As the leaves change colors, and most of my football teams usually eliminate themselves from contention, I – like a great number of other Jazz fans, I’m sure—annually turn my attention back to the NBA. This is the time of the year where players should be holding informal team workouts, and training camps are supposed to start. This isn’t one of those years though. That doesn’t mean that we fans have a right to slack off and come into training camp (whenever it is) in Eddie Curry shape.
This month I fired off a few quick questions to an esteemed group of Jazz fans. They are none other than:
- The big boss man himself, Basketball John (Twitter: @SLCDunk ; SB*Nation: Basketball John; SLC Dunk)
- Clark (Twitter: @JazzingItUp ; SB*Nation: clarkpojo)
- Clint Peterson (Twitter: @Clintonite33 ; SB*Nation: Clintonite33; TheUtahJazzBlog; and ShootHoops)
- Diana Allen (Twitter: @DianaAllen ; SB*Nation: DianaAllen; Utah Jazz 360)
- Special guest Jody Genessy (Twitter: @DJJazzyJody ; Jody’s Jazz Blog at the Deseret News)
- The irreplaceable Moni (Twitter: @Monilogue; SB*Nation: Moni; Living and Dying by the Jazz)
- Spencer Ryan Hall (Twitter: @SaltCityHoops; ESPN Truehoop affiliate Salt City Hoops)
- Sujal Shah (Twitter: @Utesfan89; SB*Nation: UtesFan89)
- Yucca Man (Twitter: @YuccaManHoops; SB*Nation: Yucca Man)
- … and myself, Amar (Twitter: @AllThatAmar) ; SB*Nation: AllThatJazzBasketball)
Hopefully, each month we can have fun with this. This doesn’t mean everyone in today’s round table has to be on the hook for something every few weeks; we can play around with this and make this a truly progressive fan (doesn’t matter if you blog, are paid to blog, or just watch at home) dialogue. We already know the big money guys read our little blog (Hi Christi Yates, executive assistant to Kevin O’Connor!) , it’s a great way for them to keep tabs on the pulse of the Jazz die-hard fan (for free, Greg Miller). Over three hundred words of preamble is long enough, on to the round table!
Question 1: Last season was full of ups and downs. The major Utah Jazz stories involved a great early Eastern conference road trip (including the Miracle in Miami), the resigning of Jerry Sloan, and the Deron Williams trade. What single story went under the radar that you thought was important, and why?
Basketball John: I don't think this story went under the radar with Jazz fans, but nationally, the emergence of Gordon Hayward in the second half of the season was overlooked by many. He shot 51% from the field including 54.5% from the three-point line. He really emerged as one of the leaders and core of the team going forward.
Clark: I know that it isn't usually cool to focus on the team's play by play guys, but I thought Matt Harpring's discovery of fry sauce was really underreported and underappreciated. But in all seriousness, I think we took for granted the two guys that we drafted in 2010, Gordon Hayward and Jeremy Evans. For one, it is the first time since we drafted CJ Miles and Paul Millsap that the Jazz found more than one good player in the draft, but secondly, they are best friends and will be able to grow in the league together. I think it is understated just how far Gordon Hayward has come from his first NBA minutes to now. He went from future role player, to co-face of the franchise in 6 months time. And his friendship with Jeremy Evans is more important of a story than most realize. This league is becoming about teaming up, not only with stars, but with your buddies. Lebron going to Miami had as much to do with Dwyane Wade being his buddy at the olympics as it did about winning, or else Lebron would have gone to Chicago or the Clippers. If Chris Paul ends up in New York with Melo and Amare, it will be about friendships more than a great winning opportunity. If you want to keep Gordon Hayward in Utah and happy, let him grow and play with Jeremy Evans. I will never defend the trading of Ronnie Brewer, from a basketball standpoint, or due to the fact that it was the start of souring Deron Williams' relationship with the organization.
Clint: The way the Jazz bigs finished the season.
I don't think anyone would dispute that the Jazz struggled with chemistry issues last year, for obvious reasons. But the frontline of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, and Derrick Favors began to find a groove by season's end --a groove lost on many who had already given up hope after a major shakeup and subsequent loss of confidence. It was the end of maybe the most prolific tenure in modern sports. Who can blame them.
