This Sordid Season

April 8th, 2014 | by Clint Johnson
(Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)

(Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)

I have not been a happy Jazz fan this season – and I am not alone.

Gordon Hayward started the year unhappy with his contract impasse with the team and ends it unhappy at his disappointing performance as team option number one.

His teammates must have been unhappy with a sizable portion of their fanbase cheering for them to accumulate losses.  The team has done a good job of keeping most such discontent in-house, though occasionally blips leak into the media showing player reaction to their fans yearning for losses.  For example, Trey Burke: “I think that’s just selfish for a fan.”  Gordon Hayward: “That kind of sucks.”

Perhaps the single least happy person in the Jazz locker room is Head Coach Tyrone Corbin.  Mostly this is hidden behind stock comments of optimism, like this offered after the March 31st loss to the Knicks, “We just have to keep fighting and get better.”  Once, such comments were the brave face of a traditional coach handed, by his sensibilities, an anathematic team.  Now, it is hard to see such comments as anything but hollow.  With seven games left in the season, time to get better is all but gone, and the fight seems to have largely left Corbin’s young, talent-sparse team, as the coach well knows.  This has led to occasional outbursts of Corbin’s true – and understandable – frustration, such as his eruption in the first quarter of the thumping against the Thunder.

His discontent is easily understood.  How might a coach being judged on defense characterize “worst case scenario” in a contract year?  A 24 and 53 record and second worst team defensive ranking1 probably hits pretty close to a bulls-eye.

The vexation of this season has not spared fans either.

Some poor souls entered the year hoping to watch good basketball resulting in a respectable number of wins.  Neither happened.  As erratic, and sometimes ugly, play stretched into a growing pile of losses, many fans simply gave up, on the season or the team.  Last year’s attendance to watch Al Jefferson’s slow symphony of post moves: 9th in the league.  The year before, when the Jazz barely made the playoffs and were swept by the Spurs: 6th.  This season the Jazz rank 13th.  Kurt Kragthorpe of the Salt Lake Tribune reports, “2013-14 attendance will be the lowest in the 23 seasons of ESA’s existence.”  So you can bet management isn’t savoring this season either.

The only happy people in Jazz nation at this point are those who went into the season hoping for a nauseating number of losses that transform into the number one overall pick.  For fans dancing in the streets as the Jazz hold the fifth worst record in the league, a word of caution: your paradigm of how to build an NBA champion may well be flawed.

The ideology of building a team by being very bad to “earn” a franchise star is widespread.  One of the loudest local proponents of the strategy is the Tribune’s Gordon Monson.  Recently, he reiterated the argument in his March 6th article: “We’ve been through this a thousand times this season.  The Jazz have to lose to advance their cause [getting the highest possible pick in the draft to get a start to build around].  Every game they win curses them.  No matter how sickening that is to diehard Jazz fans, it’s just a fact.”

Many share Monson’s belief that the modern landscape of the NBA requires that small market teams who aspire to be champions bottom out to get a star and build from there.  But genuine facts contradict such strategy.

First, understand that teams that draft a player who leads them to a championship rarely pick that player in the top five picks of the draft.  Since 1990, only seven players have led the team that drafted them to a title.2  Only two were top five picks.3  Three players were taken in the back half of the lottery4, and as many players were taken beyond pick twenty as in the top five.5

Another flaw in the tank-to-title strategy is the belief that getting the first overall pick in the draft is a transformative event.  Most often, it isn’t.

In the last ten years, only two number one overall picks have of their own impact moved their teams into the playoffs: Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard.  John Wall will join the list this season with a record remarkably similar to the Jazz’s record last season, when they were widely criticized for striving for the playoffs with a mediocre team.  To put that in perspective, only three of the last ten teams granted a number one overall pick have leveraged it into as much competitive success as the Jazz experienced with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap.

Any who argue this season is different because this draft class is so good are likely deluding themselves.  Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim warned of this months ago in an interview with Adam Zagoria on SNY.tv: “There’s no player that’s out there on the horizon that’s a Tim Duncan or a LeBron James.  I’ve seen all these guys play… They’re not that kind of player. They’re not transcendent players that are gonna make your franchise.”  As recently as late March, Danny Ainge, President of Basketball Operations for the Boston Celtics, reiterated the point in an interview with The Boston Globe: “[The 2014 draft class is] not even close to one of the best draft classes in the last 10 years.”  This on the back of his announcement through video stream on the Celtics web site that “there aren’t any game changers in the draft.”

I’m higher on this draft than some who have soured recently, but I’m also realistic.  How many prospects do I feel could through their addition dramatically improve the future of the Utah Jazz?  Two, Andrew Wiggins and, to a lesser extent, Jabari Parker.  Given Joel Embiid’s back injury, I would be surprised if either Wiggins or Parker last to pick three.  The Jazz will most likely finish with the fourth worst record in the league, giving them a 24.5% chance of winning one of these two desperately craved wings.  That means a 75.5% chance the team ends up with Embiid, or Dante Exum, or Julius Randle, or another prospect.

