Posted by: David J. Smith on November 14th, 2011The author's views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of the Utah Jazz.
Everyone has basketball writers they enjoy more. Chad Ford is that writer for me. As you know, Ford is a prolific writer for ESPN, specializing in the NBA Draft, while also covering overall league issues, free agency, trades, and so forth. To me, his is a voice of reason because he really knows his stuff. He puts in the work and research to offer excellent, thought-provoking articles. More often than not, his assessments are spot on.
And beyond that, he is an absolute class act. How do you know, you may ask?
A few weeks ago, while in Hawaii for work, I had the wonderful opportunity of sitting down with Chad Ford to ask him some Utah Jazz-related questions. Not only was he gracious enough to give me the chance, but we spent nearly an hour together, discussing basketball and the amazing work he is doing at BYU–Hawaii. It was a remarkable experience. Many, many thanks to Chad.
Because we bantered about so many topics, I’ll break this into two parts. I hope you’ll enjoy hearing from Chad as much as I enjoyed visiting with him about many questions on the mind of Utah Jazz fans.
What are your thoughts on the perceived big man logjam of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors, Mehmet Okur, and Enes Kanter? Do you think something needs to be done there?
“I think the Jazz won’t know until they get Kanter in to training camp. Having watched Kanter play quite a bit pre-Draft, I watched him in Chicago, I was there for about a week and got to watch him work out and also play a little bit with other draft prospects. There were things that were really polished about his game, especially in a workout setting, that I really appreciated.
“I think he lacks a lot of game-time basketball IQ by sitting out, really for the last two years he’s been sitting out quite a bit. Of course this lockout doesn’t really help at all. Those are sort of pivotal moments for a player. The Jazz drafted him based off his tools. They might have a work-in-progress as far as his ability to translate those tools into game-time situations. I think the answer is ‘we don’t know’ until the Jazz really see him in training camp and in scrimmages.
“How quickly is he going to be able to adapt? If he is able to adapt quickly, because he has a ton of talent, I think a guy like Mehmet Okur or Al Jefferson might become expendable at that point. But there is a very good argument that could be made that Enes Kanter might be better suited in the D-League this first year. And the Jazz, who are still interested in still making the Playoffs and don’t want to be a bottom-feeder team, might keep Okur or Jefferson around to stay competitive in the early front.
“The amnesty clause could also make a big difference here, because in the new collective bargaining agreement, you’ll be able to waive one player—you still have to pay for that player—which maybe the Jazz may not do. It’s tough to say to someone ‘here’s $10 million to not play for us.’ But it would give the Jazz some significant cap wiggle room if they want to go spend the money and that might be another factor that comes into play because they have Kanter and some of those other players.
“Do you take a guy like Mehmet, waive him? And can they afford—I don’t know the answer to this—whether they can afford to then go out and maybe buy another guard or something else in his place.”
I read your article about the amnesty clause. Okur has been such a loyal player for the Jazz—probably one of the best big men in Jazz history. Do you think a team so strong in the area of loyalty would do this?
“Part of the reason they’re strong is [Kevin] O’Connor. He’s an old-school GM, which is one of the things I like about him. He’s honestly one of my favorite GMs in the league, because he takes an old-school approach, but is open to new ideas. One of the things that is big for Kevin is loyalty and I think that matters a lot.
“I also think, as you saw with the Deron Williams trade, which I think surprised a lot of people, he will do what it takes to make his team better. And if an opportunity arises where they see a player on the free agent market that they feel would make their team better and it might cost them Mehmet Okur to do it, I think Kevin would do it. I do think he’s one of the most loyal GMs and I think he thinks hard about these things. But he understands his main goal is to make the Jazz contenders. I don’t think he’d miss that opportunity if it arose.”
What do you think of Devin Harris on the Jazz? I think there are a lot of Jazz fans who don’t know—he only played part of a season. Prior to the team, there were a lot of teams clamoring for his services. Is he a cog in the current and future of the Jazz or is he a stopgap until they get another point guard to grow up with the team?
“That is a really interesting question because Devin Harris has tended to produce wherever he’s went. But his coaches haven’t been particularly enamored with him. And not because he’s a problem player—he’s not a guy who’s a struggle to coach. I think it’s the style of game that he plays. Dallas ultimately traded him away for Jason Kidd. Early on, New Jersey began eying—he’s been on the market for a while.
“He’s a talented slasher/scorer. I think his ability to lead a team is the question mark. He’s a little more of a combo guard than a pure point guard. And the Jazz are used to a couple of point guards in John Stockton and Deron Williams, who were pure point guards. And so it will be interesting to see how they adapt with a different sort of lead guard.
