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Why Utah Jazz fans should have been rooting for the Oklahoma City Thunder

Unpopular opinion alert: The Thunder are evil and their players are jerks -- but their failures this season negatively effect the Jazz.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

I do get it. I'm a fan. You're a fan. Fan is short for fanatic. And fanatics are, by in large, very passionate people. When the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City (and Detroit Pistons) made a trade at the deadline that ended a chapter for our teams, and started a new one. A brighter one. One where the defensive desires of our GM Dennis Lindsey were finally realized through the rotations and game plan of head coach Quin Snyder. One where Rudy Gobert got to start and not step on anyone's contract year toes, and everyone was happy. The Jazz 'win' in that trade was really an addition through subtraction. On the other side of things, Reggie Jackson was starting for a bad Pistons team and doing well, and Enes Kanter was starting for a Thunder team going to the playoffs and putting up huge numbers.

Enes turned heel in his return and acted as every bit a 22 year old as he could, and many of his supporters quickly turned on him. And that's 100% justifiable.

The only issue is that the Jazz actually did get something back in that trade besides a very bright future through subtraction. The Jazz got a hodge-podge of assets: Kendrick Perkins' expiring contract, rookie 2nd rounder Grant Jerrett, the draft rights to European bigman Tibor Pleiss, and a "bunch of picks." The only thing of worth in all of that are the picks. In an effort to make things easy for everyone, here they are:

  • 2017 1st rounder from OKC
  • 2017 2nd rounder from DET

The Detroit 2nd rounder is simple and easy, like finding free parking in Detroit. (Btw, I miss living in Detroit.) It's a non-conditional pick, and Detroit, while in the Westerosi style Eastern Conference, are not likely to make a huge jump in the future. That pick may have inherent value, regardless of it's use as an asset in a package deal. It's the Thunder pick that's the gem.

The Thunder gave the Jazz a conditional pick. And it's in these conditions that we find a reason to shake our fist at the Heavens and cry out in anguish.

I am going to try to explain this as simply as possible -- and if you have questions please do not hesitate to ask them.

  • The Thunder owe the Jazz a 1st rounder
  • Except, there are sneaky ways to degrade the quality of this pick, where upon it could default into two, useless, 2nd round picks
  • You play to win the game, and you make a trade to get a better team -- and also to win the trade.
  • Utah 100% wins the trade by getting a good 1st rounder out of OKC
  • OKC can't give the Jazz a pick until they first give PHI a pick first! (THIS IS THE FIRST CONDITION)
  • The 1st opportunity to give PHI a pick is this year, except there is a condition on that pick as well
  • If OKC finishes the season with a record that gets them the 18th (or higher) pick in this draft they do not give their pick to PHI, and thus, they push back the date in which UTA gets a pick
  • Right now, because of recent play of both teams, OKC is #18 in the draft order, while WAS is #19
  • It is very likely that these two teams finish the season in those draft spots

Sidebar: How the Wizards and Thunder will finish this season

Date Oklahoma City Thunder Washington Wizards
FRI April 3 @ Grizzlies L 42 - 34 vs Knicks W 43 - 33
SAT April 4 @ Grizzlies W 44 - 33
1 SUN April 5 vs Rockets (L) 42 - 35
2 MON April 6
3 TUE April 7 vs Spurs (L) 42 - 36 @ 76ers (W) 45 - 33
4 WED April 8
5 THU April 9
6 FRI April 10 vs Kings (W) 43 - 36 @ Nets (W) 46 - 33
7 SAT April 11
8 SUN April 12 @ Pacers (W) 44 - 36 vs Hawks (L) 46 - 34
9 MON April 13 vs Trail Blazers (L) 44 - 37
10 TUE April 14 @ Pacers (W) 47 - 34
11 WED April 15 @ Timberwolves (W) 45 - 37 @ Cavaliers (L) 47 - 35
12 THU April 16
13 FRI April 17 Playoffs
14 SAT April 18 Playoffs

