As if losing out on Gordon Hayward wasn’t hard enough, the Utah Jazz have also largely ran out of options to replace him with.
The Utah Jazz organization always knew that there was at least some likelihood of Gordon Hayward doing exactly what he opted to do this summer – join the Boston Celtics. Although the Jazz did everything in their power to keep the All-Star, and largely based all their future plans on the idea that Hayward would continue to be their centerpiece, Dennis Lindsey and the Jazz brain trust no doubt had contingency plans in mind should the worst happen.
And as we all know now, that’s exactly what came to pass – perhaps in an even worse way than Jazz brass could have ever imagined.
It was hard enough that Hayward decided to leave the Jazz, but the way he went about his announcement and the fact that it took so much time beyond what was expected for him to reach his final decision truly hampered the Jazz. His wavering back and forth led to the Jazz missing out on precious time to secure a potential replacement and since then their fortune hasn’t changed much either.
The situation became so problematic once Hayward finally reached his decision that even the normally cool and collected Dennis Lindsey had the following to say:
"“Timing has been problematic. It’s time for us to pivot. It’s time for us to move on. We like our young group and we think we’re going to keep the defensive integrity.There’s not as many prospects left on the board because of the timing. So we’ll take a look at it, prospects at every level.”"
When asked more specifically about his thoughts on Hayward’s handling of the situation, his lack of an answer likely said more than a real answer would have in the first place:
"“There’s probably a few adjectives there. That may be a conversation for a later date.”"
Since the Hayward fiasco, the Jazz have had to watch option after option come off the board. Former Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari was considered a prominent Jazz target, but he has since signed with the Los Angeles Clippers as part of a three-team deal.
James Johnson was another serious target who reportedly had mutual interest in joining the Jazz, but he eventually re-signed with the Miami Heat on a four-year deal. Rudy Gay was also rumored to be on Utah’s radar, but he just recently agreed to a two-year deal with the San Antonio Spurs.
There was a brief moment of great optimism for the Jazz as it was reported that sign-and-trade conversations with Boston had begun – given that the Celtics needed to clear cap space – and that Utah was targeting Jae Crowder in exchange for Gordon Hayward. The reports went as far as to say a deal was “close” though late Thursday evening, it was reported that talks had essentially stalled.
Now, those talks seem all but dead given that the Celtics finally pulled the trigger on a move to send Avery Bradley to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, which should give them the necessary cap space to pay Hayward his desired max contract. Parting ways with Crowder is now no longer a necessity for the Celtics and Utah’s sign-and-trade hopes are essentially dashed.
It’s quite possible that considering that Boston, already knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were getting Gordon Hayward, were requesting additional assets along with Hayward in order to part with Crowder. And without knowing exactly what those desired assets were, be it young players or otherwise, I imagine that Dennis Lindsey felt the asking price was too high.
So now the Jazz are without a doubt in a sticky spot (as if they weren’t to begin with, right?). There are a few potential options still available (you can see some of them in the list below from The J Notes alum Spencer Wixom), but none that are superbly pushing the needle at this point.
While it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Jazz still look to make some kind of move, quite frankly at this point I think they ought to largely stand pat. Before freaking out about that take, bemoaning a decision that would seem as if Utah was refusing to make moves to remain competitive, hear me out real quick.
I would have absolutely loved to have Danilo Gallinari or Rudy Gay and especially James Johnson or Jae Crowder. If Utah had landed any of those guys, I would have been beside myself.
However, the cold hard truth is that the Jazz have now missed on those guys (assuming nothing surprising comes up with Crowder). And their remaining options are going to do little to make them all that much better. At this point, Utah’s championship hopes are practically zero for next season and their playoff hopes are iffy as well.
Therefore, rather than break the bank trying to bring in a not-so-glamorous Hayward replacement, I think that the Jazz need to take 2017-18 as a year to evaluate what they have. The team has been so bridled with injuries that it’s quite honestly going to be hard to know who’s going to be a part of the plan moving forward.
Can Derrick Favors and Alec Burks get back to full strength? Can Joe Ingles live up to his contract? How will Rodney Hood react to potentially being “the guy” on offense? Can Dante Exum finally have that breakout season? Can Ricky Rubio revamp his career and be a perfect fit in Utah? Will Donovan Mitchell simply be a Summer League phenom or is he truly Utah’s future star?
These are all questions that the Jazz need to resolve this year so that they can plan for the future and get back to being a Western Conference challenger as soon as possible. As much as I’d like the Jazz to be competitive in 2017-18, I’d rather they be somewhat conservative this year in a season where they are far from likely to have great success and instead look to save cap space and plan to retool in the offseason of 2018.
Sure, Derrick Favors could very well similarly spurn the Utah Jazz next summer, and both Rodney Hood and Dante Exum will be restricted free agents, but that is actually more reason for Utah to now use this year as an evaluation year. What if Utah commits big money to a mediocre small forward, only to have one or both of Exum and Hood break out this season, making it difficult for the Jazz to match incoming offer sheets?
There’s undoubtedly plenty to consider. And as hard as it was for Jazz fans to be patient during the lengthy rebuild process that only just barely was starting to bear fruit, 2017-18 will likely have to be a call for patience once more.
There’s a ton of question marks involved with Utah’s current roster – they’ve failed to secure a concrete replacement for Gordon Hayward up to this point and they’re going to be faced with tough financial decisions in the very near future.
But rather than make a rash decision now which could potentially handcuff them for many seasons to come, at this point I’d like to instead see them take the cautious approach, allow Exum, Hood, Burks, Mitchell and Favors to prove what they’re truly made of, then look to be able to make a more educated decision with more financial flexibility next year in regards to how the team can become a powerhouse once again.
There’s no denying that the Jazz are in a tough spot right now, but I certainly think they can weather this storm. While it’s frustrating that there is no easy fix at the moment to fill the void left by Hayward, they have plenty of promising talent, an excellent front office and the flexibility to strategize on a way to get back on track quicker than one might suspect after losing their star player for nothing.