We're doing the season previews anyway, despite not knowing what tomorrow holds for the league and its players.
Team Name: Utah Jazz
Last Year's Record: 39-43
Key Free Agents: CJ Miles (option picked up), Kyrylo Fesenko (UFA), Andrei Kirilenko (UFA), Ronnie Price (UFA), Earl Watson (UFA), Francisco Elson (UFA)
1. What are your team's biggest needs this offseason?
You would think that a team that lost its Hall of Fame coach of 23 years and traded their All-star point guard would have gaping holes. You're not going to fill the shoes of either one of those guys but the Jazz head into the next season, whenever that may be, with a young and talented roster that could develop into a good team in the next couple of seasons.
One of the biggest needs the Jazz have is to decide what they're going to do with all of the big men they're collecting. There's a limited amount of minutes to go around and there's a compelling argument for each player to get those minutes. Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors, Mehmet Okur, and Enes Kanter will be looking for playing time. Kanter is probably the least deserving of the bunch right now, but he's going to be groomed to take over the starting center spot. Next season will start out with Jefferson and Millsap on the floor for the tip and with Okur and Favors backing them up. That leaves virtually zero development time for the #3 pick in the draft. So whether it's through the amnesty clause or a trade, there will likely be a move to free up a spot in the front court.
They're also set with wing players. CJ Miles's option was picked up right before the lockout started. Gordon Hayward came on strong in the second half of last season. Raja Bell still has a couple of years left on his deal. We haven't even talked about Jeremy Evans that will be trying to make a move from PF to SF. Oh, and the Jazz drafted Alec Burks to play the two. Even if the Jazz end up bringing Kirilenko back, I don't know where he fits.
The only spot the Jazz are hurting in in depth is at point guard. Ronnie Price likely won't be back. Earl Watson will probably be re-signed. He's expressed and interest in returning and ran the second team well last year. Burks could handle third-string PG responsibilities.
The biggest thing this team needed to address during the off-season was developing the rookies and second-year players which obviously didn't happen. Since the retirement of Jerry Sloan and the trade of Deron Williams, this team has lacked an identity, one that has been defined by Sloan for nearly a quarter century. The young core of players are the future for the team and it would have moved the rebuilding time up a bit if they were able to play this summer and to continue to develop their basketball relationship.
More after the jump
2. What are the team's biggest strengths & weaknesses? (so far)
Off the court, the Jazz are in a really good spot financially going forward. Okur's $10 million will come off the books after the season. Kirilenko's $17 million is now in the past. And the young core of players will be on their rookie contracts for the next 4-6 years. The team could have up to two more lottery picks next season if they don't make the playoffs again and if the Golden State pick received for the Favors/Williams trade isn't top 7. The Jazz have the chance of acquiring six lottery picks in three years.
On the court the Jazz have an interesting mix of experience and youth. While there is no doubt a youth movement, the Jazz still have a good group of veterans in Jefferson, Devin Harris, Mehmet Okur, and Paul Millsap. One carry-over from the Sloan era to Corbin's will be that he will get the most out of players. The players are going to work hard on both ends of the court. They may not win many games, but they will bring it every night.
One of the most uncharacteristic things about the Jazz last season was their bottom of the league defense and their abysmal rebounding percentage. Corbin will not only have to re-emphasize defense but will actually have to hold players responsible for not focusing on D. It's one thing to have players say they're going to focus on defense and another to actually have them do it.
Another downside to this season will be that there is even more turnover heading into this training camp than there was last year at this time. While last year's team won early, it was obvious that they never really came together on the court. This fact was repeated after almost every game by the players in the locker room. Now they will have to try to mesh again. Add the overall inexperience of the team and you can see why this team might struggle.
With the team still in flux, the direction of the team may not fully be defined this season and that could hurt development and cause some of the older players to wonder what their roles are with the team. It would have been nice to have had an off-season to work that out.
3. If there is no season in 2011-12, how is your team set up for 2012?
This was mentioned above, but the Jazz are set up to be in a good spot for 2012. They'll have more salary off the books and the young players will have had another season to develop (hopefully). Tyrone Corbin is signed to a three-year deal.
So while one of the most stable franchises in the league did a complete 180 this past season, the moves they've made will ensure stability for the foreseeable future (though it came at a high cost and a high risk).
4. If you could make one change the NBA's new CBA, what would it be?
Other than getting one done? I wish we could get a provision put in that includes the fans' input because right now we're the last thing the players and owners are thinking about despite whatever lip service they may be giving.
5. Why should I watch the Jazz on League Pass?
Here's the blurb I wrote about the Jazz last season for Basketball Prospectus:
Though it will likely take a lifetime of convincing, and perhaps Jerry Sloan's retirement, I'm here to tell you that the Jazz is not a half-court, pickand-roll team. Even in the half-court set, the Jazz will run the flex offense, which allows for some beautiful passing, hard cuts, hard screens, and easy buckets as defenders' heads are turned about as if on a swivel. It's a refreshing change from the iso sets that seem so prevalent in the NBA today. The spacing and timing that is required to execute the offense carries over to the team's fast-break game. Led by the best point guard in the NBA, the Jazz provide some of the best fast breaks in the league with otherworldly passes from Deron Williams to a cutting wing or a running big man for the easy two.
Sooo, the two people I mention are no longer with the team. Sorry about that. Maybe the pick-and-roll, "boring" basketball stigma that has been attached to Sloan and the team -- despite being the opposite -- will finally be lifted from the Jazz. I really didn't want Sloan retiring in order to make my point.
Corbin will likely make changes as he sees fit to the offense and the D. You should watch the Jazz on League Pass this season because they will have one of the youngest and funnest teams to watch. Devin Harris is one of the quickest PGs in the league and will look to push the ball. Jeremy Evans can fly out of the gym. Gordon Hayward did this to Kobe and the Lakers. They'll also showcase Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and Alec Burks.
They may not win many games next season but they will be one of the up and coming teams to watch for. If you missed out on the OKC bandwagon, this may be your next best chance to get in on the ground floor.