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The Opportunities Lost Edition - Downbeat #1114

A quick look at how NBA teams similarly situated to the Utah Jazz spent their Salary Cap Room this off-season.

Andris Biedrins embraces new teammate Gordon Hayward after being traded to the Utah Jazz....probably.
Andris Biedrins embraces new teammate Gordon Hayward after being traded to the Utah Jazz....probably.
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

We have hit the portion of the off-season where the national NBA writers have started to provide comprehensive evaluations of each NBA team’s off-season. SLCDunk has already linked you to most of those so I won’t rehash them today. While rankings are completely subjective at this point, I do feel there is value in pausing to evaluate how we feel the team did as of today.

If you follow me on twitter or watched our post-GSW trade videocast, then you know I stand virtually alone amongst the SLCDunk writers in criticizing the Jazz’s draft pick acquisition trade with the Warriors. My main point of contention has been the lofty cost of the Warrior’s picks. As both Kevin Pelton and Zach Lowe of ESPN/Grantland have pointed out, the main problem with the Jazz trade from the Jazz perspective is the Opportunity Cost associated with filling their Salary Cap primarily with draft pick assets which project to be no better then end of the first round picks in upcoming NBA drafts.

Opportunity Cost: the added cost of using resources (as for production or speculative investment) that is the difference between the actual value resulting from such use and that of an alternative (as another use of the same resources or an investment of equal risk but greater return).

With the Jazz's tight lipped operation, it is impossible to say what opportunities the Jazz bypassed with their Cap Room. Further, while it would be easy for me to cherry pick alternative off-season moves for the Jazz like signing Jose Calderon, OJ Mayo and Paul Millsap, it is equally true that such moves may have never truly been an option for Utah. Instead, for today’s thought exercise, I decided to contrast the executed off-season plans of 5 relatively similarly situated NBA teams and consider how they spent their salary cap room compared to the Jazz.

The Atlanta Hawks

How they were similar to Utah: Coming into the off-season nobody had as much cap room as Utah and Atlanta did. Additionally, Atlanta had some vets (Josh Smith and Jeff Teague) of its own whom they had to determine whether to re-sign or let walk.

How they were different: Atlanta has been a mid- to lower level playoff team in the weaker Eastern conference for the past several years and they do have at least one identifiable core building piece (Al Horford) locked up for a few more seasons.

How they used their Cap Room: Paul Millsap (2 years, $19MM); Kyle Korver (4 years, $24MM); Jeff Teague (4 years, $32MM, matched MIL RFA offer sheet), DeMarre Carroll (2 years, $5MM), Elton Brand (1 year, $4MM), Gustavo Ayon (2 years, $3.3MM, claimed off waiver wire), Jared Cunningham (4 years, $4.6MM, trade from Dallas).

Could Utah have accomplished this plan: Atlanta is so full of former Jazzmen now it is hard to think that Utah could not have done most of these moves. Millsap, Korver, and Carroll may have never wanted to re-sign in Utah but from all accounts they liked it here. The Jazz were also rumored to be Jeff Teague’s number 1 suitor prior to Trey Burke falling to Utah on draft day. Gustavo Ayon was a waiver claim and Utah had superior waiver rights so he could have been a Jazzmen.

Positives of this plan: Atlanta did not overpay for any of its acquired talent and all contracts are likely moveable if they decide to go in another direction.

Negatives of this plan: Atlanta appears to have solidified itself as a young playoff team in the Eastern Conference, but I question whether a core of Horford/Millsap/Teague has what it takes to be a true contender.

The Cleveland Cavaliers

How they were similar to Utah: Cleveland came into the off-season with a substantial amount of cap space and some young core players on which they are building. Cleveland has also set itself up to have salary flexibility in future off-seasons.

How they were different: Cleveland has been one of the worst teams over the past several years but that has enabled them to draft at least one sure fire all-star in Kyrie Irving.

How they used their Cap Room: Andrew Bynum (2 years, $24MM, only $6MM guaranteed); Earl Clark (2 years, $8.5MM); Jarrett Jack (4 years, $25.2MM).

Could Utah have accomplished this plan: I don’t see a scenario where Bynum considers signing in Utah, however the money was not that high and the Jazz certainly could have topped it. Clark (stretch 4) and Jack (veteran PG, friend with Favors) were both guys I liked as role players and their contracts did not break the bank.

