2010 NBA Blogger Previews - The Utah Jazz

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Team Name: The Utah Jazz

Last Year’s Record: 53-29

Key Losses: Carlos Boozer's Injuries (FA, Bulls), Wesley Matthews (RFA, Blazers), Kyle Korver Pink Jersey Sales (FA, Bulls), Ronnie Brewer (Trade, Grizzlies), Eric Maynor (Trade, Thunder), Matt Harpring's Knees/Salary (Trade/Dump, Thunder), Kosta Koufos' Omni/science/presence/potentcy (Trade, Timberwolves), Multiple Game Thread Memes

Key Additions: Al Jefferson (Trade), Raja Bell (FA), Gordon Hayward (Draft #9), Earl Watson (FA), Francisco Elson (FA)

1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?
You have to go back to the 2003 off-season, when John Stockton retired and Karl Malone headed to LA, to find more player turnover than the Jazz have had this summer. The carry-overs to the 2004 campaign were Carlos Arroyo, Jarron Collins, Matt Harpring, Andrei Kirilenko, Greg Ostertag, and DeShawn Stevenson. For those that aren't Jazz fans, care to guess how many games that 2004 squad won? *

The Jazz are bringing back just seven players from last year and it could have been less if Kyrylo Fesenko hadn't re-signed (though he was expected to or have his offer matched) and if Andrei Kirilenko had been sent to Denver as part of the Carmelo Anthony trade.

Gone are Boozer, Korver, and Matthews. That's a large loss to absorb. Credit Kevin O'Connor for getting the Bulls to agree to a sign and trade for Boozer where the Jazz sent Boozer and his contract, along with a draft pick, in exchange for a traded player exception. He was able to flip that, Kosta Koufos, and a couple of draft picks to the Timberwolves in exchange for Al Jefferson.

O'Connor was also able to snatch fan-favorite Raja Bell from Kobe's grasp in a last-minute deal. He'll replace the departing Wesley Matthews who's heading to Portland after the Blazers continue to use the Jazz as their farm team for two years in a row.

Most Jazz fans, including myself, have come around on Gordon Hayward, the 9th pick in the draft, the last remnant from the Isiah Thomas era with the Knicks. To get a sense of why Jazz fans booed, you have to look at the history of this pick. It was a throw-in back in 2004 when the Jazz acquired it from the Suns. This unprotected first-round pick grew as it became apparent that Knicks were not getting any better and were likely going to be a lottery team by the time it rolled around.

The first phase of the disappointment came when the 2010 Knicks were not as bad as we had hoped they would be. They had no motivation to tank as they weren't going to have that pick. So while #9 isn't bad, it wasn't the 1-3 pick that fans had hoped it would become.

The second shot to the enthusiasm was when the lotto was held and the Jazz didn't move up into the top three picks. Their chances at winning were minuscule, but disappointing none-the-less.

So when the team's glaring need, a big man to match up with the rest of the Western Conference (Lakers), was passed up for a kid who had just made a name for himself with a NCAA run, it was underwhelming. The boos were not so much directed at Hayward but at that he wasn't a big man.

All signs from his summer league performance and the talk from players and coaches point to guy who will be fine with the Jazz. Whether another wing or player should have been taken over him will have to be decided in a couple of years.

This off-season just isn't one that Jazz fans are accustomed to. For one of the most consistent teams in the league, from the owners to the coach to the play calls to the fans, this many new faces just isn't heard of in Utah.

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?

Right now, it's personal chemistry with the players. The Jazz are going to take a bit of time to get into a spot where the offense and defense are on the same page, but off the court, this may be the most close-knit group they've had. If there were any questions as to whose team this was, that's gone now with Boozer in Chicago. Deron has rallied the troops and things will be on his shoulders.

It might take a few months, but the Jazz offense will become their biggest strength. We should see a more distributed work load with scoring. Jefferson was brought in in part to replace Boozer's production. While he'll get the majority of Boozer's points, look for CJ Miles and Paul Millsap to receive some trickle down.

You also have to remember that a large portion of this group's core, Deron Williams, Paul Millsap, C.J. Miles, Andrei Kirilenko, and Mehmet Okur have been playing together now for at least four years, some five. Bell has been with the team before and should remember how to ride that bike. Really, it's going to come down to how fast Jefferson can pick things up.

3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?

Right now there's just too much unknown about this team. Can Jefferson learn the offense? Can they become a better defensive team in the middle? Fans have a realistic expectation about how this new team will do but at the same time, it's going to be a disappointment if they're not challenging for the two-seed.

If they get out to a slow start, some of those losses could come back to haunt them when it comes to playoff positioning.

While it's never been a staple of the Jazz offense, the Jazz are hurting for a three-point shooter. They lost two of their best in Matthews and Korver. Bell is a career 41% three-point shooter so he will help offset some of that. Mehmet Okur is another that can make the three, but he won't be back with the team until December or January. Williams could also shoulder some of the three-point shot load. CJ Miles will take a lot of threes, but his percentage has declined the past two seasons.

The Jazz have ranked 25th, 26th, and 26th in the league in 3PAs over the past three seasons; don't expect that to change in 2010-11.

4. What are the goals for this team?

To begin the season it's to assimilate the new guys and to jell as a team on both sides of the ball. With a game or two potentially meaning the difference between a first-round home court playoff series or facing the Lakers again, they can ill afford to drop any games early on.

It should be a great race in the Northwest again this season as the Jazz will fight with Portland, Oklahoma City, and Denver for the division title. Winning the division and gaining a first-round, home-court playoff series is within their reach. If the goal for every team is to go as far as possible in the playoffs, then having those things happen are essential for the Jazz.

5. Will Kyrylo Fesenko be known more for his quotes or his play on the court this season?
It really is a perfect storm for Fesenko to make an impact on the team this season. First, he's signed the qualifying offer from the team and will become an unrestricted free agent next summer, so there's some extra motivation to play well. Next, he's come to camp having dropped 20 lbs. showing that he's committed in part to becoming a better player. Finally, with Okur out until January or December, he's going to be seeing a lot more minutes than he normally would have. Battling vet Francisco Elson for those minutes should provide some extra motivation as well.

Fess is never going to be a Shaq-like player, though he does a spot-on impersonation with free-throw percentage, but he has a chance to step up his game and make a bit of a name for himself on the court.

Prediction

*That 2003-04 team was supposed to be the worst in the league. Instead, they won 42 games and finished a game out of the playoffs.

We've been able to pencil in about 50-55 wins in for the Jazz for the past few years. Last year they were predicted by most to win around 46-48 and they went on to win 53. I had picked them to win 54.

I'll put them this season to win about the same. They might start off slow but they'll have their traditional month or two mid-season where they lose just a handful of games.

53-29
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