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NBA Free Agency 2012: Taking a chance, and why we took a chance on Josh Howard

You know he shot this, because shooting is what Josh does.
You know he shot this, because shooting is what Josh does.

Can you believe that the NBA Draft is in SEVEN days? Crazy, right? Well, that means that we're going to be looking at free agency very very shortly. In fact, seeing how there's almost no point in going deep into this draft (I couldn't tell you who is going to be around at #7, let alone #47), we will keep up with the free agency pre-talk now.

Like in all other things, within NBA Free Agency there are different thoughts, strategies, and 'plays' that you can run. In free agency these can be: "over paying for a guy who would normally not look at your team", "finding the diamond in the rough," and "taking a chance on a guy." I do believe that if you are a small market team you end up having to overpay a lot, and we did exactly that in that one summer were we overpaid for Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, and Andrei Kirilenko. Over paying means your cap gets hung up on certain guys and you are at a disadvantage when trying to build around them.

Finding the diamond in the rough is the home run of free agency. It is almost certainly related to taking a chance on a guy. That said, there is no rhyme or reason that explains who will be a diamond in the rough, and who will end up air balling a layup on a 3 on 1 fast break. It's not easy being a General Manager. That said, like with all other high profile positions, being a GM makes you a visible target if you mess up. And all GMs mess up.

Fans like to play GM at times, but when we mess up it's not front page news. I'm going to look at the whole taking a chance thing, free agency, and messing up after the jump.

Take a chance on me . . .

Okay, you may not be as big an ABBA fan as I am, so I'll spare you the YouTube video. Getting a good Free agency grade isn't about getting stars at their lowest per year cost. Sometimes it's about taking calculated risks on guys to do better than expected. The GMs who are lauded are the ones who do take chances, and their chances pay off. I think a good example of this was DeJuan Blair who dropped like crazy in the draft because of his injury issue (No MCL? No Problem.), and it paid off. Blair was the starter on a team that won 50 games (until Boris Diaw came around).

But the draft is a whole different animal than free agency. After all, the draft is unipolar and the team makes the decision. Free agency is a back and forth where the player's side has a right to refuse a team. (I guess this is where being a bully works against you)

You still have to take chances. We took chances on guys like Sundiata Gaines, Lou Amundson, Othyus Jeffers, and a whole bunch of unproven NBA-DL guys who worked hard for us and have had differing levels of success in the NBA. There are more examples, but those are recent examples of guys the Utah Jazz took chances on who went on to play for other teams after the Jazz. They were all undrafted rookies. And they are examples of Kevin O'Connor taking a chance in free agency.

Probably the best example in recent history was Wesley Matthews -- a guy who started for us as a rookie. He was in fact a guy we brought in pre-draft for a workout, so he had been in our sights for a while. We know how the story has progressed though, the undrafted rookie has different rules as per the CBA in how much he can earn in his second year, and left for the Portland Trail Blazers, and has continued to be a good shooter, just not a star.

These are all examples of the Jazz taking chances on younger guys (specifically NBA rookies). But taking a chance doesn't always mean taking a chance on unproven youth.


Once more, with feeling

Sometimes you can take a chance on a player that is a shadow of his former self. A veteran guy who has been 'there', and is now unwanted and discarded by whatever team he had previously gone into battles for. The really good GMs are lucky enough when they take a chance on an older guy. When it pays off you look smart, when it does not, well, you get what we got this last season with Josh Howard.

And really, this whole post is about Josh Howard, and how having an awesome twitter convo late last night with @RxMike12 (you may know him) made me re-think the Josh Howard deal.

Everyone who is an NBA fan just ends up having players they like and they do not like. Even when Josh Howard was a serviceable NBA player I never liked him. I hate the Mavs. I hated his game. And I hated how he would torch us. I didn't like him, and I don't think a lot of Jazz fans did either when he was younger. Then he got traded, and his game totally off. He also got injured. And he became a really bad player. So the guy I did not like, who had an injury history, and played a game I did not like, ended up being a bad player on a lottery team.

And you can imagine how happy I was when the Jazz signed him so early in free agency. And he didn't sign for the veteran's minimum. (The Jazz org likes to hide facts because they are harder to criticize if their fan base is ignorant. He made over $2 million last year, more than a number of guys who played better than he did.)

All of that said -- Kevin O'Connor was taking a chance on a former All-Star, and he was paying only 25% for him (the market value for a starting SF that off-season started at around $8 million per). You have to take chances, even though if taking a chance on an older guy is riskier than taking a chance on a younger guy.

So, personally I still vehemently hate the signing. But strategically I do see why it was made. Previously I did not because I was overcome with hatred and fear that our younger guys who not get the playing time they needed. (Oh, wait, that happened. So I guess my fears were correct. And I seem to be correct in seeing that his game was garbage and he was a bad player. Oh, and I was correct in seeing that our team went on a huge run of wins when he was injured . . . .but this isn't about me hating Josh Howard and being correct, this is about me giving props to KOC for taking a chance.)


