Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and Randy Foye; none of whom may be with the team next season.
Utah’s failure to qualify for the postseason via the “win now” method of giving the lion’s share of minutes to vets, combined with the increasingly likely departures of Jefferson and Millsap, seem to outline long-term plan for the Jazz of going young, for better or worse.
The move makes complete sense for a number of reasons. The roster as it’s currently constructed has a relatively low ceiling, one it probably came pretty close to hitting last year. While Utah’s roster is a borderline-playoff team at best, the rest of the West seems to only be getting tougher, with the Rockets and Clippers both looking to acquire an additional superstar and compete immediately for a title. With the so-called “Core Four” pining for developmentally crucial minutes, and without the immediate ability to be a competitive team in the West (barring a major, unforeseen blockbuster trade), why not take this season and possibly next to let the future of your team log valuable minutes against first-tier NBA talent? The Jazz will also likely have 2-3 fresh-faced rookies on the team after the NBA Draft, and the team will have no more opportune time to give them significant in-game experience to go along with their menial tasks and Hello Kitty backpacks.
Speaking of drafts, I hear the 2014 NBA Draft is shaping up to be a pretty good one. Canadian wunderkind Andrew Wiggins and LDS Chicago-area standout and future Duke Blue Devil Jabari Parker are just a few of the highly touted prospects the ’14 draft will have to offer. A rebuilding year would likely mean a relatively poor record for the Jazz and subsequent high draft choice in the loaded ’14 draft.
With the alluring proposition of nabbing a Wiggns or a Parker comes the ugly by-product that seems to be requisite of a successful rebuilding season.
Losing. Lots and lots of losing.
It’s great to focus on the positives of a given situation, but the terrible record that goes hand in hand with turning the team over to a relatively inexperienced group of up-and-comers is easy to overlook, and it’s something Jazz fans who are clamoring for the youth movement may be understating and/or overlooking.
Is a fan base that has only been subjected to two losing seasons since 1984 really prepared mentally to deal with a losing season? Will a legion of fans so spoiled by success be able to maintain interest and support if the team is nowhere near playoff contention by January? As bitter a taste a single loss can leave, I’m not if the bulk of Jazz fans are prepared to suffer through defeat after defeat and still stay happily engaged and supportive of the team.
It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that Jazz will fans will be much more patient, supportive and understanding than expected. Maybe my concerns are wholly unfounded. I certainly hope that’s the case. I’m afraid it’s not. While the youth movement appears on the surface to be the most logical, there is one huge financial variable that could throw a wrench in rebuilding plans: enough flexibility to make a contortionist jealous.
The primary reason Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey gave for not making a move on the trade deadline was the maintenance of Utah’s salary cap flexibility. As great an asset as it is to have, this cap flexibility makes it impossible to get a read on how or when it will be used. The “how” is just as befuddling as the “when.” Obviously, the oodles of cap room gives the Jazz the option of signing a free agent outright. If Utah can convince a potential All-Star-caliber free agent to take his talents to the land of green Jell-o and weak beer, the option of foregoing the rebuilding process becomes much more desirable. Utah’s less-than-elite status as a potential free agent destination makes the acquisition of a big name via trade a more likely scenario. Utah could use the extra cap space to acquire a player in exchange for taking on additional undesirable contracts rather than having to part with young talent alone, leaving a more complete team intact for the newly-acquired star to play alongside.
Regardless of the course the Jazz choose, one thing is certain: the Utah Jazz roster is primed for a complete makeover.