Analysis: Enes Kanter Hopes To Be Traded From Utah Jazz

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Enes Kanter has told reporters that he hopes to be traded before this year’s trade deadline. Jody Genessy of the Deseret News confirmed. Kanter played just over 18 minutes tonight in the Jazz’s 5 point loss against Dallas, but didn’t play beyond the 6:20 mark of the 3rd quarter.

Later, Jody Genessy reported more about Enes’ trade wishes:

From my own eyes, I can report that Enes was definitely frustrated under Ty Corbin’s regime, especially because he didn’t start a majority of games, even as the Jazz had limited big man options.[ref]Remember, Marvin Williams started a majority of games last year for Utah.[/ref] This year, Kanter has started all but one of his games, but has played essentially the same number of minutes, due to the emergence of Rudy Gobert and solid play of Trevor Booker. As a result, Kanter started the year very upbeat, but has been frustrated at times with the minutes he has received, or media criticism that he perceives as unfair. His agent, Max Ergul, has also been upset with the above: after all, a decrease in Enes’ valuation throughout the league is a decrease in his paycheck, too.

Meanwhile, until now, the Jazz front office had felt that his potential was worth more than the limited interest they had received in Kanter from other teams. Before the 2013-14 season, they wanted to see what he could bring in more than a 4th big role. In Ty Corbin’s final year, he played 27 minutes per game, but finished the season as the 3rd-worst defensive center in the league (out of 67), according to ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus stat. Then, with the Jazz having replaced Ty Corbin with Quin Snyder, the team wanted to see what the talented player development coach could do with Kanter’s skills. While Kanter’s effort (and offense), has improved, ESPN’s DRPM now ranks him as the very worst defensive center in the league (out of 75). In the defensive system that the Jazz are trying to build, Enes Kanter just doesn’t fit.

While the Jazz still feel, even now, that Kanter could develop into a plus player overall, this trade deadline was and is a natural time to explore trade possibilities, given his restricted free agency in the upcoming summer of 2015.  Before tonight, the Jazz were very much open to the possibility of testing Kanter’s restricted free agency: if an offer sheet signed were to be relatively low, the Jazz would retain Kanter as a promising 3rd big behind Favors and Gobert. If an offer sheet were too high[ref]Over half of the league either has or can create maximum cap space for making an offer for this summer’s free agents, and Kanter, as a young, offensively productive center with room to grow, may make sense for those teams that miss out on the top tier of free agents.[/ref], the Jazz would simply let Kanter walk, and use the cap space gained to sign a replacement.

Now, though, that patience approach becomes difficult: Utah simply believes too much in the importance of a winning culture to keep Kanter on the team in the short term. Remember, the Jazz are a franchise that, 20 years ago, was the model for Gregg Popovich and company when building the Spurs. Now, with Spurs’ transplants Dennis Lindsey and Quin Snyder running the show, the Jazz insist on building a similar culture by having a core group that stays true to a set of shared principles. By making his wishes known to the Utah media, Kanter’s shown far too publicly that he’s not on board. He just can’t stay for Utah’s final 29 games.




So given that, in my opinion, he will be traded, what are the Jazz looking for? The first cutoff when evaluating potential targets is whether a player has “Jazz fiber”, a phrase Lindsey has used often to describe the type of personality that can fit into the Jazz’s system. No Lance Stephensons or J.R. Smiths here; the Jazz don’t want to replace one headache with another.

The second test is whether the trade would forgo the Jazz’s rebuild from taking place. With Hayward, Favors, Burks, Exum, and Hood all having deals that likely will extend through 2017-18, the Jazz would be reluctant to take on a big deal that extends beyond next season because doing so would significantly limit their flexibility to add pieces to take the team from good to great 2 to 3 years down the road.[ref]Just to use an example: Marcin Gortat wouldn’t be coming back in a Kanter trade. Even though talentwise it would be a good deal, the Jazz would be hamstringing themselves with Gortat’s 4 years remaining after this one.[/ref] Likewise, they may also be opposed to take on a restricted free agent as the main component of the deal, given an impending long-term commitment.[ref]Another example: if the Jazz were to swap Enes Kanter for Reggie Jackson, the Jazz would almost feel obligated to use their rights to match any offer for Jackson, even if it’s a high one. As a result, the core moving forward would be Jackson/Burks/Hayward/Favors/Gobert, with little flexibility. That core probably doesn’t work as a contending team, with only Hayward being an above-average shooter.[/ref]

The positional demands of the roster are complicated: Kanter’s departure would open up significant 3rd big man minutes. For the time being, Trevor Booker would suffice to fill the majority of those, but long-term, he’s probably not quite good enough for the Jazz’s aspirations. While this year’s draft is loaded with big men, recent draft history shows that those big men take a long time to develop, and probably wouldn’t be ready for a 2015-16 Jazz team making a playoff push. A move that looked towards next season as the Jazz’s time to take a leap would have to figure out some sort of plan for a big man, whether that be acquired in the trade itself or, at least, not disqualifying them from using their cap space on one this summer.

