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Kragthorpe: Jazz must find permanent solution at point guard

Published May 10, 2017 4:30 pm

Utah Jazz • Team will need to do a tricky dance to either re-sign Hill or find a replacement that will keep Hayward around
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

T he Jazz's final, futile effort of their best season in seven years brought their rebuilding project right back to where it started.

The playoff run that ended with Monday's Game 4 loss to Golden State in the Western Conference semifinals reminded everyone that as far as the Jazz have come, they must solve the personnel dilemma that began six years ago when they dismantled the team by trading Deron Williams. The Jazz still find themselves needing a permanent point guard.

They've used 11 starters at the position for various periods since February 2011, when they dealt D-Will: Devin Harris, Mo Williams, Jamaal Tinsley, Earl Watson, John Lucas III, Trey Burke, Dante Exum, Raul Neto, Alec Burks, Shelvin Mack and George Hill.



And where are they now? Wondering who's the next starter.

It could be Hill, who missed 36 games, including the last three playoff games, due to injury and will become a free agent. If not Hill, then who? Exum? His injury-interrupted development makes him a riddle. Mack? Fans would revolt. Deron Williams? He'll be available as a free agent, and his playoff performance in Cleveland has shown he can help a team in the right role. Someone else? The timing might require a trade surrounding the NBA draft before free agency.

Asked how the Jazz can improve themselves, coach Quin Snyder said, "There's uncertainty, right? That's what happens in July for us. It's almost like those questions will be better answered then."

Like everything else about the Jazz's offseason that began with exit interviews Tuesday, the point guard issue undoubtedly affects Gordon Hayward's view of the team's future and what he labeled "the next chapter of what's going to happen" in his life. Everything Hill said in defending his medical history and professing his love for Utah was in the interest of increased marketability for himself — whether he ultimately signs with the Jazz or another team.

General manager Dennis Lindsey should pursue Hill, 31, but he certainly needs a backup plan that he may have to activate before July 1.

That's why this stuff will get complicated. The Jazz must decide whether they believe in Hill's health and how much they're willing to bid for him. And the timing is tricky. They have to make their case for Hayward to stay, possibly before they know what Hill intends to do.

"We'll be aggressive, first for retaining our core guys," Jazz president Steve Starks said, "and that starts with Gordon Hayward."

Too many possibilities exist for anyone to completely view Hayward/Hill as a package, but they are linked. They're both Indianapolis-area natives, and Hill said Hayward is "like my little brother now."

Hayward's "heart is here in Utah … and that's definitely going to weigh on me," said Hill, who played for a bargain salary of $8 million in 2016-17.

The Jazz are doing everything they can to make themselves attractive, expanding their practice facility with a new locker room and other upgrades, including a "gaming area," which should impress Hayward. Lindsey believes the Jazz have "a compelling case" to persuade Hayward to stay, and he has some history with Hill, having drafted and traded him from San Antonio to Indiana and reacquired him in Utah.

Hill clearly was worth the trade for the No. 12 pick in last June's draft. He gave the Jazz only 49 regular-season games, but they were 33-16 with him then won a playoff series vs. the Los Angeles Clippers with Hill performing well in Game 7.

But he aggravated the toe injury, and his season ended after Game 1 against Golden State to raise questions about him that he addressed Tuesday by saying, "If anyone knows me, I'm super competitive."

Hill attributed the original toe injury in November to "a freak accident" of running into the back of a player's foot. In three segments, that ailment sidelined him for 19 games (counting the playoffs). He missed 17 other games due to concussion symptoms, a strained thumb and strained groin.

So his season was derailed by injuries from head to toe. Yet he usually played well when he played — and so did the Jazz. The Clippers' Chris Paul exposed him at times, but Hill outplayed Paul in Game 7. Hill made a clinching play in the last three minutes with an offensive rebound and jump shot, although that's where his season's highlights ended.

Joe Ingles, himself entering free agency, believes his teammates who have options "would much rather stay," and he's eager to "really see what this group can do together."

Hill said the 2016-17 Jazz "created a heck of a bond." But that's breakable amid free-agent opportunities and choices to be made.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt

 

 

 

 

 

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