Embiid could be better than Derrick Favors, but am I convinced he will be?  No.  Just as I’m not confident Dante Exum will prove better than Alec Burks or Julius Randle than Enes Kanter.  The Jazz have a plethora of good to very good young players right now.  Barring their ability to get a potentially dominant wing scorer, there is a real chance the pick that is the fruit of all this season’s losing will be less improvement on the current young talent than simply a change.  57 losses6 is a lot to endure to become different without necessarily getting better.

So my suggestion for fans who chanted, inwardly or outwardly, “Tank on!” to the Jazz this season: Keep your expectations moderate or you risk the unpleasantness of this season becoming the new Jazz culture.  And none of us want that.  We never want a season like this again.

Kurt Kragthorpe said it this way: “Utahns never should have to endure another season like this one.”  I agree.  Nothing has been pure this season, not the joy of victory or the pain of defeat.  I, like all Jazz fans, and Jazz players, and Jazz coaches, and even Jazz management, have been caught in between competing imperatives.  Jazz “Nation” has split under the tension, some aligning with one desired outcome (win in spite of all), some aligning with the other (lose in spite of all).  And while I can bitterly disagree with people for their desired outcomes and allegiances, the truth is I can’t blame anyone.

Because part of me has been right there with them.  I could not hope, entirely and without reservation, for either wins or losses this year, and so everything proved a disappointment.

It’s time such sordid seasons are finished.  The insane incentive structure the NBA employs with their lottery must end.  I don’t even care how anymore, so long as it makes losing a constant evil and never a virtue. But never another season like this one.

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. In addition to his writing center work at Salt Lake Community College, he designed, coordinates, and teaches in an experimental author residency program for a West Valley City public charter school. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.

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23 Comments

  1. Ben Dowsett says:

    Well done. I agree most with your second-last paragraph.

    To me, everything else aside, this particular “debate” comes down to: once the offseason moves were made, and we all had plenty of time to prep for the upcoming season, would anything Ty or the Jazz as a whole could have done ever brought us remotely close to competing this season in this West? I think the answer is clearly no – perhaps if the FO had chosen to retain Millsap and/or Jefferson, things maaaaybe might have been different, but again, we all had plenty of time to familiarize ourselves with that reality (and personally, with the improvements to several teams in the West, I still feel even with Al or Paul or both, the Jazz would have had a very tough time contending for even the 8th playoff seed).

    If we accept this as true, which I’d say I certainly do, then unfortunately I wonder where a lot of the vitriol and debate comes from. Do folks truly believe this team is capable of contending with this roster (they aren’t, sorry), or do they think there’s some sort of mythical honor in still trying to win every possible game in a throwaway season? In either case, I disagree – we may not like the rules, but given the rules and our current situation, I absolutely believe the course of this season has been mostly correct. There may be doubts as to the overall quality of the draft class compared with initial hype, but the fact remains that picking higher in any draft gives a better chance of selecting an impact player – it’s simple logic. So if contending isn’t an option, as discussed above, developing the young core while working within the current rules to give ourselves the best possible shot at an impact player has to be the priority. I think realistic fans and analysts familiarized themselves with this truth long before the season started, and it really weirds me out that there’s so much angst over it.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      Thanks for the thorough response, Ben. Let me answer a few different ways.

      1) I don’t think trying to win every game is mythical honor; I think it is the essential component of for-profit professional sport. If you’re going to charge people to attend an athletic contest, and you claim you are indeed selling a contest and not an exhibition, then the integrity of the contest is sacrosanct. That’s why gambling gets the equivalent of a sporting death penalty: it calls the integrity of the contest into question. A team trying to lose does the same. If a team profits on a game, or especially a season (through ticket prices, TV contracts, etc.), while fundamentally changing the product they are providing, they should transact openly given that fact. Personally, I think a franchise trying to lose in a season as a long-term competitive tactic is at least as unethical as rampant gambling by players and coaches, or maybe even PED usage. All skew the competition from what is promised by the league when fans buy the product.

      2) Another way of saying it: what is an ethical ticket price for a “throwaway season?”

      3) While I expected a season similar to this in terms of quality of play and number of wins, many fans did not. Some people who know a lot about the game and the Jazz thought the young players would threaten 40 wins, or easily 35. (I know several specifically who believed this.) Some discontent is certainly the product of fans disappointed their “core 4″ didn’t look like an already intact future contender. It’s stunning how many fans believed the “OKC model” is really a model.

      4) I haven’t taken exception to any decision by any party, be it fan faction, or players, or coaches, or management, with the exception of the NBA itself. You are right that given the rules, team interests are divided. But that also crashes down on everyone involved: ownership has conflicted interests, as do management, coaches, players, and fans. So long as this is so, every such season will result in discontent and debate because the league and its teams have compromised the product they are patroned to provide. Whether that compromise is well-incentivized or not doesn’t change that.

