Dennis Lindsey, the general manager of the Utah Jazz, would never say, “I told you,” so I’ll say it for him.
He told us.
He wouldn’t say it because it’s not the Jazz Way — or the Spurs Way, which is the same thing and the team with which he cut his teeth. He keeps his thoughts and feelings to himself.
But don’t you wonder if there were moments during the last couple of months of the season when he allowed himself for a moment to think: I told ‘em.
But he could gloat if he were so inclined, and who could blame him. At least so far, the bold moves he made in reshaping the Jazz — the ones that left everyone thinking “Whattha!!! ” — have proved golden (time for an interruption: as he reads this, Lindsey undoubtedly has an urge to remind us that every decision is a team decision and no one gets individual credit or discredit for anything, including himself, because this too is the Jazz Way; duly noted).
Where was I?
The Jazz went from being one of the worst teams in the league to one of the best teams in the league after the All-Star break, from 19-34 to 19-10. They were the talk of the league, and suddenly all those crazy moves Lindsey (and friends) had made looked brilliant.
I told you.
Lindsey (and friends) have constructed the Jazz by first deconstructing the Jazz, as every fan can tell you. It was painful and, at times, maddening and confusing.
But it appears to be working ahead of schedule. Lindsey was right. The rest of us: Wrong.
Lindsey has made a number of moves that left people puzzled. He did what?!
Last summer he went outside the family to hire Quin Snyder as coach. For 33 years, the Jazz coaches had always been in-house people — Frank Layden, Jerry Sloan, Ty Corbin. That was the Jazz Way, too. Snyder was a radical departure for the team. Snyder is a resourceful, innovative coach, but, amid scandals that occurred while he was coaching at Missouri, he fell hard, all the way to an assistant coaching gig in Russia. The Jazz have thrived under Snyder, a Duke grad with an MBA and a law degree.
I told you.
In the NBA draft, Lindsey (and friends) made Dante Exum the No. 5 pick even though he was an international player with little experience and little on his resume.
I told you — well, not quite. The jury is still out on this one.
Lindsey (and friends) awarded Gordon Hayward a max contract, matching an offer by the Hornets. It was a widely criticized move, especially since Hayward was just coming off his first season as the Jazz’s go-to guy and hadn’t played like one. But he played like an elite player in 2014-15, and when the NBA’s new $24 billion TV deal begins and salaries skyrocket, his deal will look even better.
I told you.
In the summer of 2013, Lindsey allowed several good veteran players to leave the team to free up money for other players. Gone: Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, DeMarre Carroll. The Jazz had already blown up the roster once and now they were doing it again. By the spring of 2015 the Jazz were winning again, far sooner than they had expected.
I told you so.
In February, it became official: Lindsey was nuts. He dumped Enes Kanter — the No. 3 pick of the 2011 draft — for a first-round pick in 2017 and promoted Rudy Gobert to a fulltime player. The future just got pushed further into the future, or so it seemed. One AP reporter wrote that the trade “is unlikely to pay immediate dividends for the Jazz.” He quoted Lindsey as saying the deal was made with the future in mind and that the rebuilding of the team would be “long and arduous.” It was the only thing Lindsey got wrong. The Jazz were immediately transformed.
I told you so.
Along the way, Lindsey plugged holes in the roster with — what’s this? — a parade of undrafted, Development League players who wound up doing much more than filling the bench. In all, nearly 30 players were under contract with the Jazz during the season, seven from the D-League; four of them were offered multi-year contracts, which amounts to a serious opportunity to make next year’s team. At one point late in the season, all four of those D-Leaguers — Elijah Millsap, Bryce Cotton, Jack Cooley and Chris Johnson — were on the court at the same time.
It looked like basketball’s version of American Idol. Millsap, an undrafted free agent who had toiled in the D-League and international play for five years, played in 47 games for the Jazz and averaged 5 points and 3 rebounds per game.
Joe Ingles, a 27-year-old Australian who had logged eight years in international leagues from Granada to Tel Aviv, started 32 games for the Jazz.
Johnson, a callup from the Idaho Stampede, played in 16 games. Cotton, who started the season in the D-League, played in 15 games for the Jazz and scored 21 points in the home finale. Ian Clark, another undrafted free agent, also joined the Jazz from the Stampede and played in 23 games. Patrick Christopher, plucked from the Iowa Energy, played in four games and started one before being sidelined by an injury.
Looking back on the Jazz’s 2014-15 season, it was a masterful performance in evaluating talent and looking ahead, even though it inspired considerable skepticism along the way.
Lindsey could say it: I told you.
Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org