So OKC will be 2.0 games behind WAS, and this retain the #18 spot in the draft

  • This means that OKC keeps their pick, PHI has to wait at least year, and UTA has to wait at least year
  • However, NEXT season OKC could pull the same stunt because of further conditions!
  • Next season OKC gives their 1st round pick to PHI, unless the Thunder pick #1-15, and who knows how they are going to perform next season with a full year (possibly(?)) of Enes Kanter defense
  • It's likely that this is where the buck stops, and PHI gets OKC's 2016 1st round pick.
  • If that happens, the first chance the Jazz have to get OKC's 1st round pick will be in 2018;
  • ....however the same song and dance can happen where the Jazz are owed a pick, but OKC (a team that's not built for the long haul) starts to lose more and more games each year, and gets to keep their pick.

Remember the first chance the Jazz have to get the pick, realistically, is now going to be 2018, but we can't predict if OKC will give their 1st rounder to PHI next year, or the year after. Each year that passes the picks get worse and worse in quality. The worst case scenario is that the Jazz do not get a 1st rounder at all, but end up getting OKC's 2020 2nd rounder, and OKC's 2021 2nd rounder. These two picks are almost 100% useless as assets and about 90% useless for the current Jazz core right now of Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, Alec Burks, Dante Exum, Rodney Hood and company.

So, that's the worse case scenario. Is it likely to happen? It gets more and more likely every year OKC gets to keep their pick. And this season it looks like OKC is going to do that. So they will be 1 for 1 in doing so, and they need to do that for a few years. Kevin Durant could bounce in free agency, glue guys are going to move on too. And eventually Scotty Brooks will be exposed for the poor coach that he is. OKC could lose a lot, and keep a lot of picks.

The Thunder could have prevented almost ALL of this by winning more games this year, and being #19 in the draft order, thus having to give their pick to Philly. And then the Philly pick conditions would all be resolved as soon as possible, and their restrictions would be gone. The restrictions for the Philly pick were harder to get than the Utah pick. Had OKC not fallen behind WAS the Jazz would have been a shoe-in for this pick with the timing of OKC's play and eventual downfall.

The almost zero chance of being stiffed with two useless 2nd rounders will now become a number greater than almost zero. And each year that passes OKC gets a stronger claim on screwing the Jazz over. Instead we now look to next year, and hope that OKC doesn't cheap out of the conditions for the Philly pick, and hope we get ours in 2018.

In summary:

Season OKC Finishes Gives pick to OKC Finishes Gives pick to If this doesn't happen, then
1 2014 2015 #1-18 Thunder #19+ 76ers Try again next year
2 2015 2016 #1-15 Thunder #16+ 76ers Try again next year
3 2016 2017 #1-15 Thunder #16+ 76ers You get the 2018 2nd round pick, and 2019 2nd round pick
4 2017 2018 #1-14 Thunder #15+ Jazz Try again next year
5 2018 2019 #1-14 Thunder #15+ Jazz Try again next year
6 2019 2020 #1-14 Thunder #15+ Jazz Try again next year
7 2020 2021 #1-14 Thunder #15+ Jazz You get the 2020 2nd round pick, and a 2021 2nd round pick

And that's why, even though we don't like OKC, we should have been rooting for them to at least beat WAS in the standings. Why am I so upset over something as a throw away pick in a deal that already made the Jazz better? Well, it's about timing. The reason the Jazz have zero rings instead of, possibly 3, is because of timing. The one thing the Spurs had over the Jazz, besides tanking and getting the #1 pick, was timing. (Or even that is a product of timing)

Utah has to time being good when it's possible to be great.

They have to time being great when it's possible to win the west.

And they have to win the west when it's possible to win a title.

I don't think two random, useless 2nd round picks in the 2020s helps our timing, but a 1st round pick in 2017 or 2018 totally would have. I trust in Dennis Lindsey, after all he was sorted into Spurserin house. But I really would have wanted that 1st rounder sooner rather than later. Utah would have had 3 1st rounders in 2017, and those assets could be tag-teamed into getting one of the best players available in that draft, like how the Jazz used three 1st rounders before to turn garbage into Deron Williams. It's about assets. And OKC losing out to WAS this year prevents the Jazz from having the flexibility to dominate the future of the Western Conference through what they do in 2017.