By now you must be super saturated with Gordon Hayward news/drama, and all caught up on the new trade that shipped off Diante Garrett for Peter J Novak's cousin Steve Novak . If not, you can read all the Hayward news here, and here, and here; and the trade into here, and here. Additionally, if you read between the lines, this means that John Lucas III is in, and it's likely that Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams are expected to be out. So what do the Utah Jazz have, and what do they need?
Beyond the obvious desire for a star, the team seems to have talented ball handlers and impressive bigmen -- who are all still too young, inexperienced, and possibly a year or two away from being reliably called upon. (You ever buy a puzzle, start it, but never put in the effort to complete the project? That's where all of our players are right now.) Thus, I think it's fair to say that the team needs a steadying influence inside the locker room, and professional veteran presence on the court. Somehow this is me talking myself into bringing back RJ and Marv, I guess. Can someone talk themselves into Stockholm syndrome?
Ideally you have a great situation here with Trey Burke, Dante Exum, Gordon Hayward, and Alec Burks being able to do occasionally amazing stuff with the ball in their hands. Trey Burke is great at the pick and roll and is good enough from outside that teams can't cheat on him, or if they do, they'll pay for it. Dante Exum has a ridiculously fast first step and has predicated his entire game upon drive and dish fundamentals. Gordon Hayward is Mr. Triple Threat, and very few guys his size average over 5.0 apg. Last, and somehow always least, is Alec Burks who is one of the few players on the team who actually does something at an elite level, his driving ability, finishing ability (with contact or avoiding it), and ability to get to the line causes havoc for defenses. All of them are younger guys though. Furthermore, despite size advantages or other, non-tangibles, they are all not ready for
this jelly guarding equally or superiorly talented ball handlers on the other side of the ball.
What is missing is a veteran guard who is known for being a defender. Effectively, a Derek Fisher type, who does not lie. Or, dare I say it, Earl Watson. Days ago I was tweeting with Jody, and he didn't think that was a possibility. He talks to the front office more frequently than I do, and I think he has the idea that they are just going to 'settle' on making John Lucas III their vet presence at point. From our conversations and the way the Jazz PR has been pushing JLIII for a while I think this is a done deal. He's experienced (he has played all over the world), but Alec Burks has played nearly double his minutes on NBA courts. Furthermore, I don't think he's that amazing at what we need. He's not a defender. And while he doesn't play with intensity, he did nearly start a meaningless fight in Houston. I hate the Houston Rockets, so he gets some points in my books for that. But, objectively, it's not like John Lucas III is some sage that young point guards need to learn from.
Beyond Lucas, the Jazz have few options. They could bring back Ian Clark, however, he didn't get a lot of time with the ball in his hands much last season. Furthermore, he's not really a defensive guard either, and he's not exactly a veteran either. Jameer Nelson (recently waived by the Orlando Magic), Ramon Sessions (formerly of half the league), Kirk Hinrich (who will not be allowed to wear #12 here), and Luke Ridnour (FRODO!) are possibilities if we want to go out there and spend money. All of those guys would actually want to play though. So, uh, it's unlikely that any of them want to come to a team that has Burke and Exum. If you keep going down the list you eventually get to guys like Shelvin Mack (G-time's boy), but he's not really experienced either. A perfect situation would be to get Chauncey Billups -- but that's a pipe dream. There's no way he'll come here. And most likely, no way that the Jazz would look at him. They have their man in Lucas already, when you read between the lines. And I think that's absurd.
Dream Situation: Chauncey Billups or Earl Watson
Nightmare / Reality: John Lucas III
Strength or Weakness: This should be a strength, especially if they can shore up the position with a strong veteran defender. It's not going to happen. At best the Jazz can get two of those three things. With Lucas we are getting one of them, a veteran.
It looks like we are moving away from Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams -- two of the three small forwards who started all season long. As a result, the fulcrum for our wing spot is going to be Gordon Hayward -- who was the third small forward who started. I adore his game and the Jazz would have a huge hole to fill if he is no longer on the team. But before we get there, we need to actually talk about who is on the team. Right now our three best wing players are Alec Burks (not bad for a guy in your wing rotation), Dante Exum (a tall point guard who has never played on the wing before), and Rodney Hood (another rookie). Video game basketball aside, this is not a sufficiently strong wing rotation. The next dude on the books who could even PLAY wing would be Jeremy Evans, and that's based on the concept that Andrei Kirilenko could play there.
So what's missing? Both talent and depth. The main target of Gordon Hayward is obvious. But the free agency hunt for a wing doesn't end there. The Jazz will need to add more talent after him. The obvious idea is to get Ian Clark back, who is on a non-guaranted contract. Clark is a shooter who has leadership ability and a better than average handle. He should be dirt cheap as well. RJ or Marvin could help here too, but Marvin appears to be courted by a TON of other teams, some of them contenders. RJ is better at being that veteran mentor than John Lucas III is, but will probably be much more expensive. Utah will have to look outside of their own team to fill these spots I think.
