Although the Utah Jazz have typically been known for holding onto their draft assets, they would be wise to look to trade their first round draft picks this offseason.
Heading into the 2016-17 NBA season, the Utah Jazz made a move prior to the draft that was somewhat out of the norm for them based on years prior. Rather than hold on to their lottery pick that would have had them picking 12th overall, they traded it instead to bring in veteran George Hill in a clear “win-now” move.
And win the Jazz did. Not only did they put up 51 total victories during the regular season, but they went on to win their first round playoff series before being swept by the Golden State Warriors in round two. In other words, making the move for George Hill certainly paid dividends as the Jazz posted a very successful season in terms of their continued improvement.
But that doesn’t change the fact that for several years before that, the draft had been Utah’s bread and butter and holding onto or trading for picks that could help them grow from within was their main area of focus. That’s panned out rather well in many ways such as with Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert (who Utah actually made a trade with the Denver Nuggets to acquire), but in the case of guys like Rodney Hood, Dante Exum and Trey Lyles, there’s still some work to be done.
However, Utah’s decision last offseason clearly marked their intention to forego a slow internal rebuild and instead focus on becoming as formidable as possible. With the star-studded Golden State Warriors dominating the Western Conference and likely the league as a whole, there’s no questioning that if Utah hopes to have any sort of a championship run in the near future, they’ll need to continue to look to add proven and formidable talent that will allow them to compete with the league’s best.
Hayward and Gobert are on the cusp of being those kind of stars for the Jazz, but even if they both improve yet again next season, the team will still need its role players to step up significantly and likely bring in an additional piece or two from outside their ranks.
And while there could very well be some nice late first round picks this year that one day blossom into contributors, if Utah holds onto its picks and utilizes them in that way, then by the time those guys get to where they need to be, Hayward and Gobert could be elsewhere and Utah’s window may very well be closed.
Therefore, as Dennis Lindsey and Co. look for crafty ways to help the Jazz get better for next season, dangling both of those picks out there on the trading block should absolutely be a part of the strategy.
Given that they’re late first round picks, (the 24th and 30th to be exact), there’s no guarantee that the Jazz could get a major impact player for one or both of them, but they could also be used to sweeten the pot in a trade that sends someone like Alec Burks out the door for the Jazz while alleviating themselves of his cumbersome salary.
On a side note, either of Utah’s second round picks could be used as deal sweeteners as well, but given the fact that those don’t equate to guaranteed salaries, it’s not as critical that Utah trade them. However, since their two first-rounders will turn into guaranteed salaries, the Jazz may be better off moving them so as to not accrue unnecessary players on payroll when their budget will be stretched just to keep the likes of Hayward, Hill and Joe Ingles.
Of course the tricky part of any trade isn’t who should be moved, but rather what can be received in return from which suitor. As I alluded to, while incredible players have come outside of the lottery, they’re far from a guaranteed thing and teams can often be hesitant to give up a proven vet in exchange for such an unknown.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of circumstances where a team would do such a thing, such as in a major rebuild or to shed some salary. If Utah can find a potential trade partner (likely one that finds itself either just inside or just outside the playoff picture) that is looking to move a vet or two and begin an overhaul, they could be in good shape.
Not to mention, the current landscape of the NBA actually bodes very well for the Jazz in that it could motivate several underachieving teams to do just that. In a league where the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors each rule their respective conferences, teams know that it’s either get past them or kiss your championship hopes goodbye.
Unfortunately few have come anywhere close to challenging that pair, so for some it may look more appealing to plan for the future rather than continue to run head-first into the same wall over and over again. The more that think that way, the more potential trade partners the Jazz may be able to find.
Beyond that, there are several other reasons why a team would be willing to give up an established player for draft picks. Take the Atlanta Hawks last season who were simply ready to hand the point guard reins over to Dennis Schroeder and thus were more than willing to ship off Jeff Teague in order to clear his salary while bringing in a young promising prospect.
Even a team not in rebuild mode, such as the Hawks last season, can have interest in a pick if it may be a better long-term fit than a current player. Just because a team isn’t necessarily looking to rebuild doesn’t mean it shouldn’t keep the future in mind.
Which brings another potential Jazz scenario to mind. With Utah’s current win-now state and with a probable squeeze on finances and perhaps roster spots, I truly don’t think that it’s wise for them to retain both of their first-round picks and the guaranteed salaries that come with them. However, if they could potentially package both to move up in the draft and get one single first-round pick, that could actually work out rather nicely.
Not only would it up their chances of getting an actual impact player, but it would help fortify them for the long haul rather than leaving them barren in the case that current core players eventually leave. The first such player that comes to mind is Donovan Mitchell, who made it a point to work out for the Utah Jazz and seems likely to fit from both a basketball and culture standpoint. If an arrangement like that could be made, it would most certainly be a wise one.
The fact of the matter is that the Jazz are in need of improvements this offseason so they can continue on their current upwards trajectory and truly compete with the league’s best while their current core is intact. And with quality free agents being tough to net (not to mention expensive) and with no instant gratification likely from low first-round picks, the Jazz would be much better off looking to trade their picks in hopes that they could net something of value now.
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Last season Utah’s biggest move, trading the 12th pick for George Hill, came well before the draft, meaning that their offseason started off with a bang quite early into the summer. With two first-rounders this time around and certain need of an upgrade, don’t be surprised to see that same thing happen but to an even greater degree prior to the NBA Draft on June 22nd.