The Utah Jazz’s summer has begun, and all eyes are on what Dennis Lindsey will do to improve this team. After watching the Jazz struggle against the Rockets in the playoffs, help is needed to ease the scoring burden placed on Donovan Mitchell.
This offseason, Lindsey could have as much as $20 million in cap space to play with if the Jazz let Derrick Favors walk in free agency, renounce the rights to Dante Exum and Raul Neto and then waive the non-guarantees for next year on Thabo Sefolosha, Jonas Jerebko and Ekpe Udoh’s contracts. Letting all these pieces go could cost the Jazz a lot of their depth, something they shouldn’t do.
Without gutting half the roster, can Lindsey add a third star that is crucial to have in making a title run? The Jazz front office will exhaust all avenues (trade, draft and free agency) to continue to build a contender. The most glaring need this offseason is solidifying the power forward position.
Lindsey could try to bring Favors back. He is the longest-tenured Jazz man and loves the organization and the state. “I‘ve been here through the tough times and I’ve been here through the good times, kind of like a relationship that you’ve been through so much together,” he said recently. “There’s no sense in breaking it up, so it will definitely play a factor with me because I think this team has a bright future.”
As good as Favors has been for the Jazz, one wonders with the NBA trending smaller and smaller, is playing him and Rudy Gobert the best way to maximize this team’s potential? In the playoff series with the Rockets, the Jazz were run off the court with those two playing together. The league today places a premium on shooting, and if teams can’t spread the floor, they have a hard time scoring. Favors has started taking more 3-point shots (mostly corner threes) this past year to become more of a stretch four.
Averaging only 22 percent from deep doesn’t keep defenses honest, and for him to become respectable he would need to average around 32 percent. Credit Favors’ work ethic because no one would be surprised if he improves this next season. The Jazz have Gobert, who is one of the best big men at rolling to the rim. For this to be successful, good shooting is a must. When the Jazz play with more of a stretched floor (Joe Johnson, Jae Crowder or Jerebko), the court opens up and lanes are wider for the offense to orchestrate.
Their offense may be better without Favors, but defensively the Jazz will struggle. This season, Gobert and Favors have a defensive rating of 99.5. Favors has been one of the best big men in his ability to switch and defend smaller and faster players. Due to injuries and the loss of athleticism (which happens with age to everyone) his skill in this is slowly diminishing.
The new version of the power forward, aka stretch four or playmaking four, needs to be able to shoot from long range, get a rebound, push the ball upcourt and defend multiple positions. Favors has worked hard to adapt his game the best he can to these changes. In today’s game, he is simply more suited to play center than power forward. Lindsey will have one of the toughest decisions he has had to make as general manager on whether to re-sign their loyal big man.
If the Jazz do decide to move on from Favors and sign a playmaking four, Jabari Parker should be at the top of their list. He is a restricted free agent this summer with the Milwaukee Bucks. Both sides of this partnership seem to be at odds with each other. Parker was very animated talking about his frustration right now with limited minutes. Stephen Watson of WISN News tweeted that Parker mentioned the only way to see the floor more was to be on the “coach’s good side.” When asked if he was on Joe Prunty’s good side, he smirked and said, “I don’t think so.”
The money required to sign Parker outright so the Bucks wouldn’t match the offer sheet will cost the Jazz their depth. Even if the Bucks don’t want him back, they probably don’t want to lose him for nothing. This is where Lindsey needs to get creative. The Bucks are in need of a good center, and Favors would be a great fit with them, but they don’t have the cap space to sign him to a big money deal. A double sign-and-trade (Parker for Favors) makes sense for both sides and would help each team get the player they need to help improve their team.
Parker is a former No. 2 pick of the draft just four seasons ago. He is still young (23) and has room for growth. The Bucks under Jason Kidd lacked an environment for helping players develop. If the Jazz’s top-notch developmental staff got a chance to work with Parker, who knows how good he could become. His best season was 2016-17, when he averaged 20.1 points, 3.8 assists and 6.2 rebounds a game.
During the 2015-16 season, Kevin O’Conner, formerly of SBNation and now the Ringer’s NBA draft guru, said, “Parker was my No. 1 ranked prospect in 2014, ahead of actual No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins. He's athletic, but relies on more than just athleticism. He can also lean on fluidity, feel, ambidexterity and rock-solid fundamentals.”
Parker is a scorer, and that is something the Jazz need.
The reason why the Bucks might be willing to part with Parker is because both of his knees have had ACL tears. During his rookie season, after just 25 games, he tore his right ACL and then two seasons later he tore the left ACL, costing him most of the past two seasons. The injury concern is something the Jazz should take a hard look at and, lucky for them, they have the former assistant general manager of the Bucks (filling the same role with the Jazz) in Justin Zanik. They also have David Morway, who is another former assistant general manager of the Bucks (when they drafted Parker), working with the Jazz front office. So the Jazz should have plenty of intel on whether taking a gamble on Parker is a sound risk.
Parker’s defense hasn’t been one of his strengths, but early in his career he put in more effort. An engaged Parker with Gobert behind him will help hide some of Parker’s defensive limitations. There are some very concerning questions about Parker’s health, and if the Jazz guess wrong, it would set the franchise back. Some risks are worth taking because players with Parker’s skill set don’t just grow on trees. He is the playmaking four of coach Quin Snyder’s dreams. “Parker is flashing his superstar potential in particularly unique way," O’Conner said. "Not many 6-foot-8, 250-pound humans can move like he does.”
The dream scenario of the Jazz would be signing LeBron James to be their new power forward. The Jazz could offer James a newer version of Kyrie Irving in Mitchell, the best defensive center in the league and one of the best coaching staffs James would ever have. Fans shouldn’t get their hopes up because a Jazz and James pairing is just about as likely as Lloyd Christmas ending up with Mary Swanson in "Dumb and Dumber."
If the Jazz can’t get a pure playmaking four, they could look to add a role player who can fulfill a lot of the needs this team has at power forward. Minnesota’s Nemanja Bjelica would be a nice addition to Snyder’s team. This offseason he will, like Parker, be a restricted free agent, meaning the Wolves can match any offer Lindsey makes. The Wolves, with the new max extension of Andrew Wiggins, are up against the luxury tax. So the likelihood of matching a good deal seems slim.
Bjelica is a 6-foot-10, 240-pound European power forward. His strength is his ability to shoot from anywhere on the court. Last season he shot 41.5 percent from 3-point land, which would help spread the floor and open up bigger lanes for Mitchell and others to take advantage of. He also has played as a small forward in Minnesota, so he has the ability to lead a fast break. He is an average defender but works hard on that end of the court. Nate Duncan, the host of Dunc’d On Basketball podcast, believes Bjelica would be a “wonderful fit” with the Jazz.
Lindsey could also look to trade for his future power forward, but names like Justise Winslow and Tobias Harris seem hard to get with the lack of assets the Jazz have, plus their own teams might not want to trade them. If James leaves Cleveland, then the Cavs may want to start over and may be willing to listen to offers on Kevin Love. Love is an excellent stretch four, but the playmaking Minnesota T-Wolves version of Love, who was a top 10 player in the league five seasons ago, isn’t walking through that door. He also has two years left on his contract that is worth around $25 million a season. This would cap out the Jazz and limit what they could do in the future.
The NBA draft is right around the corner, and Lindsey has been very successful in finding hidden gems late in the first round. But the odds of the 21st pick having a huge impact next season aren’t amazing. “In Lindsey we trust” should be the motto of Jazz fans this summer. Expect him to explore every option that is out there to improve his team.
Follow Kincade Upstill on Twitter @kincade12 or email him at [email protected]