The Situation:

After all, it's not like the Jazz were an attractive free agent destination; and that we did not have a lot of money to spend either. You try to make the best of the situation you have. We were given lemons, and Josh Howard was our lemonade. Or some other yellow colored liquid with a similar pH value. Mike posed the question "who else could we have gotten?" Well, as always, I did the work to investigate this. I may not be as good with English as Yucca, or good with pictures as Alec, or a semi-pro player like Taz, or as generally amazing as Moni (to single out a few of the awesome guys and gals posting here), but I am a hard worker. And I am not afraid of hard work.

Who else could we have gotten? Here's a list of non-historically revised guys I was interested in. When they were signed. How, and how much for.

Contract 2011-12 Statistics
Player Age New Team Condition 2011-12 G MPG PPG RPG PER Other
Dec 13 DeMarre Carroll 25 DEN / UTA UFA ** . $854,389 . 24 14.5 4.5 2.2 11.1 . Shot 41.0 fg%, 36.8 3pt%, hustled, played defense
Dec 15 Josh Howard 31 UTA UFA . $2,150,000 . 43 23.0 8.7 3.7 10.5 . Shot 39.9 fg%, never passed, selfish play
Dec 20 Jannero Pargo 32 ATL Waivers . $854,389 . 50 13.4 5.6 1.5 13.6 . a PG, shot 41.5 fg%, 38.4% from 3, 1.9 apg
Dec 21 Steve Novak 28 NYK Waivers . $854,389 . 54 18.9 8.8 1.9 15.9 . Led the league in 3pt%, made 133 threes
Dec 23 DeShawn Stevenson 30 NJN UFA . $2,500,000 . 51 18.8 2.9 2.0 4.3 . better perimeter defender, world champion
Feb 27 Gerald Green 26 NJN UFA . $413,413 . 31 25.2 12.9 3.5 15.8 . Possibly a head case, but not a drug guy and younger
Dec 29 Michael Redd 32 PHX UFA . $826,828 . 51 15.1 8.2 1.5 13.9 . Super cheap veteran who can shoot / professionalism
Average $1,207,630 . 43 18.4 7.4 2.3 12.2
Josh Howard $2,150,000 . 43 23.0 8.7 3.7 10.5
Difference $942,370 0 4.6 1.3 1.4 -1.7

I am including DeMarre Carroll in this list because we eventually got him, and his full 2011-12 salary is listed. The Nuggs only payed him about $300k, and we over $500k.

  • Pargo isn't a SF, but a combo guard, and a legit vet who also fulfills the criterion of having been a guy who has burned us before in head to head games (which seems to be a big FA quality we look for)
  • Novak is super limited, but in a year where we needed someone who could spread the floor for our bigs, he fit the bill
  • D-Steve is a guy I would have picked over Josh, but D-Steve had a really bad year. And because I'm objective, or at least honest, I'm not covering this data up. I would have picked him over Josh, and he played worse than Josh. Unlike Josh, he's a guy who has made threes in the NBA Finals while defending LeBron James
  • Gerald Green wins the 'take a chance on me / diamond in the rough' award for being a young guy who had a crazy good season. That said, I don't think the Jazz needed more youth that needs to be developed
  • Michael Redd is another former good player, an outside shooter, and veteran. He's even older than Josh, and a way more professional player. And he was almost one third the cost of Howard.

Against the average we see that Josh cost way more, and while he scored more, and rebounded more he was also overall, a lesser player. He also shot HORRIBLY this year, and his #1 talent right now is scoring. He did play selfishly this year, to deny that means we're at a cerebral impasse.

I did not want him on the team. I thought he was a bad player. And I would have wanted us to spend the money elsewhere instead. Even getting DeMarre earlier instead of letting the nuggets take him. But I guess 'being a guy we wanted all along' doesn't mean actually trying to get him early on. He had a better year than Josh in terms of play, not in terms of stats. He hustled, and played defense, and was super cheap.

We ended up getting him *and* Josh, but I do not believe that the ends justify the means here. I still hate Josh Howard. I still think DeMarre has more of a future with the Jazz and in the NBA in general.

But I will also admit that beyond my feelings, I do agree with the concept of having to take a chance on a player. Old or young, quality or quantity. As a small market team we have to try other routes towards success. Especially when we are capped out.

I would have picked someone else. There were other guys we could have picked. But I defend the pick, not for who it was, but picking a guy to take a chance on for the sake of it being the only reasonable option we had left.

KOC did the right thing on taking a chance. And I'd rather have been wrong about Josh being a selfish sucker who sucked a whole bag of suck, than be vindicated by having to watch him suck over and over again all season long.

Keep taking chances KOC. But don't take fans advice for it, for every time I'm right about something like this, I'm also dead wrong (I thought Sene would be a player in this league, so did Karl Malone).




PS. KOC, if you re-sign Josh Howard I will take a chance on driving to Utah to find where you live and egg your house