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Jazz mitigate loss of Gordon Hayward well, but that’s still a devastating departure

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Jazz traded up to draft a player who is already exceeding expectations.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

The Jazz made a savvy trade to land a starter before free agency even began.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

The Jazz executed several nice value signings.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

In what was otherwise a smart offseason, there’s just no way around Utah losing Hayward – a 27-year-old star at the critical wing position. Hayward’s importance to the Jazz is self-evident in the effort to re-sign him – a max offer, a billboard, multiple players flying to San Diego for a final meeting. His departure to the Celtics derails what had been a promising ascension.

Two years ago, the Jazz were the only team with four 25-and-under players – Hayward, Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood – who posted at least six win shares.

Last year, the Jazz were the only team a pair of 26-and-under players – Hayward and Gobert – who posted at least 10 win shares.

Though Favors’ and Hood’s progress was sidetracked by injury, Utah still made another step forward with Hayward and Gobert becoming All-Star caliber. If Favors and Hood got healthy, they could have joined Hayward and Gobert – and Donovan Mitchel (who was drafted No. 13 this year then impressed in summer league) and Ricky Rubio (who was acquired for just a likely low first-round pick thanks to the Jazz’s excess cap space to close the 2016-17 fiscal year) – in a core that was growing into a legitimate Western Conference power.

Alas, Hayward bolted for Boston, which threatens even more in the Eastern Conference.

The Jazz rebounded as well as can be expected. They preemptively got Rubio for just a lottery-protected Thunder pick, allowing them not to re-sign George Hill and deal with the 31-year-olds frequent injury troubles. Mitchell has quickly drawn rave reviews. Thabo Sefolosha ($5.25 million), Jonas Jerebko ($4 million) and Ekpe Udoh ($3.2 million) are all on favorable salaries – and each have unguaranteed seasons tacked on for next year, making their deals even more team-friendly.

Those players could join a deep rotation that already includes Gobert, Favors, Hood, Joe Ingles, Joe Johnson and Dante Exum. And here’s a little secret: Gobert – not Hayward, the team’s lone All-Star – was Utah’s best player last year. The Jazz aren’t falling off the map just yet.

Their defense might be even better. They could win even more than the 51 games they won last year if healthier.

But their offense will suffer without Hayward’s creation (which could hurt their defensive rating, if they’re defending after makes less often), and their ceiling is far lower. Guaranteeing Ingles $50 million during his 30s is probably an overpay that will also limit flexibility, though at least his salary declines annually.

The Jazz did a good job of handling losing a star. But losing a star isn’t good, and I’m grading results.

Offseason grade: D+

Report: Jazz waiving Boris Diaw

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The Jazz were good for Gordon Hayward. He decided another team would be better for him going forward.

Boris Diaw was good for the Jazz. They decided another player would be better for them going forward.

Following Utah’s emotional reaction to Hayward leaving for the Celtics, the Jazz are back to the cold business decisions teams and players make all the time.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

Utah’s recent additions of Thabo Sefolosha and Jonas Jerebko – whose salaries combined exceed the mid-level exception and individually surpassed the bi-annual exception – necessitated dumping Diaw. Diaw’s $7.5 million salary is fully unguaranteed and becomes fully guaranteed Saturday. The Jazz could always trade him if a deal presents itself before Saturday, but this report suggests they’ve already canvassed and found no takers.

Utah has plenty of options to take Diaw’s minutes, in big or small lineups: Derrick Favors, Jonas Jerebko, Joe Ingles, Joe Johnson and Ekpe Udoh. None possess Diaw’s playmaking ability, but Ricky Rubio‘s talent as a singular distributor make that less of a concern.

The 35-year-old Diaw has shown significant signs of decline, but he has so much basketball intelligence and is so well-liked, he’ll likely land with a contender.

Report: Jazz signing Jonas Jerebko to two-year, $8.2 million contract

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The Jazz have avenged the Celtics poaching Gordon Hayward.

Utah is signing Jonas Jerebko, who spent the last few years in Boston.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

When the Jazz agreed to terms with Thabo Sefolosha earlier today, it was unclear whether they’d sign him with the mid-level exception or clear cap room for him. This suggests they’ll waive Boris Diaw, whose $7.5 million salary is fully unguaranteed and becomes fully guaranteed Saturday,* to create cap space. Jerebko wouldn’t fit into the remainder of the mid-level exception or bi-annual exception.

*Utah could also clear space by trading someone, including Diaw. Waiving him is the simplest, and therefor most likely, outcome.

Jerebko would fit into the room exception, allowing the Jazz to use the rest of their cap space before finalizing his deal. If they also delay making Joe Inglescontract official – his cap hold is low, and they have his Bird Rights – they’d have a little less than $3 million available.

I’m not sure how far that money would go for Utah, which was already pretty deep even before adding Jerebko.

The 30-year-old Jerebko has seemed to figure out that his place in the league is as a hustle player who makes 3-pointers, not as the scorer he flirted with trying to become. As long as he maintains that mindset, he should be helpful as a combo forward.

