The Downbeat #1379 - The "Spurs or the Wolves" Edition

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The San Antonio Spurs are on their way to another title, being a small market team that uses our system, and gets a lot out of foreign players (mostly Europeans and South Americans). If you are going to try to model your franchise off of another the Spurs are not a bad one to follow. Of course, the asinine comments you've heard from some ("The OKC Method is to draft Kevin Durant") also hold here ("The Spurs Method is to draft two HOF centers at #1 within the same time frame"). But that reductionalist thinking avoids actually seeing the intricate, smaller moves that were necessary to dominate.

I guess what I'm saying is that a franchise like the Spurs did get lucky in the draft, but they also dotted all their "I"s and crossed all their "T"s. When the Utah Jazz hired Dennis Lindsey to succeed Kevin O'Connor they were counting on getting a guy who would do that.

And thankfully, after years, this Jazz franchise looks like they are being run on rationalism, and not old grudges. The team we loved became a caricature of itself over the year, "No, we don't do mistakes," "We don't trade with people who leak information," "We want high draft picks, even move up for them, but won't admit to being rebuilding," "We're playoff competitive," and so forth.

The last two seasons the Jazz held a free agent mini camp, something they never did before DL got here. This season the team is going to the Vegas Summer League, something they vowed to never do -- instead they thought it was better for them to fly their entire team, coaches, trainers, and scouts halfway across the continent out of spite to play in obscurity against lower talent.

Just recently the team bought out their own D-League affiliate, something only 9 other teams do, one of them being the Spurs. Instead of using the Utah Flash regularly the team would rather draft someone raw who couldn't earn playing time, and not even use them in the NBA or the NBA-DL. It wasn't until he was no longer with the Jazz did Kevin Murphy end up playing like the guy we drafted him to be. The new idea is to use the D-League frequently. Which means more than sending Ian Clark and Rudy Gobert down there for 3 games, then call them up and not play them.

There are countless good chances that are happening right now, and it's from following the lead of the Spurs, who themselves used to follow our lead.

If anything, DL is returning the Jazz to our previous glory. The only thing needed now is to figure out how to develop players and become a great team.

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. . . because the opposite is a mediocre team, a team that never gets better, and never does what is necessary to get better. That team is the Minnesota Timberwolves. In the years where they lose a lot of games, they've always been pushed out from the Top 3 by luckier teams. In all the other years they get a pick in the useless part of the lottery. They haven't killed it in the lotto, picking or trading for guys like Shabazz Muhammad (14), Derrick Williams (2), Wesley Johnson (4), Ricky Rubio (5), Jonny Flynn (6), Kevin Love (5), O.J. Mayo (3), Corey Brewer (7), Randy Foye (7), and all the way back to Kevin Garnett who was the last (only?) guy they did well by in the draft.

The team doesn't get better, and isn't good enough to consistently make the playoffs and they've only been a contender once in their 25 season history. Worse still, they have been a first round exit in 7 of their 8 trips to the playoffs.

And their coaching / development staff is all a mess. Their GM is Flip Saunders, and he just promoted himself to Head Coach again. And he's bringing back two former players / former coaches to be his assistants in Sam Mitchell and Sidney Lowe. (Article) Mitchell played for the Wolves in 10 of his 13 seasons in the NBA. He was never the head coach of the Wolves, but did coach the Toronto Raptors for five seasons. Lowe played 80 of his career 193 games in the NBA with the Wolves. He was previously an NBA Head coach for five seasons, and two of those seasons were with the Wolves.

The familiarity with the past and an acceptance of being mediocre is easier to fall into bed with than the trouble and uncertainty of bringing in new blood to the organization. If the Jazz stuck with Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Tyrone Corbin . . . the team would have been a better product on the court, but never good enough to do anything in the Western Conference. Sure, Big Al was an All-NBA 3rd team guy this year, and Paul an All-Star for the first time in his much deserved career; but these were guys who took their teams to the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.

The Jazz play in the West. And on one end of the spectrum you have the Spurs, and on the other you have the Wolves. And both used to in the same division as the Jazz. And now, the Jazz are really at a cross roads, do we move forward to be more like the Spurs, or maintain being awful, but not awful enough to improve?

It appeared like the recent motto of the Jazz was "maintain the illusion of your greatness," and holding onto stability for the concept alone was the way to go. Some people (never me, but now I see the truth of it) suggest that the team should have gone into full rebuild mode the moment the team traded away an All-NBA player in point guard Deron Williams. This makes strategic sense too as the principal returns for that trade were a) a rookie (Derrick Favors), and b) two future lotto picks (2011 -- Enes Kanter, 2013 -- Gorgui Dieng). You don't take your team to the promised land with the other parts of that trade, Devin Harris and cash.

And I guess that's where the real fear is -- the fear of doing the unfamiliar thing in order to make a real change that makes a real difference.

The Spurs won 20 games the season before they got Tim Duncan. That's five fewer than we did this past season. The Spurs ended up doing that during the prime years of much of their core during their window of being an NBA contender. In a no-consequence year where wins were not a metric for evaluation our guys couldn't do that.

It was the 'Sota thing to do. Which is to 'sorta try to get better.

I hope Lindsey continues to steer the team away from the Wolves level of mediocrity, because under a different general manager, I honestly could see our team crashing on those shores.

