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Downbeat #1695 Scheduling News and Rebuilding Thoughts

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Today I took a look at a few news items including the pending schedule release, rebuilding models, the Kanter situation (yay) and remaining cap room.

Adam Silver keeps working to fix NBA Scheduling issues
Adam Silver keeps working to fix NBA Scheduling issues
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

NBA Scheduling News. The NBA schedule is typically released in August and Zach Lowe has a little news on the subject:

Several important things come of this.  First, more rest typically correlates to fewer injuries, which is good for everybody.

Second, less game intensive stretches mean that teams that are prone to resting healthy players (like San Antonio and Miami), may have their aging stars missing fewer games.

Third, fans with family obligations will get in trouble less from our wives if we don't spend every night in front of the TV watching our team play.

In sum, less game packed schedules is better overall for the league, even if a young team like the Jazz may not feel it as much.  Decompressing the schedule is something Commissioner Adam Silver has been working on, in more areas than this.  It's likely that in the next few years we will see less pre-season games and the season overall being stretched a tad to further accommodate.

Jazz Take on Schedule Decompression. Jody Genessy weighs in with a Jazz take:

Which brings us to a longtime disadvantage of the Jazz franchise.  While I understand and respect the Miller family for honoring their religious convictions and attempting to avoid Sunday home games as much as possible, this has always been a slight detriment to the team's competitive advantage.  In lieu of the Sunday games, the Jazz have a more compressed schedule otherwise which would seem to make it so the Jazz have less timely rest days when compared to its NBA peers.  Whether this has an effect on wins, I'm not sure.

One thing that does have an effect on wins is altitude.  There have been a number of studies (This one is good: Freelance Friday: The Altitude Effect) on this subject and most conclude that Utah and Denver have an advantage.  While quantifying that is difficult, I've heard the number is close to 2 to 3 games per season. On its face that is not many but considering how close the playoff seeding race was in the West this year (and every year really) those are 2 to 3 important games.

One effect that I'd postulate is that decompressing the schedule would minimize that advantage.  By allowing teams to have less compressed game schedules (including less Utah and Denver back to backs), you would allow them to be more prepared for the thin air of the two mountain destination cities.  It will be interesting to see if after the current and future scheduling changes the Jazz and Nuggets lose some of their home court advantages..

Paths to Rebuilding. Now that we are in the downtime of the transactional portion of the offseason, our favorite NBA writers are starting to write reflection pieces on certain aspects of the NBA.  Matt Moore of CBSSports.com put together a piece on the different paths to rebuilding.  Moore summarized the basic premise as follows:

Basically, you trade your best player, and proceed to be awful for a season. Then, with your fancy new draft pick courtesy of that miserable season, you draft, hopefully, a star player around which your franchise can be built. At this point you're still awful, but at least you're promising with young talent. From here, you draft supporting talent, develop that talent, add some veteran free agents, and if your lucky, you're on your way to truly competing. Ideally, this provides a balance between being patient and not rushing steps, and also not languishing for too long in the dregs, risking damage to culture and wasted seasons for players, fans and everyone else.

The curve of that path, however, varies wildly from team to team, and is impacted by many factors. It does seem, however, that there's a certain model based on the above progression that has to be followed. Try to skip steps and a team can wind up mortgaging future assets, namely draft picks, or signing subpar veteran free agents too early in the process (say hey, Joe Dumars!), costing them the minutes they need for the youngsters. It's rare that a team can be "too" patient with a rebuild, but we're definitely seeing some signs of that with the Philadelphia 76ers, who genuinely seem to have no intention, once again, to take any sort of step forward this season.

The rest of the article goes on to break down specific examples, although the Jazz are not on the list.  Interestingly enough though that summation above can be applied to the Utah Jazz for good and for bad.

There was a time when Kevin O'Connor was still running the team when he specifically said the Jazz were skipping steps.  That signing free agents like Al Jefferson and Raja Bell would keep the team competitive.  That line of thought was somewhat logical as the Jazz already had All-Star Deron Williams on board and just needed to supplement that core.  However, when DWill was gone so was that argument.  Instead of going through the natural rebuilding process, the Jazz tried to compete with veterans at the detriment of the development of the youngsters.  This turned the 1 year rebuild plan into the 5 year plan the team is going through today.