Yet despite the great disappointment Big Al must have felt after realizing that his first postseason in six years was slipping from his grasp, he continued to work, to fight. From February to the mid-April end of the season Jefferson put up 20.5 points on .502 percent field goal shooting, 10.4 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 1.3 turnovers, and most importantly 2.4 assists per-game, all but the FG% far better than his career averages (the FG% nailed right on the nose).
Maligned as a "black hole" for much of his career, a stereotype that followed him right into Jazz country, he'd never been asked to pass before, just go to work on the low block. But big men and passing are synonymous with Jazz ball and he made an effort to so for the first time in his career. And it showed if you were looking for it. Had the Jazz not been one of the most heinous 3-shooting teams on kickouts from the post last year (looking at you, Raja) this number would surely have been even higher.
A formerly novel idea to Al, he began looking for a cutting or floating-in-space Millsap. Al tied a career high of five dimes in a game three times in the final two weeks of the season, an April 1 contest versus the Lakers seeing four of those five finished off by Mr. Reliable, Paul Millsap. He was finding guys. And they him in return.
Millsap posted a career high assists in 2010-11, over the same span noted above passing at an elite big-man level, 2.7, 3.0, and 3.0 assists per-game in February, March, and April respectively. They began to find a rhythm together as the season wound down. And it wasn't lost on the then 19-year-old phenom Derrick Favors either.
Favors flourished on the Jazz, getting progressively better with the squad from the moment he got there in the Deron Williams trade with four games left to play in February until the April finale. His points-per-game leaped from 5.5 to 7.3 to 9.6, FG% from .418 to .526, rebounds from 5.8 to 6.7 and blocks from 1.1 to 1.6.
Oh, and those almighty big dimes...
Favors went from 0.4 in February, doubling up to 0.8 in March, and hitting a high note in April of 1.1 per-game. Altogether, the trio of Jefferson, Millsap, and Favors put up a combined 7.7 dimes per-game in April, a progressive, and impressive number for any frontline in the NBA.
Diana: The single story that I think went under the radar was Al Jefferson playing in all 82 games. It was only the 2nd time in Al's 7 seasons that he played all 82 games. It seemed like despite reports to the contrary by one reporter that Al had a good attitude all season. I really felt for him when things started to go south. When he came to Utah he was so excited about playing for Jerry Sloan and playing with Deron Williams, he thought he was coming into the most stable franchise in the league. Al must have felt like it was the Timberwolves all over again with his head coach "resigning" and a major trade in the middle of the season. Al would have had every excuse to fake an injury or make a big deal of lingering aches and pains but he didn't he played every game. He talked and fought for the playoffs until the very end. He carried the team when no one on the team wanted to do anything after Jerry and Deron left.
Jody: In my first year as the Utah Jazz beat writer for the Deseret News, I managed to chase off Jerry Sloan, Deron Williams, the playoffs from Utah AND the entire National Basketball Association (except for non-locked-out referees). That, my online friends, is quite the accomplishment.
My real answer: The historical second-half meltdown took the Jazz out of the postseason and has many people feeling cynical about the franchise's future. But injuries added salt to the Jazz's instability wounds, and I think many fans and pundits overlook the amount of talent that remains on the Jazz roster in the post-D-Will world.
Utah still has a solid point guard in Devin Harris, an up-and-coming swingman in Gordon Hayward (assuming he doesn't put all of his focus on being a pro video athlete). The Jazz also have a stable full of strong bigs (Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Mehmet Okur, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter).
The Jazz's post-lockout future looks bright with that group.
Moni: For me, the story that went under the radar starting last season and leading into next season stems from a comment Jeff Hornacek made in July about how the coaching staff was going to spend the next month or two relaxing and then "working closely with (Tyrone Corbin) to implement his system, whatever that will be." Obviously Corbin didn't have enough time to get that done during last season since everything happened so suddenly, but as of July--three months after the season was over--there was still no system or if Ty did start developing one at that point, he was the only one that knew about it. That concerns me.
Spencer: Several guys played through fairly serious injuries that probably didn't get much attention, only because they happened to guys who don't get a lot of attention. The Ronnie Prices of the team didn't just all-of-a-sudden forget how to play basketball. It's tough to play when you can't feel entire limbs.
