Biggest Needs for Utah Jazz During 2014 Offseason
The Utah Jazz—intentionally or not—embraced losing in 2013-14 by sporting the league’s worst defensive rating (109.1 points allowed per 100 possessions) combined with the NBA’s 25th-ranked offensive rating (100.6 points per 100 possessions), per ESPN.
At the very least, Utah has set itself up for favorable draft position this summer, but scouting can’t be management’s only focus.
The Jazz sport an intriguing combination of youth and expiring contracts. The once-proud franchise has plenty of questions to answer, but those promising factors help paint a picture of the future.
Gordon Hayward and head coach Tyrone Corbin will each have their respective deals come off the books this summer. One of those two should be retained at near any cost—the other, not so much.
With youth, cap space and a potential top-five lottery pick on the horizon, Utah should be an NBA team on the rise in the not-too-distant future. That is, if the Jazz make smart decisions during the 2014 offseason.
5. Replacing Tyrone Corbin
Corbin is a solid NBA head coach—if you want your favorite team to tank for better draft position.
For unknown reasons, Corbin slotted washed-up veteran Richard Jefferson into the starting lineup for 78 of Utah’s 82 games.
During the same time frame, he buried 7’1” center Rudy Gobert on the end of the bench. The 21-year-old Frenchman has received an average of just 9.6 minutes per game as a rookie, and while he’s still extremely raw from a talent standpoint, the Jazz had nothing to lose by giving him valuable NBA experience via more court time.
Jefferson is a respected veteran, but he certainly doesn’t fit in with Utah’s future plans. As a result of Corbin’s wonky lineups and desire to play veterans over young pieces, he has essentially solidified his standing as a lame duck coach.
So who should be brought in as the replacement to help young players develop?
Well, if Jazz front office members value a defensive culture—which would be ideal given Utah’s abysmal defensive rating in 2013-14—former Memphis Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins is an intriguing option.
During a four-year stint with Memphis, Hollins’ Grizzlies improved from a defensive standpoint in each consecutive year. They went from surrendering 109.9 points per 100 possessions in 2009-10 to allowing just 100.3 during 2012-13—when they went on to reach the Western Conference Finals, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
4. Being Smart with Cap Space
Jefferson ($11 million), Andris Biedrins ($9 million), Marvin Williams ($7.5 million) and Brandon Rush ($4 million) are all set to have hefty contracts expire at season’s end, per ShamSports.
Seeing that money come off the books this summer is precisely why higher-ups engaged in trade talks with the Golden State Warriors to acquire Jefferson, Biedrins and Rush in the first place.
As Jody Genessy of the Deseret News wrote last July, “While Jazz management has spoken positively about its new players, this trade was clearly done with the future in mind — a future that may or may not even include any of the additions who’ll all be free agents next offseason.”
Cap flexibility was the biggest selling point for Utah, and it’s set to pay off handsomely so long as that money is spent wisely.
Bucks general manager John Hammond, for instance, signed O.J. Mayo (three years, $24 million) and Zaza Pachulia (three years, $16 million) among others. That was certainly not money well-spent, because Milwaukee sported the worst record in the league despite handing out those paychecks.
Pistons GM Joe Dumars, meanwhile, signed forward Josh Smith to a four-year, $54 million deal. J-Smoove's style of play has done anything but complement other frontcourt players like Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. Detroit is well out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture as a result, and Dumars will no longer be president of basketball operations, per USA Today's Vince Ellis.
The lesson here is that general managers shouldn’t just spend money because they can. Unless the Jazz are netting players that legitimately fit the direction of franchise, it’s better to preach patience and keep that cap room as a valuable asset.
3. Embracing Frontcourt Potential
Utah’s frontcourt is positively brimming with potential by way of Favors, Kanter and Gobert. Unfortunately, Corbin’s player development skills are nothing to write home about.
Gobert, for instance, has eclipsed the 20-minute plateau just four times during his rookie year. In one such occurrence—a 112-97 loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Jan. 21—the 7’1” skyscraper scored eight points (on 4-of-5 shooting) to go with six rebounds and three blocked shots.
Those numbers aren’t exactly eye-popping, but Gobert is still just trying to get his feet wet in the NBA. There's only so much team practices can teach.
Favors and Kanter, meanwhile, were selected third overall in 2010 and 2011, respectively. They’ve each been brought along slowly during their NBA careers, but it’s time for each to tackle bigger responsibilities—especially in 2014-15 when numerous veterans will have departed.
Letting former assistant coach Jeff Hornacek leave for a starting gig with the upstart Phoenix Suns certainly didn’t help, because his ability to instill confidence in players—Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee, etc.—would have been a huge boost for the Jazz.
Bringing in the right coaching candidate, who will allow the big men to play to their strengths, is a big need for this franchise. As long as they have established roles in the rotation from the outset, they should have no trouble carving a niche and gaining more consistency.
2. Drafting Best Available?
In an ideal scenario, the Jazz would be able to draft a stud small forward like Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker to insert beside a backcourt of Trey Burke/Hayward and a frontcourt including the trio of Favors, Kanter and Gobert.
Unfortunately for Jazz fans, that development would take a heaping helping of luck from the basketball gods. If the ping-pong balls don’t favor Utah, the stars from Kansas and Duke, respectively, will likely remain just out of reach. So what should the Jazz do instead?
In an NBA mock draft by CBS Sports.com's Gary Parrish, Zach Harper and Matt Moore, the trio of writers have Utah taking either Indiana’s Noah Vonleh or Kentucky standout Julius Randle—both power forwards—with the fifth overall pick.
Making either of those decisions on draft day would show Utah plans to draft for pure talent, rather than positional need—which certainly isn’t a negative.
In fact, drafting an interior rebounding force like Randle may open up avenues for the front office to trade one of the incumbent big men—Kanter seems to be the most obvious candidate.
Doing so for a talented defensive swingman in the mold of a guy like Luol Deng would help solidify a balanced starting five.
The Jazz could also decide to opt for Arizona forward Aaron Gordon. Although some pundits project him to be a power forward at the NBA level, he draws comparisons to a young Shawn Marion for his ability to impact the game without the ball in his hands.
He’s a terrible free-throw shooter, but he’s already a well-established defensive talent who can make a difference on offense through hustle plays and sheer athletic ability.
In any case, management should choose who they feel is the best prospect available and go from there.
1. Re-Sign Gordon Hayward
Nobody on Utah’s roster suffered more from the losses of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap than shooting guard Hayward.
The Butler product was forced into an alpha dog role without viable supporting options around him, and although his shooting percentages from inside and outside the arc sat at career lows, Hayward still averaged 16.2 points, 5.2 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game (all career highs).
Despite the fact opposing teams buckled down on Hayward without fear of getting beat by Big Al or Millsap down low, he was able to positively impact games by distributing the ball and becoming one of the league’s best rebounders out of the shooting guard spot.
As a matter of fact, Lance Stephenson of the Indiana Pacers is the only qualified 2-guard who grabbed more boards on average (7.2) when compared to the 24-year-old, according to ESPN.com.
Because Hayward will be a restricted free agent this summer, the Jazz will get the final say regarding his NBA future.
As long as the young shooting guard doesn’t get offered a max contract by a desperate franchise, he should be worth the price tag.
He’s durable, young, rebounds extremely well for a guard and plays a watered-down position within the Association. As a complementary piece to another star (Julius Randle, perhaps?) Hayward will continue to be a reliable building block for the Jazz.