With the Utah Jazz’s season over, it’s now time to turn to the offseason. The Utah Jazz are poised to be one of the premier teams in the NBA with a budding superstar at shooting guard, Donovan Mitchell, and the league’s premier defensive center patrolling the paint, Rudy Gobert. But as Jazz fans witnessed in the playoffs, the Utah Jazz appear to be a playoff contender, but not a title contender. So how should the Utah Jazz approach this offseason knowing that they have a limited window to compete with Rudy Gobert entering his prime and Donovan Mitchell light years ahead of where he should be?
I thought it would be a fun exercise to attempt to escape what we are familiar with when it comes to the Utah Jazz’s staple of team building and attempt to see what options could be available if the Utah Jazz were helmed by a different General Manager. So for today’s piece we’re going to take a dive as to how the Utah Jazz’s title contending team would be built by the Boston Celtic’s Danny Ainge, ex-Philadelphia 76ers’ Sam Hinkie, current Philadelphia 76ers’ Bryan Colangelo, and Oklahoma City Thunder’s Sam Presti.
It should be noted that I’m not endorsing any of these strategies nor giving them higher esteem than others. This is merely to get out of our own box of ideas and attempt to see what other teams would value in Utah’s roster than what we are accustomed to valuing. Let’s begin.
Strategy: First mover’s advantage. Sam Presti doesn’t want to compete head to head with larger market teams. He tries his best to get ahead of the problem. Expert drafter.
See also, trading James Harden before a deal eats up cap space, moving Ibaka for young assets, and trading for Paul George one year ahead of his impending free agency.
Sam Presti could soon be known as the only General Manager in the league to have drafted three MVP-caliber players in less than five years. He was able to draft Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. He also expertly selected Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams. His worst draft pick in that stretch was Jeff Green. General Managers around the league would cut their right arm off to have his drafting precision in the high lottery. Sam Presti has also adapted as his team has approached the luxury tax. He has traded away budding star players for assets like James Harden and traded away established starters like Serge Ibaka for younger talent. He has also pooled those assets and made hail mary’s for players like Paul George. Sometimes it has worked for Presti like with Ibaka, and other times as in the case of James Harden, it’s looked VERY short sighted.
So how would Sam Presti approach the Utah Jazz’s offseason. The Utah Jazz could take a play out of Sam Presti’s playbook from last year. Last year there was a superstar player itching to escape from his current team, but on a one year expiring deal. In the eyes of Sam Presti, as a small market team you are at a disadvantage in free agency, see also Kevin Durant. Presti would want to get ahead of the free agent market because a small market team with cap space doesn’t have the sway a large market team with cap space may possess. There is Kawhi Leonard possibly available if San Antonio and Kawhi’s camp can’t reconcile their differences, but Presti probably would have learned from his Paul George experiment. One year isn’t enough to build loyalty and cohesion as a team.
Presti remembers back to the Victor Oladipo-Serge Ibaka trade and sees how Oladipo is thriving shortly after the Thunder gave up on him. Where could a candidate like Oladipo be available? The Washington Wizards. The John Wall and Bradley Beal backcourt are demanding a younger, more athletic center who is tailor made for pick and rolls. Enter the Utah Jazz who have Derrick Favors. While Derrick Favors is a free agent, the Utah Jazz could aid the Wizards in getting their dream big man. The Wizards are completely capped out, but Utah could fix that. Utah does a sign and trade with the Washington Wizards. They sign and trade Derrick Favors and package him with Alec Burks and Thabo Sefolosha for Otto Porter and Marcin Gortat.
Alec Burks scoring ability in the playoffs makes Washington look at this deal further. Kelly Oubre moves up in the lineup for Washington and Utah gets Otto Porter who they coveted as a Plan B for Gordon Hayward.
Strategy: Synergy. Sam Hinkie became known for The Process, but what he was actually doing was creating a cohesive Timeline for the 76ers. He also preyed on opposing General Manager’s positive bias. The idea that no one sees failure for themselves years out in advance so they naturally devalue draft picks three and four years in the future.
See also, trading Jrue Holiday, Michael Carter Williams, and finding value in undrafted free agents while accruing future unprotected future draft picks.
