NBA Free Agency 2014: Utah Jazz do not need to settle in search for reliable, affordable point guard depth

Karma says that you owe us. - Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The Jazz do not need to settle for John Lucas III when looking to fill out their roster.

The 2013-2014 Utah Jazz team was built specifically to, and let’s be honest here, maximize their potential chances of drafting a franchise player. That team wasn’t built to win. And thanks to some crossed signals, didn’t actually come close to the developmental tour we all expected either. This season the Jazz brass cleared house and there’s a new coach who looks to be all about development. But let’s be real, you just can’t have a roster that’s built up of college age kids. This is a pro team, after all; and not a college club. As a result, you need some real pros on the team. And by that I mean professionals. Guys who know this is a job, and make sure to do their job.

Sure, I have Behaviorist leanings, and I do believe that modeling behavior off of successful strategies helps out. You don’t want these young guys to learn bad habits, after all! And if you are looking at the Jazz roster there is no bigger ‘critical’ spot than point guard right now. The Jazz are likely to start Trey Burke at point, and (unless they are dumb) give the majority of the back-up minutes to Dante Exum. One is a rookie and the other was a rookie last year. Even if they are great, you want someone backing them up who will help teach them how to be pros. And in the worst case scenario – they aren’t killing it – you need a third guy for insurance. (And also my roster balance theory points out we do have a need there too!)

The indications we’re all getting through the media blitz is that John Lucas III is going to be back. After all, they didn’t send him away to the Toronto Raptors to be waived, like they did with Diante Garrett. I’m not crazy about Lucas. He is a vet, he has played all over the world, and must have both perspective and life experience. But he’s not really that great of a basketball player. And for all of his worldliness, he has only played in 2,644 NBA minutes in the regular season. He’s 31 years old now, and started playing in the NBA back when he was 23. Yeah. I am all for great locker room guys – but I think the Jazz brass want more out of their third string guy when their first two strings are so young.

Youth leads to ups and downs and inconsistencies. Actually experienced guys learn to push through that and that is something that Trey and Dante will both learn on their own. I have absolute confidence in their abilities to turn into great pros down the line. But this is such a critical thing for the Jazz. These are two guys who could really propel the team back to the playoffs. One could be a star, and the other an All-Star. I don’t think you can afford to mess this up. And going cheap to get JLIII to back them up is not doing due diligence to how critical the point guard spot is going to be for our team.

Gordon Hayward can handle the ball, but almost everyone else on the team who is a young guy needs a good PG in there to make sure their development doesn’t get jacked up. So I think the Jazz need to find the right guy for THIS team at that third ball handler spot. Perhaps JLIII was that guy last year. This year? I think there are better options.

Money:

If you are selling a guy on signing with your club, and you can’t offer them a great role, then at least you have to find another way to look attractive. The Jazz have a great community, great fans, and are in a beautiful location. Not everyone is crazy about Utah though, and that’s a shame (because a) that’s unfair, and b) Utah is awesome, who wouldn’t like to work there!). What the Jazz have, the ace up their sleeve, is that they have money to spend. Even if they match Hayward the Jazz will have $6.500 to $12.806 million to spend before they hit the cap. Sure, they’ll have to spread that out between three players – but if you bring back Ian Clark, and perhaps Malcolm Thomas – they are only going to add up to $1.764 million. There’s a lot of space left. And money needs to be spent.

You don’t blow it all on a third string point guard. But you can spend enough to mitigate some of the problems of a less attractive role and not being in some fancy big market.

Role:

And let’s be real, role is going to be an issue. No one who is still playing thinks, a priori, that they shouldn’t be actually playing in the games. You have to find someone who is mentally ready to be a background player. Furthermore, you need someone who is ready to accept that they are there for insurance. Some people sign the contract, then complain when they don’t play enough. You can’t afford to bring in that kind of guy into our young locker room. Instead, I think you need a guy with a good head on his shoulders who is ready to be that sage mentor. There’s no point in bringing in a guy here, over paying for them, and then having them expect to start. Even if they are currently more equipped to help the team win now.

