SALT LAKE CITY — In a wide-ranging interview over a lunch of chicken and steak fajitas from the Mexican restaurant Red Iguana, Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey talked about the future of the Jazz and his plans for the offseason with selected media members Thursday afternoon.
Fresh in our minds was the All-NBA balloting, and in particular, Gordon Hayward's exclusion from the three All-NBA teams. That means that he didn't qualify for the "super max" extension, 35 percent of the NBA's cap that he will have to live without for the time being. That being said, Lindsey was optimistic about Hayward making the team in the future.
"I think there's a good chance that if they had waited until the playoffs, the vote would have been a little bit different, because everyone got to see the level of improvement," Lindsey said.
Of course Lindsey's incentivized to say that by one of Hayward's options that would keep him with the Utah Jazz: signing a shorter-term deal that would allow Hayward to make the super max by becoming an All-NBA player in the next two seasons.
"Rinse and repeat, and try to get one of the All-NBA designations in one of the coming years, most notably next year," Lindsey said when asked what he thought of one of Hayward's contractual choices. "That's well within his wheelhouse, given the level of our team and the level of his improvement."
Lindsey said he hadn't yet heard from Hayward and agent Mark Bartelstein about the All-Star forward's contractual preferences. Of course, that probably depended on Thursday's voting anyway. But Hayward's level of confidence in his own abilities will determine whether the Jazz have a major or a minor financial advantage over other teams.
The Jazz, though, hope that money isn't the only advantage that the Jazz have. "The day-to-day selling and internal negotiation is a lot more important than balloons, pompoms and ceremonial stuff," Lindsey said. Lindsey cited Hayward's relationships with Johnnie Bryant, Quin Snyder and the rest of the Jazz's staff that allowed him to improve into the All-Star player he was this season.
"I've seen a lot of great offseasons. But I can't say that, between Olajuwon, Duncan, Ginobili, Drexler, that I've ever seen a better one," Lindsey said.
"Every fiber of our collective being and soul of the Utah Jazz want him back," Lindsey said. "We think it's a great fit."
Hayward isn't the only question mark for the Jazz, though. Starting point guard George Hill is also a free agent this summer. Lindsey's remarks were very flattering towards Hill, especially noting that Hill improved, and had the best season of his career as a 30-year-old.
"He's a terrific guy, he's one of my pride and joys. I told him, if he gets a crazy offer somewhere else, and we helped him get that offer, you're not going to get one poor thought, much less word, if he goes elsewhere," Lindsey said of Hill. "And then there's a very good chance that we're each other's best option come July."
That first clause was interesting to me, as it shows that the Jazz don't seem to be likely to offer Hill the max deal that he wants. If Hill's salary demands stay reasonable, they'd love to keep him on the team; like Lindsey said, there's a good shot that Hill doesn't find that crazy offer and the Jazz retain an excellent point guard. But if not, they may look elsewhere for a player who is a better value in the long term.
Joe Ingles is also a free agent, but Lindsey spoke as if Ingles was already a likely part of the team for next season. "Joe is a connector. And we love his humor, but we love even more that he's banging 44 percent of his threes, and makes people play him so Gordon has more space to do his thing." Ingles' improvement between the ages of 28 and 29 is rare, but he really did expand his game in such a way that he was a capable NBA starter for the Jazz this season.
Lindsey also had a lot to say about the development of Dante Exum. First, what position is he?
"The team functioned better when Dante was playing a wing rather than point guard. But there's point guard in his future. There's two guard, even three because of his size and speed. It's really one through three," Lindsey added. "And the way we play, it's really all five guys who are touching it."
And what does Exum need to do to get better? "We have to map out his schedule minute-by-minute," Lindsey said. "Dante's urgency has to match mine and Quin's urgency for him."
What in particular will Exum be working on this summer? "A long layup game, a floater game, a hard pullup game. I think a lot of Dante's mistakes come from that middle area and getting stuck with it," Lindsey said. "He also has to use his speed to break through the line to create shots for others. There's a lot of finishing stuff. Now that he's getting there, non-dunk finishes that are deep. We've got to catch up for some lost time."
Another big question for the Jazz's offseason: what happens with Derrick Favors? Favors played limited minutes this season thanks to injuries, and many of those minutes were played as the backup center behind Rudy Gobert. But Lindsey still asserted Favors and Gobert can play together.
"The metrics around two-man lineups with Rudy and Derrick continue to be good. We can win, we can guard. Will it match the trends? No. It's a little bit more traditional. But the movement is there laterally, and Derrick's always graded out as, if not our best, one of our best positional defenders," Lindsey said.
And as for Favors' health, Lindsey said, "His healthiest point was literally the last day of the season. He was moving better. What he's dealing with is common, what most NBA players have dealt with, he just hasn't dealt with it before."
Lindsey said that he and Favors' agent Wallace Prather created goals for Favors to accomplish this offseason. The two working on goals together was probably necessary given Favors' long-term future: he's a free agent next offseason, and may end up finding himself in a better situation long-term if he's with another team.
Of course to accomplish his offseason goals, Lindsey and the Jazz are going to have to spend money, maybe even up to or above the luxury tax. I asked Lindsey about the team's approach to the tax line.
"The only reason we've operated under the cap was strategy. We wanted to take picks, buy picks, take opportunities," Lindsey said. "We're at the stage where we have a good team, and we want to keep it together. They're fully committed to that.
"I head into the draft portion and then free agency with full confidence that we're fully funded. Look at the legacy trust. The Miller family can draw no income, all of the money is being invested back into the team," Lindsey said.
So what was the lowest payroll in the league last season may become one of its highest in 2017-18.
Overall, the Jazz's plan is to take the next step to title contention through a three-pronged plan this summer: "Player retention is the next step. Player development. A strategic add that can complement the group, where there's a really good fit," Lindsey outlined.
Now, it's up to the Jazz's general manager to get to work.