Best Potential Backcourt Trade Targets for the Utah Jazz
It must be trade season.
Frustrated by his role during his three-plus years in Utah, center Enes Kanter told The Salt Lake Tribune he hopes to be traded before this year's deadline.
...Kanter grew tired of empty promises of playing time during his time under Tyrone Corbin and remains frustrated by the inconsistency of his role.
Kanter's agent, Max Ergul, elaborated on his client's frustrations in a radio interview with 1280 The Zone in Salt Lake City.
Austin Horton, producer of The Big Show with Spence Checketts and Gordon Monson, relayed Ergul's comments on Twitter: "Him and his family expect there was definitely lack of investment in his development."
Ergul and Kanter may feel the big man will have a better chance to develop elsewhere, but the market appears to be paltry right now.
The Deseret News' Jody Genessy reported "that there has been little to no interest from other teams," and The Salt Lake Tribune's Tony Jones added in a separate report "that while the team will listen to offers, Kanter is still valued highly by the franchise and very much in its long-term plans."
That being said, Kanter is still Utah's best trade chip and has been nowhere near as impactful as Rudy Gobert this season. Flipping Kanter for a guard, which the Jazz desperately need, is something that should be explored.
Thanks to injuries to Alec Burks, Rodney Hood, Patrick Christopher and Joe Ingles, Utah entered the break on its fifth starting shooting guard of 2014-15, Elijah Millsap.
According to HoopsStats.com, the Jazz rank dead last in scoring, at 14.8 points per game, from the shooting guard position. They're 24th in assists from shooting guards at 3.3 per game. And things aren't much better at the point guard position, where Utah ranks 24th in scoring and 25th in assists.
A guard who can help fix Utah's dearth of backcourt production now while still fitting into future plans is exactly what Utah should be looking for.
The players here could all meet both those requirements and may be available for the right price. They're in order based on how realistic an option they are for Utah, starting with the least likely.
Goran Dragic or Isaiah Thomas
The Phoenix Suns' three-point guard lineups with Isaiah Thomas, Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic are plenty of fun to watch, but general manager Ryan McDonough would like a little more traditional balance on the roster, per Arizona Sports' Adam Green:
"I think our roster balance is a little off, and that's my fault," Suns GM Ryan McDonough told Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Wednesday. "We are a little too backcourt heavy, especially in terms of guys who, you know, I think you'd define primarily as scorers in the backcourt.
"So I think at some point we'll need to balance that out, try to get a little more size, a little more frontcourt scoring and rebounding."
Frontcourt scoring and rebounding, eh? That's exactly what Kanter can provide a bit more abundantly than Markieff Morris (numbers are per 36 minutes):
Would the extra depth down low be worth losing Dragic or Thomas?
The former is available, per Bleacher Report's Howard Beck: "The sense is they are ready to deal Dragic, rather than risk losing him to free agency."
But Gery Woelfel of The Racine Journal Times reported that the asking price is a first-round pick. That's likely a little steep for the Jazz, especially given Dragic's upcoming free agency. A half-season rental makes no sense for a team nowhere near playoff contention.
Isaiah Thomas is a more reasonable option, as he's younger (26 compared to 28) and under a very cap-friendly contract until 2017-18.
Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley suggested a swap of Thomas and Miles Plumlee for Kanter and a 2016 second-round pick.
With the recent emergence of Mitch McGary, who dropped 36 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in a two-game stretch just before the break, the Oklahoma City Thunder probably don't need Kanter.
That doesn't mean dealing with them is out of the question.
ESPN's Kevin Pelton recently wrote about the possibility of OKC dealing Reggie Jackson for mostly financial reasons:
He's struggled since the Thunder acquired Dion Waiters, who's been cutting into Jackson's minutes. That deal also put Oklahoma City over the tax threshold, and the Thunder have never before paid the luxury tax. Dealing Jackson alone wouldn't get Oklahoma City under the tax line, but pairing him with Jeremy Lamb would do the trick.
It just so happens that Utah has the requisite cap space to absorb both Jackson and Lamb's contracts without sending any players back to the Thunder. That gives OKC the savings it's looking for, while boosting Utah's backcourt with young players who can still develop.
The problem is that Utah would have to surrender some draft picks in any such deal, and Jackson enters restricted free agency this summer.