The goal for this team is to improve the youth. It’s not to win. So you’re asking for a free agent point guard to come here, to a team that will lose, be in a small market, and sit most of the games they are healthy for. And tell them explicitly that there is very little chance that your role within the team is going to improve.

Who is going to want to come here for that? Older guys trying to stay in the league, and people who care more for money than success. You want to avoid the mercs, we’ve had enough. So who is left?

Currently still unspoken for Free Agent point guards:

There are plenty of good to horrible point guards on the market. Automatically anyone can point out at least 20 guys you’d rather have than John Lucas III. Of course, a lot of them aren’t going to want to come here for one reason or another. But, here are 20 PGs I’d rather have than JLIII: Isaiah Thomas, Jameer Nelson, Jordan Crawford, Kirk Hinrich, Mario Chalmers, Mo Williams, Ramon Sessions, Toney Douglas , Aaron Brooks, Chauncey Billups, D.J. Augustin, Daniel Gibson, Jerryd Bayless, Luke Ridnour, Shelvin Mack, Beno Udrih, Brian Roberts, Earl Watson, Jannero Pargo, and Toure' Murry.

Yeah, that’s a good list, but fat chance getting many of them to come to the Jazz right now, with what we can offer them in terms of role. Some of these guys are legit 1st stringers. Some think they are, but are actually bench guys. Others are playing for championships, or think they should be on contenders. So from that 20 you automatically have to eliminate a bunch of them.

Isaiah Thomas is one of the top PGs on the market, and will be gone very soon. So he’s out. So very out. Jameer Nelson was cut by his team, but had a legit year last year (12 / 7 / 3 / 1, while making all of his free throws, and having a Go Rating of 65.33), there’s no way he’s not at least thinking that he should start for some club. No way he comes to Utah to be a third stringer. It’s funny because I think he is the worst case scenario for Trey Burke – and he’s having good seasons 10 years into his career as a short, slow guy. Mario Chalmers isn’t a great point guard. But he thinks he is. And I don’t know if I want that kind of guy on our team. Mo Williams was just here, and while he has a lot of talent, he’s still got enough game to argue that he’s not at that mentor stage of his career yet. Also, he would probably just not be worth any of the hassle. Jordan Crawford is a combo guard, and was a former Eastern Conference Player of the Week. And it’s kind of cheating putting him here – he’s like Leandro Barbosa, not a real PG no matter how many dribbles he takes. And while it would be a coup if the Jazz got him, there just ain’t no way that Kirk Hinrich is interested in the roster spot we have available for him – no matter the money.

You can easily eliminate a number of other guys who I’d like, who aren’t outright guys who can scoff at playing here, but are not likely to even be on our radar, and us on theirs. I’m talking about the Ramon Sessions types (had a solid season last year). In addition to Ramon, I don’t see Toney Douglas, Aaron Brooks, or Jerryd Bayless looking at where they are right now in their careers and think it’s a smart move to go and be the back up to two guys who have never even played in the playoffs before.

That still leaves me with 10 guys who may look at what we have to offer (money, and role) and at least hear the pitch. So let’s break them all down against John Lucas III.

Player profiles:

Here are the guys I’ve picked out. The point is that we want an older guy who is a real pro. Failing that, I did pick some younger guys that actually have more to offer on a court than John does. They may not be "vet vets" but if one of our two guys struggles – they will be able to keep the ship heading in the right direction.

Player Ht Wt Age Yrs Gm Min MPG Tms Tm '13-14 Sal
1 Chauncey Billups 6 3 202 37.29 17 1,189 38,329 32.24 7 DET $2.500
2 Luke Ridnour 6 2 175 33.15 11 805 21,475 26.68 4 MIL/CHA $4.320
3 Earl Watson 6 1 195 35.03 13 890 19,644 22.07 6 POR $1.400
4 Beno Udrih 6 3 205 32.01 9 712 15,847 22.26 6 NYK/MEM $1.272
5 D.J. Augustin 6 0 180 26.24 6 457 11,240 24.60 4 TOR/CHI $1.267
6 Daniel Gibson 6 2 190 28.13 7 447 10,197 22.81 1 CLE $4.792
7 Jannero Pargo 6 1 175 34.29 10 531 7,922 14.92 7 CHA $1.400
8 Brian Roberts 6 1 180 28.22 2 150 2,991 19.94 1 NOP $0.789
9 Shelvin Mack 6 3 215 24.08 3 179 2,825 15.78 3 ATL $0.884
10 Toure Murry 6 5 195 24.24 1 51 373 7.31 1 NYK $0.490
11 John Lucas III 5 11 165 31.23 6 225 2,746 12.20 4 UTA $1.600