Sujal: The few of you that have been reading my stuff for a while, as I jumped from blog to blog trying to lose
my followersthe random people that happened across my stuff, know that I’ve been a huge - let’s say proponent – of a youth movement. Not a full on overhaul, mind you, but more the realization that the veterans won’t be around forever and an action to overcome that. At some point, the youngsters we drafted were going to have to lead our team – we can’t just keep trading them for Greg Ostertag (see ya, Kirk Snyder) or letting them be selected in expansion draft (adios, Sasha) or trading them for cap space (and there goes Eric Maynor) or trading them in a swap of busts (peace out Humphries, welcome Mr. Araujo) or just watching them flop (Mo Nuts, anyone?) and call it good.
Luckily for us, things did change. Tom Gugliotta for Keon Clark net us a pick that landed us Gordon Hayward many years later. Deron Williams landed us Derrick Favors and Devin Harris. Sloan’s resigning snagged us a coach willing to play the youngsters in Tyrone Corbin (I’m not hating on Jerry – I know he had his reasons and motivations for coaching the way he did). This past draft got us Enes Kanter & Alec Burks, though we haven’t seen either of them in NBA action due to something I’ll avoid mentioning. The point is, though, that the end of last season gave us something to look forward to. This isn’t the Stockton-to-Malone era anymore, but Hayward and Favors have given us a glimpse of the future – and man does it look fun. Sure, the fun that comes with Fesenko might not be around much longer and the fun that we associated with Raja Bell no longer exists ("eh, I think I’ll just… CLOTHESLINE Kobe Bryant!"), but that’s beside the point. This fun gives us hope for the future – something that will continue as the young guys develop… and develop on the Jazz, not after we’ve traded them. I don’t think this really went "under the radar," per se (because everyone knows it happened), but more it got glossed over because so much other stuff was happening (Deron Williams! Jerry Sloan! The l-word! LBJ! Mavericks!).
A close second might be the realization that Carlos Boozer’s presence might not have been such a bad thing – even if he did spend half the time injured.
Yucca Man: Lack of front office planning.
When they originally signed Deron to his extension (a time when I would have bet my house he was going to be a Jazzman forever), I remember reporters asking how the Jazz planned to handle things when his extension kicked in — a time Boozer, Memo, and AK would still have big contracts on the books. KOC answered that the Jazz would deal with that later.
It was basically Seinfeld's "that's tomorrow guy's problem."
Well, they didn't plan, tomorrow guy dealt with the problems by dumping Ronnie B. for nothing, which started Deron's discontent and ultimately led to the Trade.
The FO had a similar problem in 2010. They traded Brewer because he had regressed and Matthews/Korver were contributing more than Brewer could. All understandable. And yet within 6 months of the Brewer trade, the Jazz suddenly had no wings. They made no long-term plans to keep or replace Korver/Matthews, no long-term plans to make the payroll capable of paying in case there were bidders, and they ended up blowing all their available money on Al.
And I believe the Jazz struggles in January were because of roster depth. They had six guys. Once ordinary wear and tear came into play there was nobody to step up into a bigger role. Had either Matthews or Korver been around, there would have been no swoon in January, no resignation, and no Trade.
Amar: I think the story that went under the radar was definitely the impressive improvement of Gordon Hayward. I don’t think a lot of NBA pundits thought that he would be anything more than a role player when entering the league. For example, NBADraft.net suggested that he would be a Luke Jackson type), and DraftExpress.com placed him almost out of the lottery in their mock draft. Furthermore, 2K Sports didn’t even include him in any of the hypothetical pre-draft workouts in their 2011 installment of their basketball game, while at least one player picked after him in the real NBA draft was. Hayward showed flashes of brilliance in the Orlando Summer League and in a preseason game against the LA Lakers; but followed that up with significant rookie jitters early on in the regular season. We knew he could get better. But I think the national media failed to catch on to just how much better he got. He didn’t make the rookie game roster at the All-Star game, and he didn’t make either All-NBA Rookie team after the season was over. I think he finished the season better than Wesley Johnson – and if you don’t believe me check out their respective cumulative per 36 minute statistics from their Rookie seasons. I’d take Hayward over him 100% of the time, and not just because he’s also three years younger. And these are the cumulative stats – Hayward’s second half was absolutely stellar. He entered the league with questions about his three point shot and he finished his rookie season making 47.3% from big-boy range. He’ll surprise media writers next year, whenever the next year is.
Question 2: The head coaching spot is currently held by Tyrone Corbin. The starting point guard spot is currently held by Devin Harris. Who holds this spot for longer in Utah? Why do you think this?
