What free agency comes down to for the Jazz is the difference between two words: and and or. Or is it and or or?
As in: The Utah Jazz would be a more formidable contender in the West next season with Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors. Or: The Utah Jazz would be a more formidable contender in the West next season with Rudy Gobert or Derrick Favors.
That’s what Jazz management is trying to decide right now, the difference, the expense of the difference, both competitively and financially, between the two.
As has been reported and discussed again and again, the only remaining piece that gives the Jazz any kind of flexibility this offseason is Favors, and their option of letting him walk, freeing up the $17 or so million that would enable them to haul in the kind of stretch-four most suitable for Quin Snyder’s offense. It’s an attack that values — remarkable, really, given the team’s limitations over the past couple of seasons — guys who can shoot from distance.
One thing we know: Favors cannot shoot from distance. He was one of the worst 3-point shooters in the NBA last season. It is simply not in his game. And that’s a problem in the modern league.
He has other strengths, to be sure.
He can rebound, can defend, can score around the basket, can be a pro’s pro, can be a terrific teammate. He can fill in for Gobert when Gobert isn’t on the court, either running with the second unit or — shut your mouth — when Gobert is injured.
The Jazz with Gobert and Favors on the court forms the foundation for a wall of a defense that opponents righteously struggle to conquer.
But at the offensive end, those two are starters in name only. They do the dance, and then Favors takes a seat, waiting to be more effective entering games when Gobert exits. It’s a shame for Favors that in nearly any other NBA era, he would be heavily used, highly valued as a power forward. If Gobert weren’t on the Jazz, he would be their center, getting major stretches of time. Instead, last season, he averaged 23 minutes and 11 points.
Dennis Lindsey has attempted to dispel the notion that Gobert and Favors really don’t work on the floor together. He thinks they do. At least he says he thinks they do.
If that’s true, though, it’s only in relative terms.
Last season, the Jazz mounted their most effective scoring attack when Jae Crowder was running at the four, alongside Gobert. Even if he sometimes bombed away too frequently, Crowder’s ability to hit the deep ball opened up Snyder’s preferred offense.
When Gobert and Favors were on the court together, the Jazz rated as one of the best defenses in the league, but one of the worst offenses. They were much better offensively, as noted, when Gobert was on the floor without Favors. Defensively, with one or the other on the floor, their rating was strong, within shouting distance of each other.
Back to free agency. Is it worth it for the Jazz to free Favors to sign elsewhere — and suitors are already lining up to get him because they know his talent and his value — leaving themselves vulnerable in the case of any Gobert absence, either for a few minutes or a few months, so they can add a perimeter shooter?
Life is full of tough choices — and this is one of them.
Would you rather have a shooter who is nowhere near as good an overall player as Favors, but who can hit from beyond the arc? A player like Nikola Mirotic, who the Jazz were seriously interested in before he surprised everyone and signed overseas. You would take him on the nights when he scored 30 points, like he once did in a playoff game. But you wouldn’t want him on others, such as when he completely disappeared or was hammered to the bench in specific games. Mirotic, and others like him, is the kind of threat that can blow like a heated cache of nitroglycerin on any given occasion, but who also might blow a hole through your boat’s hull.
There is risk in chasing that kind of reward.
The dream answer would be to find some complicated way to get Tobias Harris, a free agent who would erase the Jazz’s shooting woes. Think about what the Jazz starting lineup could promise — with Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Harris and Rudy Gobert on the floor. That would be a nightmare for teams in the West, no matter how the big-name free-agent market sorts out.
Harris likes Snyder and would like to play for the Jazz, but there are other coaches and places he likes, too. And he wants, like all players do, to gain the combo-pack of getting the opportunity he relishes on the floor while getting paid.
Two far more likely scenarios, though less preferable and hardly slam-dunks, over the next number of days are for the Jazz to 1) let Favors go and plug in a different option, such as Bobby Portis (40 percent from deep) or Thaddeus Young (35 percent) or JaMychal Green (41 percent in limited attempts) or DeMarre Carroll, or 2) make do with the and option, forging ahead with Gobert and Favors, perhaps bringing back some retread or opening a gaping window for Georges Niang, who last season shot 41 percent from deep on 105 attempts.
A couple of final thoughts:
Conley’s addition will be notable for the Jazz’s ability to score, even with Favors and Gobert on the court, not so much because he’s some visionary passer who sees things other point guards don’t. Rather, on account of him being a rocksteady, competent set-up man who won’t rupture the attack with careless mistakes. He averaged less than two turnovers last season. And he’s a varied scorer who can get his own points, inside and out, drawing defenders, enabling other Jazz scorers to get clean looks, inside and out.
The Jazz are serious about making an authentic run at a title. The Conley deal was the first step, and now they are looking for another. Justin Zanik repeatedly underscored that on draft night, breaking the league general manager record for most usages of the words “staying aggressive” in a single interview.
Losing Favors, however valuable he’s been, is the most available option for the Jazz to do so, really the only option.
If they can get greater or even equal competence, weighted on the shooting side, as opposed to the overall, they should use it.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.