Obviously, OBVIOUSLY, there are some guys here who have a lot of miles on their legs. But they got them by being legit NBA point guards for many, many years. And that's what we want Trey Burke and Dante Exum to one day become. (Btw, while John Lucas III is way older than some of these cats, he has only played more NBA minutes than one of them -- a rookie last year)

  • Billups: "Mr. Big Shot", a legendary point guard who bounced around early after being a lotto pick, worked on his game, and became the leader and best player on a team that went out and won a championship title. If you are looking for a point guard to teach your point guards a thing or two about the NBA, and this guy is available, I don't see why you don't do it. He already has worked in the past with Alec Burks (both guys went to the same college, Colorado), and he would be a great help to both Dante and Trey. He'd help their shooting, defense, and hopefully give them that leadership mentality that all great floor generals have. Moving to Utah would put him one state away from his home state (also Colorado), and while he would be in a diminished role from his years with the Pistons, he'd be solid enough to play when we need him -- and a great guy to have in the locker room for the entire team. Everyone would listen to him. He is mulling retirement and has a number of coaching and media job offers. So if they are going to do it, they need to do it now. (Of course, and this is the absurd thing, the Jazz aren't going to take the recommendation of a blogger -- but it is nice to know that guys like Dennis Lindsey occasionally reads the blog and knows our work)
  • Ridnour: A very solid guard who went to the playoffs last season. He is likely to be interested in a bigger role than just being a mentor. There's been no free agency chatter about him, but you have to at least ASK him if he's interested. You'd have to over pay though.
  • Watson: He's the guy most of us already love. He's a great mentor and teacher already and has experience doing both has he has his own leadership academy in his hometown of Kansas City. He knows the team, the players, the franchise, and the city. Jody, of the DN, told me that it's unlikely that the Jazz would ask him, or that he'd come back. I don't know why . . . but I know he has a more direct line of info than I do.
  • Udrih: Beno has a few rings from his Spurs days, is a guy from that Spurs tree, and will be interested to get at least one more year in the NBA, as he currently has 9 years under his belt. (This goes into the pension plan thing for NBA players who have played for at least a decade in the league) He is solid enough that if he is needed he can help the team. And he's not good enough to not demand to be the 2nd string guy. Crap. I just loaded up his page, and looks like he's signing with Memphis. And this news is from today. Oh well. This is what happens when I can't get a post done so quickly.
  • Augustin: He's a younger guy compared to some of these other guys, but has played more than 10k minutes in the NBA. He's being courted by a few teams (like the Mavs), and he had a really good season last year, and played nearly 30 mpg. He's on the list of "maybes" only because he hasn't had a great career. But he's likely not to be in the running.
  • Gibson: Boobie had to deal with Kyrie Irving in Cleveland and wants to play. LeBron James isn't coming to Cleveland either, so he needs to find a new home. In Utah he'd have to accept a limited role behind Trey and Dante. If he can do that he could find a spot here, but I'm not crazy about him. He did recently joke about being retired. So he's got that going for him.
  • Pargo: Crap, he was just resigned too. I'm really bad at this!
  • Roberts: Roberts is a young guy who came on strong in place of injured starters last season with the Pelicans. He had a nice assist to turn over ratio, and played more NBA minutes in his two year career than John Lucas III has in his billion year career.
  • Mack: Mack is Gordon's boy from his days at Butler. He has bounced around a bit, and played with the Hawks last year. He's used to winning as well, and played in the playoffs and had a really good instincts. We know G-Time is going to be back. And we know that he loves Mack. And if Mack knows he's there to push the younger PGs, but not try to have a big role, it could work.
  • Murry: He's a big guy, 6'5, and was an amazing three point shooter last year. Is it a fluke? I don't know. He has less experience than JLIII, so no mentoring possible here. But I'd want him on the team more than JLIII personally.

