The most blasphemous thing any fan can do is cheer for his team to lose, but that is exactly what I'm advocating for the Jazz this season. I know most of those who read this will disagree, but if the long term goal for the Jazz is to win a championship, then winning this year does the team far more harm than good.
While it has been fun watching the Jazz overcome its slow start, win some games and take LA to the wire, each win the Jazz earn takes it farther from the ultimate prize. Every real NBA fan knows that the worst place a team can be is right in the middle. You want to be either competing for a title or competing for the top pick in the draft and hope you end up with a superstar who can lead you to a title. But by continuing to play guys like Raja Bell, Josh Howard, Paul Millsap and especially Al Jefferson, the Jazz are heading down a clear path to no-man's land. As constituted, the best the Jazz can hope for is a low playoff seed and a first round exit. But there is also a very real chance the Jazz still won't make the playoffs. So what good does this outcome do for the future of the Jazz? Especially on the backs of the veterans while the young guys wallow on the bench as they did against LA tonight?
It is clear that the future of the Jazz is not Raja Bell, Al Jefferson, or Josh Howard. Yet each of these players is taking valuable minutes from Favors, Kanter, Hayward and Burks. While there is certainly value in developing young players in a winning environment, it is far less valuable if those players are watching from the bench. Sure, the Jazz will lose a few more games this season if it plays Favors and Kanter more minutes at the expense of Jefferson and Millsap. But is that such a bad thing? Losing more games now will give the Jazz a higher draft pick in this year's draft (widely considered to be one of the best drafts in years). If the Jazz lose enough, they could add another piece to a team that legitimately could compete for a title in 3-5 years. A player such as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Harrison Barnes would be perfect for the Jazz. But if the Jazz win too much, he or other valuable players will be long off the board when the Jazz finally pick and we will be stuck with another Kirk Snyder, Kris Humphries, Ronnie Brewer, or Curtis Borchardt.
The other benefit of playing the young guys, even at the expense of losing games, is that it will accelerate their development. There is no substitute in the NBA for game experience and the only way to truly develop Favors, Kanter, Hayward and Burks is for them to play. The more they play now, the better they will be in the future.
Oklahoma City drew the map, now the Jazz simply need to follow it. OKC clearly lucked out getting Durant, but it was also very smart in its development approach. Durant's rookie year involved a lot of losing, but that allowed them to land Westbrook. The next year also involved a lot of losing, but that enabled OKC to get Harden. Each of them played significant minutes early in their careers and now those three are the foundation of a title contender. OKC developed its young players while collecting assets and now it will be a legitimate title contender for the next several years.
We don't yet know if the young Jazz players have what it takes to lead the Jazz to a title, but the only way we will ever find out is if they play. And if playing them also enables the Jazz to land another key piece to a title contender, all the better. The young guys have clearly shown flashes of greatness and have a shot to develop into something special given time on the court, but by playing the vets now to chase wins this season, the Jazz are doing serious damage to its chances to win a title down the road.