Basketball John: Well, Tyrone Corbin has a three-year deal which signifies the commitment the Utah Jazz have in the first-time head coach. While Devin Harris is a quality player, I don't think the Jazz would hesitate to draft another point guard for the future. Harris could be an attractive trade-piece this season or next. We don't know much about Harris, but he seems to be a candidate to sign elsewhere when he becomes a free agent in a couple of years.
Clark: I think this one is easy. Tyrone Corbin will be here longer. Devin Harris is a stopgap. I'm sorry if that sounds rude, but Kevin O'Connor basically admitted it himself when he explained why he traded with the Nets. He was looking for a young stud and a point guard who could help them get to the playoffs. Harris wasn't the main objective of trading Deron Williams. Harris will be here for the next two years at most and be traded next offseason at the earliest. As for Tyrone Corbin, the organization believes in stability of the coaching position, the team knows that they can't expect too many wins with the roster he's been dealt, and he is super young. The Jazz did right by Corbin by hiring him for the next several years, just like the Lakers did Brian Shaw wrong by passing on him. Corbin will be the head coach of the Jazz for 5 seasons at least.
Clint: As likeable as he is, and as often as he says the right, veteran thing, I just can't see the Jazz sticking with a guy that's never in his career played all 82 games. The Jazz needed a point guard back in the deal by default, but I'd be surprised if he's the future for the team at the position.
As for Corbin, I watched him closely for a number of years, becoming convinced in short order without so much as an arm twist that he'd be the right man to take the franchise forward. Don't forget, Jerry Sloan's first three years as an NBA head coach saw him go a combined 13.5 games under .500. Ty will be fine. [This entry has been edited, as per Clint's request.]
Diana: What I think will happen and what I want to happen with regards to Ty Corbin and Devin Harris are two different things. I respect that we cannot judge Ty as a head coach or Devin Harris as our starting point guard based on the results of last season. We all understand the unusual circumstances that Ty was put into as a head coach and the same for Devin Harris replacing Deron Williams. I am confident that Ty will be here longer than Devin. We have to give Ty time to see what he can do as a head coach but how long do we give him if we don't see the success that we're accustom and expect to see as Jazz fans? I worry when I see interviews with Jeff Hornacek and he says he doesn't know Ty's system and he doesn't know if Ty knows his system. I think a small market team like the Jazz needs an identity, they can't just play one-on-one ball and expect to be anything more than any other small market team who gets forgotten besides a few playoff runs every ten years or so. (Warriors, Nuggets before Melo, TWolves and Kings are a few examples of such teams). Now on to Harris I think he can be a very good point guard for the Jazz with the current players that we have. I don't think the point guard has to be the best player on the team to win a championship. I think we saw with Deron that especially this last season that he when frustrated with teammates or plays would go one-on-one or break the offense mid play it caused angry coaches and teammates, it caused us to lose games we should have been winning, I know there were circumstances beyond just the mentality of Deron being the best player on the team so i need to do everything type of attitude but we saw it before all the strife of this past season and it rarely resulted in wins. I think Devin in the right offense can be a good distributor and not even as the main play-maker, if we play good team ball Devin and Gordon Hayward could make a very good backcourt working off of each other. i think Devin as a good attitude and can benefit our team if given the chance.
Jody: Corbin, by at least a decade. Harris is a good point guard, a really good one at times. But there's a reason why the Jazz didn't even conduct a head coach search after Sloan shockingly called it quits in February. Corbin is that promising of a coaching prospect. He has oodles of playing and coaching experience in the NBA, including seven as the understudy to Sloan and Phil Johnson. He was runner-up to Johnson for assistant coach of the year for the entire NBA, and that was while he was the second assistant.
Obviously, he has some lessons to learn as a head coach, and he'll suffer plenty of downs. But, to use one of his oft-used words, Corbin is a cool "cat." He gets along with players but can be firm if needed. He handles the media very nicely, even if he lacks farm stories and isn't exactly a laugh-a-minute quote machine. He also has the backing of Jazz management, even getting GM Kevin O'Connor to say he hopes Corbin is coaching for the next 23 years a la Sloan.
On top of that, Corbin is now the proud owner of the key to the entire city of Columbia, S.C. Imagine what he can do with that!
