Commentary: Utah Jazz G.M. Dennis Lindsey's moves reflect Captain Jack Sparrow's mantra
Photo courtesy Disney Corp.
Be it in a rowdy pub or on a washed-up deck, Captain Jack Sparrow has a manta he likes to exchange with loyal friend Joshamee Gibbs.
“Take what you can,” says one. “Give nothing back,” says the other.
This summer, Utah Jazz General Manager Dennis Lindsey and team brass can appreciate that averment from the "Pirates of the Caribbean" characters — more or less.
Lindsey only gave up little-used rookie Kevin Murphy, trade exemptions and $24 million in cap relief to Golden State for center Andris Biedrins and wings Richard Jefferson and Brandon Rush, along with unprotected first-round picks in 2014 and 2017, two second-round picks, and an undisclosed amount of cash. The trade has been applauded by many commentators, including Danny Hansen on utahjazz360.com for, among other things, serving youth, “meeting the salary floor” and not letting cap space burn in their pocket.
In the NBA Draft, Lindsey arranged for Minnesota to draft Trey Burke ninth overall in exchange for Utah’s 14th and 21st selections. Then the first-year general manager only gave up the Jazz’s 46th pick and cash to Denver for French center Rudy Gobert, the 27th pick. Then Lindsey capped what many insiders consider an unthinkable draft night by getting Atlanta to select Brazilian guard Raul Neto at No. 47 in exchange for the Brooklyn Nets' 2015 second round choice.
Fan Laura Thompson opined for Salt City Hoops that she was thrilled by the draft night since it shows that “ownership is serious about building (read: funding) a championship-caliber team” and that “management is strategic, thorough and capable of building a championship-caliber team.”
Probably. On any account, the Jazz now have six first-round draft picks in the next four years, the latter end of that span when the new-look team should be fully developed and in championship-contending mode.
Combined with the departure of Al Jefferson (Charlotte) and Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll (Atlanta), it’s fundamentally transformed the team and made it increasingly difficult to see many veterans from last season’s roster return to Salt Lake City.
Lindsey has done it in less than a year with the franchise — and his bargaining will prove that he gave up very little along the way, if that isn’t already apparent.
In the Golden State trade, the contracts of all three former Warriors will expire next season (and Biedrins and Jefferson will make $9 million and $11 million this year, respectively). It will leave the Jazz flexibility to sign players in next year's loaded free agency market as well as work out extensions with young stars Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors, who are joined by Enes Kanter and Alec Burks as the new collective face of the franchise.
Fans shouldn’t worry about the young leaders’ growth being stunted next season in being thrown to the wolves too relentlessly. Lindsey has that covered in offering Biedrins and Jefferson as veteran mentors (admittedly, if the two will happily take the role). And Rush is the roll-the-dice player who will either never successfully return from an ACL injury or successfully resurrect his career, at least starting as a stellar backup to Hayward or change-of-pace reserve after Burks. As a tremendous 3-point shooter (41.3 career percentage), he and Jefferson (37.1 percent) crowd out Randy Foye, even though the seven-year veteran shattered Mehmet Okur’s Jazz single-season 3-point record, making 41 percent of his bombs along the way.
It’s a small price Lindsey paid to become a player next summer, when free agents like Luol Deng, Danny Granger, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Kyle Lowry and Eric Bledsoe will be available. (So will LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, Paul George and Chris Bosh, but they were not mentioned for the sake of realism.)
Expect Jazz brass to turn the keys to Burke (as the Deseret News’ Randy Hollis suggested) for his rookie season and then pursue a Bledsoe or Lowry if Burke doesn’t develop as quickly in his first year as they expect.
If Vegas opinion matters, though, don’t expect that or a re-signing of 2012-13 starter Mo Williams to happen. The sports betting service Bovada has Burke as its preseason leader (4/1) in the Rookie of the Year race. (Perhaps a return of Jamaal Tinsley for veteran leadership from the reserve point guard position the wings and posts will get from Biedrins and Jefferson? Otherwise, Burke may be alone with inexperienced Jerel McNeal, added late last season.)
With among the longest wingspans (7-foot-9) and standing reaches (9-foot-7) in NBA combine history, Gobert has immense potential and will, like Biedrins (a fellow 7-footer), at least provide immense length against Favors and Kanter in practices. They may already provide a greater defensive preparation than Jefferson (a green light on defense) and the 6-foot-8 Millsap.
If anything, the two draft selections probably come recommended from legends who are more trusted than anyone from the organization — those who Lindsey have been quick to credit in assessing the reputation of the Jazz franchise. As the Deseret News’ Doug Robinson wrote, “John Stockton reviewed video of point guards and provided his opinions on the prospects. Jerry Sloan, the former head coach who returned to the team as a consultant, spotted Gobert during pre-draft workouts and reported, ‘The big guy plays hard; you need to look at him.’ ”
It was probably a better look than Millsap could be interpreted to be giving Favors on the EnergySolutions Arena’s artwork this past season, where the veteran forward peered over his shoulder at the third overall pick of the 2010 NBA Draft.
Now that perceived present vs. future drama is over, the moves in recent weeks are making that a surety. For all the praise here for Lindsey, it would not be appropriate to not pay credence to another Jazz veteran: Kevin O’Connor. Lindsey told Robinson that O’Connor’s advice proved valuable with Stockton’s and Sloan’s, as the former-general-manager-turned-vice-president provided “key draft information” that indicated Lindsey needed to trade up to nab Burke.
Lindsey says it all figured into key long-term roster development: “We are not skipping steps in rebuild,” he affirms. “We will be patient and have a pain tolerance.”
That’s as honorable as Gibbs, Captain Jack’s own insider whom “Pirates of the Caribbean” writer Terry Rossio has said he considers as the most virtuous character in the series. Like Sparrow does right after asserting the mantra with the quartermaster, Lindsey has chartered a new course — on the uncertain modern NBA seas whose tides of personnel change often shift seemingly at whim (see Dwight Howard). Undoubtedly, following these roster shifts, he’s now hoping for calm waters in coming years in Salt Lake City.
Rhett Wilkinson is a project manager for utahpolicy.com and hails the true-blooded Aggies from Utah. The co-founder of magazine Aggieblueprint.com, he's been an intern for the Deseret News and other publications. firstname.lastname@example.org | @wilklogan
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