      5) A large part of my discontent with the present rules is that they promote poor management of teams by providing the guise of “building through the draft” through selling out for top picks. There are a lot of teams who have had a lot of high draft picks in the past ten years not because they were executing a wise strategy but because they have simply been poorly managed.

      In short, I probably would have done largely what the Jazz did, but I would have felt even more sick about it than I do as a fan.

      • Ben Dowsett says:

        I should have paid attention to my wording a little more effectively in my initial comment than I did – we actually don’t really disagree on too much, I think it’s more we’re looking at things through different lenses. A couple things in there I’ll address, though:

        I make a big distinction between a team trying to lose a game and a front office building a team with the knowledge that they aren’t likely to compete with elite teams. I think there are very few cases of the former in history, and the Jazz certainly represent the latter. I agree in a macro sense that this is bad for the league, but again, the rules pretty much encourage it and individual franchises don’t necessarily have to hold the league’s best interests up highest. In terms of their own monetary interests, the strategy presents potential issues the Jazz have seen this year, namely their attendance – the fans reserve the right to withhold their support given the on-court product, and many have done so this season. This is something the Jazz surely accounted for in their thought process, or at least I’d hope so. I don’t personally see anything unethical about this approach given the rules of the league, but I know I might be in the minority there.

        I don’t mean any offense whatsoever to those who pegged the Jazz for 35 or 40 wins, but that’s a fairly egregious prediction if you ask me, and I’d have said the same in October. But more to your point about the “OKC model”…I’d argue a different way. Yes, the analysis from your piece is correct regarding the frequency of success with draft picks and their drafting teams, but try looking at it like this instead: for franchises outside major markets at a disadvantage in terms of the open free-agency market and other small areas, the success rate with draft picks is very low. But of the non major-market teams who have achieved major success (particularly sustained success), I think there’s no question the two most successful have been the 90’s Jazz and the 2000’s Spurs – and how did both do it? By bottoming out (intentionally, in the Spurs’ case) and drafting top talent, then getting lucky that a)they turned out to have drafted extremely well and b)they drafted the type of character players willing to stay in town. Throw in this decade’s OKC team, and I struggle to find a mid-market team that’s been more successful in history (I don’t include Houston as mid-market) – and all three have done it using this strategy. It may not work a majority of the time, but neither does anything else for these markets – and the only times those teams have EVER had that level of success, that was the strategy that led to it.

        I agree on everything else. I think the realization that the system has us to a point where as many as eight or 10 teams can find themselves in this sort of scenario each season is part of what’s finally causing this issue to reach a fever pitch, that and teams like Philly taking the idea to a whole new level. Big chances are certainly in order going forward.

        Disclaimer: I’m aware Stockton and Malone were not drafted with top-7 picks. The Jazz simply drafted extraordinarily well, and then got extraordinarily lucky. This made up for the previous two seasons, though, where the Jazz drafted 3rd and 7th and didn’t do enough with either pick (Love Thurl but he barely ever cracked league-average PER and the 3rd was ‘Nique who they traded for a pack of nothing).

        • Clint Johnson says:

          I think you’re right, Ben, we’re don’t really disagree so much as have different focuses. All I want to add is this: what if you’re mistaking causation? What if the atypical success of the Spurs and Jazz (I don’t think OKC has sustained success long enough to include them) is not a product of high draft picks but a product of simple good management? That is what I would argue.

          Both franchises have been successful because of making good decisions more often than other teams. Good coaches. Good trades, such as those for Hornacek and Leonard. Good drafting. Good culture. Consistency. Stability. There have certainly been mistakes, but overall the management has been very good. I think that’s why they are the most successful small market teams.

          Memphis has been well managed recently and so they’ve been good – but track back to their three consecutive top 5 picks. The result: Hasheem Thabeet, OJ Mayo (by trading Kevin Love!), and Mike Conley. If they do even a good (not excellent) job with those picks, they are likely a title favorite right now.

          George Shinn nearly killed New Orleans professional basketball, so is it a surprise they’ve never been beyond the conference semis in spite of drafting Alonzo Morning, Baron Davis, and Chris Paul AND having two #1 overall picks (Larry Johnson and Anthony Davis).

          The Bucks have a history of mediocre-to-awful decision making, a legacy they’ve continued this season as they build their team for the playoffs in such a way they’ve plummeted to the bottom of a league full of tankers.

          Need I mention Jordan’s sadistic experiment on the city of Charlotte.

          Contrast that with Indiana, a team that has been well run fairly consistently to the tune of 20 playoff appearances in 25 seasons, seven times in the NBA’s final four, and every chance to challenge for a title this season – and they haven’t had a high lottery pick in 25 years.

          I think the lottery props up poorly owned and managed franchises, and that hurts the game. Anything that hurts the game hurts everyone, I believe.