Harris has the potential to be a solid point guard for the Jazz for the next couple of seasons — maybe even the next five or so. But he could also be traded away quickly if Utah gets a top pick next season and decides to draft a premier playmaker.
Moni: Ty Corbin even if the team keeps losing, because the Jazz gave him that long contract and the not-interim status, and I don't see them admitting they were that off or overturning the boat.
Spencer: Ty Corbin absolutely holds the spot longer. I'm convinced the loyalty shown to Corbin by Greg Miller is genuine and the Jazz front office and ownership plan to be very patient with his tenure.
Harris, on the other hand, is one of the most likely players to be included in any kind of deal the Jazz might put together. I don't see the team building around Harris long-term.
Sujal: Ty Corbin. The Jazz are big on loyalty to the coach, and while TyCo isn’t Sloan, he’ll get his fair shot. Which means 3+ years, I would imagine – especially with a young team that still needs to grow and players that need to get used to each other (and the league). Harris – well, I’ll be honest. I’m a huge fan. I loved him when he was coming out of college and I still do. And I love that the Jazz picked him up. That said, I don’t know if he’ll fit the Jazz mold of a PG. I understand that TyCo isn’t Sloan (I mean, I said that exact thing 3 sentences ago), but I think learning under Sloan will have had some impact – the Jazz are going to need someone who’s a better passer/set-up guy. Harris could definitely be a viable guard off the bench, but I figure the Jazz will draft/sign/trade for a PG within the next year. If it’s a draftee, give it 2 years before he’s starting – if it’s a league veteran, it could be less than that. Harris is safe for now, but he’s one player away from seeing the bench in his Utah future. And we all heard the off-season rumors. Yeah, they were rumors, but I doubt they were all completely false. Something worth keeping an eye on. Corbin is multiple bad seasons away from seeing a new team in his future. Odds are in favor of Corbin holding his current spot longer.
Yucca Man: Corbin holds the spot longer. I just can't see Harris being a long-term solution. I can't see the FO seeing him that way either. I do think the FO has shown loyalty to coaches and will be committed to giving Ty at least two more seasons to see how things progress. I don't think Harris is here two more years.
Amar: Tyrone Corbin will be the head coach of the Jazz for a very long time. The organization groomed him to take this spot after Jerry Sloan and Phil Johnson vacated their respective seats on the Jazz bench. They are both gone now, and the Jazz brass has faith in Ty. The Jazz franchise does not put the blame on the head coach for when the players don’t perform. Our oldschool team has a top down power structure and Ty is not likely to be fired unless we underperform – and right now we’re a lotto team with a lot of young talent. We’re not likely to have expectations we can’t meet anytime soon. Harris isn’t as lucky, as we’ve demonstrated very recently (it’s still too soon for me) a willingness to trade starter quality point guards who become too big
of a headachefor this team. Harris has two years to wow the team, not surprisingly that’s exactly when his frontloaded contract will expire. He’s a speedy, shoot first point guard – but if you haven’t noticed, that’s not exactly the type of PG that works best with a bunch of back to the basket bigs (Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter . . . for starters).
Question 3: Right now the Jazz have collected four lottery picks in short succession (Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, and Alec Burks), with possibly one more on the way from Golden State (if there is a season and if certain conditions are met). That is a lot of highly regarded youth. Only one team in recent memory has made it from STEP A (getting a lot of draft picks in successive years) to STEP B (winning games in the playoffs). What things need to fall into place for the Jazz to replicate some of the success that Oklahoma City has had?
Basketball John: The biggest reason the Thunder have had is because they have an All-NBA player in Kevin Durant. He'll be a perennial All-star and MVP candidate for a long time to come. They also have built around him with Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and James Harden. They've drafted well and have most of their players on rookie contracts.
In order for the Jazz to replicate the success of the Thunder, the players they've drafted have to pan out. That's the obvious direction of the franchise and the immediate and future success will depend on it. I also wrote in the Downbeat today that if they were to let Al Jefferson go with the amnesty clause, they could be primed to pick up a big free agent in 2012. That would obviously help a lot.
Clark: Well for starters, either Gordon Hayward or Alec Burks or both have to become better than average scores. They don't have to equal Kevin Durant's scoring ability, but someone on the Jazz has to become a reliable scorer, especially in crunchtime. Favors will be able to anchor a good defensive unit, at worst, and Kanter will be at least a great third big. And the Jazz will have to make the right decisions with their future lottery picks, either in who they draft or trade them for, and acquire some wiley veterans to help lead the way.