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The NBA draft is in less than two weeks, so, uh, excitement? The Jazz have now, with more than 10 days remaining, worked out more than TWICE as many people as they did back when the team had two Lottery picks in the 2011 NBA Draft. Lindsey is doing his homework. Aside from the Top 4 (where they've seen workouts, but not had them), the Jazz have looked at every section of the draft. This leads me to believe two things:

a) Lindsey drafts by player, not draft spot

b) more moves are coming.

DL seems to find a guy that he thinks will be right for the team, and moves to get them. KOC seemed to just 'take whatever' came to him. The flaw in the DL plan is that sometimes you can't make the move to get the guy you want. The flaw in the KOC plan is that sometimes you are left with something you never wanted.

The fly in the ointment of the KOC plan was Kosta Koufos -- someone that the Jazz expected to be gone by then (based mostly on his size, skill set, and age). When it was time for the Jazz to draft and Koufos was still on the board the regimented logic stated that they had to take him, even if that wasn't someone they needed (at that time the Jazz had Mehmet Okur, Carlos Boozer, Andrei Kirilenko, Jarron Collins, and Kyrylo Fesenko at the 4 or 5). The KOC plan also created a lot of log jams (C.J. Miles, Ronnie Brewer, and Morris Almond were all drafted in consecutive seasons -- while the team also added guys like Derek Fisher and Kyle Korver to play over them). The best example of this is probably the Jazz picking Enes Kanter the year after making a mid-season trade for Derrick Favors. The two guys cannibalized their minutes on the court and both are most likely worse off today for it than they would have been had they been on different teams.

I have few doubts that DL targeted point guards last year (he did, the Jazz worked out 10 different ones before the draft, none of them were Trey Burke), and was not surprised that he finished the draft with TWO (Raul Neto being the other). The KOC thing would have been to just sit back and draft at #14. DL isn't KOC, thankfully.

This season he seems to be targeting wings, and again, his direct player method that drafts for need seems to make more sense than the passive 'best player available.'

We'll see if DL keeps up with his 'active' method of being a GM, or if he slows down and starts to 'KOC' it up. I don't think he slows down right now, but that's just me.

Which means that for a guy who covers the draft, it's going to be yet another busy night.

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So, Ante Tomic is a thing? There's a lot more talk about him recently; but I still strongly feel as though the Tomic to the Jazz talk is 80% talk, and only about 10% a reality. The other 10% is lost in translation. I'd love to have him on the team. He's one of the best players in Europe, at the top of his game, and so, so, talented. He just did this a few days ago:


Yeah, who doesn't want a legit 7'2 bigman who is amazing on offense, and big enough to at least hassle people on defense? The Jazz had been scouting him for a few years before his draft (Round 2, #44 in 2008), and since that time he's won a Gold medal in regional national competition, won three rings in club play, and been an All-Star and All-Euroleague (like All-NBA) twice. He is 27 years old now, and if he's ever going to come to the NBA and make a splash it will be now. Luis Scola was 27 in his rookie year with the Houston Rockets. Manu Ginobili was 25. Detlef Schremphf was 23. Arvydas Sabonis was 31.

One guy that I think Tomic's NBA career may be like is that of Juan Carlos Navarro, who was a rookie in the NBA at age 27, hated it, and left for Europe and never came back. Oh, they are team mates right now at FC Barcelona? What a co-incidence.

The bottom line for me is why would Tomic want to leave a place that he's dominating, getting all the glam, making more money, paying less taxes, has a lot of 'perks' that he won't get in the USA -- to come to a team that won 25 games last year? He has been the best guy on some crappy teams before. He worked his way to be one of the best players on a contender in the second best league in the world, the Spanish ACB. He is locked into how much he can make in his first contract as a rookie who was drafted in the second round during the old CBA (it's not even the most recent CBA).

Only idiots or misguided people take a pay cut to get their butts kicked on a professional level by moving to a new city that is a huge lifestyle change . . . only idiots, or misguided people, or people who blog about the Jazz, I guess. (Myself included)


But if Tomic does come over I will be almost as happy as this guy!

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So, this isn't basketball related, but there's this World Cup thing going on right now. It's the biggest sporting event in the world that isn't your mom. (Sorry, I couldn't resist) (Neither could your mom) (Okay, enough) (That's what she said) The nations of the world are going totally crazy about this, but which team does Jazz nation support?

  • Brazil - Raul Neto, Rafael Araujo
  • Mexico - Half of Earl Watson
  • Cameroon -
  • Croatia - Ante Tomic, Gordan Giricek, Goran Suton
  • Netherlands - Francisco Elson
  • Chilie -
  • Australia - TazJazzfan
  • Spain - Raul Lopez
  • Colombia -
  • Greece - Kosta Koufos' ancestors
  • Ivory Coast -
  • Japan - Jashin Mizuno
  • Uruguay -
  • Costa Rica -
  • England - Dr. John Amaechi, OBE
  • Italy -
  • Switzerland - Kanter was born in Zurich
  • Ecuador -
  • France - Rudy Gobert
  • Honduras -
  • Argentina -
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina - they have claims on Rasid Mahalbasic
  • Iran - we played a Rocky Mountain Review game against them
  • Nigeria -
  • Germany - Peter Fehse
  • Portugal - Nuno !!!
  • Ghana -
  • United States - almost every single Jazz player ever
  • Belgium -
  • Algeria -
  • Russia - Andrei Kirilenko
  • South Korea - Gordon Hayward (sorry, that's a Starcraft joke)

I have no dog in this race, but I do enjoy foreigners yelling in their native tongues.

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