  2. Paul Johnson says:

    What I expected to see this season was a season of development of the young core players–to see what the Jazz really might have in Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors, and to a lesser extent Rudy Gobert, Jeremy Evans, Diante Garrett and Ian Clark. I also expected the Jazz to experiment with the veterans they obtained in the GS Warriors trade to see if any of them would fit in with the team going forward. In addition, I expected to see the Jazz make some effort to build a defensive culture (which is a complex concept, because part of a good defense is playing smart offense, and not taking dumb shots that lead to fast breaks or making dumb passes that lead to steals and fast breaks). Finally, I expected that losses would be a natural result of using the season to develop the younger players, but that as the players developed, Jazz fans would be rewarded with some pretty good basketball, and some wins, as well.

    I would say that as Jazz fans we have seen some pretty good development of the top five young players on the Jazz: Burke, Burks, Hayward, Kanter and Favors. Some fans may have wanted to see more development of those players, and many fans would have liked to have seen more development of those five players as a unit–rather than as separate parts, including me. I am disappointed about that, but overall feel pretty good about the development of the younger core players.

    A lot of Jazz fans who wanted to see the younger players developed have complained about the significant playing time of both Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams. It has been explained that it was necessary to play a veteran or two with the young players, as kind of a rudder, to steady the ship, so to speak. Whether that was true or not, or was just an excuse for failing to give more opportunity to the younger players in an attempt to secure more wins is hard to say. I would say that the Jazz have been able to assess what both Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams could contribute to the Jazz in the future, if they are re-signed. I would say that both Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams have also been good mentors to the younger players. I would say that the Jazz have not been able to assess very well what Andris Biedrins or Brandon Rush might be able to bring to the Jazz, if re-signed. I expected to see those two players play at least a little bit, so we could see if they still had some serviceable skills. From what I was able to see of Biedrins, he is still a pretty good defender and rebounder, although his offensive skills still appear to suffer from a well-documented major loss of confidence. From what I have seen from Brandon Rush, it would appear that he still has a ways to go in his recovery from injury, and it’s anyone’s guess if he can ever be as productive as he was before his injury.

    As Jazz fans we have not seen the team try very hard to develop a defensive culture (or, if there was any effort made, it was an abject failure). That has been a disappointment. Rudy Gobert certainly seems to have some good tools to have a very high defensive impact, but he is very limited on offense. It did not seem to me that there was very much experimentation in how to best use Gobert’s defensive skills without totally killing the offense (although historically, the Jazz have tried that experiment before with Mark Eaton).

    One thing that puzzled me from day one of this season was the reason for signing John Lucas III to a contract with the Jazz–and then playing him a lot of minutes early in the season. He is a nice enough person, but does not seem to have any basketball skills that fit well with the Jazz system. He is not a good playmaker or defender, and his outside jumpshot (which is his best skill) was very streaky this season. Frankly, the only rational reason I could see for playing JLIII was to secure losses. I think that is why so many Jazz fans jumped upon the “tank” bandwagon fairly early in the season, because it appeared that the Jazz were losing on purpose, when they were playing JLIII big minutes or critical minutes in otherwise winnable games.

    I have not been disappointed with the losses–I expected a lot of losses. It has been a nice surprise to have the Jazz get some unexpected wins against some of the best teams in the league, based on good play from the Jazz’s young players–which give fans some hope for the future. And, it was nice to see the Jazz win fairly often in the middle of the season when the schedule was not as difficult. It has also been fun to scout the draft and watch the end of the season positioning for the draft (as opposed to the end of the season positioning for the play-offs) in anticipation of what player or players the Jazz might get in the draft.

    Therefore, this season has been enjoyable for me and has not been a disappointment, although it has had its disappointing aspects, as I have set forth above.

    After this season of discovery, in the off-season and in coming years I expect the Jazz to get back to the business of winning at all costs. I expect the Jazz to take advantage good trades out there–such as the trade Portland made for Robin Lopez this past off-season (and which the Jazz just as easily could have made)–and to sign some good free agents to give the Jazz team some depth. Even though it may take a few seasons to get back to winning at the rate we are accustomed as Jazz fans, I do not expect to have any more seasons like this past one–at least, not on purpose.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      Fantastic insights, Paul! I hope other readers read your comment, as it is well worth their time.

      I see things largely as you do intellectually. That said, I believe the bevy of competing objectives (such as evaluating a coach while courting losses, or trying to establish a defensive culture while allowing young players room to learn from mistakes) hindered the ability to achieve any of them as fully as hoped. As an example, I find it flatly unacceptable that Derrick Favors, Alec Burks, and Enes Kanter all played under 30 minutes per game this season. To my mind, that limited both individual player and lineup development and assessment. Speaking for crude self-interest, it may well have resulted in one or two more wins as well, which may be the difference between the third spot in the lottery and the sixth. Yet I believe this was inevitable given a young coach in a contract season and several veterans on the roster deserving of minutes given their ability to contribute to wins.

      If the Jazz had set a few clear priorities and done what it took to advance those as thoroughly as possible, I believe sentiment among fans would be more positive overall. By trying to tackle too many things simultaneously (in the tradition of the past two seasons), I argue the Jazz achieved only moderate success at any of them.

