I’m not going to sugar coat this one. Ever since Rudy Gobert took over as the starting center for the Utah Jazz, the front office has struggled to have a reliable backup behind him. And that’s not for lack of effort or prioritization. In fact, the opposite is true. I doubt any team has spent as much money or as many assets on arguably the least important position in basketball.
Let’s start with the financial commitments first. I did a quick back-of-the-napkin calculation on how much money each team spent on the center position last year. I count only 1 team that spent more money than the Jazz: Oklahoma City Thunder. And that’s only because they are harboring everyone’s unwanted pieces for assets (Al Horford, Meyers Leonard, Mike Muscala).
I admittedly may have miss-calculated or assumed incorrect positions (though I did try to verify this), but at most there could only be 1 more team that spent more money on the center position this year. And the same can likely be said for several years now. The Jazz have spent a premium on backup center. For reference, the other teams with All Star Centers (Nuggets, 76ers, etc.) tend to spend very little on their backups, that way the rest of the roster has better balance.
But it’s not just the % of the cap that the Jazz have struggled with when it comes to backup center. They have squandered SO MANY DRAFT PICKS. Let’s just take a trip down memory lane. These are all the moves related to the backup center spot since Rudy Gobert took over as the full time starter (February 19, 2015 following the Enes Kanter trade):
- July 14, 2015 - Sign Tibor Pleiss to 3 year $9,000,000 contract
- August 26, 2016 - trade Tibor Pleiss and two 2nd rounders to 76ers for Kendall Marshall (immediately waived)
- June 22, 2017 - Trade picks 30 and 42 for #28 to draft Tony Bradley
- February 18, 2018 - Trade George Hill, Rodney Hood, and Joe Johnson for Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose (waived), and 2024 2nd round pick swap. (I count this as center because it essentially allowed Favors to basically be the backup center)
- July 6, 2018 - Re-sign Derrick Favors to a 2 year $37,600,000 contract
- July 7, 2019 - Trade Derrick Favors for two 2nd round picks
- July 19, 2019 - Sign Ed Davis to a 2 year $9,772,350 contract
(This is where things get particularly ugly)
- November 18, 2020 - Trade pick #23 for #27 and #38 to draft Udoka Azubuike at 27
- November 18, 2020 - Trade Ed Davis and a future 2nd for a 2nd swap and cash (basically nothing)
- November 18, 2020 - Trade Tony Bradley and the #38 pick for cash
- July 29, 2021 - Trade Derrick Favors and a future 1st (!) for two future 2nd rounders and a TPE
So in the last 2 years, the Utah Jazz have burned their only remaining significant free agent possibility by using the ENTIRE MLE on a center, right after using a 1st round pick to draft a center, to then use multiple 2nd round picks to get rid of 2 centers, to then a year later use a 1st round pick to get rid of the center they just signed.
That’s just horrific asset management no matter how you spin it. And all that just to be back at square one where they arguably still have a hole at backup center!
Now, hindsight is always 20/20. But last year in particular was a fire-able offense. This is what they could have come away with instead:
- Pick #27: Desmond Bane
- Pick #38: I’m assuming would still have been used to trade Bradley
- Use the some or all of the MLE on: Dario Saric, Jakob Poelel, JaMychal Green, Aron Baynes, Chris Boucher, Kris Dunn, Nerlens Noel, Garrett Temple, Bobby Portis, Wesley Matthews, etc.
Utah would be sitting with less roster limitations and still have a future first round pick in 2024. A pick, by the way, that is only top 10 protected. Three years from now things could look substantially different in Jazzland than they do now...
Is all lost? Of course not. I have to believe that Justin Zanik and new owner Ryan Smith have a plan to improve this team and try to push them over the hump for the first Finals trip since the 90’s. But boy things would be a lot easier if the Jazz hadn’t wasted nearly every asset the past two years trying to address what league-wide is typically the least expensive and easiest to fill position.