The Utah Jazz's season wasn't supposed to be like this. It was supposed to be a coming of age store for this young upstart team. Headlines of "Second Youngest NBA Team Has Arrived" were to be the toast of every national syndicate. That narrative almost came to be with the then almost* healthy Utah Jazz pushed the hotter than a pistol Golden State Warriors to their first loss of the season. Utah fought hard, made some young team mistakes, and came just barely short. But you could feel it, Utah was almost there. They were discovering just how good they were. They were realizing their potential.
*Jazz were without Dante Exum
Then the injuries. First Rudy, then Alec Burks, then Favors. All things that can't be prevented whether they were non-contact injuries or not. The Jazz are down to their last player of their dream starting 5. This season was supposed to feature the feared lineup of Exum, Burks, Hayward, Favors, and Gobert. A lineup that was tall, long, and had swagger. Instead the Jazz are putting out a lineup of a who's who of D-League Delights. Yes, Neto, Burke, Hood, and Booker and tried to fill in and to some extent they've done so admirably. But the bench is the bench for a reason.
Now it seems the Jazz have been faced with the unenviable task of having to possibly make a choice they never thought they'd have to make past last season. Dare we tank?
Now when I say tank I don't be tear it down for the season or lose on purpose. I mean a change of direction. At the beginning of the offseason I put out the Jazz best features and what their advantages were. Their bench was not one of them. Their advantage against other teams is player development. With P3, their scouting department, and late round selection prowess they have a unique skill set against larger market teams. Now let's go through some what ifs.
What if Rudy has lingering issues with his knee?
What if as a result of the longer minutes being played this year Derrick Favors' back can't get adequate time to heal?
What if Gordon Hayward because of the increase of his minutes faces a fate similar to Favors? Injured due to increased minutes?
A rash of injuries like the Jazz have had cause problems. Players have to do more. Favors' minute distribution changed. Back spasms occurred most likely from having to play longer stints and longer minutes. Hayward has been forced to shoulder an increased load during this stretch. Hopefully he can avoid the plight of playing a few too many minutes and being the only thing defenses focus in on.
A rash of injuries to the Jazz also causes opportunities. The terror that is the San Antonio Spurs began their reign of terror by being a playoff team that had incredibly terrible luck for season. It opened up the window for Tim Duncan and the rest is the history of your tears watching the Spurs rip the Utah Jazz to pieces.
Think about Golden State. Golden State took advantage of a rash of injuries and traded away Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut. More importantly that trade and the draft pick gained from the tank allowed the Warriors to get Harrison Barnes and open up space for Klay Thompson. It changed the culture of the team.
Teams are able to use these injury ridden seasons for advantages in the future. But any moves they made to improve by large measure in the future required a slight step back. For Utah Jazz players and fans, that type of move would come across as the franchise not having faith in them and a lack of vision. Steph Curry questioned the move to trade Monta Ellis.
So why would the Jazz do it? If the Jazz miss the playoffs in their current state they go from having the 15th pick of the draft to the 10th pick in the lottery. Not much of an upgrade. But here's where it could get interesting. The Utah Jazz have a treasure trove of assets. We're not talking about draft picks here. We're talking about young players. In years prior, teams would be nervous about making a move or giving up something valuable because it was an unproven. Alec Burks? Unproven. Favors? Unproven. Exum? Unproven. Rodney Hood? Unproven. Hayward? Average.
But look at the next scenario. What if the Jazz have a real hard time battling these injuries? It's very possible. Most of these guys are young in their careers so the Jazz are not going to jeopardize their careers for a few extra wins and playoff money. They've learned their lesson ... hopefully. The Jazz see the impending doom of missing the playoffs and decide to do something Kevin O'Connor and Tyrone Corbin vehemently opposed. Tanking. They shut down Derrick Favors after the All-Star game. They allow Rudy Gobert to have surgery to fully recover from his knee injury effectively shutting him down for the season. They burn through D-League players in order to find a diamond in the rough. In about March, they shut down Gordon Hayward for nagging injuries. Trey Lyles, Trey Burke, Rodney Hood, and Trevor Booker play for minutes bonuses to the end of the season and for development.
In that scenario the Jazz land the 6th or 7th seed. Lottery arrives, Jazz miss out, and they're still in 7th. But here is when those assets finally come into play. The Jazz go to Philadelphia who luckily has FINALLY won a lottery. But their priorities have changed. With Colangelo also at the helm they're looking for help and quick. They need veterans. They need someone who can help lead these young players. The Utah Jazz look ahead and see Ben Simmons and licking their chops go to Philadelphia and offer Gordon Hayward, their 1st round pick, Trey Burke, and a 2017 1st from Golden State all for the 1st pick in the draft and they'll even take Embiid's contract off their hands in a salary dump.
Colangelo takes it because he needs help and fast. The last thing they need is another young promising big man. The Jazz take Ben Simmons to learn under Derrick Favors. The Utah Jazz have got their star.
Now is this the scenario the Jazz go with? Who knows. But the whole point of today's downbeat is to show you how these injuries could change the outcome of the Jazz's season for the best. When a playoff team is offered the chance to be in the lottery they're able to do work. Now all of that could be a pipe dream. The other scenario is Rudy returns from injury with no lingering effects, Derrick Favors fights of back spasms, Alec Burks comes back by March, and the Utah Jazz make a last minute run for the 8th seed. But if this season goes downhill ... and it could ... the Utah Jazz are filled with a plethora of options that most lottery teams don't get to enjoy. The Utah Jazz in the lottery would be the player at the table who knows he has a winning hand no matter what. It's just how much the Jazz will leave with at the end of the night.