There’s a variety of ways to build a championship contending team. Sometimes it takes years of planning, and sometimes it’s just pure luck.
If the team is in a big city or marquee destination, they can use location as a way to persuade players about coming to a bigger market. We saw this with Lebron James and his move to the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers weren’t better than the Blazers, Rockets, or Sixers. But Los Angeles offers everything and more for a guy who owns his own television production company.
A team can try to tank and just start a roster from scratch with young talent and draft picks. But this rarely works. That same Lakers team was going nowhere with their young core that came from their rebuild. The Phoenix Suns have been unintentionally tanking since Steve Nash left and they’ve gone nowhere. The Philadelphia 76ers are the rare case where deciding to tank for 3 years actually did put them in the best position to build a championship contender.
Another way is to consistently try to be the best team you can possibly be and hope that it works out for the best. The San Antonio Spurs have been the model for this mindset for the last 25 years. The Miami Heat dedicated the self to their culture and even with a below average roster and no cap space, and still found a way to land Jimmy Butler and possibly Russel Westbrook.
And while a team can choose whichever path they believe will most benefit themselves, building a winning culture is the most respectable way to do it.
The Utah Jazz have been trying to create a winning culture for as long as anyone can remember. Even going back to the 90’s when they constantly ran into great teams and players such as Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, and of course Michael Jordan. The years with Deron Williams and Andre Kirilenko in their prime were a lot of fun.
Being in Utah, there really isn’t any way to build a contender besides building through the draft and hoping a free agent or two decide to come join a winning team. But even in the best hopes, it’ll most likely never be the top free agents.
And while building through the draft sounds all good, it makes it even more difficult when they’ve been dedicated to always trying to be the best they can possibly be. So while they’ve been in the lottery a few times, they’ve only drafted in the top ten three times in the last ten years. Those picks were Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, and the only guy left from these picks in Dante Exum.
They didn’t even draft their two best players in Rudy Gobert or Donovan Mitchell. Both of those players were received in draft day trades with the Denver Nuggets on two separate occasions. And in their two years together, they’ve made the playoffs both times and have looked like one of the best young duos in the league.
In just one week, the Utah Jazz have changed their look as a perennial playoff team into a team that could contend for a title in a wide open Western Conference.
When Mike Conley signed the biggest contract in NBA history, at the time it seemed like a huge number. And while it was and still is, it’s not bad in comparison to a lot of the deals out there right now. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Gordon Hayward, and Kyle Lowry all are making more per year. And Otto Porter only makes $5 million less, yes Otto Porter.
So for a team like the Utah Jazz who only have two players in Gobert and Joe Ingles making over $10 million a year, taking on Conley’s contract is no problem at all. So trading for him wasn’t even a question, it was just a matter of making it happen.
Whether you believe that Mike Conley is the guy that can lead his team to a championship is all personal opinion, because his numbers throughout his career have always made him one of the top point guards in the league. But contrary to how his teams were built in Memphis, he won’t have to be the guy or even one of the top two scoring options.
This move alone would’ve elevated the Jazz’ ceiling for next season, but they knew they needed to strike the iron while it is hot. They signed an under the radar free agent that’ll add another dimension to their team.
After Victor Oladipo went down with injury last season, it was expected that the Indiana Pacers would have a steep decline. But instead of faltering, the Pacers maintained their winning ways and Bojan Bogdanovic was one of the main reasons why.
In 34 games without Oladipo, he averaged 20.7 points per games, was a 41% three point shooter, and 50% from the field. And this was all as the number one option with a lineup that didn’t really have many offensive threats.
The Utah Jazz added him as soon as free agency opened for about $17 million a year. A team was once looked at as team with just a few scoring options has now turned themselves into a team with limitless potential.
A starting lineup of Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Rudy Gobert should make them one of the top four teams in the Western Conference if they remain healthy.
Their dedication to a winning culture has rewarded them this team. Their commitment to contstantly trading for players they believe in has created a lineup that was attractive to veterans who are looking to make a deep run in the playoffs.
But now there are expectations. Guys like Conley, Jeff Green, and Ed Davis who have all made deep playoff runs in their career will help this young core continue to move forward. So while tanking wasn’t an option for them, and since they knew they weren’t going to convince any big free agents to come hang out in Utah for all the riches they can offer, they still found a way to take advantage of Donovan Mitchell while he’s still on a rookie contract.
Utah is known for it’s scenery, so in 2020 let’s sit back and enjoy the beautiful show.