When Jazz faithful, talk about “The Plan”, it’s with a certain amount of reverence, as though it’s a sacred document sitting under glass in an undisclosed location right next to the Magna Carta and the Constitution.
To hear Dennis Lindsey talk, The Plan is far more fluid than that. The Jazz GM spoke at length on Thursday with the media corps, including SCH’s own Andy Larsen, providing a whopping 42 minutes of detail on what might happen next.
The quick version: we’ll figure that out and get back to you.
“I don’t think at this stage — what is it, April 17? — we can say we have a concrete direction,” Lindsey said. “(There are) a lot of internal questions we’re getting to right now.”
When the Jazz parted ways with veteran leaders last July, it was easy to envision an oversimplified version of The Plan. Step 1: hand the team to the young guys. Step 2: young guys will probably struggle to consistently deliver wins. Step 3: cash in on the resulting high draft pick.
As Lindsey would point out, that’s one option. “The draft is just one piece of what we want to do,” he told reporters.
“I’m very confident in… the ability to move forward, whether it be internal improvement, or using our salary cap or using our draft picks. I expect us to be better next year.”
The Plan, it turns out, isn’t a single predetermined course. The Plan is a set of options created by the Jazz’s overall asset position, and now comes the difficult part: figuring out what the right moves are in each of those areas to start the ascent back to relevance.
The Jazz’s asset arsenal includes several guys who ostensibly are only going to get better. Lindsey hasn’t given up on the idea that the franchise piece we long for might already be on the roster. He talked about the need for one or several of the Jazz’s youngsters to exceed expectations, change their trajectory to become something more than expected, the way Jazz legend John Stockton did when he stepped out from the shadows to co-lead a franchise and rewrite NBA history.
The first player Lindsey mentioned as a candidate for that type of leap to stardom was Derrick Favors.
“Derrick’s a very intelligent player and an instinctive player,” the GM said of the first Jazz youngster to make a long-term commitment to the franchise in the form of a contract extension he signed last fall. “We think there’s two more levels he can hit as he improves his conditioning, his activity level, his intensity level.”
Two more levels is an oddly specific forecast. Lindsey is clearly imagining some specific mental hierarchy wherein he sees Favors as having the potential to scale two strata. I’d be interested to know what Lindsey’s “levels” are, but it seems safe to say that a Favors-plus-two-levels type of player is potentially part of your contending core.
Now the question is, who is going to be there with him. Gordon Hayward has yet to secure his long-term future in Utah, and Lindsey spoke as though locking him up would be a priority. He stopped short of saying the Jazz would match any offer for the restricted free agent to be — saying only that he expected Hayward would get a “significant” contract — but did say he doesn’t expect Hayward to go anywhere. What he does expect, is a more engaged and higher-performing version of the versatile wing.
“I think he needs to have more fun,” Lindsey said of Hayward. “We wanted to clear the path so he could be more prominent with the Utah Jazz, and there’s a lot of responsibility that goes with that. Once he gets time away and reflects on that, he’ll be better in that role next year.”
So that’s two. What about the rest of Utah’s young nucleus?
That accounts for what fans refer to as the five “core” players, but the implicit reality behind The Plan as a set of options and contingencies should probably lead us to rethink the “core” designation. In all likelihood, not all five of these guys will be integral to hoisting a hypothetical trophy, so at some point you have to make tough decisions based on who can be part of a championship team and who won’t. The outcome of that thought process may lead the Jazz to believe that some of these players have more value as trade assets today than as basketball assets three (or five or ten) years from now.1
How the Jazz choose to move forward with those five players — and other young talent like Rudy Gobert, Ian Clark, etc. — is a set of questions we haven’t talked through enough as a community, instead giving the “core five” the benefit of the doubt. But it’s entirely possible that not all five guys have starter-on-a-championship-contender in their future.
OK, now to the part of The Plan that we’re all familiar with.
Or are we?
As Lindsey spoke about the draft, it became clear that even that area has a pretty rich set of options associated with it.
“Do we take all three of the very good draft picks in a strong draft and go (trade for a) vet and speed up the timeline? You know, those rhetorical questions. Or do we add another young piece to an already young base and slow grow it?”
That might not be how Jazz fans envisioned the Jazz cashing in the probable top five pick that comes Utah’s way after a fairly arduous and painful process, but it just illustrates that everything’s on the table this June. Lindsey even spoke about the team’s history of being aggressive at trading up, but to do that would almost certainly require parting with a player. A history of draft trades indicates that to move up even a couple of spots within the top 5 almost always requires a package of talented players and assuming some bad salary. The Jazz can acquiesce on both fronts.
At any rate, it was not accidental that this was the year the Jazz dipped into the lottery barrel. “This was the right year,” Lindsey said in reference to the draft class.
Free Agency & Cap Room
Lindsey also mentioned a desire to add balance to the roster in terms of experienced players who can help show the way. He was extremely complementary of Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams and the influence they had on the team. He went so far as to say, “Under the right circumstances, we could see one or both back.”
But he also mentioned the possibility of using free agency and the Jazz’s cap space to add “veteran personnel that have been in situations more.”
It’s unclear what he means by “situations”, but I’m picturing a David West-type influence here. The Pacers became a contender when they drafted right2, and then added an intense competitor and great character guy to the mix in West. It sounds as though the Jazz are looking for their own version of West, someone who can play a major role in guiding the young core to prominence.
He’s also not dismissing the chance that something more dramatic happens with that cap space, though, like a marquee signing. “If the right guy wants to say yes to us,” Lindsey added, “we’ll speed this thing up. If it’s slow growth, and add vets in support of the young guys and pay the young guys as they mature and get better, we’re clearly preparing ourselves for that alternative as well.”
What you probably shouldn’t expect to see Utah do with that cap space: another series of cap dump trades. It seems like Lindsey is ready to start the journey up the standings, rather than continue to pile up even more assets with a future shopping spree in mind. “I don’t think that would be the preference to continue to add picks, but if that’s our best alternative… we’ll look at that.”
So there you have it, Jazz fans, straight from the GM himself: The Plan isn’t just to show up on May 20 and see what happens. The Plan is actually a complex series of options, evaluations and decisions that are going to require good patience and even better judgment. There will be some tough decisions made, especially as it relates to figuring out who’s going to be part of a true championship core.
“We have a real opportunity to get it right for the Utah Jazz. We will just continually try to do the right thing from a development standpoint, a procurement standpoint [and by being] aggressive in the draft.”
OK, Dennis, we’ll hold you to that.