As the 2013-14 NBA season wound down, the Utah Jazz and Boston Celtics kindly conspired to fulfill my forecast for their futures.
And now, it gets really interesting. Who would you rather be at this point, the Jazz’s Dennis Lindsey or the Celtics’ Danny Ainge? Each executive is working with two first-round choices in next month’s draft and has multiple picks in upcoming years. The biggest difference: The Celtics have a coach, which makes Lindsey’s workload — and the overall importance of his decisions in June — significantly greater than Ainge’s.
The Jazz are further along in their development than the Celtics, in terms of having a core group of players in place. Yet that’s an advantage only if those guys improve markedly, which makes this summer as critical for Alec Burks, Derrick Favors and other players as it is for Lindsey. The team’s biggest degree of progress must come from within, regardless of who’s hired as coach and who arrives via the draft or other moves.
Last July, I suggested the Jazz and Celtics were on “parallel tracks” in the rebuilding process. That turned out to be so true, it’s almost eerie. They posted the same records (25-57) this past season, with each team winning three of its last 19 games. Mix in the Gordon Hayward factor, and you have more commonality. The Jazz’s restricted free agent is likely to draw interest from the Celtics, who employ Brad Stevens, Hayward’s former Butler University coach.
The teams tied for the league’s fourth-worst record and each fell one spot via the lottery, with a drawing giving the Jazz the No. 5 pick. These franchises undoubtedly were banking on a top-three slot, which would have accelerated their timetables. They’re now sorting through the next tier of candidates, with no obvious choices at No. 5 or 6.
The Jazz’s dilemma is that just about anyone worthy of a No. 5 pick basically would duplicate a player they already have. That’s why moving down in the draft could serve them well, assuming there’s no hope of positioning themselves to take Jabari Parker. They need a shooter, and nobody in the No. 5 ballpark can fill that role.
As for the coaching search, the level of experience or particular philosophy of Tyrone Corbin’s replacement matters less to me than his ability to develop players and give the Jazz some kind of identity. The Celtics have that element with Stevens. Ainge made a risk/reward choice in hiring him, and nobody can say for sure that Stevens will succeed in the NBA. But what’s clear is he has a method, based on statistical analytics, and he’ll stick to it.
That’s what the Jazz lack at the moment. Whether it’s the defensive approach of Chicago assistant Adrian Griffin, the offensive orientation of former NBA head coach Alvin Gentry, or what someone else might bring, they need a structure that everybody — players, management and fans — can embrace.
Beyond that, the players simply have to get better. It’s assumed that pro athletes will improve year by year, but that’s not necessarily true.
The Jazz need to keep Hayward, but he can’t remain the same guy. His shooting must improve, as a result of some combination of a better offensive system and his own efforts. Burks has a knack of getting to the basket, but finishing is a big issue. If he becomes a consistent outside shooter, his driving ability will be enhanced.
Enes Kanter also must extend his shooting range. That would make him more effective in tandem with Favors, who still needs to develop a go-to move inside and counters to adjust for how teams defend him.
Trey Burke proved to be a shrewd pick by Lindsey, who moved up to draft him, but he has to average a lot more than 5.7 assists by creating more opportunities for his teammates. Rudy Gobert needs offensive development to become a rotation player.
Like the Celtics, the Jazz will have a slightly revamped roster in 2014-15. The issue is how much better their record will be. Lindsey, the new coach and the rookies all hold responsibility for the team’s improvement. So do the returning players.
The Jazz and Boston Celtics not only posted but the same records in 2013-14, but they’re similarly positioned for the June 26 NBA Draft and future drafts.
Subject Jazz Celtics
Executive Dennis Lindsey Danny Ainge
Coach TBA Brad Stevens
Record 25-57 25-57
Last 19 3-16 3-16
’14 picks No. 5 and 23 Nos. 6 and 17
Future extra picks 2017 2015, ’16, ’18