Derrick Favors is better than Jerebko, but considering the tough fit with Rudy Gobert, Jerebko might even start at power forward. Though injuries factored, Diaw held down that role late last season for similar reason. Jerebko isn’t nearly the distributor Diaw is, but Utah has less use for frontcourt playmaking with Ricky Rubio. Jerebko’s floor-spacing could be sufficient, even if Joe Johnson takes over to close games.

Boston had to renounce Jerebko to clear room for Hayward. Though Jerebko had some nice moments there, I’m sure the Celtics are just fine with the de facto swap.

Report: Jazz signing Thabo Sefolosha to two-year $10.5 million contract

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The Jazz lost their biggest star in Gordon Hayward, but they’re not slipping quietly into irrelevancy.

To help remain competitive for the playoffs, Utah filling its small forward hole with Thabo Sefolosha.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

This would fit into the taxpayer mid-level exception. The Jazz could also waive Boris Diaw or Raul Neto to fit Sefolosha into cap space and use the room exception on someone else. Utah appears far enough below the apron to use the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, but this leaves more options open (signing someone else with the remaining portion of the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, acquiring a player in a sign-and-trade, eventually exceeding the apron).

Likewise, the Jazz will have plenty of options on the court at wing. Rodney Hood and Alec Burks should be healthier. Rookie Donovan Mitchell has impressed in summer league. Joe Ingles and Joe Johnson will receive playing time at both forward positions.

The 33-year-old Sefolosha is past his peak, but he remains a helpful 3-and-D contributor. He’ll fit well in Utah with his high basketball intelligence.

Atlanta already moved the younger Taurean Prince ahead of him. This is another opportunity to remember the Hawks probably should have traded Sefolosha (and Paul Millsap) last year and gotten something for them. But even without a head start in accumulating assets, Atlanta is still moving further into rebuilding now.

Looking back on how Brooklyn surrendered all these picks to Boston

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It ended up being one of the worst trades ever in the NBA, certainly the worst in the last couple of decades.

In the summer of 2013, the Nets — at the behest of an ownership group that wanted to win big heading into a new arena in Brooklyn — put together a trade that netted them Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce (to go with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez), two Hall of Fame players but guys now on the downside of their career. Both guys lasted two seasons with the Nets.

The cost? Brooklyn surrendered a 2014 first rounder (turned out to be No. 17), a 2016 first rounder (No. 3), the rights to swap picks in 2017 (No. 1), and the Nets 2018 pick (likely to be high lottery again).

How did this happen? How did the Nets give up the motherload? Stephan Bondy at the New York Daily News has a great retrospective piece talking to people, and it wasn’t as simple as “GM Billy King screwed up.” If you read one thing today on hoops, it should be this piece.

The downfall started with an ownership group obsessed with having the best toys right now – they wanted big stars to open their new arena (remember they chased Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard, too). The formula included the fact the Nets in 2013 looked like a team on the rise (and LeBron James looked almost vulnerable). There was King not getting enough protections on picks. It led to a level of arrogance in the organization that backfired.

The first deal negotiated with the Celtics was just for Pierce, and the Nets only had to give up one draft pick, Kris Humphries and MarShon Brooks. But then Doc Rivers left the Celtics for the Clippers, and Garnett came into focus because there was nothing left for him in Boston. To match salaries, the Nets had to get rid of Gerald Wallace and his ugly contract paying $30 million over the next three years.

Shedding that cost Brooklyn another first-round draft pick, along with the two they were giving up for Garnett and Pierce. For a year in between, the Celtics negotiated the right to swap first-round picks. That turned into the Celtics landing No. 1 overall in 2017, which they’re reportedly close to trading to Philly for even more lottery picks.

“The arrogance in the room was that we were going to roll, we were going to win these next couple of years,” said a former Nets staff member who was in the draft room. “Maybe not the championship, but we were going to win the next couple of years and have sustainable success. We were going to keep signing free agents. We were always going to draft between 20 and 30. So if we’re going to swap with the Celtics, who gives a f—? That definitely was the thought.”

Also forgot in all this, and brought up by Bondy — the move was praised at the time for the most part. The Nets came in second in the annual GM survey at the start of next season for having had the best off-season (they got 25 percent of the vote). It also worked to boost Nets ticket sales in Brooklyn.

Of course, everything went sideways from the start for the Nets. Williams was injured and missed training camp, and more importantly he never really wanted to be in that spotlight as the leader anyway. Coach Jason Kidd squabbled with assistants and banished Lawrence Frank. Garnett missed 30 games. He and Pierce seemed disengaged from the team. Brook Lopez broke his foot just a couple of months into the season. Andrei Kirilenko was not the same. And Bondy reports “Andray Blatche allegedly showed up drunk to practices, according to multiple sources.”

Eventually, Kidd bolted for Milwaukee (after his bid to gain GM power failed) and ownership decided to close its wallet to the big spending.

It all came undone within a couple of years, but the Nets are still paying the price.

New GM Sean Marks is shrewd and made smart plays — like going hard after restricted free agents Allen Crabbe and Tyler Johnson — even if he came up empty. He made a smart move to bring in Jeremy Lin, who unfortunately was injured much of last season. They are trying to develop Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.

But the Nets are years and years away. Mostly because of this one horrible trade.