Letting him walk for nothing makes no sense if it took a draft pick to acquire him, but would the offer he's bound to get as a free agent be worth matching?
Salt City Hoops' Andy Larsen tweeted, "Problem is, if you match Reggie, you only have 1 player in your core who can shoot."
And to take Larsen's point further, Utah would then have a third young point guard who can't shoot. There's already a debate over playing time between Dante Exum and Trey Burke, and adding Jackson makes that even more complicated.
It's hard to think of many reasonably obtainable players who would be better fits in Utah than Khris Middleton. The 23-year-old is a plug-and-play option at shooting guard, small forward and power forward. That positional versatility would allow the Jazz to deploy him in an oversized lineup, a pint-sized spacing group or anything in between.
When put in that context, the big haul of Kanter and a first-rounder doesn't sound quite as daunting. On paper, the young wing just fits better.
Middleton's shooting 40.7 percent from three-point range for his career and 42.3 percent this season. That kind of long-range threat would be a welcome offensive boon for a team that ranks 20th in the league in three-point percentage at 34.3.
For the Bucks end, Kanter may have a hard time buying into Jason Kidd's defense-first approach, but he'd be their best low-post scorer.
According to HoopsStats.com, Milwaukee's 17th in power forward scoring and 25th in center scoring. And following the rumored buyout of Larry Sanders, reported by ESPN's Marc Stein, the only two players close to being back-to-the-basket threats are Zaza Pachulia and John Henson.
In a vacuum, the Toronto Raptors' Terrence Ross isn't as good as Kanter now and doesn't have quite as much potential for the future either.
But as was the case with Middleton, any deal involving Ross would be about fit. Gobert and Derrick Favors make up Utah's future frontcourt, and the team needs shooting.
That's where Ross comes in, who Grantland's Zach Lowe has reported is available: "The Raps are listening to incoming offers on Ross, per several league sources..."
His shooting is down a bit this season, but at 36.8 percent from three, he'd be Utah's second most dangerous long-range option behind Gordon Hayward.
The Raptors, meanwhile, are in the market for a big, and Pelton thinks they may have some interest in Kanter. "Toronto might be the best fit," Pelton wrote in his trade targets column, "Kanter would be an upgrade over Tyler Hansbrough off the bench. That might be enough to get the Raptors to part with a pick."
A package with Ross and Hansbrough, who averages just 13.1 minutes this season, works under salary-cap rules. Adding a pick could be enough to move Utah to action.
If that sounds like a big haul for Kanter, that's because it is. Toronto would have to be desperate for some interior scoring. But it's not out of the question, considering Kanter's just 22 and already one of the more skilled offensive bigs in the league.
Jose Calderon or Pablo Prigioni
The New York Knicks are in all-out fire-sale mode. They've already sold low on J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert and bought out Amar'e Stoudemire.
And that's not all.
Back in January, ESPN's Marc Stein and Ian Begley reported that "the New York Knicks are actively trying to trade veterans Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani as part of their ongoing roster clear-out, according to league sources."
About a week after that report, NBA.com's Adam Zagoria tweeted, "Hearing the #Knicks would like to deal Pablo Prigioni for a 2nd-round pick. He's not playing now & not part of the future."
Everything must go!
At first glance, Calderon and Prigioni don't make a lot of sense for a young team geared toward the future. Both are in their 30s and under contract beyond this season (Calderon is owed nearly $8 million in 2016-17).
But from a pure production standpoint, Utah's point guard situation is one of the worst in the league. Exum and Burke are shooting a combined 36.3 percent from the field and 31.2 percent from three.
Physical limitations—Burke's size (6'1", 185 lbs) and Exum's strength—are a big problem for both. Having a veteran mentor to take some minutes and offer tutoring in practice could alleviate some of the pressure on the youngsters while they develop physically over the next few years.
For the Knicks, another all-offense, no-defense big man is probably the last thing they need, but Salt City Hoops' Dan Clayton posed an interesting trade possibility on Twitter: "NY dumps Calderon, gets Kanter & the more favorable of Jazz/GSW 2017 picks as long as not top 10. Jazz get right to swap this year."
Acquiring Kanter now could be something of a three-month tryout. If there's a hint that Kanter could thrive in the triangle, New York can match whatever offer he gets in restricted free agency.
If not, the Knicks can just let him walk, having already gotten value out of his expiring contract, which helped to facilitate the fire sale.