“I think Alec Burks, the other major draft pick, was intriguing because Burks has some qualities that could make him a guy who could play some point, as a ball handler and playmaker. I’m interested to see how they’ll match up. I think Burks is one of the most gifted, athletic wing players have had in their backcourt. He also is a work-in-progress and he would’ve [gone] much higher had he not been. He needs to improve his jump shot and improve his defense and improve his playing off the ball. But when you look at some of the physical tools that he has—his ability to get to the basket is special—it’ll be interesting to see how he fits with Devin Harris, who is also a slashing guard who can get to the basket.
“Maybe Gordon Hayward is their answer as their perimeter shooter. When you look at balance on the Jazz, there may still be some issues there.”
There is a lot of optimism for Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors, two second-year guys? What do you think their potential, their ceiling might be?
“Derrick Favors’ ceiling is super high. He could be an Al Horford sort of player in the NBA. He’s so gifted athletically and he’s got the great size. You understand why the Jazz pulled the trigger. A lot of people think ‘you traded an All-Star point guard for a rookie who didn’t do much his freshman year in college and wasn’t doing anything for the Nets.’ But you don’t find that combination of skills very often. Most people who have worked with Favors say he’s a hard worker. I think that’s part of the reason the Jazz rolled the dice. And Kevin O’Connor will be the first to say, you don’t know what you’re getting from him necessarily right now. But you can see what you might get and what you might get is an All-Star big man, who is not undersized like Paul Millsap or like Al Jefferson. He’s a legitimate shot blocker and rebounder.
“For Hayward, all of it depends on how he shoots the basketball. The Jazz drafted him believing that his sophomore year was an aberration. He shot about 44% for 3s his freshman year, which dropped to 29% his second year. Part of this was he was on Butler and was the main threat every night. We saw him shoot the ball better as a rookie in the NBA. If he can really stretch the defense, he has a lot to his game. But he needs that element of his game to be successful. If he’s going to shoot the ball in the high 30s/low 40s as a three-point shooter, he’s going to have a long, long future in the NBA because of his athleticism and his length, his high basketball IQ. He’s going to need to do that.
“I think they’re confident that the Hayward they saw as a freshman and in key moments as a sophomore and that they started to see the second half of the season, is what they’ll get.”
A lot of Jazz fans see a battle brewing between Favors and Paul Millsap. Utah fans love Millsap, but they also saw the potential of Favors. When he’s been asked, Paul’s been adamant about not coming off the bench. What do you think about this situation? Would Paul Millsap be willing to come off the bench?
“He may not have a choice. I’ve found that that’s a status issue for players—it’s a little bit of a face issue. What they really care about is finishing the game. I will say this: I doubt Derrick Favors is ready, as a sophomore, to take Paul Millsap’s job. He could surprise us, but I sort of doubt it right now. I think the Jazz know this is a long-term investment that they have. They don’t want to put too much on his shoulders at once. They want to bring him along at the appropriate pace.
“I think this is probably a discussion we’ll probably be having at the start of the 2012 year (and hopefully there’s a season this year too!). I think you’re right that Millsap is ideal off the bench. He’s also a pretty expensive player to bring off the bench. Especially in a small market like Utah. Look, if Derrick Favors is as good as the Jazz believe he is, probably, down the road, that facilitates their ability to trade a Paul Millsap and get something else back.
“The Jazz are always going to be one of those teams that have to balance their desires with their abilities to remain profitable. You’ve seen them exceed the luxury tax the past couple of years to go for it. But that’s not going to be a regular thing for Utah. They just can’t do it and I think fans understand why they can’t. But they’re building a team.
“One of the smart things that Kevin O’Connor’s done: rookies and young players tend to be undervalued. They tend to make less money than what they produce that high up in the Draft. So he’s getting bargains around them, allowing them to remain good while still [being] profitable.
“There’s a certain point that Derrick Favors is going to come up for a contract extension. And Gordon Hayward and others. At that point, they’ll have to make so tough decisions on who they pay and perhaps who they trade.”
That’ll do it for the first installment. The second half will discuss questions like: Can Al Jefferson be a cornerstone of a contender? Should Andrei Kirilenko be brought back? What does Chad think about Tyrone Corbin? What is the identity of the team sans Larry H. Miller, Jerry Sloan, and Deron Williams? And are the Jazz one of the unsung, up-and-coming teams? Stay tuned!
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