      I certainly hope your conclusion proves accurate. Though I must admit, I’m afraid when those ping pong balls are drawn the Jazz end up with the 6th or 7th pick that ends up being a choice between Marcus Smart, Noah Vonleh, and Aaron Gordon in some order. Add such a player to a lineup of Burke, Burks, maybe Hayward, Kanter, Favors, and likely a new coach, and how different will next season be? Burks and Kanter or both may be in contract seasons, as Hayward was this year. The team may be assessing a new coach with a new system played by loads of young players. If the Jazz project as, what, a 30 win team, how easy will it be to make the same arguments that were made this season about losing “just one more time” because of the inducement?

      No team sets out to establish a losing culture, but the lottery seduces teams into that outcome. I hope the Jazz aren’t one such team.

  3. Jason says:

    Drafting a great player high in the draft is almost vital to being a contender if you are a small market team. When you look at the top 5 teams the could be considered contenders (Heat, Pacers, OKC, Spurs, Clippers) all of them drafted one of their best players if not their best player in the lottery. And for all except the Pacers, they got their guy in the top 5.

    But you are quite right in saying that getting a top pick isn’t going to get you a title automatically. That is because teams will forget or fail at the next step: building around that star. The team most notorious at this is the Cavaliers. They couldn’t build a championship team around a once-in-a-generation player in LeBron and now they can’t seem to put it together with Kyrie Irving. But what the current contenders (excluding the Heat for a minute) is that they built around their teams through a combination of smart trades, good free agent acquisitions, and late-round drafting.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      I see your point, but I think there are more options for small market teams. Great players can be had outside the top picks in the draft. They aren’t common, but it happens enough so that it isn’t an anomaly either. Just the last two drafts (which weren’t great) saw Trey go 9th, Michael Carter-Williams (11th), Giannis Antetokounmp (15th), and Andre Drummond (9th). Any of those players could realistically become All-Stars given their play thus far. A team that identifies talent in the draft really well can get a star given they get a pick every season.

      A more overlooked avenue for getting a game changing player is to identify and/or use talent better than other teams in the league, either because the talent is young and unproven or has been undervalued by much of the league because of previous play. Whether it is the Spurs trading for a 15th pick named Kawhi Leonard or the Blazers swapping Tyrus Thomas for LaMarcus Aldridge, it is very possible to get players of greater value than what you give up. For example, any team who could figure out how to maximize Josh Smith’s talent could end up with a top fifteen player. We scoff at such an idea, but there was a time when Rasheed Wallace was a pariah and Chauncey Billups was a bust. One team maximizes the production of those players and you get perennial contender and a title.

      So, while I agree that the greatest probability of getting a great player in a single shot is with a high draft pick, I think teams are foolish if they undervalue other possibilities – especially because other options don’t require a season of extreme losing.

      • Jason says:

        I agree that getting great players can be done outside the top 10 picks But rarely will you find a star that will help you be a contender outside of it. What you’re saying is a way to get game-changing players is what I call building around a star. In my previous comment I mentioned that you need to build around your star using “smart trades” (Tyrus Thomas/Aldridge or trading for Leonard) “good free agent acquisitions” and “late round drafting”. Teams that are contending right now did one or all of these things. But they also drafted stars in the top 10.

        All of the players you mentioned (with the exception of Drummond) are support players to top picks. Trey has 2, 3rd overall picks on his team with likely a another top 5 pick on the way. MCW has Nerlons Noel with another top pick on the way. Giannis will soon have a top pick teammate. LaMarcus Aldridge has Damion Lillard, Kawai Leonard has Tim Duncan. The great players found by teams who become contenders are not game-changing stars. They are great support players. Serge Ibaka, Roy Hibbert, Lance Stephenson, are just a few of these good players, but are supporters to their star teammates.

        So basically I agree that tanking for a top pick necessarily the only way to get a star. But what I’m saying is that you are going to have to find a way to get at least top 10 pick and build around that.

        • Clint Johnson says:

          I largely agree, but not absolutely. In the five seasons before this, 14 players drafted 10th or later have made an All-NBA team. That’s players, not appearances. Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, and Rajon Rondo are all champions who I consider game changers, and Steve Nash is a multiple time MVP. Marc Gasol is a Defensive Player of the Year and one of the best centers in the league. Paul George is a franchise player.

          There aren’t a lot of them, true, but they are there and they do change franchises. The chances of getting a one-shot game changer with even a top five pick are not good, and so I think deliberately building a team to lose in the hopes of a game changer is a terribly risky strategy. The natural ebb and flow of a franchise will get you occasional top ten picks (unless you are just so consistently good you don’t need top ten picks). Thus, I would be extremely reluctant to ever build a team with the purpose of losing.