Positives of this plan: Cleveland took a $6MM risk that Andrew Bynum returns to form as one of the top 3 Centers in the NBA, if it works out they are very strong and deep in the frontcourt. Clark and Jack are decent bench players and may help the Cavs challenge for the playoffs.

Negatives of this plan: The whole point of this plan may to be to show King James that the Cavs are willing to take risks to get back into the playoffs and to give him a potential long-term core he can try to win championships with. That being said I don’t think this is quite good enough so you have to ask if the money was well spent or would another top lottery pick in 2014 make more sense.

The Detroit Pistons

How they were similar to Utah: Detroit had a fair amount of cap room coming into the summer (especially when coupled with the Amnesty provision) and has a strong future frontcourt in place like Utah in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond.

How they were different: Detroit will likely have to convey their 2014 pick to Charlotte as part of an earlier trade, so their motivation to make the playoffs now is much stronger.

How they used their Cap Room: Brandon Jennings (3 years, $24MM); Josh Smith (4 years, $54MM); Chauncey Billups (2 years, $5MM); Luigi Datome (2 years, $3.5MM); Will Bynum (2, $5.7MM).

Could Utah have accomplished this plan: Utah had the money to sign Josh Smith to an equal or greater contract but you would think they would’ve chosen to retain Paul Millsap if they were looking at that type of move. As an RFA the Jazz could have chased Jennings with an offer sheet but Milwaukee was probably not letting him go for free so that was not likely. Billups and/or Bynum are both interesting vet PGs that could have helped Burke in the short-term but both had Detroit connections and likely weren’t coming here.

Positives of this plan: Detroit is going to be super big on the frontcourt this year, which will make them a bit unique in the Eastern Conference and a potential type defensive team in the league.

Negatives of this plan: For all their additions, you’d think a shooting guard like Joe Dumars would recognize that his roster needs more good shooters on it. I'd speculate that Detroit will be fairly average until it adds some shooters.

The Milwaukee Bucks

How they were similar to Utah: Milwaukee had free agent decisions it had to make on veterans JJ Redick and Monta Ellis. While the Bucks had some cap room to work with and some young talented players, would they have been better off blowing things up like Utah?

How they were different: The Bucks have a unique arena situations which may make a protracted rebuilding plan tough to stomach right now.

How they used their Cap Room: Brandon Knight (2 years, $6MM, traded from Detroit); OJ Mayo (3, $24MM); Gary Neal (2 years, $7MM); Zaza Pachulia (3 years, $15.6MM).

Could Utah have accomplished this plan: Utah didn’t have the PG that Detroit wanted to trade for Knight so that wasn’t going to happen. The Jazz did have the Cap Room and some rumored interest on both Mayo and Neal. Pachulia was a tad pricey but probably gets more minutes if he came to Utah.

Positives of this plan: Milwaukee obtained some 2nd round draft picks for departing JJ Redick. Milwaukee has replaced most of its outgoing players with seemingly similar skilled replacements so a drop in pay is not too likely.

Negatives of this plan: The Bucks appear to be stuck in mediocrity for the near term future and have now tied their cap flexibility for the next few years.

The Portland Trailblazers

How they were similar to Utah: Portland has finished just slightly below Utah the past few years in the Western Conference playoff hunt and has some young talented players which they still think are the base of a future core group that can challenge one day.

How they were different: Despite their worse record, the Blazers may be a step or 2 ahead of Utah in their rebuilding plan. Their biggest problem last year was a lack of a bench, something Utah had no problem with.

How they used their Cap Room: Robin Lopez (2 years, $12MM, traded from NOP); Thomas Robinson (3 years, $11.8MM, traded from HOU); Mo Williams (2 years, $5.6MM); Earl Watson (1 year, $884k); Dorell Wright (2 years, $6.1MM).

Could Utah have accomplished this plan: Both Lopez and Robinson were acquired by Portland for minimal future assets, from teams desperate to sell. While they both have multiple years on their contracts they are owed less total than what Utah is paying to its GSW package this season alone. Additionally, both Robinson (5th overall in 2013) and Lopez (15th overall in 2008) are higher rated prospects than the draft assets that Utah projects to acquire. Utah likely could have retained Mo and Earl if they desired and Dorell Wright could have possibly gotten more money and a larger role in Utah.

Positives of this plan: Portland went a long way to solidify its bench and hopefully appease Aldridge so he doesn’t desire to be traded.

Negatives of this plan: Unless Lillard and Batum keep improving, the Blazers don’t appear to 2nd and 3rd star they likely need to compete for a title.