If you haven't heard by now, are hiding under a rock, or still in denial, Dante Exum injured his knee yesterday in a non-contact play. The Utah Jazz fear it may be a torn ACL, but it remains to be seen what it is officially until he is able to be diagnosed by team doctor's. The Utah Jazz, though, are fearing the worst. As am I.
Every Jazz fan seeing Dante Exum going down with an injury. pic.twitter.com/OS2afVqceb— Mylo (@My_Lo) August 4, 2015
I am not a doctor like Amar so I can't really give medical advice as well as any precautions the Jazz should have taken with Dante Exum over the summer. I can't speak to what the risks are physically for having your player play in exhibition games in the offseason.
But I can speak to what the risks are fiscally, why the Jazz would take the chance to have Dante Exum play, and how it affects the Jazz's player acquisition strategy over the course of this year.
As far as a monetary effect this will have on the Jazz, the Jazz are doling out 3.7 million to Dante Exum this year. Which at their inexpensive payroll isn't that much of a hit. That equates to only 6.6% of their total salary. But this is where it starts to hurt. The inexpensive player development side. The Jazz are losing 25% of their time of developing Dante Exum on a cheap contract while playoff expectations are low. Fans believe there's a chance the Utah Jazz can make the playoffs but you won't find any that believe it's a foregone conclusion.
If the Jazz miss the playoffs this year by a hair the ability for Dante Exum to be care free in his development will take a hit. That will slow the development process and push his development into his high earner years with an extension when the team would hope that he is producing big, not developing bit.
Take the example of Gordon Hayward, his first year into his "big boy" contract he was a true leader and showed the ability to be a Go-To player in this league. Imagine the heat he would be taking if statistically he had his 2013-2014 season during that first year of his big-time contract. The outcry of a waste of money would have reached Andrei Kirilenko proportions.
This is why fiscally these development years are so precious. They allow for rookies to avoid the money accusations while they develop. Once that big contract hits and expectations are amounted in dollar figures and not solid minutes contributed, the equation changes. The media questions change.
Why Allow Dante Exum To Play?
Marketing. Marketing. Marketing. 23.13 million people live in Australia. Compare that to Utah's primary market that they cater to domestically, 2.9 Million + 1 million more in Idaho/Wyoming/Nevada, and you get the idea. The Utah Jazz have a chance to grow their market globally by 7 times. We've talked about Blue Ocean strategy here before in a player development, but this is the real Blue Ocean folks. The Pacific Ocean. If Dante Exum approaches superstar status in the NBA, he has a chance to create a surge of Utah Jazz fans in Australia. That means increased dollars for the NBA, increased merchandise sales for the Utah Jazz, and increased notoriety for Dante Exum and his brand.
At the end of the day, this Oceania tournament was a way to give back to the Aussies and increase exposure for Dante Exum (that is if the Australian coach would at least play Dante some minutes instead of letting him rot on the bench). This is also why the Jazz allowed Rudy Gobert to play for France. France has a population of 66.03 million people. 33 times Utah's population. Garnering some addition fans goes a long way for a small market brand trying to create a global identity.
But there's risks in this. There's always the chance that he could get injured which is what occurred. The difficult part of Dante Exum's injury is it was non-contact. That type of injury could have happened in the game, in practice, or at P3 in Santa Barbara. It also could have a big effect on his overall speed which is what makes Exum rare, unique, and difficult to replicate.
This will inevitably bring into question whether he should play with his national team the following year at the Olympics. There will be those that say he should take all the time he can to rest. But there was a player who had suffered to major injuries, one of those being a knee injury, and used Olympic basketball as a lifting off point to jumpstart his career again. Many might remember Dwyane Wade's summer of 2008. He came off the bench for the United States team and used that to fuel his comeback. It is possible that Dante Exum could do the same. Not likely. But possible.
Player Acquisition Strategy
In the coming days and weeks there will be many that will overreact to this Dante Exum injury news. They will say the Jazz must, more than ever, go out and acquire a point guard in order for the Jazz to make the playoffs. In fact as I'm writing this it already started.
If Dante Exum has a torn knee ligament, Jazz will likely trade for a veteran point guard to shore up position while he's out. #UtahJazz— John Coon (@johncoonsports) August 4, 2015
@AndrewDBailey if it’s an ACL I expect the Jazz to aggressively pursue a veteran starting point guard via trade.— Jeremiah Jensen (@JJSportsBeat) August 4, 2015
Let's evaluate this hypothesis and see if it sticks and fits the Jazz's growth strategy and how it could affect the Jazz's core development and growth.
