Utah Jazz: Dennis Lindsey Deserves Credit, But There’s Work Left to Do


Dennis Lindsey deserves recognition for rebuilding the Utah Jazz to the brink of a postseason return, but has a long way to go for his tenure to be a true success story.

The Utah Jazz won just 40 games this season and continued their streak of early summer vacations by missing the NBA Playoffs. Still, it was another year of growth in Utah and it’s becoming increasingly clear that Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey has built a potential winner in the wild Western Conference.

For his efforts this season, he received a third-place vote for the league’s Executive of the Year award. Some Jazz fans may look at that and say, “What? Only one?” Others will scoff at the very notion that the general manager of a losing team would factor into somebody’s ballot.

In evaluating the Lindsey regime, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

Without question, Lindsey helped establish a firm direction for the franchise when he joined it in 2012. Upon his arrival, the Jazz dedicated themselves to developing their young talent and acquiring assets for the future. In that respect, he and the team have done quite well for themselves.

They brought in head coach Quin Snyder and, under his direction, Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors have played like All-Stars. When he’s been healthy, Alec Burks has shown the ability to be an offensive force as well. Time will tell if the trio are truly good enough to captain a winning ship, but their development is undeniable.

Lindsey has also expanded the scope of the team’s player evaluation process with free agent mini-camps and an exhaustive pre-draft workout schedule, an overhaul that should pay dividends for years to come. It paid off in 2015, for example, when the team plucked Bryce Cotton from the ether and he ended up playing meaningful minutes for the Jazz.

The NBA Draft is where Lindsey and Co. have done some of their best work. Rodney Hood was the steal of the draft in 2014. The move to buy the late first-round selection that became Rudy Gobert one year before looks like a stroke of genius now. The Trey Lyles pick in 2015 may also prove to be a steal.

The jury is still out on Dante Exum, but if he can live up to his massive potential, he becomes a franchise-changing selection.

Lindsey has also made savvy moves on the trade front, filling the coffers with future draft picks through creative use of the team’s cap room at various junctures. His best trade, though, may have come this past season when he turned a future second-rounder into Shelvin Mack, who almost instantly became the team’s starting point guard.

Any time you can get something good for almost nothing, it’s an incredible feat. With the Mack deal, Lindsey did just that.

However, as good as Lindsey has been, he’s not without his scars. The deal to package multiple first-round picks to move up and select Trey Burke has looked worse with each passing year. The players Minnesota acquired with those picks, Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, are now key cogs to the T-Wolves youth movement.

As for Burke, well, we all know how that’s turned out.

The Enes Kanter trade also gives me pause. The former No. 3 overall pick may have tanked his own trade value by killing ball movement, playing olé defense and demanding to be dealt in the press. However, one can’t help but wonder if Tibor Pleiss and a middling future pick was ample compensation as Kanter flourishes in OKC.

Of course, those deals aren’t what really get Jazz fans riled up. If anything, it’s the deals that weren’t made that continue to stick in their craw. The decision to let both Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap walk, for example, instead of dealing them to get some kind of return before their contracts expired remains a point of contention.

The absence of movement this season is another example. With the team lacking depth and struggling to keep pace in the playoff race, many hoped for a big trade. Although Lindsey tried to get something substantial done, nothing was consummated outside of the move to acquire Mack.

Lindsey addressed this point during locker cleanout, welcoming the criticism. “I think some of the criticism of us is fair, relative to our payroll and moves we could have made at the deadline.” he said.

While the rest of us aren’t privy to discussions that may have taken place with other clubs about potential moves and trades can be difficult to get across the finish line in the NBA, I would agree with Lindsey’s assessment. If your team misses out on a playoff berth by such a slim margin when little was done to correct course, criticism may be justified.

Nevertheless, Lindsey’s Jazz have gotten better from year to year. After winning just 25 games in 2014–the first year of the youth movement–the team improved to 38 wins last season and 40 in 2015-16. If not for injuries, this year’s total may have been closer to 50 and the team would have certainly made the playoffs.

Injuries aren’t just an excuse either–they’re the reality, and you can’t blame Lindsey for Exum’s torn ACL or Burks’ broken fibula. It’s easy to sit back and poke holes in his plan, but just realize that all of the injuries have made it nearly impossible to know whether that plan is actually working or not.

Still, the returns to this point seem to indicate that it is and Lindsey deserves some credit for that. There’s work yet to be done, but he has earned the opportunity to see the end result of the rebuilding effort that he initiated.

Through the highs and the lows, the victories and the missteps, the one thing you can’t deny is Lindsey’s vision. Clearly, he has a firm idea of what kind of team he wants to put on the floor and how the talent he brings in should be developed. The Jazz organization has clear goals and an established philosophy for reaching them.

It’s more than you can say for a lot of teams and executives around the Association.

Next: Justin Zanik Interviewing with Bucks

So as the Jazz enter what looks to be a pivotal offseason, I’m glad that Lindsey is the guy calling the shots. He may not be batting 1.000, but he’s legging out his fair share of doubles and triples. Hopefully he can get some runs on the board this summer.

His tenure isn’t quite a success story yet, but if the team can make another jump next season and establish themselves as contenders in the years ahead, it will be.

Get it done, DL.