Front Office Strategies for a Small Market Team
So I started this post a while ago, but part way I got swine flu and spent 3 days in bed. I am now well enough to remain upright for more than 30 minutes at a time and can eat big person food again. If I write anything rediculous I blame the feverish delirium.
So the inevitable has happened with the increase of road games and Jazz projections have come crashing back down to Earth. Not suprisingly if you look to the right you will see posts like: “HARRIS MUST GO!,” and “Is it really time for Milsap to go?” Fans spend a good amount of time focusing on the now: wins, losses, positions in need of an upgrade. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement and frustration of the moment, but realistically less than one-third of the league should be focusing on making moves to win more in that season – it just isn’t likely for 1 or 2 moves to take a team from outside the top 10 to contending for the title. I kind of ramble on a bit so here are the bullet points for the Jazz FO if you don't want to read on.
- Maintain financial flexibility down the road (no bad long term contracts).
- Take advantage of desperate teams in trades. Trade partners are usually teams over the luxury cap, or on the verge of seriously contending.
- Acquire/develop players for your system - the Jazz are not going to win with star/iso/hero ball.
- With any luck, the Jazz should cash in on assets (convert dimes to quarters) and become a contender for the 2013/2014 season.
Teams should be in one of two modes: collecting/developing assets or contending. There are 3 different areas for management to consider; how do you effectively operate in both modes and when do you transition from one to the other. Regardless of what KOC says, the Jazz clearly are in the former group, and should be focused on how any moves affect the team for the next few years BEYOND the current season.
Assets come in a few different flavors including:
- Productive Players on the decline
- Productive Players on the rise/peaking
- Underpaid Players (Rookie Contracts)
- Cap Space/Expiring Contracts
For a team obviously not in contention, you don't want to collect an abundance of type 1 assets. They have little trade value as they are usually overpaid (relative to their production), can divert minutes from developing youth, and will most likely not be around by the team is in the hunt. However, I strongly disagree with people who look to jettison all veterans as part of youth movement. You can't just expect to roll a basketball out on the court with 5 rookies (frosh/soph/or junior nba'ers) and expect their basketball skills to develop. They need a system to learn in - it is hard to learn your role on the court when no one out there really knows what is going on (especially true when we have so many 1st and 2nd year players who have NEVER had training camp with this organization). If the team wants to acquire more type #1 assets they ideally should not have commitments beyond 1-2 years.
Specifically looking at our roster I don't think we really need any more, and I will gladly concede that Howard is not really a system player and would relegate him to the bench if it was up to me. Veterans can also provide leadership off the court - I am praying some of Milsap's approach to developing his game rubs off on Kanter/Favors. People demanding a trade of Milsap make me boggle even more because he is clearly a #2 type asset (with a dash of #3) - he could easily be part of a contending team 2-3 years from now. I still think we arent seeing his full offensive potential - he needs a pick and roll partner and should be operating in the high post.
#3 assets are pretty crucial. Most championship rotations go about 8 deep, and you need to be able to rely on all those guys to make big plays. They can't all be paid like stars in a salary cap system so you need to find a way to get guys who outperform their contract. Some of this can result from that player being a perfect fit for your system and excelling compared to previous teams. Teams that make championship runs usually lose players to chump teams overpaying role players the next year just to see them flounder in a new system (Hedo after the Magic made the finals).
So besides good system matchmaking and just sheer dumb luck of finding the occasional gem in the rough, rookie contracts are the best way to get underpaid players. If you objectively look at the rate of success for draft picks, KoC has done pretty well using our #4 assets. You still need to develop these players so they are productive (ideally before their rookie deals are up and they demand big money), and hopefully Howard's 20+ mins get redistributed towards this effort. It would also be reasonable to siphon some minutes from other veterans but there isnt another that I would even take a full 4 mins from. I hope someone on the staff knows how to teach big men...
For a small market team #5 is mainly for opportunistic trades (like OKC did to land Maynor), and resigning rookies who pan out. It is possible to find someone you consider an underexposed/undervalued player and throw money at him (Memo), but usually small market teams only get free agents by overpaying. As most stars are already maxed out or near max that kind of doesnt help...
So when might Utah make a run at the top NBA teams? You never want to be the team that HAS to make a trade, as the other team usually knows it - making it hard to get good value back. The Jazz could be in danger of this in the next few years, as they will likely have too much young talent to develop (maybe 6 lotto picks in 3 years...). Not playing all these picks would be like leaving money under the mattress - you dont accrue any interest (player value declines with no development). Anyone who follows Bill Simmons knows that he thinks teams win trades when they "convert dimes into quarters." Basically depth beyond 8 players only helps during the season (or in case of injury), and during playoffs minutes shift to the best players. You can only have 5 players on the court at once so you need to concentrate your talent into fewer players (to a certain point). So when do we look to cash in our assets?
Looking at hoopshype, 2013/14 imediately jumps out to me. The Jazz have 4 team options totalling 16.5 million and no other salary commitments for 2013/14. They could also have 2 more lottery picks (with 1 year of experience) bringing the total to around 22 million for 6 players. That would be an insane amount of talent for such a low financial commitment. I already feel confident that Hayward and Kanter will develop to starting caliber players worth well over their rookie scale for that year, and if any of the other 3-4 lottery picks (or any 2 rounder/2013 pick) on the team even develop into solid rotation players we could be very dangerous with a couple shrewd moves. Those moves could include resigning Sap, packaging some young guys/picks for a stud on a team that is rebuilding (or needs more depth), or making a nice steal from a cash strapped team (ala reverse Maynor). They have really nice expiring contracts the previous year that could facilitate big trades. The following year is promising as well, but could be the end of financial flexibility as Hayward/Favors become restricted free agents. We need to put together something nice those 2 seasons to make a real run at it.