SALT LAKE CITY — We’ve heard the line from Dennis Lindsey countless times, repeating the mantra that the Jazz will not skip any steps in building an NBA championship contender.
Please keep this in mind when evaluating last week’s trade that saw the general manager send Rodney Hood to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Joe Johnson to the Sacramento Kings. In exchange, the Jazz got Cleveland forward Jae Crowder and point guard Derrick Rose, who was waived.
Before groaning over the not-skip-steps theme, remember the Jazz are dealing much more from a position of strength now compared to recent years. With Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert providing a strong foundation, with this trade the Jazz are continuing to reload as opposed to the years-long rebuilding project that preceded last year’s 51-win team.
This trade may not dramatically improve the team for tomorrow or for the stretch run to the playoffs this season, although it is off to a great start, but it certainly is better suited for the longer-range goal of consistently climbing up the Western Conference standings.
For numerous reasons, financial being chiefly among them, the Jazz needed to unload Hood. Still on his rookie contract making $2.3 million, the 25-year-old guard is due to become a restricted free agent this summer, meaning he is in line for a massive salary raise that the Jazz would have to pay to keep him.
As good as Hood has shown the ability to be, he still is injury-prone and inconsistent. It’s not quite accurate to say Hood is a luxury the Jazz don’t need, but they do have other players—including Joe Ingles and Royce O’Neal, both of whom have contributed significantly during the current 10-game winning streak—who can provide his production. And don’t forget that Dante Exum is due to return at least in time for next season.
As part of the reloading process, the Jazz will be better served to keep salary flexibility for future deals. With the two foundation pieces still young, free agents no doubt will be interested to playing for an improving team that meets the criteria to win consistently for years. The Jazz also want to be in the position to have enough available salary to participate in trades for assets.
In simple terms, who wouldn’t want to play with a future 21-year-old superstar and a 25-year-old defensive anchor who doesn’t demand the ball on offense? Remember, neither Mitchell nor Gobert were must-haves on any expert’s draft board the years each entered the league.
Yeah, the best route to bringing a championship-caliber team to Salt Lake City is to give Lindsey the resources he needs to continue his artistry.
While Johnson provided leadership and occasional on-court production, his NBA lifespan is ending. His goal is to move on to an immediate championship contender, which he got by signing with the Houston Rockets after the Kings released him.
Besides putting the team in a better position financially, Lindsey also got an asset capable of helping immediately. Crowder is an effort player, one whom the Jazz had eyed last summer when Gordon Hayward signed with the Celtics.
“I think he’s got a home here,” former Jazz center Mark Eaton said in an interview on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone. “This is a city that loves the extra stuff—the diving on the floor for loose balls and more of the blue-collar stuff.”
As part of another deal, Crowder went from Boston to Cleveland last summer and never hit a stride with his new team. In Boston, he proved a tough, physical defender with 3-point shooting range. At only age 27, he has a reasonable contract of about $7 million a year.
Coach Quin Snyder has the task of reigniting Crowder’s stalled career. In his last two seasons in Boston, his averages were close to 14 points and 5.5 rebounds a game for a playoff team.
The early returns are awesome, with Crowder matching his Boston numbers in two games with the Jazz. He is also durable, having never missed more than 10 games a season since coming into the league in 2013.