The NBA Draft is right around the corner, literally hours away. The Utah Jazz brass have been prepping for this draft for a number of years now, so I have confidence that they'll do the right thing. But as fans it's up to us to voice our opinions no matter how wrong or simple or ignorant they are (I'm guilty of all three). For a small market team that's not really a NBA Free Agency destination it's fair to say that you almost always have to build through the draft. As currently constituted right now the team has a lot of lotto picks, but still failed to make the playoffs in 2015-2016. The team is going into the 2016-2017 season with 11 guys already on contract, three guys on non-guaranteed deals, one free agent, and four draft picks. This is what it all breaks down as:
|On the Books:||Pos||Rd||#||Draft||From||M||D||Year||Age||Seas||G||Min||GPS||MPG||MPS|
|O||Mario Austin||4||5||2||36||2003||Mississippi St||2||26||1982||34.37|
Okay, where to begin? Out of the Jazz players on contract for next season a whopping 8 of 11 are 1st round picks. The one Free Agent (Booker) is as well. The squad had 9 1st rounders on it and just barely missed the NBA Playoffs. But for me the underlying issue is that there's no guarantee that the team will even be in the same situation next season. The Jazz could have injuries again (and looking at the GPS, Games per Season, column tells us not to expect great health), and the West could be just as tough. Furthermore, it's not out of the question to believe that some West teams could leapfrog the Jazz. It's not a given that Utah will make the playoffs next year. It's nice that they have gone from 20 to 30 to 40 wins over the last three seasons. But the slope of that curve is getting flatter with each year. We HOPE internal development and better health equals the playoffs.
I believe that it should.
But I think there's a difference between making the playoffs vs. being a playoff team with growth.
I don't want to max out at playoffs or bust, with no chance to make the NBA Finals. I don't think Dennis Lindsey and company want that either.
So the team has four draft picks to play with here, and out of the 97 guys they worked out this year, none of them look like immediate game changers. If you mix that info in with the fact that there's no draft party this year I think it's safe to assume that the team is trading their lotto pick, and possibly more. Boos are a staple of all fan bases on draft night. They may be resolving that situation by giving people no place to boo. (Seriously, I get that the Aunt Viv is booked, not like you didn't know ahead of time when the NBA Draft was happening . . . but don't you own a lot of other buildings too? Heck, have it at the Zions Bank or where the Salt Lake City Stars will play . . . if you WANTED to have one you could have a draft party. Doesn't seem like they wanted on this year based on what THEY know they are planning on doing. This is, of course, fan speculation.)
If the picks aren't going to bring in a game changer by the draft then they need to be used to get players back who can help improve this roster.
It is still very young. I like organic growth. I love the scouting department of the Jazz. And as a result, I wouldn't mind sticking with the youth movement (Dante, et al.) over cashing in the youth for vets now. But that's just me. I've waited like three decades for a Jazz championship. I can wait a few more years (allowing for LeBron James to retire, and the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs to fade into the sunset as well).
I do not speak for all fans though.
The other major problem with all of this has been speculating on Gordon Hayward. Hayward wants to win. He has his money. He has his ads. He has his nice homes. And he has his family. He doesn't have a winning resume at the professional level. He's going to opt out (Player's option) of his contract in a year from now. If the team didn't make the playoffs, if the Jazz can't show him a good faith argument that they are trying to win now, then he may have less reason to re-sign with Utah.
So in order to keep Hayward past him opting out (and he is going to, it's the best financial move for him and his family with the salary cap going bonkers. Even Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki are opting out now to make more money even if they have no desire ever to leave their franchises -- it's just business, not personal) the Jazz need to make the playoffs next season.
There's no ifs, ands, or butts about it.
As a result, the Jazz know this too if I know it. And they will be positioning this off-season to upgrade the team with guys who CAN help the team now, and not in the future. All of this has to be the case because he's the ONLY guy who was developed out of that early 2010s lotto haul. He was the only one who broke into the starting lineup with vets on the team. He was the only one who was playing in the fourth quarter of games that mattered. He was the only one who averaged over 2,000 minutes per season. He's the only cookie that was dipped.
If Utah loses him they admit that they failed in their development over the last few seasons before Quin Snyder was hired, and that the franchise, from their PR goons to their media mouthpieces, were just spinning their wheels going nowhere but trying to sell tickets.
Utah doesn't want to admit that. So it's all in this off-season for vets.
So what's the Jazz draft strategy? Combine assets (players, picks, money, and more) to get a player, possibly get back into the 1st round, and pray something good happens in the second.
We've heard only about how close this team is to being a playoff team for years (Lindsey's pet term "playoff competitive"). If you need to make the playoffs in order to make Gordon Hayward stay then that's what you must do. But playoff competitive doesn't mean being competitive in the playoffs. I don't know if first round exits solve all of our problems with getting high level free agents. If this team is to improve, with Gordon Hayward at it's core, then a lot of things need to happen. Starting with making the playoffs next season.
Of course . . . Hayward at 26 is older than the rest of the core (Favors at 24 is younger and closer in age to Dante et al. than Gordon is). If he's the lynch pin for scuttling organic development because his impending free agency is holding a gun to the head of the franchise, well, I have feelings about that.
The Jazz actually have the ability to trade UP in this draft and get a prime-time player (perhaps). Instead we're hearing mostly about trading down. After all, about half the guys the Jazz worked out this year aren't even going to get drafted, let lone be drafted in the first 15 spots. But I think the team is in a hurry to return to the playoffs -- something all Jazz fans can honestly cheer for.
I'm just jaded enough not to let the smoke and mirrors of two playoff home games be the plateau I'm happy with. Especially after seeing the Cleveland Cavaliers win a title, another one off the list of title-less NBA Franchises, I really want one. I'm willing to wait for one though. This is the Stanford marshmallow experiment that some of the other contributors at this site referenced YEARS ago under Tyrone Corbin.
If bowing to the demands of one player and his agents means having to settle for a marshmallow instead of more than just one, then so be it if that's what our Jazz brass is leading us towards.
This is a solid core roster of youth that WILL improve with time, regardless of getting younger players this off-season. And with a little more health they should be a playoff team next season. But as for this draft, there's really little to explore. A lot of mock drafts become useless after the first trade is announced. I think we'll see that this year.