Imagine it’s the beginning of July 2017 and free agent Gordon Hayward has met with Danny Ainge, Brad Stevens and the rest of the Boston Celtics brass. He has also met with Pat Riley of the Miami Heat, listened to his hometown Indiana Pacers and been pitched by the Utah Jazz.
After the meetings, Hayward informs the Jazz he is leaving Utah. What’s next for Dennis Lindsey’s team?
The first decision is probably already made for them. George Hill, who is also a free agent, may not have much interest in returning to the Beehive State if his Indiana buddy leaves. Then the Jazz will have just lost two of their top four players.
If Hill is interested in returning without Hayward, should Lindsey bring him back? Possibly, if they can find a replacement for Hayward. Looking at the free agent class, the Jazz could go out and sign someone like Danilo Gallinari or J.J. Redick to replace Hayward, but these moves would only be Band-Aids and wouldn’t get the Jazz very far in the playoffs. They may look to take a couple steps back instead.
If that’s the plan, they could keep Derrick Favors and hope he is the player he was two years ago before injuries robbed him of the ability to play at an All-Star level. If Favors returns to form, the Jazz may keep most of the team together (which could include Hill) and build around their two big men. If the Jazz feel Favors’ future health is a big concern, then the youth movement begins — again — and trading him for a young player or a future draft pick would be a smart move.
The cupboard isn’t empty for the Jazz. Lindsey has collected some very talented young players, Rudy Gobert being the crown jewel. To go along with him, they have Rodney Hood, Trey Lyles and Dante Exum. These players have talent but have yet to show the consistency that one needs to be a force in the league.
Lindsey has put together a culture in Salt Lake that is all about player development. Look at Hayward, Gobert or Joe Ingles. These players have continued to improve year in and year out. The Jazz have a staff that will bring out the best in the young talent on the roster.
Hood was supposed to have taken a third-year leap, much like Gobert did this past season. This year, Hood suffered a hyperextended knee in January and never seemed like the same player. In the first few months of the season, he averaged 14.4 points a game while shooting 41 percent from the field and 35 percent from three. After the injury, he averaged just 10.2 points a game and shot 35 percent from the field. From 3-point range, he improved a bit to 37 percent. In April and in the playoffs, he shot a dreadful 20 percent from three.
Even though Hood was averaging 14 points a game, his scoring was erratic, making 25 points in one game but just five points in another. When he was on his game, the Jazz usually won, but when he was off, the Jazz suffered. This could partially be caused by the injury, but for Hood to take the next step he needs to be a consistent performer. His shooting stroke is beautiful and he has excellent height and length for a shooting guard. Hopefully, next season he will be healthy.
Lyles may have just had the most disappointing season of any Jazz player. He struggled with his shot and made too many mistakes on the court, causing him to lose minutes to veteran Boris Diaw. Lyles even admitted during locker room cleanout that he was a little disengaged. It was a good learning experience for Lyles — who had never experienced such struggles in basketball — and hopefully he becomes better for it.
He's still a talented player who, at 6-foot-10, can do things most players that tall can’t. He has Draymond Green-like offensive skills, the abilities to play with the ball in his hands and stretch the floor. In his rookie year, he averaged 38 percent shooting from three. Defensively, however, he isn’t Green; Lyles needs to continue to improve on this end of the floor if he wants to be a longtime starter in this league.
The next key piece, who screams potential, is Exum. He first excited Jazz fans with his terrific defense and then showed glimpses of his lightning-quick first step. An ACL tear during the 2015 summer caused Exum to miss his sophomore season. Coming back from an ACL tear is hard, especially when someone is still learning what kind of player he is.
Most players who suffer this injury struggle during their first year back and only begin to look more like themselves after the All-Star break. After the break, Exum showed a lot of improvement. He needs to spend this offseason, which will be his first healthy one as a pro, working on his game; his shot (catch and shoot, off the bounce) needs to improve drastically. His ability to finish at the rim was a struggle, but with added strength and a tighter handle on the ball, Exum hopefully can start living up to his draft potential.
The Jazz have also been linked to European point guard Milos Teodosic. Eurobasket.com stated, “CSKA will soon engage in one of the greatest decisions the franchise had in a long time. Milos Teodosic — NBA or Europe? Several NBA GMs and scouts are eye-balling the Serbian wizard floor general. With ex-CSKA assistant Quin Snyder leading Utah into the second round of the playoffs with loads of international flavor, sources tell me the Jazz are bound to shoot Teodosic an offer-sheet. The Brooklyn Nets are also in active pursuit. People close to Teodosic estimate that he’ll push for a deal in 3-years $25-30 million range.”
NBA GMs voted him as the best player not in the NBA. The scouting report on Teodosic is that he is a good and confident shooter with great vision; the downside is that he is a poor defender and 30 years old. If Hill and Shelvin Mack leave the Jazz, they will need more than an improving Exum and Raul Neto at point.
Keeping Ingles will also be key for the Jazz, whether Hayward stays or goes. Ingles is coming off of an incredible year, a season in which he shot 44 percent from three, fourth best in the league. He also showed his ability to defend multiple positions at a high level. Three-and-D wings are hard to come by, especially ones that can pass and run an offense as well as he can. Ingles also is the glue guy for the Jazz, and his intangibles would surely be missed.
Alec Burks, another player who has lost the better part of the past two seasons due to injury, is someone the Jazz would need to step up. Burks might be the Jazz’s best isolation player. Before injury, Burks was a good 3-point shooter; he averaged 36.5 percent and has improved in almost every season he has been healthy. If Burks can get back to his old self, he could soften the blow of Hayward leaving.
This offseason looks to be one of the most interesting the Jazz have had in a while with a franchise cornerstone available to leave and the Jazz unable to stop him. Since taking over, Lindsey seems like someone who always has a plan. If Hayward stays or goes, trust in Lindsey.
Follow Kincade Upstill on Twitter @kincade12 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org