That being said, Utah’s current weakness is at the PG and SG positions. The Jazz hope and expect that one of Dante Exum or Trey Burke will develop into a starting-caliber point guard, and likewise hope that a SG rotation of a healthy Alec Burks and Rodney Hood will be at least league average. But there are no guarantees on this, and the Jazz could consider adding a young player here to increase their chances of getting one or two of them to pan out.

On the court, shooting, energy, and toughness are three areas in which the Jazz see themselves as needing improvement. Utah’s lack of shooting is the single largest weakness in the Jazz’s offense. The Jazz currently are 20th in the league or worse in every shot distance beyond the restricted area, a fact that significantly impedes Snyder’s system built on passing[ref]As a side note, Kanter’s essentially a non-passer, averaging just over half an assist per game. Giving his minutes to nearly anyone else should, at least, improve the offense’s fluidity, if not its end product.[/ref] and spacing. The Jazz would be excited to see what a quality shooter could add to the overall effectiveness of the Hayward/Favors/Gobert core. Likewise, the Jazz feel that another defender with energy and toughness could bring synergistic benefits for a team that’s ranked 25th in the league thus far at forcing turnovers. Right now, the Jazz have a lot of players that can either shoot[ref]Steve Novak, Ian Clark[/ref] or defend with energy [ref]Elijah Millsap, Dante Exum, Rudy Gobert, even Jeremy Evans[/ref], but very few who can do both. Utah should be looking to acquire someone who either has both skills, or could potentially develop into someone who does.

Are the Jazz going to get everything they want? Probably not: it’s difficult to imagine a team wanting to trade its problem-free, tough, energetic, young, cheap shooter for anything at all, let alone Enes Kanter. But the Jazz are considering all of the above when making a trade, and they’re hoping to hit at least a couple of the check boxes.

For what it’s worth: Kanter does still have some value around the league. I’m told multiple teams have at least inquired about the big man before tonight’s events, and I suspect even more bargain-hunting teams will have called since. While such a public declaration on Kanter’s behalf hurts the Jazz’s leverage, in that keeping him in restricted free agency is no longer really a viable option, it does at least bring Kanter to the top of team’s radar screens for a short time.

As for specific trade ideas, we talked about 6 of them on this week’s Salt City Hoops Show[ref]This link is to the ~15 minute segment only in which we talk about these trade ideas.[/ref]. Since then, I’ve been sent many more on Twitter that we’ll be either writing about or talking about on a later date. If this RealGM thread is any guide, fans from teams around the league are interested and will trade items of value to receive Kanter’s services. We’ll see if real NBA front offices agree.

Still, it promises to be an intrigue-filled week for Jazz fans; we’re now just 7 days away from the NBA’s trade deadline. Much more on this topic coming up on Salt City Hoops in the week to come.


  1. Ryan

    If a trade is being considered I hope they can get a 1 or 2 with some legit NBA experience. I agree that a guard that’s a strong defender and solid shooter would be a great fit. I think Affalo fits the mold but I don’t think his contract situation is attractive. Wesley Matthews anyone? Big sigh….

  2. gotag

    As far as ESPN’s RPM goes, Espn lists Burks as a PG, Exum as SG and likewise Kanter has played a lot more as PF than C where he would only be the 8th worst defensive PF.

    The other issue I have with RPM is that in the short term (<2 seasons) it is heavily affected by who you play with and Kanter's DRPM has been hit by 2 big factors, too much playing time with Burke and limited playing time with Gobert. Even with Burke being replaced by Exum in the starting 5, Burke and Kanter is Kanter's 2nd most played two man lineup having played 960 out of 1307 possible Kanter minutes together (73.5% of all Kanter minutes). In the month that Kanter and Burke have been separated in the lineup Kanter's DRPM has gone from around the -2.9 mark to -1.99. That is not insignificant. Also Burke's impact has hardly changed going from around -3.2 to around -2.96. IMO a lot of the argument of Kanter is a defensive liability would be more accurately said that Kanter and Burke are a defensive liability together.

    Then Kanter is also hurt by the fact that Gobert is really really good at defense. Kanter/Gobert is both Kanter's and Gobert's 7th most played lineup having only 299 of the 1307 total Kanter minutes (22%). I would estimate that around 80 of those minutes came in the 4 games that Favors missed which has historically put the team in bad spots, so about 1/4 of the Kanter Gobert minutes were in what has been a losing situation for the Jazz.

    But this second argument really is more based on Gobert making such an impact on defense. Rudy has the 17th best DRPM in the league (6th amongst centers). If Kanter has only 299 minutes with Rudy, that means most of the time Kanter is off the floor Rudy is on it. It also means that RPM is going to punish Kanter for not being Gobert (to be fair it probably does similar things to Favors's DRPM, and Gobert likely benefits from not being Kanter/Burke).

    TL;DR version, DRPM treats Kanter like a dumpster fire on defense when it is probably more accurate that Trey and Kanter together is a dumpster fire but Kanter by himself is just a middling defender.

