Is It Time for the Utah Jazz to Tank?

Mar 9, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Utah Jazz guard Trey Burke (3) fouls Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes (40) during the second quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 9, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Utah Jazz guard Trey Burke (3) fouls Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes (40) during the second quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

Injuries, inexperience and a lack of depth may have finally sunk the playoff hopes of the Utah Jazz this season. Is it time to focus on the NBA Draft instead of the No. 8 spot?

I know what you’re thinking. You’ve gone to Google News, looking for the latest rants on the Utah Jazz following the team’s loss to the defending champion Golden State Warriors and you were disgusted and appalled when one of the listings was entitled “Is It Time for the Utah Jazz to Tank??”

I’m with you. The very notion of teams “tanking,” i.e. giving less than their top effort to win games in favor of better draft positioning, is deplorable. By its very nature, it flies in the face of everything we’re taught as sports fans and competitors; the credo that giving your best, come what may, is the cornerstone of athletics and, really, life in general.

And yet, it happens. The Philadelphia 76ers have been doing it for years and have netted three top-three selections in six years as a result. All in hopes of landing a superstar player (or two). Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor may not become the league’s next version of the Twin Towers, but it won’t be for a lack of trying on the Sixers’ part.

Ironically, some would say that the San Antonio Spurs’ Twin Towers of David Robinson and Tim Duncan came as a result of a tank job in 1997.

With Robinson, Sean Elliott and Chuck Person hurt, the Spurs relied on an aging Dominique Wilkins (who had been out of the league) to shoulder the load and finished with a 20-62 record to put the franchise in a position to draft Duncan. The team went on to become the Spurs we all know and love after drafting the future Hall of Famer.

While the Spurs would probably tell you that their lost season came solely because of injuries, the end result was the aim of every good tank job; they lost an incredible amount of games and, ultimately, got a superstar and multiple championships out of it.

Whether or not the Spurs actually tanked continues to be a subject for debate, but the fact remains that teams are doing it. And while it sticks in the craw of fans and hoops purists everywhere, there aren’t any firm rules forbidding the practice. When asked about Philadelphia’s tanking strategy earlier this season, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver had this to say

"“Am I a fan of that strategy? Put it this way: No. But does that mean it’s not acceptable under league rules? It doesn’t.”"

So, with the Jazz now sitting three full games out of the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference following Wednesday’s loss to the Warriors and with difficult contests looming, maybe it’s time for the team to think about the future.

The Jazz have probably won too many games to be serious players for a top-three pick in the NBA Draft Lottery, but sometimes tanking isn’t about getting the best, just getting better. In 2012, the Jazz fell prey to the aforementioned Warriors when they elected to tank in order to keep a protected draft pick owed to Utah as part of a past trade.

Golden State benched a healthy Stephen Curry, did the same with David Lee under dubious circumstances and traded Monta Ellis for an injured Andrew Bogut that season. The result was an epic collapse and just enough losses to keep their pick for another year and draft Harrison Barnes.

Harrison Barnes is no Tim Duncan, but he is the starting small forward for the defending NBA champions, averaging 12 points, five rebounds and shooting 38 percent from three-point range. In other words, the kind of player the Jazz could use right about now.

Although the Jazz remain in the playoff conversation at three games behind the Houston Rockets, they’re also only three and a half games out of having the seventh-most ping-pong balls in the draft lottery. With some help, they could even get as high as sixth.

More from The J-Notes

A mid-lottery pick may not net a generational player, but it could conjure one that helps give the Jazz the depth they need to contend.

A playoff berth would be great; I expect the Jazz to secure one next season. But what bearing does a first-round playoff sweep at the hands of the Warriors this year have on making that happen in 2017 and beyond? To that point, how much did getting swept by the Spurs in 2011-12 help the Jazz?

Were there any great lessons to be had from Wednesday’s blowout loss? Will doing that four times in a row in May make Gordon Hayward a better closer or help Alec Burks‘ jump shot?

Perhaps the Jazz would be better served giving Hayward and the rest of the Jazz core a couple of nights off and airing on the side of caution with Burks’ return from leg surgery. Who knows, with a plethora of future picks in the coffers and Trey Burke likely on the move, the Jazz may just be able to position themselves for a significant player by moving up with a trade.

Next: Second Quarters Continue to Sink the Jazz

A pick in the eight or nine spot may not be enticing, but what about packaging it with Burke and a future first-round pick for something in the top five? This is, of course, an entirely hypothetical scenario that may or may not be actionable, but if it were so, would that be worth a handful of extra losses?


Do I think it’s right? Not exactly. Is it in the makeup of the Jazz organization to do it? Probably not, and I’m thankful for that.

Still, how many of you are asking yourselves if it’s the right move as you’re reading this? My guess is more than a few, and you may just be right to ask the question.