The end in mind isn’t to stay young or to get older because you’re young. The end in mind is to be the last team standing. —Dennis Lindsey
SALT LAKE CITY — While he’d eventually love to win an NBA title, Utah Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey says the goal for his team right now is to break into the top four of the NBA and stay there on a consistent basis.
That way, he said, “hopefully things will line up where you can break through a few years in advance” of a title run, much like the Jazz did for over a decade in the John Stockton/Karl Malone years and the San Antonio Spurs, for whom Lindsey used to work, have done for a couple of decades.
This year, the Jazz finished among the top eight in the league by making it to the Western Conference semifinals for the second straight year. Now the Jazz are hoping to take that next step.
The Jazz showed their potential for the future with their late-season run when they won 29 of their final 35 games, upset Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs and gave Houston a challenge in the second round.
Of the final eight NBA teams in the playoffs, the Jazz were the youngest team, slightly younger than the Boston Celtics if you count the eight main players each team used during the playoffs.
However, the Jazz are considerably younger than three of four final teams that made the NBA conference finals. Golden State, Cleveland and Houston were three of the four oldest teams in both the regular season and in the playoffs where their top eight players average around 30 years of age, five years older than the Jazz, whose top eight average 25.2 years.
So do the Jazz need to find a couple of older, more experienced players to move to the next level and compete with the league’s elite teams?
While Lindsey acknowledges the Jazz are one of the younger teams in the NBA and among the best in the playoffs, he doesn’t feel his team needs to necessarily add older players to the mix to take the next step.
“Maybe there will be something that comes up that allows us to add experience that comes up that is fundamental to our cap, that’s fundamental to our culture and there’s a fit with Quin and the players from a chemistry standpoint,” Lindsey said. “Or maybe the opposite it true and the best option is a young player inside of those same requirements. So it’s a little hard to say.”
The 2018 Jazz were actually much younger than last year’s playoff team, which included 36-year-old Joe Johnson and 35-year-old Boris Diaw playing key minutes along with 31-year-old George Hill. They did add three older players in the offseason in Thabo Sefalosha, 34, Epke Udoh, 31, and Jonas Jerebko, 31. But Sefalosha was out with an injury during the playoffs and Jerebko and Udoh played sparingly.
With the challenges of the salary cap and signing free agents, the Jazz seem more than happy to have 21-year-old Donovan Mitchell, 22-year-old Dante Exum and 25-year-old Rudy Gobert be the building blocks for the future and perhaps 26-year-old Derrick Favors if they choose to sign him.
Lindsey gave the example of two of his players who both joined the club this year without any high expectations, but contributed in their own way.
“Certainly experience, toughness, smarts, unselfishness, shooting will fit the Jazz,” he said. “Maybe it comes in the form of Epke Udoh or Royce O’Neale. One’s 30 and one’s 24, so age can arbitrary.”
One problem the Jazz have in looking for more experienced players is not a lot of cap space to work with this year. They have close to $90 million committed to next year with a league cap of around $101 million and a luxury tax around $120 million, and that doesn’t include either Favors, a free agent or Exum, a restricted free agent.
For the Jazz, the idea is to assemble the best roster possible regardless of a player’s age or experience.
“The end in mind isn’t to stay young or to get older because you’re young,” Lindsey said. “The end in mind is to be the last team standing.”
Average age of top 8 players among final 8 teams in NBA playoffs
Golden State 29.5
New Orleans 28.0