When Is It Time To Win?

March 18th, 2015 | by Aaron Hefner
Dennis Lindsey

Dennis Lindsey, from August 2012. (Getty Images)

After the pandemoniacal trade deadline, opinions surrounding the Kanter-Thunder trade were passionately varied. In spite of differing opinions on the trade, one thing was certain: the Jazz traded away a talented asset for future assets and thereby seemingly prolonged the rebuilding stage.

A segment of the fan population was not happy about this fact. Here are a few of their tweets:

This raises an important question. When is it time for the Jazz to win? Dennis Lindsey doesn’t want to “skip steps”, as he’s made abundantly clear hundreds of times, but when will the Jazz reach the point where transactions are made to invest in the now instead of investing in the future?

It‘s left to us to analyze the recent trade, future assets, and player development to determine when the Jazz will switch from asset accumulation to team building.

 

Recent Transactions

Trading Enes Kanter

The Jazz just traded an offensively developed Kanter for several entirely undeveloped players, including future picks that, at the earliest, won’t be realized until 2017. Now, that doesn’t mean it was a bad trade, as Andy Larsen illustrated here. But losing a talented scoring big man for future assets does delay the winning process.

Of course, one could argue that with Kanter gone, Jazz have received more valuable minutes out of Gobert. That is true and you won’t hear many Jazz fans complain about that, but now instead of relying on Kanter to score inside, the Jazz have to turn to Trevor Booker as their 3rd big man, and Jeremy Evans as their 4th .

Analysis: 2+ years

 

Dumping Steve Novak

Utah was able to trade Novak without having to give up the 2nd round pick they received from Toronto for dumping his salary last summer. While it was sad to see a great locker room player leave, this trade created $3.75 million in additional cap space for the summer.

Steve Novak is a type of player that winning teams want on their bench. He is a specialized threat that can check in and make an immediate impact in specific game situations. The Jazz trading him away is an admission, in a sense, that the Jazz aren’t at the point where they are looking to acquire these types of players. They aren’t that far down the road yet.

Analysis: 1 – 2 Years

 

Assets

Future Draft Picks

Between now and the 2018 draft, the Jazz are slotted to receive 6 first round draft picks (barring an OKC tank job) and 11 second round draft picks (7 of which are coming from other teams). That is a mind-blowing 17 draft picks. To put that into perspective: the 76ers, who apparently have confused pickz with ringz, are slotted to receive 16 draft picks in that same time period. Of those 16 draft picks, they will have the same number of first round picks and one less second round pick as the Jazz.

Dennis Lindsey certainly won’t be keeping and picking all 17 of those draft picks considering 10 don’t come until 2017 or 2018. Instead, Lindsey will be including some of these picks in trades. The impact those trades have on the winning timeline will entirely depend on what type of player is acquired. Will it be a younger, less developed, talent, prolonging the rebuild? Or will it be a win-now type player who has established his role in the league?

With the slew of picks the Jazz have, they will likely receive some future talents through the draft in addition to some more developed talents through trades.

Analysis: 1 – 2 years

 

Cap Space

The Utah Jazz have taken pride in their salary cap flexibility the past several seasons. However, once the TV deal hits in 2016, flexibility will no longer be a hot commodity because nearly every team will have it. The TV deal will cause the salary cap to sky rocket from $65 million to $90+ million. Therefore, this upcoming offseason offers a unique opportunity to sign talented players to long term deals before the salary cap increases. Even if you overpay the player by a couple of million dollars per year, relatively speaking, his salary will be a bargain once the salary cap spikes.

For example, pretend the Bucks sign Khris Middleton to a huge contract worth a flat $15 million per year for 5 years. In that scenario in 2015-16 Middleton would account for 22.6% of the Bucks salary cap, which is probably too high of a number for a player like Middleton. But the very next year, he would only account for 16.6% of the salary cap. That is far more reasonable. By the end of his contract (assuming a consistent 5% salary cap growth), his contract would only account for 14.4% of the Bucks salary cap.

The point is, teams with cap space this summer are going to want to either sign players to long term contracts or trade for players who have several years left on their contracts. The Jazz will have between $11.5 million and $16.5 million in cap space depending on whether they waive or trade Trevor Booker, where they end up drafting, and other factors. They are among a dozen or so teams that will have the cap space to try and sign a player to a deal similar to the Middleton example above.

Unless the Jazz decide to take on another bad contract, whatever way the Jazz choose to use their cap space this summer, it will in all likelihood help strengthen the roster immediately.

Because the Jazz’s cap space will no longer be an advantage starting in the summer of 2016, expect them to take advantage of this scarce resource this summer while they can.

Analysis: Now – 1 Year

 

Player Development

The rate at which players develop dictates when moves should be made to start competing. If players are developing slowly, then there is no point in making major moves to get better now. On the other hand, if players are developing rapidly, then trades to bolster the roster around those players makes sense.