          To be clear, I generally agree with the direction the Jazz have moved this season, but only because so many factors have aligned to make it worthwhile. (So many good prospects already on the roster needing to develop, plenty of cap space, a strong draft class with multiple players of high upside, etc.) As normal practice, I simply don’t believe planning to procure game changing draft picks is a good way to build a team.

  4. Chad says:

    I may be one of the few Jazz fans not disappointed in the season. I also however believe it will take more than the draft to truly rebuild this team. Of all the top teams mentioned by other posters the draft played only a piece of their rebuilding process.

    OKC may be the best example of rebuiding through the draft but even they got Perkins in free agency.

    The Spurs got very lucky so many years ago with Duncan and then built around him, some with good draft choices (Parker, Ginobli. Leonard) others with good free agent acquisitions. Their draft choices however were not even lottery picks, just great late 1st round picks.

    The Heat bought their glory and we all know how that happened. We all know D-Wade was not leading them to another championship by himself.

    Indiana made some great draft choices as well but do they really have a super-star? they have some very good players that have developed and certainly an all-star in George but are built around a team defense model. After george their next leading scorer averages about 13-14 a game. Jazz roster is full of those type of guys. (Hayward, Burks, Burke, Favors, Kanter)

    Fianlly the Clippers got Chris Paul in free agency (forced trade).

    All the top teams used the draft as a tool but none of them built exclusively through the draft.

    In the end it will take the Jazz luring a solid free agent or two, getting a better coach that can get the most of these young player (why did they let Hornecek leave:(), and then using the draft wisely, whether it be through the lottery or making wise choices with later picks (aka the Spurs). Only then will the Jazz get back into the picture for a championship.

    In the past the Jazz had a tough time signing top free agents. Although likley to continue the new bargaining agreement and rules in pace could and should begin to level the playing field a bit in years out.

    Expect the Jazz to make a push in the draft, free agency, and possible trades this year. I do not see a year like this one repeating itself again.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      I agree with your take, Chad. In particular, I’m interested in seeing what effect the new CBA has on free agency. I firmly believe most professional athletes are motivated primarily by money (as are most workers). If big markets are less willing to defy the luxury tax line, I think it’s plausible that more of the second tier free agents will be available for small markets like Utah. Never a LeBron or Durant, unless the team has such a great young supporting cast they think it’s a certain dynasty with their addition. But what about the Eric Bledsoes, Tony Parkers, Luol Dengs, and Zach Randolphs out there? We’ll see.

      As for good choices with later picks, I suspect this draft will produce at least one All-Star outside the lottery, and quite possibly more than one. There are a number of freshmen who really should stay another year but are likely to come out, and a team who identifies one with great upside and develops him well will be rewarded.

  5. big_b says:

    This ‘Sordid’ season hasn’t been bad because of tanking. It’s been bad because a coach failed to embrace rebuilding and what the front office wanted.

    Here is a quote from what Andy said about Dirk and his rebuilding:
    “The 1998-99 Mavs were out of the playoff contention for the final two months of the lockout season. Dirk Nowitzki was a shooting PF that had made just 36.6% of his FGs and 18.6% of his 3PA in 15 MPG of his first 33 games. This was the sample that Nelson had to work with before deciding to start him for the final 14 games. But Nelson gave Dirk an opportunity. As Dirk says above, “I think that was huge for my confidence.” In the 14 games after Nelson started him, he shot 45% on FGs and a better, but still bad 24% on 3Ps in 33 MPG. ”

    *Yep, after he knew they were out of the playoffs, Nelson STARTED a PF who was shooting only 36% and he eventually turned into one of the top ten players of all time.* Obviously, this rebuilding decision was the right one for the future of the franchise, even if it did result in more losses. This is embracing a rebuild and doing what is best for the future of the team, not caring about anything short term. Think about that for a minute, and consider what Corbin did this year instead. We needed this growth and confidence building for our lottery picks.

    We needed to see if our young guys could play and play together. It was pretty obvious from our ugly start we were not going to the playoffs this year. Our talented youth is what we should have all joined together in cheering for. Why not see if Kanter and Favors can start and play with Burks too? Instead RJ started every single game, and Marvin has started most every game he is available. How does that help the future of our franchise?

    Defense was supposed to be key this year, but our defensive monster (Gobert) just sat on the bench, while one of our worst defenders (RJ) was playing because of his offense? The same goes for Marvin who is too small to guard most power forwards effectively.

    The fans wanted to see Gobert play. We all wanted to see what all our lottery picks could do while playing together. We wanted to cheer for and talk about our future. We wanted to see guys try their hardest every game. This year was not even supposed to be about winning. Defense and development? Corbin tried to make it all about winning instead. Now instead of talking about how great our young guys could be and what they need to succeed, we are debating ping pong balls. I hope next year with a new coach we will have the rebuilding and defense oriented game we should have seen this year!

    • Clint Johnson says:

      The team asked for what they got by handing a first time head coach a young team in his contract season. Without an extension, no coach would develop youth at the expense of wins knowing he is auditioning for other jobs across the league. I remembering hearing both PJ Carlesimo and Stan Van Gundy express utter disbelief of teams who tell coaches the are safe if they develop players and lose. Right or wrong, that’s how coaches think.