As we all know by know, Dennis Lindsey has been an advocate of not skipping steps.  This seems to be a universal known factor in the NBA but it is relevant because deciding when a team is ready to add veterans or trade draft picks for assets is not the easiest decision and can backfire if the players you sign are not as good as you think they are (the example is Joe Dumars' Pistons).

Evaluating the Jazz's offseason, the Jazz front office sent a clear message to its fans. By not adding veteran starting or bench players to supplement the core, the team is acknowledging that it is not ready to compete yet.  This suggests that we can expect another rebuilding season devoted to developing young players as both starters and reserves.  Whether that is enough to get to the playoffs remains to be seen.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was recently on the Zach Lowe podcast discussing rebuilding models, among other things.  Ultimately, his conclusion was that there is really only one model, and that is landing a super player.  I think technically he is right, however different teams have different capacities to land such players.  Los Angeles and New York can find those guys in free agency.  Teams like Houston have been able to trade for those guys.

Small town teams like Utah need to draft those players and develop them internally.  That's not to say that the Jazz have to have the first overall pick to find that guy, but it certainly increases their odds.  Every once in a while though star players can be found later in the draft, say at slot 27.  It's certainly rarer but it can't be looked at as a failing model until you let it play out.

More Enes Kanter Evaluation. Double dose of Matt Moore today. He also wrote another article entitled Exploring Utah Jazz's decision not to retain Enes Kanter. The article mostly touches on how the Kanter trade can be valuable to both Utah and Oklahoma City:

The point is to illustrate something about the NBA and player value that goes beyond Kanter specifically. How you evaluate a move like this largely comes down to whether you believe in subjective value, or objective value. In economic terms, that's investor value vs. market value. Kanter, objectively, was not worth a max contract based on his disastrous play on the defensive end, his attitude problems and what he brings to a team. He was subjectively worth that contract for the Thunder based on:

A. What they felt were their key needs (a post-scoring presence)

B. Based on their limited options this summer because of their cap situation (OKC would've had to let Kanter just walk and not be able to obtain a replacement)

C. Based on his long-term upside at age 23 vs. the expanding cap that will make his deal less restrictive in the futuredf

I've long took the argument that the deal was a great one for OKC.  I understand the defensive limitation arguments and attitude issues.  That said, as Moore touched on in his other article, teams can be at different stages, which causes them to value players differently.

A team such as OKC is in win now mode, with potentially only a few remaining years of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.  Accordingly, OKC is not likely to find an asset in their draft range or in mid-level free agency that brings the amount of upside (yes even bad defenders have upside) that former #3 pick Enes Kanter has.  Kanter may never make good on that, but throwing darts at Kanter,  Steven Adams and even Mitch McGary makes sense.  One dart will likely connect and that might be all they need for a title.

Further, I understand Moore's argument that the Jazz evaluated Kanter and where he fit on the team and decided it was a pass, either at the trade deadline or in free agency this summer.  Thus trading Kanter for next to nothing made sense.  I however take a little exception of that logic.  The Jazz allegedly traded Kanter for financial flexibility (which flexibility was only a rescinded qualifying offer away anyway) and low level 1st or maybe 2nd round picks.  While I understand selling Kanter, I don't agree with the Jazz's timing.  Wall street dictates buy low, sell high and the Jazz executed their trade at the worst time possible thus negating them of a meaningful return.

How Jazz's Cap Space Measures Up. A couple weeks ago I wrote about the Jazz's current cap situation, especially in relation to the salary floor.  Today, Steve Kyler of BasketballInsiders.com wrote a piece listing the teams with the most remaining cap room.  The Jazz currently have the 3rd most cap room in the league at $6.7MM, while Portland ($19.5MM) and Philadelphia ($13.9MM) outpacing the pack.

While nobody expects the Jazz to use that cap space for free agents at this time, they could still be players for traded/dumped players in December up through the trade deadline in February.  In fact, the article linked above lists 9 teams that are currently in the luxury tax.  Accordingly, as the season opens, injuries happen and other factors are borne out, the Jazz still could be called upon to take a player or two for some future picks (likely 2nd rounders).