Okay, well, it sucks to find out in the middle of a post that I have to eliminate some of these guys. But I think we have to say buh-bye to Beno, D.J., and Jannero. Based on role or career trajectory, I don't think Ridnour is going to be a fit. He's not going to want to be a end of bench mentor for at least another 2 years at the earliest. I really don't think Roberts would want to be on a team with Burke and Exum. So that's a fifth dude out of the running, I think. He's young, and they are young, and he needs minutes. He played 23 mpg last season. He wouldn't get that in Utah.

Anyway, onto the stats...

Career Stats:

Here are their stats. Guys I eliminated in the last section in red. I guess I am keeping them in there for comparison's sake . . . or something.

Free_agency_2014_-_point_guard_help_career_stats

I'm not going to break all of this down piece by piece, but Billups is the cream of the crop (for the 20 player sample size, and especially for this 10 player one). Ridnour would have been nice, but it really drops off after there.

If you are getting an older, more experienced player you are doing so for their career and their accumulated experience. But that's half of the problem for the Jazz. They also need insurance (and assurance) that the third ball handler can still take care of business if need be. So you also have to look at their most recent data as well.

Last season:

Here I've eliminated the other guys, so we're down to five guys against John Lucas III.

Free_agency_2014_-_point_guard_help_1314_stats

And if you look at the numbers in this section, were we look at the on court production, it's clear that he's not really helping the team. Watson and Billups also had down years, but they are super old. Mack looks really good here.

Adding it all up:

  • Lucas is going to cost the Jazz $1.6 million next year. I think you can spend a little bit more and get a lot more for your money. He's the baseline that we have to test against.
  • Mack is younger, more talented, and better -- and friends with the team's soon-to-be highest paid player. Would he be cool from going down from 20 mpg on a playoff team to much less on a lotto team? Probably not, if he has the right attitude you'd want in a basketball player.
  • Gibson has played a lot, has game still (we hope), but is not likely to be interested in being a 3rd stringer behind two guys he would feel like he was 'schooling' in practice
  • Toure' Murry is just as much of a question mark as our young guys. He can't provide sage life advice, or have great techniques to teach. I'd still take him over Lucas, and so would most of the league.
  • Chauncey Billups is an icon, and knows so much. He had a horrible season, but if the Jazz drafted well, they won't need him to play. What Billups gives, no matter how well or poorly he plays, is immediate cred. He's a floor leader and a vocal locker room guy. People will listen to him, and he has a lot to teach. He's been to the top of the mountain and is a great example of what a point guard should aspire to be. Because you don't want to screw up Trey or Dante I would risk offering him a contract. Like a real one. I'm talking about a $11 million dollars contract, over two years ($5.5m per), with the second option being a team option. The Jazz have money to spend and while this is expensive, this chance will go away if you don't take it. Trey is never going to be a 2nd year player again. Dante is never going to be a rookie again. They gotta learn good habits now. Learn them from a champ.
  • Earl -- man, we all love, Love, LOVE Earl. He's just not a very good basketball player right now. Is he any worse than JLIII? Earl takes a shot once every 14.58 minutes on the court. He's not a threat. At least Lucas shoots a bunch. If you remove the need for insurance, Earl is a great leader and will help with development. But I do think the Jazz do want someone who can play a bit still.

So from 20 guys obviously better than Lucas we're down to 5 guys who could be likely (in my mind) guys who may want to sign a contract here who are better than Lucas. John is going to be cheap, but his production is that of a D-League player. And you can get one of those guys for 1/3rd of what you'll pay John. If he's the best possible mix of age, experience, and playing ability then we're in trouble.

For me though, it's all about Billups. You can't pass on this guy before he leaves to take some college basketball announcer job. Just talk to him at least. That's all I ask.

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