      What the lottery does is give teams conflicting objectives, making it harder to commit to specific outcomes at the expense of others (i.e. evaluating a coach’s ability to win while developing young players while trying to lose). If the Jazz really wanted to develop talent above everything, they should have either parted ways with Corbin previously and committed to a new coach or given Corbin an extension beyond this season. Either way, the coach would then have been safe to play the youth regardless of wins. But they didn’t do that, so Corbin auditioned for the league. Utterly predictable.

      • big_b says:

        I think that is very valid opinion and many agree with you. That would mean it is Lindsey and/or the rest of the front office that messed up this year.

        Seems to me though that if you have a review with your employer and they have listed out your objectives for the year, it only makes sense to meet those objectives if you are interested in keeping your job. Defense wins games too, so I think Corbin clearly took the wrong approach in an offense 1st attitude. I think its pretty clear to every team in the league that the Jazz were in a rebuilding year, so they would all be judging Corbin on his rebuilding skills. Its clear that this year, it would not be fair to judge him on wins with this roster. It’s fair to judge his teams defense though, and the whole league knew that was a priority.

        I do think that Lindsey should of had a meeting with Corbin by the new year or at the all star break and gave him another review. If he wasn’t interested in running the team with rebuilding and defense as the main priority, he should have been shown the door then. That is clearly Lindsey’s and the front office’s fault, but I think at the start of the year, it was not insane to ask corbin to coach that way at all. Many coaches already value defense and rebounds more than offense. It would help Corbin look good if the team looked better at the end of the year, and RJ and Marv were not going to improve, the young guys were.

        • Clint Johnson says:

          If I found an old basketball, rubbed it, and a genie popped out, I just might use one of my wishes to learn what the front office really did tell Corbin before and during this season. Without knowing that, I find it hard to believe they gave him a simple directive like “Play the young guys regardless.” Honestly, I don’t think they did anything like that.

          I suspect the approach was more like this: They met with him and told him the direction they were moving in. They probably told him he would have a young team with minimal talent and that wouldn’t change this season. They clarified they would judge him on player development and his ability to build a defensive culture more than wins and they were considering going a different direction in the future in regard to coaching. Finally, they acknowledged it is not a coach’s preferred position they handed him and assured him the team was his to coach as he best saw fit.

          In turn, I suspect Corbin realized Dennis Lindsey, in particular, is not sold on him being the long term answer as head coach of the Jazz. (He wasn’t a Lindsey hire, after all.) He determined he was unlikely to be able to meet expectations clearly enough to have confidence in holding onto his job. Thus, he coached so as to demonstrate what he considers to be widely accepted “good coaching” with an eye toward developing his skills as a coach and possible future jobs.

          That’s my guess, at least. Personally, I think the team would have been better off either firing Corbin before this season or extending him for the year after this. Either would have been preferable to being caught in the middle, as I see it.

  6. AB says:

    A lot of people blame Corbin for this season. I don’t. He is in the final year of contract, coaching for his job and future career, which is at odds with playing young, inexperienced players and losing and looking bad in the process. While I don’t doubt that other coaches could have coached this group of players to a better record, I highly doubt any would have been able to reach the playoffs in the West with this roster. Corbin should have either been extended and brought on board with the tank/rebuilding plan (I don’t think that many fans would have been happy with an extension) or fired at some point this season and a temporary coach brought in who could be told by the front office who to play and what to play for.

    I squarely blame the front office and owners for what has happened this season. You bring in washed up players as bench players or role models (only RJ qualifies as this) for assets, clearly showing your rebuilding hand. Then, you don’t follow through completely on the rebuild. Instead, you put your coach in a position to play the best group of players he has in an attempt to win. This included RJ and Marvin- vets who probably don’t have a future with the team, certainly not a long term future or being more than a glue guy, over players that are young and either have a future with the team or there is a need to determine if that young player should have a future with the team. Corbin isn’t playing to lose, he has to play to win, his future depends on it, and we shouldn’t be blaming him for his roster.

    The front office/owners didn’t move RJ or Marvin at the trade deadline for future assets, which would have most likely resulted in more losses and a better pick in the draft. Any hope of having a winning season was gone long before the trade deadline, and let’s be real there really was no hope of a winning season going into it. Although they are both great role models and teammates, you’ve already got the benefit of their example and leadership by the trade deadline. Look to the future and stop being so indecisive! These two players could have yielded at least a late first round pick and a second round pick (Memphis and Charlotte). Those assets could come in handy in trades (either moving up in a draft or for a player) in the future. If RJ and Marvin would have been traded, the Jazz would have most likely lost 1-2 more games since the trade deadline (RJ single handedly beat the Magic), moving them into contention for the 3rd pick and a better chance at the 1st overall pick. There could be a huge difference in the impact a top 3 pick in this draft has on a team vs. the 6th pick (as in Hakeem or a better version of Melo vs. Kerry Kittles or Raymond Felton)

