SALT LAKE CITY — Sometimes the Great Salt Lake smells of brine shrimp. There are winter days when the air quality meter hits “chunky soup.” And if you’re thinking of late-night clubbing, you may have to settle for Denny’s.
At the same time, Salt Lake City, home of the Jazz, does have beauty. This year’s No. 5 overall draft pick, Dante Exum, mentioned two impressions on his first trip to Utah: the lake and the mountains. Pretty much the same things legendary trapper Jim Bridger mentioned, the difference being Bridger didn’t have a crossover dribble.
Meanwhile, Salt Lake just topped CNN Money’s list of least stressed-out cities.
Good thing they didn’t do the study during the NBA season.
With the league's free agency period beginning Monday at 10 p.m. MDT, the Jazz are about to get on their game faces for the second time in a week. First was Thursday’s draft, which yielded Exum and Duke forward Rodney Hood. As exciting as it was for the Jazz, there is also the fact it’s not enough. Without major help via trades or free agency, the Jazz remain short of playoff-worthiness — at least until the 18-year-old Exum grows up.
Exum’s and Hood’s arrival is a nice bonus for the Western Conference’s worst team, but general manager Dennis Lindsey is (again) talking patience. That’s a hard thing for fans of a team that has missed the playoffs six of the last 11 years.
It has long been assumed Utah can’t compete for marquee free agents. But that’s not entirely true. Carlos Boozer was a major acquisition in 2004. He went on to play in two All-Star games before bailing out when the chance arose. Now he’s in Chicago, where he remains a rebounding/scoring machine who couldn’t guard a parking meter.
With that in mind, it’s natural to wonder where free agency fits into Lindsey’s master plan, along with drafting, developing and trading.
“We want to tell our story to top free agents and get that audience,” he said on Friday.
Top free agents. Hmmm.
“We have great wherewithal to pay — even by free agent market terms,” he continued.
Translation: the Jazz have mad cash. OK, at least they have cap room.
“So we’ll look at those and explain our story — which I think is a good story,” Lindsey said.
This is where it gets a little murky.
“Then we’ll move to the different tiers and look at their roles and who could be complimentary to the young guys,” he said.
So the Jazz are apparently going to pitch themselves to the big guys: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and maybe one or two others — if they’ll listen. Then they’ll try for stars whose years are short and/or whose games have dipped, but could tide the Jazz over until the kids become stars. Possibilities are Pau Gasol, Ray Allen, Shawn Marion, Boris Diaw. Maybe the Jazz can even acquire a rising star looking for more money or prominence, such as Patty Mills, Greg Monroe or Chandler Parsons.
(Jimmer Fredette is also a free agent. But with Quin Snyder saying defense will be a priority, that option seems unlikely.)
Lindsey says he’s optimistic; the hunt hasn’t even begun. He was previously with the Houston Rockets, where “if you had a marquee player, you could attract another player.”
However, he said, “In San Antonio, for whatever reason, there wasn’t a lot of free agent signing, even with Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan. We got good free agents, but not the ones you’d call marquee, so we had to go to the draft and parlay that via trades and augment with free agency. So I think that model is probably closer to the model we’ve played out here historically.”
LeBron is sounding more distant by the minute.
“I’m trying to tell the story of Salt Lake and the organization and how special this place is," Lindsey said. "I believe that out there somewhere there is a Reggie White, who will leave big markets — leave Philadelphia and go to Green Bay — because he can identify with the values. Hopefully we’ll find a marriage like that."
At the same time, Lindsey isn’t oblivious to the odds. When it comes to marketing and endorsements, players gravitate to Miami, Los Angeles, Boston, New York, Chicago. Lindsey notes Duncan’s unwavering loyalty to small-market San Antonio, which has resulted in championships.
“At the end of the day, I think the average player is looking at the win-loss column, more than he’s looking at his checking account,” Lindsey said. “I really believe that.”
Good, but what the Jazz need are above-average players.
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