SALT LAKE CITY — The ups and downs — and places in between — that the Utah Jazz have experienced this season might be hard to handle for fans at times.
With up to 10 free agents to be, the uncertainty past this year is also unsettling for some faithful.
Even with unsteady results and the unknown, Jazz management envisions a bright future outshining occasional bleak moments as the team forges forward.
"I'm every optimistic about the future of the Utah Jazz for this reason — we have a quality organization led by the Millers," Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey said. "And our fundamentals around the organization are very strong."
Whatever happens at next Thursday's trade deadline — even if it's nothing happening — the Jazz like where they are positioned.
Though they've been erratic en route to a 28-24 record, Utah remains in a playoff spot. The Jazz are in seventh place in the Western Conference heading into tonight's home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
They have four young lottery players in Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks who have each shown glimpses of goodness to greatness when they've been on the court.
And they have options.
Lots and lots of options.
With the upcoming changes in the NBA's collective bargaining agreement — and the fact teams will be punished severely for being over the luxury tax threshold — the Jazz will have a lot of salary-cap room to make personnel moves in order to complement the young players who have been dubbed the "Core Four."
Lindsey, during an interview with reporters Monday, lauded his predecessor, Kevin O'Connor, Jazz president Randy Rigby, Bob Hyde, the team's CFO, and the Miller family for getting "out in front of the Deron Williams decision" by making the trade two years ago this week and opening up those options to construct a championship-caliber club.
"We have the foundation in place and a lot of flexibility to allow us to make decisions in going in whatever direction we want," Lindsey said. "If this team catches a great rhythm and advances in the playoffs, we can invest in that. If the team doesn't meet expectations, our internal expectations, we can readjust the team in a lot of different ways.
"I'm optimistic about the people that we have and the flexibility that we have in place."
Not surprisingly, Lindsey didn't comment on specifics regarding the Jazz's current level of involvement in trade talks, other than to admit that comes with the territory of his job.
Because of their upcoming cap situation and impending free agency of Millsap and Jefferson, the Jazz have popped up in numerous trade rumors so far.
"Normal course of business. I wouldn’t characterize it as saying anymore or any less busy. We have a job to do. We can't hide from that. Kevin and I have to listen and survey," Lindsey said. "Our overriding point is we want to be very disciplined to the threshold that's been built, the flexibility that's been built.
"We want to be very strategic (about) who we add. Is there a value add? This is now, draft, free agency. Do they fit the character of our playing group and our organization?"
When it's time to decide, Jazz decision-makers sit down together, make lists of negatives and positives, and banter back and forth to reach a verdict.
"That decision-making process is complicated," he said. "We try to reduce it and simplify it the best we can."
Lindsey also expressed front-office faith in Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan's replacement.
"I'm optimistic that we have a really good leader and good man in Ty Corbin that has been here before and knows what we stand for," Lindsey said.
To that point, the Jazz GM acknowledged that Corbin, 72-74 as a head coach, deserves "quite a bit" of credit for helping the team sustain success even while dealing with injuries to two key players, Mo Williams and Gordon Hayward.
"Look, we all want to be a championship contender right now. But we're striving towards those goals. We're trying to build and maintain a culture, maintain the culture that coach Sloan started and Ty's taken over," Lindsey said. "Maintain a culture that the Laydens (Frank and Scott) started and Kevin took stewardship and now it's been passed along to me in time.
"The best way to keep your culture is to add great people that are very professional and that are passionate about being here. Winning goes along with that."
The Jazz are also in a precarious position in terms of trying to balance developing players for future success versus playing experienced players who might give the squad a better chance of winning now.
Lindsey used the phrase "natural tension" to describe the tricky balance between trying to make a move that'd be best for the current club compared to what's best for the franchise's future.
"There's always natural tension in whatever you do — career-oriented goals, on how you raise your kids, how you build your team, the here and now versus delayed gratification," he said.
Lindsey knows the desire for getting that immediate reward, and Corbin's tendency to play veterans has been derided by some skeptics. (For example, giving Raja Bell in 2011-12 or Randy Foye this year more PT than Alec Burks or Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap more than Favors and Kanter.)
"We understand the public — as we are — is excited about the young guys, but we've got to bring them a long at the appropriate pace," Lindsey said. "I think we're adhering to the history of the organization when we're doing that."
Lindsey cited the fact that John Stockton didn't become a full-time starter until his fourth season as an example of how it can be beneficial for guys to be brought along slowly but surely.
Then again, he knows it isn't an exact science, either.
"If that's not the ultimate example of not too much too soon. What is Derrick averaging minute-wise, 21-22 minutes?" he said. "What's the greater good, giving him 28 or 30? Does he develop better? Or is the greater good giving him a real sense of appreciation that he earned the additional bump in minutes eventually whenever that is? I don't know."
Another unknown — perhaps the biggest variable to the team's future success — is just who exactly will emerge as the team's long-term point guard.
Utah doesn't have one true point guard under contract past this season, and its preferred starter, Mo Williams, won't be back for at least a week depending on how his surgically repaired thumb has healed. (Williams will have a pin removed this Friday, by the way.)
Lindsey spoke in glowing terms of "the professional nature of Mo," who's been out since Dec. 22.
"Mo wanted to be here," he said of the 30-year-old playmaker. "Mo is very motivated to want to be a starting point guard and lead a group and help Ty with the leadership of our group. I think Mo was outstanding."
Lindsey credited Williams for being a "superior shooter" and lauded him for improving his ballhandling and pacing skills with the help of assistant developmental coach Johnnie Bryant.
"Overall," Lindsey said, "we do miss him because he's a good NBA player."
Good enough to be the Jazz's point guard of the future?
"Yes, he could. We'll see how the rest of the season goes," Lindsey said. "I'll say this, he's acquitted himself well here. He's been very professional and we really appreciate what he's done so far."
Ultimately, the Jazz realize championships are won by players, and Lindsey believes the organization is in a prime spot to build toward that goal.
That point makes the next week and a half and this offseason quite intriguing.
The Jazz don’t have a star player, but could they try to get one or hope one of the young guns blossoms into one? Or could they just try to stack the squad with a bunch of solid players and hope the team-first concept pays off?17 comments on this story
"It's a players-driven league. Every good coach will continually harp that this is a players' league," Lindsey said. "I think there's a lot of different ways to team build. You can look at different models, whether it's heavily star driven, a true franchise player that is an all-time great, or you have a Detroit model, for lack of better description, where they do it with five good starters and good depth."
The Jazz's preferred course?
To be determined.
"I think with how we're positioned, we have the ability to react to a lot of different scenarios and team build in a lot of different ways," Lindsey said. "I don't mean to harp on flexibility. I think that's a strength of ours is to react to markets."