And really, my concept of a 15 man roster is to have four point guards and five bigmen. The rest should be wings. I don't think the Jazz are going to finish free agency with more than 13 players though (which would leave one open for training camp, and one open for a trade later). So if the Jazz do go with Hayward, Burks, Clark, Hood then there are four wings. Dante will have to play at the wing as well, but I count him as one of our point guards. At least one more player is needed. And, according to the rumors, that one guy could be Kent Bazemore.
After scouting him for all of one night (huge sample size, what was it, like 2-3 hours tops?) I feel confident that he could help our team because he's a really good three point shooter and has long arms. The problem I have with this is that he was a starter last year for the end of the season (Los Angeles Lakers) and was only really remarkable for 20+ games over his entire NBA career. They just happened to be the last 20+ games leading up to free agency. He also played 28.0 mpg last year with the Lakers, and I just don't think the Jazz have 28 mpg to spare for the wingspot right now. Hayward and Burks will both end up playing 30 each, leaving only 36 for Exum, Hood, Clark, Bazemore, and anyone else (Evans?) . . . that's going to be a logjam.
If the Jazz bring back Hayward and Clark, the last wing should be a cheap vet who doesn't need to play basketball anymore. Does such a player exist? Ryan Gomes, Josh Howard, Stephen Jackson, Brandon Rush, Hedo Turkoglu, Andres Nocioni, James Jones, Metta World Peace, Chris Douglas-Roberts, along with RJ and Marv, are vets. But a lot of them come with a lot of baggage. If I had to pick one I'd take either Gomes, Nocioni, or Jones. Or just bite the bullet and bring back RJ -- and thus risk losing a bunch of fans.
If the Jazz do not bring Hayward or Clark or neither of them, then there are many more options with which the Jazz can fill out their wing problem. You could instead of going for one guy to play the minutes, one guy to develop, and one guy to sit on the bench for eternity, the Jazz could go for two rotation guys, and an old guy. Or something entire different. Three old guys! (Hopefully not) Yes, the prospect of the Jazz paying Nick Young, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Richard Hamilton to fill out the wing vacancies frightens me to no end.
Dream Situation: Gordon Hayward, Ian Clark, Andres Nocioni
Nightmare: Kent Bazemore (because it kills Burks and Exum's mins), Richard Jefferson (in a big role), Josh Howard
Strength or Weakness: It really depends on what the team does, but in the big picture, I think wing is going to be somewhere in-between a strength and a weakness for at least another season or two. Hayward is really good. Burks can be really good. Exum, who isn't involved in this evaluation but will probably play some SG/SF at times, could be great. Hood is about two years away from being a legit rotation player no one can complain about. This will take time, which is fine, because the wing spot seems to be one of the most talented spots in the league right now.
This starts with Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. And, not surprisingly, they also should start the games. While they do not have completely complimentary games, if you are assessing the talent your positional groups have, starting with two #3 draft picks isn't a bad way to start. Both are double double threats who can bang inside, play the pick and roll, and block shots. Backing them up will be sharp shooter Steve Novak, walking highlight reel Jeremy Evans, and an actual part of the French Alps in Rudy Gobert. In my theory, I'd love to have five bigmen. There are five already.
The only way to go is to maybe load up a tweener (a guy in-between the 3 and the 4) onto the roster, a dude like Malcolm Thomas fits the bill. He also doesn't need to play unless someone gets hurt.
If the front office starts to trade guys then, and only then, do the Jazz really need to go into the free agent marketplace and find someone to pick up. Channing Frye would be good here if we were in 'win now' mode, but the team just picked up Novak, who essentially does some of the same things. Kyrylo Fesenko is always fun to have around, but isn't nearly vet enough, or serious enough, to deserve actual consideration. Greg Monroe, Chris Bosh, and Pau Gasol are all talented, but by the same token, so is Ante Tomic, and there's no way he's coming over either
Effectively, our bigman rotation is already set now. Which is kind of a shame, because there are some very talented bigs out there who could be really good additions to our team. (No, I am not talking about Anthony Tolliver !)
Dream Situation: For me, they stay put
Nightmare: They break it up before seeing if Favors/Kanter can work, and we have to scramble to get back the same type of talent and potential we originally had.
Strength or Weakness: It better be a strength. There's an All-Around guy with a focus on Defense, and All-Around guy with a focus on Offense, a shooting specialist, an athleticism specialist, and a guy who is the single largest and longest player in the entire league right now. Hood could see some time at PF at times as well, being another shooting specialist, stretch four.
Right now the Jazz have 7 players under contract, with two more rookies left to sign. Hayward should make it 9 players under contract when he signs somewhere, and we match it. That brings the team to 9 of 13. Two more guys could easily be found via picking up players that we have non-guaranteed contracts for. Three if the team is feeling thrifty. That means there's space for two free agents at the most. And unless trades start to happen, that's basically our team for 2014-15.
Holy crap, I just realized that Billups would really help not just Burke and Exum, but also Burks, who used to work out with him in the off-season in Colorado . . . man . . . this needs to happen.
Sorry for that tangent. But yes, this is our team, and our needs (vet presence, defense, three point shooting) are most likely not all going to be fulfilled through free agency. But that's just how it goes.