SALT LAKE — If ever there were a line that quickly got threadbare, it was the Jazz’s annual incantation regarding youth. It sounded like a Ponce de Leon sales pitch: We’re the youngest team in the league; the future is bright; when these kids grow up. …
But midday Wednesday, the narrative freshened considerably when news broke that the Jazz had traded away the No. 12 pick in Thursday’s NBA draft for Indiana point guard George Hill, a 30-year-old veteran of 75 playoff games.
He’s not the distant future. He’s ready now, no assembly required. Barring injuries, the addition of Hill should put the Jazz in the playoffs.
This will quiet criticism of Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey, whose compilation of draft picks was starting to look like German banknotes during the 1920s hyperinflation. How many future picks is enough? How many up-and-comers can a team absorb?
Time to call in some grownups.
So the Jazz did that by landing Hill, a 6-foot-3 point guard who averaged 12.1 points and 3.4 assists last season. His totals are 11 points, three assists and three rebounds a game in his eight-year career. Hill is the product of a strong defensive system in Indiana and is expected to be a calming influence on younger players.
Beyond that, he’s a combo guard who is probably better than any of the current point guards. Someday Dante Exum may be a special player. Right now he has modest experience and is coming off a major injury. Hill is better than Shelvin Mack, Trey Burke or Raul Neto, having started 325 NBA games, as well as 64 in the playoffs.
What this means for Jazz fans is that the waiting has shortened. Trading away a No. 12 pick is significant because the team showed it wants to make the playoffs next spring, not at some vague future date. With key contracts coming up in the next two years, Lindsey wisely moved to get the team into the postseason now.
All too often, young talent leaves just when it becomes ready for display. Gordon Hayward has a player option on his contract after next season. Derrick Favors’ contract is good through the 2017-18 season, as is Rudy Gobert’s, if the team wants to keep him. Rodney Hood’s agreement could stretch a year beyond that.
So the Jazz looked at the landscape and decided there was no reason to stall.
Jazz fans had become numb to the constant explanations — if not excuses — about the team’s youth. Adding meaningful veterans has been a test. But unless a team is drafting in the top three every year, youth alone only has so much potential.
Another good sign for Utah is that the first wave of kids has finally reached adulthood. Hayward and Favors have been in the league six years, just two fewer than Hill. Rudy Gobert is now a three-year veteran.
The addition of Hill brings instant maturity to a slowly maturing team.
Youth is good, but there’s no sense in forever getting younger.
The Jazz were starting to look like a Twilight Zone episode.
Even for projected starter Exum, this isn’t bad news. He has yet to meet expectations, having started 41 games as a rookie, but shot poorly and struggled in transition from Australian basketball to the NBA. The addition of Hill gives Exum some room to find his rhythm.
Hill has a year left on his contract, which is OK for both the Jazz and him. Utah gets him for a reasonable price of $8 million. That’s cheaper than Alec Burks. After that, the parties can decide if they fit.
The playoffs should decide that.
Hill isn’t a superstar, but he’ll move the team timeline. He doesn’t need to be groomed and seasoned. He’ll guide Exum and take defensive pressure off Gordon Hayward. Meanwhile, the Jazz have delivered a message their fans have been dying to see in the shop window: “Walk-ins welcome. No waiting.”
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