Lakers’ Turmoil Builds Stronger Case For Utah As Free-Agent Destination

May 28, 2019, 5:19 PM
(Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images)...
(Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images)
(Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – It’s been said for years that Utah is not the kind of place that attracts top-tier NBA free agents.

To a certain extent it makes sense. To a young athlete with a mountain of riches, Salt Lake City may not be high of the list of places to spend most of the year working and living.

The big markets of Los Angeles and New York are understandably more appealing on the surface for a top-level athlete to make a buck and a name for himself. This offseason, the Jazz are expected to compete with those two cities’ four teams, the Lakers, Clippers, Knicks and Nets, for a big name player.

However, due to recent revelations in the national media, it’s clear that the Utah Jazz are a much better organization than most big-market franchises for an NBA star to develop his game and work towards a championship.

The Jazz are definitely a better landing spot than the Los Angeles Lakers.

ESPN’s Baxter Holmes recently published an article detailing the turmoil and dysfunction that has surrounded the Lakers as of late. There’s no nice way to put it, things are an absolute mess in La-La Land.

Everyone knows the big stories that have bedeviled the Lakers; the team signed LeBron James in the offseason but missed the playoffs, Magic Johnson weirdly and abruptly stepped down as the team’s president of basketball operations and head coach Luke Walton was fired. However, what Holmes revealed in his 6,000-plus word exposé is far more nuanced and perhaps even more troubling to Lakers fans and potential free agents.

Among other things, it’s been told that Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka is somewhat of a pathological liar. For example, he once told a story about when he was an agent, he arranged a dinner between his client Kobe Bryant and actor Heath Ledger so that Bryant could pick Ledger’s brain on his award-winning role as The Joker in “The Dark Knight.” The dinner story was an obvious fabrication as Ledger had been dead for six months prior to the release of the Batman movie.

Holmes’ report continued to show that Pelinka and Johnson had built an atmosphere of distrust, anxiety and fear among Lakers players, coaches and staff members. There doesn’t seem to be a solution in sight.

While Los Angeles may have this generation’s greatest player in LeBron and more than enough sunshine and outside distractions to go around, is this really the kind of place that you’d want to be if you were an elite basketball talent?

Probably not.

In contrast, while Salt Lake City may not have the bright lights of Los Angeles and New York (by the way, the Knicks have plenty of problems of their own), it’s the people in the Jazz organization who can and should make the team quite intriguing for NBA free agents.

The Jazz are led by plenty of high-caliber individuals, starting with owner Gail Miller and including vice president of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey and head coach Quin Snyder. Between those three, the team has fostered an environment of winning and character growth that the Lakers can’t touch at this point.

Utah’s players, including forward Jae Crowder, have said they’ll make a case for their talented NBA friends to come to the Jazz. Winning is the biggest sales pitch, according to Crowder.

“If you want to win obviously, we have a lot of guys who can win,” said Crowder. “Guys who really get along with one another and really buys into the team.”

Under Snyder, the Jazz have a record of 227-183 and have made the playoffs in three of five seasons. In that same stretch of time, the Lakers hold a record of 136-274 with zero playoff appearances. Advantage, Utah.

Longtime Jazzman Derrick Favors, who could possibly be on the free agency market this summer if the team doesn’t pick up his option, has stated that he wants to come back to Utah.

“The grass isn’t always greener on the other side,” said Favors. Bear in mind that Favors could probably play in any city he wants, including Los Angeles.

When it comes to what Salt Lake City can offer compared to Los Angeles, the City of Angels definitely has some things that SLC can’t bring to the table. Winters in L.A. are far more bearable than they are in Salt Lake, for sure. But while the nightlife might be better in Los Angeles, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had in Utah. Ever heard of Top Golf?

While top upcoming free agents like Kemba Walker, Tobias Harris and Kawhi Leonard will definitely give LeBron and the Lakers a look while searching for a big deal on their next team, they would be wise to give Utah an audience as well.

To put a twist on Favors’ words, the grass is green in Utah. It’s a scorched earth in Los Angeles.

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