The 76ers before him were doomed to be a perennial fringe playoff team. He altered their timeline, but jettisoning pieces until he found foundational pieces to coalesce into the same timeline. He moved Jrue Holiday away to New Orleans, moved Thaddeus Young. Played young talent way before they had an business starting. He focused on player development, and once he found his centerpiece, Joel Embiid, began building around him while still draft best player available. He was a mix of Sam Presti, Daryl Morey, and past Jazz General Manager Kevin O’Connor.
Sam Hinkie would take one look at this Utah Jazz roster and be extremely worried about their lack of timeline cohesion. On one end of the spectrum there’s Rudy Gobert (25), Derrick Favors (26), Joe Ingles (30), Thabo Sefolosha (34), Alec Burks (26), Jonas Jerebko (31), Ekpe Udoh (30), Ricky Rubio (27), Jae Crowder (27) and Raul Neto (25). Then there’s the other part of this roster: Donovan Mitchell (21), Dante Exum (22), Royce O’Neale (24), and Tony Bradley (20). Hinkie would identify the direct competitors to Utah’s success: Golden State and Houston who have windows closing in the next two years.
Sam Hinkie immediately goes to work. Unlike Philadelphia, Hinkie has a young superstar already on the roster to build around along with young talent in complimentary positions: Exum at point guard, Royce O’Neale at Small Forward, and Tony Bradley at Center. While O’Neale and Tony Bradley may not be long term NBA starters, they can work in a pinch while Hinkie does what he does best: jettison current talent for undervalued future assets.
Hinkie immediately wants to restock Utah’s empty draft pick pantries and his roster of above average to defensive player of the year type talent is going to bring him in a greater haul than he could have even dreamed in Philadelphia. Hinkie would place Rudy Gobert on the trading block. The Cleveland Cavaliers are desperate to land a talent like Rudy Gobert to lure LeBron James back to Cleveland for his final contract. In this scenario, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Brooklyn draft pick lands top 3 in the lottery. Cleveland trades that top three pick, an additional 2019 1st rounder, Cedi Osman, and Tristan Thompson for Rudy Gobert.
That’s not the end for Sam Hinkie. He has Joe Ingles who is one of the NBA’s premier sharp shooters coming off a great season and playoff series. He peruses through the lottery teams to identify an unfamiliar face amongst the lowly losers: the Memphis Grizzlies. He knows that the franchise is in financial trouble and the ownership group would love to have a chance to bounce back into the playoffs to get some revenue churning more than a European rookie.
Hinkie floats an offer that perks their interest: taking Chandler Parsons’ contract off their hands and giving them a player who they thought Chandler Parsons would be: Joe Ingles. In addition, they move Jae Crowder’s extremely team friendly contract over. Memphis is able to go one more run with their Michael Conley and Marc Gasol core with Joe Ingles and Jae Crowder, they get one of their worst contracts off the books, and they have a chance to get some playoff revenue churning to keep their franchise in Memphis. But in return, Utah gets their lottery pick.
Hinkie then lets Derrick Favors walk in free agency along with Raul Neto. He retains Ricky Rubio and Alec Burks because he needs Rubio’s veteran savvy and professionalism to groom the Jazz’s new lottery rookies who will be paired with Donovan Mitchell. He keeps Alec Burks as Burks’ contract will expire in just one year. Hinkie stretch provisions Chandler Parson’s contract then will spend the next year looking for a new home for Tristan Thompson.
Hinkie has his new core of Rubio, Exum, Mitchell, O’Neale, Bradley, and two top five lottery picks. Utah’s timeline has taken a step backwards for one year, but they’ve become the 76ers of the East. A budding young star with premier talent and elite role players ready to rise to the Western Conference when the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors flame out. There is extreme risk in this plan, though. If Hinkie misses on these draft picks, he runs the risk of losing the trust of Donovan Mitchell. Utah hasn’t had a long storied success of retaining star free agents.
Strategy: Accelerate playoff plans with proven veterans.
See also, JJ Redick one year deal, moving up to acquire Markelle Fultz
Bryan Colangelo is infamous for going to teams and attempting to accelerate their timelines through veteran free agent acquisitions. If Sam Hinkie is The Process, Bryan Colangelo likes to see himself as the result. While his teams haven’t exactly been championship teams, he has hastened the long rebuilding process into results. Look at Philadelphia this last year and they nabbed JJ Redick for a one year deal to give them some outside shooting and a veteran presence. While Hinkie would have not traded his pick to move up just one slot (a terrible use of assets), Colangelo moved up for Markelle Fultz to get a piece that fit in the 76ers’ roster rather than another best player available.