    1. Post
      Andy Larsen

      Yeah, I knew someone was going to attack my use of RPM here, which is totally fair. But I thought it summed up his defensive issues, and given that the eye test and other defensive stats (like a lack of blocks and steals, and a poor opposing PER against), I think it’s fair to say his defense is below middling on its own. I do agree that having Trey out there on the floor at the same time compounds the problem to dumpster fire status.

      1. gotag

        For me eye test says guarding his own man he’s a middling defender, when he has to help others on defense he is a really bad defender. Take away the amount of times he has to help (by not pairing him with Burke) and Kanter’s detriment to the team defense is greatly reduced.

    2. Aged fan

      Not to take away from the solid points you make about the weaknesses of RPM (though I think you may be slightly overselling the Burke/Kanter connection, particularly since as a backup, it really wasn’t as relevant last year), but if you move him to PF, he’s still 90th of 98 PFs in defense — still bottom 10 percentile. That said, I’ve been encouraged like others by his seemingly better defense the last month or so and was hoping he was on his way toward improvement. It’s not completely fair to just look at the stats and say: “this is who he is.”

  3. Paul Johnson

    I don’t think the Jazz are required or forced to trade Kanter just because Kanter told local media that he hoped to be traded–on the eve of the trade deadline. There are numerous examples of young players who expressed a desire to go elsewhere in restricted free agency, but had their teams match a RFA offer (or who begrudgingly accepted a RFA from their team)–Eric Gordon, Nic Batum, Eric Bledsoe to name a few. Kanter will have much better trade value for the Jazz, if they match his RFA offer, even if he doesn’t fit into the Jazz’s long-term plans.

    1. Spencer

      I also agree here.

      Right now I doubt the Jazz get 50 cents on the dollar for him. Matching a 8-9 million dollar offer would then make hime tradable. I could see him taking the qualifying offer too and be in the Monroe situation.

    2. Clint Johnson

      I’m not so sure that his value will ever be higher than now, at least not in a Jazz uniform. Also, if he’s on the team after the trade deadline, what do you do with him? Stick him at the end of the bench? Nothing will crater his value like that. Give in to his demands for more time at the expense of Favors or Gobert? Or even Booker or Novak (whose shooting has shown the ability to really change the Jazz’s ability to compete)? I don’t see anyone in the Jazz at any level rewarding a public trade demand and establishing a precedent for a young team. That leaves play him roughly as you have been, which is already restricting time for Gobert and is what incentivized Kanter and his agent to make this (to my mind foolish) play in the first place. That stretches on the problem and severely risks team chemistry.

      Is the potential value the team gets in return by waiting (which isn’t certain) enough to compensate for all the ramifications of keeping him on the team? Personally, I would move him even if not for clearly equal value. I love the Hayward/Favors/Gobert core; add in Exum, Burks, the Jazz’s first round pick this year, money to make some plays in the summer, plus whatever they got for Kanter? I’m good with that formula. Snyder has enough he’s juggling trying to build this team without all the complications Kanter may well add to the equation.

  4. NordicJazzFan

    Here’s the Kanter trade I’ve been mulling over in my head. I’m curious what Andy or others think of it.
    Utah Jazz to Golden State: Kanter
    Golden State to Utah: Harrison Barnes, Brandon Rush (Jazz buy out and release Rush)

    Sure, the Jazz end up with more players than minutes at the 2+3 after this trade when everyone is healthy, but more importantly I think the trade would improve the Jazz overall. Also, I would envision Barnes playing stretch PF 10-15 min a game when match-ups allow.

    Why Jazz do trade: Barnes passes the good character hurdle. He improves our defense and the quality of our defensive rotation. He can guard opposing big SG/SF/stretch PF easing the load for Hayward. Can hit the corner three. Still has some upside and room to grow even if he’s tops out at a quality starter level.

    Why Golden State does the trade: It’s just really hard to get your hands on a young big with upside. Bogut is constantly injured, Kanter could provide important muscle down low as a fill in starter/ or 25-30 minute guy otherwise. Golden State is going to have to throw out a lot of money at Draymond Green this off-season making it harder for them to sign Barnes given that they would already have Igoudala/Green. Golden State would probably need to feel that they could sell Kanter on the glamour of playing for a winning high exposure playoff team and lock him up for ~9-10 million year this off-season, which could be a bargain compared to the following years prices.

    1. Ryan

      I like Barnes but he’s a 3 and one thing this year has made clear is that Hayward is best in the 3 spot. I think part of his struggles last year were related to him playing in the wrong position (2).

  5. Paul Johnson

    Judging from Quinn Snyder’s comments about Kanter’s “trade request,” I am inclined to think the Jazz are going to take the approach they used to take when Karl Malone would say some dumb, negative things in an interview about playing for the Jazz–just let things blow over, and pretend like those things were said in the heat of the moment by a young player, so that the relevance of the things said was exaggerated about 1,000,000 times, and in reality isn’t much of a problem.

    And, frankly, I think that is a pretty good approach. I don’t think that the Jazz are going to view Kanter as a cancer to the team, or believe that they need to extricate him from the team to progress as a team, just because of what was said on Wednesday evening. Rather, I think they will just go on with business as usual, as if Kanter never said such things.

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