Some of you may recoil at the term "rudderless." Some may argue that given the amount of turnover in the past couple of years that the using the term "rudderless" is a bit unfair. I disagree with those claims. The last two years has seen the Jazz lost as sea with no clear destination.
There is no need to rehash all the in’s and out’s of the past couple of seasons. If you’re reading this blog you’re probably at least as familiar as I am with all the successes and the notable missteps. Let’s just sum it up by saying that the Jazz attempted to rebuild on the fly, took a few shortcuts, and ended up with a mediocre team, and then decided not move a couple of valuable trade chips in a last ditch effort to make the playoffs and generate a bit of extra coin for the team owners. Oh, and they retained a coach that by the end of was being lampooned as a complete buffoon by both opposing fans and national media.
In a star riven league the team lacks anything approaching a star. Bringing in a superstar via free agency is next to impossible in a small market like SLC. There are 29 other teams out there trying to sign a superstar. Dwight Howard or Chris Paul are not coming to Utah. I’m sure the front office realizes this. As fans we need to come to grips with this reality.
Well the good news is that the team has a talented young nucleus, and lots of cap space. So where does the team go from here? That’s really the question, right?
The team could bring in a mix of draft picks and a few vets to supplement the guys already on the roster with the hope that over the next couple of years the team would continue to be good enough to contend for a playoff spot. Given recent history this seems like the approach the front office is most likely to take this off season. The right mix of new guys could keep the team in contention for a playoff spot and letting the young guys play could energize a listless fanbase. However another patch job with moderately priced veterans is not likely to push the team to a division title or help the team move beyond first round fodder. This would ultimately be a short term solution that would allow the team to tread water for a few more years. Recently ownership seems content with this strategy.
In the NBA it’s rare for a team to reach title contention through incremental improvement over a period of several years. It just doesn’t happen that way. Instead most successful teams take a big leap at some point. Teams stuck at the back end of the lottery, or the backend of the playoffs tend to stay there, in NBA purgatory. To break out of purgatory, the Jazz need a big influx of talent. Given the depth of the 2014 draft class, the 2013-2014 looks like the perfect time to rebuild.
If the Jazz truly commit to rebuilding this year they need to take a page out the Houston Astros book, and jump in with both feet. They have to recognize that the goal is to develop players, while losing games. Losing games sucks, but you don’t land a top five lottery pick by finishing 9th or 10th in the Western Conference. The last thing the team would want to do is bring in some free agents vets who will take time away from the young guys already on the roster. You don’t rebuild by giving minutes to guys like Randy Foye or Mo Williams. Those minutes need to go to young players with upside. Players who can help you down the road.
I’m not a professional basketball scout – I’m a geologist. But if I were the GM it makes sense to me to go all in on the draft this year. I would even seek to acquire an additional pick or two. This draft may lack star power but it’s full of talented complementary players. The lack of star power seems to have turned off some teams to this year’s class and as a result the picks may be a bit undervalued. Adding a handful of talented complementary player to the guys already on the roster makes sense. And one of those picks may just turn out to be star.
Because the Jazz wouldn’t be trying to win games, they could afford to give minutes to unpolished rookies. That investment in minutes this year would payoff in following couple of seasons. A year from now the team could be sitting on a roster stocked with Heyward, Favors, Kanter, Burks, a handful of young promising players with some real minutes under their belts, and a top five lottery pick in a loaded draft.
I would like to see the Jazz trade for an additional first round picks and maybe move up in the second round. I know this may sound crazy, but remember if you’re in full rebuild mode the goal is to acquire talent; and the Jazz have minutes available right now. In rebuild mode there is no point in giving minutes to players with no upside, and the goal is to put together a roster full of players that can all sort of blossom at the same time. The Jazz’s cap space should allow them to take on a bad contract in exchange for a pick, or they could trade a 2015 pick for one this year. I have to believe there are ways to acquire picks if the front office is interested. (It’s possible that any picks traded away could essentially be replace post-draft through sign and trade deals with Milsap and Jefferson.)
The mock drafts to this point seem to be all over the map, and that’s not likely to change. I would like to see the Jazz find a way to draft Shane Larkin, Kelly Olynyk, the best wing available at 21, and Myke Kabongo. All that would certainly require some wheeling and dealing. Larkin would slot in as the starting point guard right away, Olynyk would be a nice addition to the second unit. The Jazz obviously need more depth at SG, and Kabongo is an amazing talent that the team could stash in the D-league for a year.
I don’t see a way for the Jazz to break the cycle without first taking a step back. Trying to rebuild while staying competitive just doesn’t work. Not in Utah anyway. It’s time to pick a course and stick with it.