The Jazz’s “Key Three” comprised of Hayward, Favors, and Gobert has made enormous and unforeseen strides this season. Salt City Hoops has written in depth about each of their surprising growth (HaywardFavors, and Gobert ). It isn’t just fans and media that have been blown away by their progress either: Dennis Lindsey commented that “Gordon Hayward has developed at a much faster clip” than they had expected. Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that Hayward has a player option in 2017-18. The Jazz can’t afford to lose their best offensive player and Hayward likely wants to play for a competitor by that point.

Lindsey had equally nice things to say about Favors, stating “I didn’t anticipate Derrick to play this skilled of basketball this soon.”

The remarkably rapid rise of the Key Three has rightfully overshadowed the comparatively slow development of Burks, Burke, Exum, and Hood. But having three players of the caliber of Hayward, Favors, and Gobert is enough to shift the timeline from asset accumulation to team building.

Analysis: Now – 1 Year

 

Conclusion

The Utah Jazz’s recent trade of Kanter and their current stockpile of young assets points to the Jazz needing to remain patient and delay making “win now” moves for another 1 to 2 years. However, the combination of growth between Hayward, Favors, and Gobert and the impact of the rising salary cap is pushing the front office in the other direction.

In Dennis Lindsey’s own words: “The thought that we could add veterans at the draft time… during the free agency period is a more prevailing thought than we had anticipated on where we are at now versus where we thought we would be last year. It is something that we are actively debating.”

If the salary cap were not exploding next summer, it’s possible the Jazz would continue to build through the draft and delay acquiring impactful veterans for another year. But the salary cap is rising, the players are developing, and the rebuild timeline just fast-forwarded. Instead of the Jazz becoming a competitive threat in the 2017 or 2018 season, the team could be competing as soon as 2015.

Wave goodbye to the days of Brandon Rush and John Lucas III, and buckle up Jazz fans, because the front office looks set to spend those hard-earned assets to try and win now.

Aaron Hefner

Aaron Hefner

Aaron Hefner, a maniacal Jazz addict, currently resides in Austin, Texas. He is a recent BYU business grad and a current supply chain project manager. When not working, he enjoys quality time with his pregnant wife and his daughter. Aaron writes about the Jazz to avoid annoying his family and coworkers with NBA propaganda.
Aaron Hefner
Aaron Hefner

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4 Comments

  1. cw says:

    Good analysis. If there wasn’t the TV deal in ’17, I think it would make more sense to hold more or less steady a year so that you can see what the Burkeses, Exum, and Hood do. Are they keepers or trade bait? But as you point out, there is a chance this summer to sign someone to a team friendly contract (although the coming TV will be priced into those contracts, so they might not be a s cheap as it seems). The question is who? They need backups at center and PF. They need shooting and a better PG. But…. will they sign a vet that is going to curtail development time for the current perimeter players? Say they upgrade at PG and SG. Hood can back up Hayward and Exum the PG. But where does that leave the Burkses?

    And no matter what, they are not going to contend next year unless they really overhaul the team in some very unusual way. And with slight tweeks I think they could be in the fight for an 8th seed. For me, it doesn’t make sense to make major addition to fight for a midrange playoff seed. Better is to develop who they have now and then upgrade through trades of players and picks.

    But Lindsey knows better than I do.

    • Paul Johnson says:

      Absent an all-star–whom the Jazz are not going to get–I’m not sure what upgrades the Jazz could get to replace any of their current 6-7 best players (who all still have a lot of room to grow and get much better). I think the Jazz will use their “assets” and cap space to add depth to what they already have, which to me means that they will be just trying to add rotation/backup players. The Jazz are not going to trade for or sign merely “good” veteran players like Paul Millsap who want to start–but who won’t be starting for the Jazz, because the Jazz have a young player who is as good or better than a veteran of that quality. The players the Jazz will need to trade for or sign either need to be an obvious upgrade for the long-term, or a player who is willing to be a bench player. That limits the Jazz’s options.

      Also, I think another thing the Jazz may try to do is trade some of their draft picks forward. One of the things that hurts veteran teams is that they become too good to have good draft picks, and then they start to age. If an experienced team can replenish its talent on a fairly regular basis with draft picks acquired from other teams, they can stay good for much longer.

      Even in this upcoming draft, I think there are many players in the late lottery or lower who could fill a critical Jazz need and could immediately add depth to the team.

  2. Mewko says:

    Great article.
    After the Jazz beat GSW and Chicago in January, I knew that the core (assuming it stays together) would be in the playoff race in 2017.

    Fast forward to a 12 game sample size post trade deadline, and this team looks like it could be in the playoffs 2016, and they mathematically still have a small chance of making playoffs in 2015 (unlikely though). They’re unselfish, team players, and defense first. The right foundation to become contenders.

    I’m surprised with the way Hayward has been great from day 1. Rudy was great in limited minutes, and still a phenomenon as a full time starter. Favors has been utilized more on offense, and became more efficient with more opportunities.
    I’m a little disappointed with Exum and Burke, but both are too young to give up on, and Dante is great on defense.

    Like I said, they have the right core and foundation to become contenders sooner rather than later. If they need more firepower in the backcourt, or depth in the frontcourt, than they have the trade chips to get over the hump from contenders to NBA Finals lock.

  3. Ky says:

    Good stuff Aaron!

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