Dennis Lindsey is unafraid of reducing the Jazz’s needs down to the obvious, because he knows NBA history and he knows what’s obvious is true. But he also allows for the subtle, for the exceptional, for the unlikely, because he knows he might end up having to go that more flexible, obscure route.
Picking at five in the draft rather than one or two or, in this case, three or four can require creativity, can require suspending or stretching what’s real.
For all the talk about coaching up and developing young players, and making the most of them — “Never underestimate great coaching, great chemistry and what that can mean,” he says — the Jazz understand both what they lack and what they need most: a generational star.
It is the age-old path to becoming a legitimate contender in the NBA.
What are the Heat without LeBron? What were the Lakers without Kobe or Shaq? The Spurs without Tim Duncan? The Mavs without Dirk? The Bulls without MJ? The Celtics without Larry?
Those are extreme cases. Let’s ratchet it back a notch, from generational to plain old big time.
What are the Warriors without Steph Curry? The Clippers without Chris Paul? The Blazers without Damian Lillard? The Hawks without Paul Millsap?
(Errr, scratch that last one.)
If they are to emerge out of their current fog, the Jazz need somebody, anybody, who can ascend to that upper echelon, somebody with enough superior talent to lead them forward. As is, they have no such leader.
“If you study the history of the league, it’s best to have a Hall-of-Fame-quality player on your team,” Lindsey says. “And, then, to surround him with one or maybe two All-Star-quality players.”
OK, hold it right there.
Bag the Hall-of-Fame guy, there’s nobody on the Jazz within shouting distance of that. But do they have even one potential All-Star? Add work and experience and maybe Derrick Favors could blossom into that. Do they have another? It takes either exaggeration or imagination to uncover him. Trey Burke? Maybe, if he can greatly improve his shooting. Gordon Hayward? He’ll have to carry an increased load better, with more consistency than he did this past season. Enes Kanter? Uh … defense.
There’s some potential there, if not probability.
But a great lead dog is missing, and that lowers the Jazz’s ceiling all the way down to mud hut level.
“I’m not so sure that two years ago with the Indiana Pacers that they checked all those boxes,” Lindsey counters. “Relative to the East, they built a consistent contender.”
Yeah, and there’s always the 2004 Detroit Pistons from which to draw inspiration for a kind of group contention.
“We’re just trying to make as many good decisions as we can and, then, line them up,” Lindsey says. “I’m still hopeful that [that] player can come from within our group. Certainly, the fifth pick will add to that mix moving forward.”
Lindsey, who has been flying around the country watching premier players work out, says the Jazz are excited about the prospects at five: “The more we study it, collectively, the more we’re pleased. There are going to be terrific players available well past five, and we have to select the best one.”
He says discussions in the Jazz’s inner sanctum continue regarding whether the team should go with a less-developed player with a higher upside or one with a lower upside who is ready to contribute right away. Or whether they should prioritize an animated, ultra-competitive, tough-minded type over a more talented quiet player.
All of those questions are being hammered through, he says. Lindsey also stresses that everything is on the table for the Jazz, pertaining to the immediate draft and possible future transactions, that the Jazz will be active rather than passive.
“All the options will be exhausted,” he says. “Trading up, trading back, trading out, whatever the best alternative is.”
Back to the star issue.
The obvious need.
If the Jazz see a real difference-maker in this draft, they should roll out what they can, excluding no current player on their roster, no future draft pick, or no combo-pack of both, in securing him now. Easy to say, harder to do, but recognition and aggression are the keys. Trust what they see and go after it with their assets out.
It beats the alternative, the other subtle, exceptional, unlikely route.
“If we have to do it without the No. 1 pick in the draft, the charge is still the same - to put a consistent contender out there on the court,” Lindsey says. “We just have to do it with a different model. [Like the Pacers] and some other teams from the past. It’s a balanced team that we would lean on until we can aggregate all our picks and trade them for a star or for someone in the draft who we think can be a star.”
Be smart and bold, if that guy is there.
All the coaching and chemistry and creativity on the planet won’t advance the Jazz quicker.
Gordon Monson hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.