Colangelo would look at Utah’s roster and see that their role players: Sefolosha, Exum, Crowder, Neto, Udoh, and Burks were doing the trick to get them over the hump. TO FREE AGENCY AND TERRIBLE SPENDING WE GO. Colangelo uses the goodwill earned in signing JJ Redick last year into parlaying Redick into a contract with the Jazz. He signs into Utah’s MLE. Much less than what was available last year, but there’s no playoff teams able to offer him big cash and the 76ers used their money on LeBron James. He then re-signs Derrick Favors into a 3 year/$18M a year deal. He then signs Marcus Smart onto something similar. He then has his super team of veteran free agents. He’s ready to roll. He then extends Alec Burks contract for three years/$10M a year just because he can.
Strategy: A chameleon who can adapt to any offseason situation. But above all he values future draft picks. He is never above trading anyone on his roster whether that is a fan favorite in Isaiah Thomas or an aging superstar like Paul Pierce. The ultimate “it’s just a business” General Management style.
See also, trading Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Trading down to acquire Jayson Tatum.
Upon taking over the Utah Jazz Danny Ainge would immediately curse Danny Ainge for taking Gordon Hayward in free agency. This team is one Gordon Hayward away from a title contender. After cursing the Celtics for taking what could have been the keystone to Utah’s title contender, Danny Ainge then has a heart attack when looking at Utah’s draft picks. To his dismay Utah only has their own draft picks.
“WHAT IN THE WORLD IS THIS FRANCHISE DOING?” he asks himself. “It’s almost as though they had an offseason completely derailed by chasing after a free agent who didn’t sign with—oh, yeah, that’s right.”
Danny Ainge then looks at how to go from good to great with this roster. He identifies Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert as his franchise cornerstones, but in true heartless Danny Ainge fashion he sees that Ricky Rubio and Joe Ingles had the best years of their careers while having seasons that were statistical anomalies. He also sees Alec Burks contract, but decides it’s better to let it expire than take anything back from it. But Rubio and Ingles? He can work with that.
He goes back to his tried and true ways of fleecing Eastern Conference teams. While Rubio has been a stellar backcourt teammate of Donovan Mitchell and great in the community, on the backcourt Danny Ainge believes he needs a point guard partner who can fling it just as well as Mitchell. Kemba Walker immediately comes to mind. Charlotte is looking for a culture change as they have gained a new General Manager, Mitch Kupchak, and have a new San Antonio Spurs coach. Danny Ainge talks about how Ricky Rubio has played well in a San Antonio-like culture and offense. Kupchak eats it up and loves Rubio’s community involvement. He looks at this Hornets team and wants a defensive focus for them. Utah offers Joe Ingles, Ricky Rubio, and the 20th pick in the draft for Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum. Danny Ainge hopes that Utah’s development system can rehab Batum. If Batum really flames out, Utah can try to pull a stretch provision. Utah has Royce O’Neale waiting in the wings after all.
While Danny Ainge is not able to get any draft picks, he’s going to sit back and be patient for when this core is too old and has to be broken up to grab those draft picks. With a backcourt partner who can absolutely shoot the hell out of the ball and score, Danny Ainge goes building the rest of the bench. While Dennis Lindsey might show some loyalty to Derrick Favors and sign above his value, not Danny Ainge. Danny Ainge watches Derrick Favors struggle on the free agency market and re-signs him at 1 year/$8M. Cold, Danny Ainge. Cold.
Ainge still has the MLE available. Marcus Smart is having trouble finding work on the free agent circuit so Danny Ainge courts his old defensive minded guard and spurns Dante Exum. Dante Exum doesn’t return to Utah.
While these are all not very plausible, it’s fun to imagine what each general manager would do when they’re the most extra version of themselves. What do you all think? Did we miss another iconic General Manager? If we did, add them in the comments section and how you’d think they’d approach this Utah Jazz offseason.
[Correction: Prior version of this article said that Rudy Gobert was 27. He’s not. He’s definitely 25.]