    Getting to fan expectations, I think that most fans would have been much more amenable to a losing year if the potential future of the team would have been on display more. If that didn’t yield the wins that some were hoping for, a top 3 pick in this draft would have given everyone something to look forward to. Instead, the fans have been subjected to a lame duck coach who is not only criticized by fans, but often by the national media, as lacking coaching skills. As a lame duck coach, he is playing RJ and Marvin in an attempt to win to keep his job- resulting in a few extra wins than would otherwise have been the case, and pushing the Jazz to the 5th or 6th pick in the draft, which is not nearly as exciting as a top 3 choice with a good chance at the overall pick. Once again, this is not Corbin’s fault entirely, but largely on the top brass for not moving players or sacking him sooner.

    In sum, for me personally, I was happy with the off season moves last year, but have been very unimpressed and unhappy with the lack of moves during this season. This draft and off season will be very telling as to if this organization really has a viable, clear plan for the future, or if they are merely winging it and hoping for the best.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      I think a lot of Jazz fans are with you, AB. There was a lot of excitement with the move to go young and truly rebuild, and the Jazz went from standing on the bank last season to wading into rebuilding quickly in the off-season. But they didn’t fully dive in this year, and I think many fans wanted them to commit completely and full-out swim.

      I am fascinated to watch the next calendar year plus play out. Barring luck in the lottery, Lindsey is going to have to do something game changing in terms of free agents, trades, or a coach to satisfy fans whose goodwill has taken a hit this season.

    • casey says:

      Totally agree with your point. I wrote at article for TBS a few weeks ago outlining the same point- that the jazz front office didn’t follow through all the way with the rebuild. It’s unfortunate….

  7. AB says:

    A way of summarizing my lengthy message above would be as follows. Imagine if the Jazz had traded Marvin for Tayshaun Prince and the 2014 Memphis pick, and RJ for Ben Gordon (who would be bought out using some money from Charlotte) and a 2nd round pick at the trade deadline. Imagine if the Jazz would have sacked Corbin around the same time, or at least the first part of March, and the young players were all playing more minutes individually and together than they have been. Also, imagine that the Jazz have the 3rd worst record and have a 15.6% chance of the first overall pick, instead of a 6.3-8.8% chance, and now have two other first round picks and another just outside the first round in this year’s draft. Would you be happier and more optimistic about the future? I would.

  8. Paul Johnson says:

    It was pretty clear from the Jazz’s one free agent signing (JL3) and the only significant trade made by the Jazz (trade with GS Warriors facilitating a major salary dump in exchange for some late round draft picks) in the off-season, that the Jazz’s primary objective for this season was to go all in with developing the F5, with the most likely result being a high draft pick in the 2014 draft.

    There were two very good young defensive players to be had in reasonable trades, which the Jazz passed up: Robin Lopez–who is young, has great size and strength, is very good defensively, and has a very reasonable contract of only about $5 mil. for two years–was traded by New Orleans to Portland for nothing, basically as a salary dump; Eric Bledsoe (still on his rookie contract) was traded to Phoenix for some mediocre starter level/key reserve-type players–basically as a future salary dump–and he is probably one of the top defensive point guards in the whole NBA.

    The Jazz easily could have made either of those two deals (in the place of Portland and Phoenix). The Jazz most likely would have had to give up one of their young core players for Bledsoe (such as Hayward, Burks, Burke or Kanter–most likely Hayward), but they could have made the deal. Either of those deals would have made the Jazz a much better defensive team–and it did not take a rocket scientist to know that. Both of those deals would have made the Jazz a significantly better defensive team.

    Think how good the Jazz would be defensively, if their starting five was Robin Lopez at C, Derrick Favors at PF, Marvin Williams at SF, Alec Burks or Gordon Hayward at SG, and Eric Bledsoe at PG. Offense with that group would definitely be a problem, but defensively, they would be very good.

    I sometimes wonder if the Jazz wouldn’t have been better off making those two off-season trades for Lopez and Bledsoe, even if it meant giving up one of the F5 players, and even if it meant that the Jazz’s draft pick for 2014 would have been only a fringe lottery pick (because of winning more games in 2013-2014). Even if the Jazz had made those two trades, I think the Jazz could have still made the deal with the GS Warriors, because the combination of Lopez and Bledsoe would have added only just under $8 mil. to the Jazz total salary amount.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      One area where I was way off base was my assessment of Bledsoe’s value as a player. I knew he was a defensive dynamo, but I seriously questioned his offensive value given his range. When there was talk of the Jazz trading for him, I doubt I would have given up one of our youngsters straight up. Now, I’d probably swap any of the youngsters for Bledsoe with the exception of Favors. Swing and a miss there.

      I may agree with you that making those trades would have put the Jazz in a better spot, even now when their draft position isn’t set. After the lottery, such a comparison will become much clearer.

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