After finishing at the bottom of the Western Conference, are the Jazz in a strong position going forward?
The 2015 offseason was likely a tense one for the Jazz, with Charlotte offering restricted free agent Gordon Hayward a massive three-year, $45 million deal. Utah ultimately matched Charlotte’s offer, deciding it couldn’t let its best player leave for nothing. Have the Jazz sacrificed their future flexibility by what is largely considered overpaying for Gordon Hayward? Are they at a stage where they can move off the floor of the Western conference? Let’s find out.
Coaching – 20/25
In my opinion, last year’s head coach Ty Corbin was the worst in the NBA. The organization made a wise decision not to renew his contract and to replace Corbin with longtime NBA assistant Quin Snyder. GM Dennis Lindsey pointed toward a “difference in philosophies” in explaining Corbin’s exit. Furthermore, the fact that Snyder and Lindsey worked together when Snyder coached the D-League’s Austin Toros suggests they have a good relationship and are both on the same “Spurs-like” page. Other candidates such as Alvin Gentry and Adrian Griffin would have been solid hires, but in my opinion the hiring of Snyder is the Jazz’s best move this offseason.
Free Agency & Trades – 13/25
The big talking point is centered around Gordon Hayward: Some say you can’t let your best player whom you have been developing for the last three years walk for nothing. On the other hand, Hayward’s development regressed last season, and unless he makes a massive improvement, he’s not worth the $15 million per year. With the predicted increase in salary cap and TV contract negotiations set in the near future, what we categorize as “expensive” now could soon change. Last year proved Hayward is not a lead guy and that he can’t carry a team to a respectable record. The real failure on Utah’s side of things is the failure to add any real talent through free agency. Trevor Booker is the only free agent to have signed, and he’s just another rotational player, not the guy who can take the pressure off Hayward.
The Jazz also managed to snag the duo of Steve Novak and Carrick Felix in a couple of minor offseason deals. The Novak trade was a good one, as Diante Garrett was unlikely to make the roster with Burke and Exum on the team, and the Jazz needed to replace Marvin William’s wing shooting. The second trade, which sent the three unguaranteed contracts of John Lucas III, Malcom Thomas and Erik Murphy for Carrick Felix and a 2015 second-round pick was an OK value deal. Cleveland’s second-round pick is likely to come in the latter quarter of the second round now that LeBron and Love have teamed up. Felix did little in his time in Cleveland. He is a total unknown but could get the chance for playing time on a talent-depleted Jazz.
Draft – 22/25
In terms of value for their picks, the Utah Jazz had one of the best drafts of anyone. Australian wunderkind Dante Exum inexplicably fell to them at No. 5, and Duke standout Rodney Hood slid all the way down to 23. The Jazz took full advantage of teams with set agendas passing on talent, given that neither player should have been available where the Jazz made their selections. Exum will take time to come around – he has to adjust to a new country, playing against fully grown NBA-caliber players while traveling more than he ever has and playing a longer season than anything he’s ever experienced. That is a lot to adjust to. However, my pre-draft projections still had him in the same tier of players as Embiid, Wiggins and Parker. Hood is a very good offensive player, and his 3-point shooting will be a major boost to Snyder’s offense. Defensively he needs work, but when you have an athletic wing who can play shooting guard, small forward and even some power forward and has as good as of a stroke as Hood at 23, it is a no-brainer.
Current Player Core – 10/25
This is where the Jazz are really in trouble. They believe the likes of Hayward, Burke, Kanter, Burks and Favors are worth building around. Each have their strengths, but collectively there is no star there, and the overall ceiling is very low. I particularly find their dedication to developing the frontcourt of Favors and Kanter a worry. Favors is grossly overpaid, and both guys have not developed enough to warrant being the core of a franchise. The Jazz may have already drafted their potential future replacement for Trey Burke in Dante Exum. How will the two coexist? Will they inhibit each other’s development? Alec Burks had a great year and showed great potential as a sixth man, but he is not someone you build a team around. The current player core is full of players with value, but I don’t see them complementing one other going forward.
Franchise Outlook – 65/100
It is a dark time to be a Jazz fan. Utah only really has one more year to get away with the “we are rebuilding” excuse before the expectations to win will arrive. However, I don’t see the Jazz getting to the point where they’ll contend for a playoff spot within the next three years unless there is major roster turnover or they get lucky in the lottery. Utah is not a free agent destination and it already has just under $100 million invested in Favors and Hayward over the next four years. The lack of elite young talent (apart from Exum), lack of financial flexibility and overpaid supporting cast leave Utah in a dark place going forward.