By: Nico Fiscella
Twitter : @Nico_Fiscella
After finishing the 2019-2020 campaign with a 44-28 record, the Utah Jazz were eliminated in an electric seven-game series against the Denver Nuggets. With teams such as the Warriors, Suns, and Pelicans eyeing a playoff seed this season, Utah has to find ways to not only improve this offseason but add the pieces to be considered a top team in the western conference.
With what can be considered a lackluster free agency class, the Jazz can make three big moves to bring home their first-ever NBA championship.
1. Acquire Blake Griffin
After trading away Andre Drummond to the Cleveland Cavaliers last season, it is clear the Detriot Pistons have entered full rebuild mode. Blake Griffin will be thirty-one to begin the 2020-2021 campaign, and although this shortened season was a down year for the 2010 Rookie of the Year, he would be a great addition to the Jazz starting lineup.
The six-time all-star may not be able to dunk over a car anymore, but Griffin has progressed into an underrated stretch four in the league. During the 2018-2019 season, Griffin averaged 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 5.4 assists. That season marked his first all-star appearance since 2015.
Injuries derailed Griffin last season, however, if he can stay on the court for the majority of the year, Utah will be adding another all-star to an already scary lineup.
Griffin may not be the player he once was with the Los Angeles Clippers, he has been able to adjust to the new NBA style of play. The former first-overall pick in 2009 shot a career-best 36% from three on seven attempts a night. The Jazz led the league last year averaging 38% from downtown. Adding a stretch forward who can do a little bit of everything on the court would take some pressure off of Donovan Mitchell’s shoulders.
Now, how could the Jazz acquire Griffin? Utah would have to send point guard Mike Conley, twenty-three-year-old Miye Oni, and their 2020 first-round pick. Mike Conley’s contract expires after this season, allowing Detroit to speed up their rebuild while also unloading Griffin’s contract. Utah’s pick in this year’s draft falls at twenty-three, where the Pistons could look to draft Griffin’s replacement. Miye Oni only has ten games under his young NBA career. He was an efficient scorer for the Yale Bulldogs who could blossom if given the minutes in Detroit.
2. Bring Back an Old Friend
Acquiring Blake Griffin would create a hole at the point guard position for the Jazz, and newly acquired Oklahoma City Thunder Ricky Rubio could find himself returning to his former team.
Rubio previously played for the Jazz from 2017-2019 and became the first Jazz player since John Stockton to record a triple-double in the playoffs, in which he finished with 26 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists.
In his lone season with the Suns, Rubio finished fourth in assists per game with 8.8. He has never been known as a score-first point guard. However, Rubio averaged an impressive 13 points per game while shooting 36% from the three last season (career-high).
It is no surprise that Thunder General Manager Sam Presti loves to flip assets, and Rubio does not seem to have a long future with the Thunder.
“I see myself playing the NBA Finals with the Utah Jazz,” said Rubio back in 2018. Although Rubio’s dream was not fulfilled back then, the former sixth-overall pick could see this become a reality next season.
If Dennis Lindsey is willing to trade away the Grizzlies 2021 protected pick, a future second-round pick, along with Joe Ingles and Tony Bradley, Utah can acquire the thirty-year-old point guard. It would hurt to see Jingles in a different uniform, but the addition of Ricky Rubio puts the Jazz once step closer to the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
3. Improve the Bench
Jordan Clarkson was a great spark off the bench last year, providing over 15 points with efficient shooting splits. However, with Clarkson entering the free-agent market, how can the Jazz improve their second unit?
Clarkson’s scoring cannot go unnoticed, and a two-year twenty million dollar deal could do the trick to convince their 6th man to return. Clarkson was a midseason acquisition for Utah, and the Jazz have expressed interest in resigning him.
Serge Ibaka’s playstyle fits the needs of the Jazz perfectly. His ability to provide interior defense, and spread the floor create a second unit that can hold its own. Ibaka played fifty games last season for the Toronto Raptors and split time as both the starting center and sixth man.
Not only did Ibaka produce a solid fifteen points to go along with eight rebounds last season, but he also has two finals appearances including a championship with the Raptors in 2019. Utah’s roster does not have a single player who has been to the NBA finals, and adding Ibaka can provide the Jazz with experience no one else has had.
Ibaka can play both the power forward and center position, giving Utah flexibility off the bench. The Jazz will be restricted with cap space, but if Lindsey can create the space for the three-time all-defensive center, the Jazz will have few holes in their roster.
Finally, Utah should resign another piece of their backcourt from last season, Emmanuel Mudiay. The former seventh-overall pick for the nuggets had a solid season as a role player for the Jazz.
Mudiay provided seven points off the bench for the Jazz in fifteen minutes of action last season. He is entering his age 24 season, and the young star can continue to grow for Utah. Clarkson already provides the majority of the scoring off the bench, however, Mudiay could be the dark horse that many NBA teams could overlook.
With a backcourt of Clarkson and Mudiay, the Jazz would have enough spark offensively when their all-stars rest. Adding Ibaka to go alongside Royce O’Neale and Ed Davis strengthens their interior defense while also providing extra three-point consistency.
A potential starting lineup for the Jazz next year could look like playmaking veteran Ricky Rubio, superstar Donovan Mitchell, 20 points per game scorer Bojan Bogdanovic, former all-star Blake Griffin, and two time defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert. Not only would this starting lineup have a strong variety of scoring, playmaking, and defense, but a second unit led by Jordan Clarkson and Serge Ibaka could lead the Jazz to their first-ever NBA Championship.
Featured image courtesy Bleacher Report