First let's evaluate the Jazz's current injury-free point guard crop.
|Rare||Valuable||Costly to Replicate|
You might look at that table and say BUT HOW ARE THEY COSTLY TO REPLICATE. Because to get someone of at least equal value requires using a roster spot the Jazz don't have. To find an upgrade at the position the Jazz will not be able to sign one on the free agent market. That eliminates the ability to find a point guard improvement without giving up current and future assets.
To Dennis Lindsey, those are the key to sustaining a contender when money is tight. Those aren't just assets. Those are "Get Out Of Luxury Tax Free" cards. You don't give those away because you want to trade away Baltic Avenue for Vermont Avenue. If future cap relief is going to be sacrificed a player of Pennsylvania Ave worth or higher better be coming back.
In addition the cost of addition has collateral damage on the potential of Dante Exum reaching a superstar level. Rudy Gobert and Dante Exum are the only players on the Jazz's roster capable of becoming superstars. Any addition must be looked at through that prism. There is an equal if not greater chance Dante Exum does not reach that superstar level, but he has the tools and physical ability to achieve it. That cannot be said about anyone else not named Rudy Gobert on the Jazz's roster. To compromise that growth because of a one year blip in the playoffs is almost as irresponsible as the Jazz's last playoff push venture relying on veteran free agents and minimizing player development in 2011-2012 in a lockout shortened year.
Now let's look at the point guard ranks in the NBA and who is even available?
Eric Bledsoe (LONG SHOT)
Patty Mills (Don't trade with the Spurs)
There's your list, ladies and gentleman. Aside from Eric Bledsoe who would you like to trade significant assets for? Who would you like to marginalize point guard development for? Which of these point guards leads the Utah Jazz to the playoffs? I know many people have said Jrue Holiday could be available but I don't see Alvin Gentry approving that. Getting Eric Bledsoe would most likely require giving up Dante Exum, Rodney Hood, and another significant asset.
To bring this back to Monopoly, you know when that one player gets in a bad spot with money, has a ton of assets all over the board, and NEEDS YOUR VALUABLE RAILROAD PROPERTY. You know that giving this property up allows them to finally get their act together, get back into the game, and truly compete against you. How much is that property worth to you now? Quite a bit, right? You're going to make them overpay by an extreme margin in a way that gives you a future competitive advantage that makes sure they don't ruin your future success.
Welcome to the Utah Jazz's situation.
They are on the cusp of putting it together. Which general manager in the NBA wants to be the person responsible for unleashing the full potential of the Utah Jazz's young core on the NBA? If there is a chance the Jazz can accelerate their growth the opposing general manager most likely will ask for additional assets that would impede that advantage. I'm not saying Dennis Lindsey wouldn't be able to find such a deal. I just don't believe there is a high chance of Dennis Lindsey securing such a deal.
The Most Likely Scenario
Seeing as the Utah Jazz aren't a guaranteed shoe-in for the playoffs, I fully see the Jazz sticking to the status quo of their offseason and standing pat. They have three point guards not named Dante Exum on their roster with the ability to grow and develop into something better. If they do develop and grow then they become solid assets to be used in trades later when Dante Exum is back to full strength. If they don't then the Utah Jazz know their potential exactly and can make more educated decisions next offseason when the playoffs will be an expectation.
If Dante is out the year then the Jazz will be able to use the Disabled Player Exception and add one more player to their roster at Mid Level Exception money because they are under the cap. This would allow them to keep one more player from training camp and develop them in Idaho while the season goes on.
Dennis Lindsey has been very frugal this offseason. An injury to Dante Exum (or any of their point guards) would have been planned out by Game Theory prior to the offseason. Meaning that the Utah Jazz made their personnel choices this offseason with the idea in mind that if there were injuries this was the group that could handle it. The Utah Jazz won't mortgage the future success of the farm just because one of their prized horses has a bad leg. They've accounted for it. Trey Burke, Raul Neto, and Bryce Cotton each will have the opportunity of a lifetime.
Trey Burke has the chance to rise from the bench and reclaim his starter position with good play.
Raul Neto can go from John Stockton admirer to leading his team as the starting point guard.
Bryce Cotton could be the feel good story of the season and beat out two incumbent players as a D-League player and start.
The Ability To Re-evaluate
If the Jazz are in the position to make the playoffs but the point guard production is still suffering, they can wait through the season for the right opportunity. Currently in the offseason most teams feel like they have a chance to compete. Except you, Philadelphia. Most teams aren't going to give up the player the Jazz want and the price the Jazz feel comfortable with. As the season progresses the opportunity may arise and the Jazz could re-evaluate at the trade deadline which is most likely what their current strategy is aligned with.