Utah Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey and his staff will have a unique problem to deal with when the Jazz are on the clock for the June 26th NBA Draft. With five projected starters who are all still considered young up-and-comers as well as a few more basketball babies further down the bench and overseas, Utah has young talent at every position. With an abundance of youth, and consequently potential, this “problem” is one many GMs in rebuilding situations would sell an internal organ or two to have. However, there are plenty of challenges and complications involved in the task of balancing the egos, self-esteem levels and developmental needs of 7-10 young players, all of whom are hopefully not anywhere near hitting their respective ceilings.
With the Jazz currently slotted to pick at #5 in the upcoming draft, there is a reasonable chance they’ll be adding another player who is capable of starting (or perhaps even expects to start immediately).1 Again, this is an enviable problem, but with an early-to-mid-20s building block at every position, will the addition of another high draft pick crowd out an existing player or impede their development? Will the apparent incumbent at the draftee’s position interpret the pick as a show of the front office’s lack of confidence? There are plenty of psychological ramifications the pick could have on the rest of the roster as Lindsey looks to add the best player.
There are a number of ways to handle the situation, two of which I’ll analyze in this post.
Option 1: Add more youth and let it play out
Borrowing from a gridiron colleague, Lindsey could adopt a Belichickian2 approach to the situation and simply choose the best player available, let the draftee and the existing players battle it out in training camp and preseason, and then start whoever performed better.
This tactic would allow the team to maintain its young depth and assets while they hang on to all of their proverbial lottery tickets to see which gambles pay out, giving the team more time to see if one or more of the players become All-Star caliber. The downside is the risk that a player who loses out on the starting gig doubts himself as a result and/or inwardly resents the team for it, both of which would likely result in worse play and possibly stunted development.
Even if the player who loses out on the starting spot is a consummate professional and takes his bench role in stride, the question would still stand as to whether or not the current construct of the roster is truly maximizing the value of the assets Lindsey and the Jazz have painstakingly acquired. An entire year was essentially sacrificed when Lindsey made the decision last offseason to utilize nearly all of Utah’s cap space by taking on three contracts from Golden State, netting extra picks and rolling over that cap space to this offseason. While this may be a bit presumptuous, it seems unlikely that a roster devoid of an All-Star-caliber player and supersaturated with youth was the reward Lindsey had in mind when he committed to the rebuild with that trade.
Option 2: Combine assets into a trade package and go for a star
Lindsey’s willingness to wheel and deal already well demonstrated, the second option to addressing the youth surplus would be to make another trade or two, this time with the goal of netting a higher-caliber player. An argument could be made that this is also the most likely course of action judging by Lindsey’s propensity for dealmaking, the current makeup of the Jazz roster and the challenges that small-market teams such as the Jazz face when attempting to attract marquee players.
With three potential franchise players headlining the 2014 draft3, the Jazz may have the option of trading up for the likes of Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins instead of targeting an established star player (such as the allegedly available Kevin Love or Rajon Rondo) should they believe that one of the three top-tier draftees can ultimately be a franchise player. Many of the established stars who are rumored to be on the trading block have only a year or two remaining on their current deals, so their potential hesitance or even refusal to sign an extension with the Jazz makes trading up for a higher draft pick a more likely path at landing a star. The Jazz could go that path for their marquee talent, who can then be locked up for four years on a rookie contract4.
Of course, this is only a viable option to add a star if there’s a team willing to trade down. The rumor mill right now would indicate that everybody’s talking and nobody’s dealing quite yet. Still, if one of those guys with generational talent potential becomes available via trade, the Jazz could be at the front of the line with their stockpile of picks and talent.