First, thanks to Jeff at CelticsBlog for coordinating all this and setting it up.
Team Name: Utah Jazz
Last Year’s Record: 48-34
Key Additions: Eric Maynor (drafted), Wes Matthews(?), Deron Max + AK Max + Opt Ins + Portland Hosing = Luxury Tax
1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?
The Jazz were in wait-and-see mode all off-season. They had three players, Kyle Korver, Mehmet Okur, and Carlos Boozer that could have opted-out. In the end, all of them ended up opting in for various reasons.
Okur decided that launching threes in the thin mountain air while making $10M per wasn't such a bad proposition.
And of course Boozer, he who was opting out and getting a raise, regardless. Then, as young people who try to move out of their parents' house find out, things are not as easy financially as they seem. Having no suitors willing to give him a raise with a long-term deal, Boozer opted back in and then went on his nationwide tour of radio stations to drum up interest for a trade.
When that didn't pan out, Boozer headed back to Jazz camp and has so far kept quiet.
The Jazz also didn't make an offer up front for Paul Millsap, though he was their number one priority to re-sign over the summer. They were content to let the market set the price. Due to market conditions, the Jazz were poised to re-sign Millsap for much less than the $8-9M he was looking for. After OKC, one of the last teams with cap space, apparently dropped out of the bidding, it looked like the Jazz were home free. And they would have got a big break too if it hadn't been for those darn kids up north. Portland made a large front-loaded offer for Millsap that looks like it was designed more to adversely impact the Jazz than it was to sign Paul.
The Jazz made two draft picks with Eric Maynor in the first round from VCU and Goran Suton from Michigan State in the second.
Suton probably would have been signed in any other year, but with the Jazz already over the luxury tax and having enough big men, he will probably not be offered a contract.
Should the Jazz sign anyone else, it would be either Wes Matthews or Ronald Dupree. With CJ Miles out the first 6 weeks or so and Matt Hapring already in the studio, the Jazz are in need of another wing player. Right now, Matthews is the favorite to get the job.
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
The Jazz still have one of the best offenses in the league. Three seasons ago when they went to the WCF, they had the third-best offensive rating. The year after that they were first in that same category. And last season, with injuries littering the Salt Lake valley, they were still a respectable 8th.
While it comes at a very, very high cost (almost $50 M), the Jazz have one of the best front-courts in the league in Okur, Boozer, Millsap, and Andrei Kirilenko. That gives you three former All-stars and at least half of them play respectable D.
As for the logjam at PF, if and when Boozer gets traded, it looks like Sloan will find a way to play both him and Millsap 30+ minutes. There has been some experimentation with Paul at the SF in the pre-season. He won't play significant minutes in that spot, but in some matchups, he could be there. Also, Kirilenko can play SF, PF, and even some C. Millsap and Boozer playing together, mass hysteria.
What I think will be the biggest strength for the Jazz this year is the team chemistry. Most of these guys came into the league around the same time. They've all played with each other for around 3-4 years. They know each other. Whether it's only words, the team has said they've moved on from the Boozer distraction. While I don't have anything to back it up, I believe locker room conflicts was a big cause of the team's stumble down the stretch last season. What I'm hoping to see is the the familiarity and cohesiveness helps eliminate in part some of the team's weaknesses.
And Energy Solutions Arena will be a perennial stronghold for the Jazz
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
I'm not sure that they're any different from last year's preview.
Let's start with the defense again. The Jazz were actually a bit above average last year in defensive rating. Where the Jazz are bothered on defense is length on the inside. They'll clean the glass with the best of them, but most big men can get whatever shot they would like off down low. This comes as being a bit undersized against a lot of opponents This is where the development of Kosta Koufos and Kyrylo Fesenko, the two seven-footers, would be beneficial. The Jazz also have the propensity of not getting back on D quickly and giving up easy points after a made bucket or drive by one of the guards.
For what it's worth, every other word out of all the players' mouths so far this season has been "defense". It may not be lip service this year.
Second on the list is the inability to win on the road. This has been a problem the last three seasons. Just breaking even on the road the past couple of years would have earned them a two seed two years ago and 53 wins last season.
This is where the next weakness comes in. There was a lack of mental toughness or focus last year, particularly on the road. A good example of this was the Orlando game after a crushing 3 OT loss to Miami the night before. It wouldn't have mattered if the Orlando game was two days later, the blow from that loss, being on the road, and being the second game of a B2B, there was no way the Jazz were going to even compete in that game, let alone win.
They may not have won against a very good Orlando team anyway, but even if Vegas gave them 30 points, I still would have wagered against the Jazz. The late season collapse had more to do with a mental breakdown than anything else. Inexcusable losses at home to the Warriors NBDL team and to the Wolves sealed the team's fate as the 8th seed in the West.
With each of players a little older and hopefully more mature, perhaps we can expect a more focused team this season.
Finally, for the Jazz to be taken seriously, they need to acquire a two-guard that can hit a three and create his own shot. I think Ronnie Brewer is fantastic, but I don't know if his jumper will ever come around. He' would be a great three, but when Kobe can sag 10-15 feet from you, there are problems. The Jazz as a team don't shoot the three well. The top teams shot nearly 40% while the Jazz had just one player (Okur, 44.6%) shoot at least that. That should go up this season.
4. What are the goals for this team?
I'm glad that most previews have the Jazz finishing at the bottom of West this season. Last year they were supposedly the dark house and that didn't turn out so well. According to Hollinger in prior playoffs, they should have gone to the finals. Whenever the team has been counted out is when they've surprised people. So that bodes well.
This is a team that has won 51, 54, and 48 games the last three seasons. For the most part, it's been the same team each year. Last year I had projected that they would win 56 games prior to Deron Williams' injury. Who knew that his pre-season ankle sprain was merely a precursor to the injur-plagued season the Jazz would suffer. There's no doubt that all of the injuries contributed to at least 2-4 losses.
This is the same team that's been here the last three seasons. For good or bad, that's what it is. So when everyone is healthy, there's no reason that this team shouldn't win 50-55 games. Heaven help us (and the league) if they figure out how to win on the road.
Should the Jazz be able to trade Boozer for a true shooting guard and get some expiring deals as well, Kevin O'Connor could be Executive of the Year.
5. Does Andrei Kirilenko need a hair intervention?
I mean, how can he be Ivan Drago with the flat hair?
Projected Finish: 52-30