Oh. My bad.
Diana: OK, who's going to be our Kevin Durant? OKC would not be having the success that they have without Durant's talent, the hype from the media and the love from the refs that they receive due to Stern's love for them. I cannot tell you how many times I would get frustrated watching OKC-Jazz games because of calls against us and no calls against OKC. Where as the cry of injustice two years ago when Paul Millsap was hacked and he could have won the game for the Jazz, I didn't see an official apology from the league following that New Year's Eve game. Yes OKC has a lot of high draft picks and they have talent because of it but in my opinion they would be just like any other young team if they didn't have Kevin Durant and the love from the league. Scott Brooks was coach of the year but what did he really do? We saw the lack of coaching this past year in the playoffs against the Mavericks, and they almost lost to the 8th seed Grizzlies in the 2nd round, a few calls here and there could have made all the difference in that series. The Thunder front office seems to be smart with their contracts but big pay days are starting to come, are they going to be able to keep their young talent together or will their star players seek the lights and glory that the big markets bring? So to answer your question in order for the Jazz to see the success that the Thunder have seen they have to hope that Favors or Hayward can have as much impact on the team that Durant has had on the Thunder. They have to hope that our front office is as good as maintaining talent like the Thunder's front office as done so far. They have to hope that that they suddenly get favorable calls from the refs. I don't think the Thunder have an identity but they don't need to with Durant. I think the Jazz need an identity to stay relevant.
Jody: The Jazz are in a better position in the sense that they have nice complementary pieces to their potential-packed youth. Oklahoma City didn't have that. Of course, Utah doesn't have a player anywhere near as good as Kevin Durant. They might not have anyone as good as Russell Westbrook, either. Right now, at least.
Hayward needs to pick up from where he left off last season, when he was torching Kobe and running plays well enough to avoid getting fastballs thrown at him. Favors needs to assert himself more into the offense and defense — and continue to work on his mid-range game. Burks needs to work on his outside game — if nothing else than to make blue-clad Jazz fans forgive him for not being Jimmer — while making a name for himself on the defensive end. And Kanter needs to be a workhorse — in practice and in the paint — and be the anti-Fes.
If the Jazz keep Big Al and Millsap around, then Kanter and Favors really need to learn from them and push the veterans while coming along at a steady pace without as much pressure. That could pay off big-time in the long run, although nothing substitutes for actual game-time playing experience.
Having written all that, the Jazz need top-notch point guard play for any of the youngsters' exciting potential to make a hill of beans difference. That was a risk the franchise took when it shipped D-Will away for this grab bag.
Moni: Oklahoma has had the success that it has largely due to Kevin Durant (though I would be remiss in not mentioning Scott COY Brooks' coaching), and he's not a player that you're going to find in every draft. I don't know that there's anything the Jazz can do to propel the team to Step B, apart from signing some impact free agents, besides waiting for the guys they have to develop. Which brings up the issue of whether they're going to be able to
match Portland's offer sheetspay all these developed guys when their contracts expire all in close range, but that's neither here nor there.
Spencer: First of all, the OKC formula can also be summarized as "Get Kevin Durant." The only approximation the Jazz can really hope for is a Durantian Leap (or even Hardenian, at this point) from one of the young guys, a wholesale improvement in team chemistry, and the emergence of some kind of leader.
Camaraderie has to be the secret weapon. Last season's Jazz locker room had the same vibe as a group of polite strangers sharing a plane. They may never get as tight as OKC's Broingtons, but an injection of personality and brotherhood will do wonders toward making the leap to contenderhood.
Sujal: First things first, we’re the Jazz, not the Thunder. We don’t have a Kevin Durant – and as much as I love our players, I don’t think any of them will be the next Kevin Durant. That said, what OKC has done well is build a TEAM. Yeah, Durant is Durant (and man does that make things easy), but they’ve also surrounded him with talented TEAM guys. Its one thing to get a superstar and then just surround him with a bunch of nobodies and ask him to carry the team, it is another to build a full team around him and have them work together. That’s what the Thunder have done – they’ve got players that know their role and players that will work together. (Or that’s what it seems like.)
The Jazz don’t have a Durant. That is obviously a downfall to the whole thing – no "go-to" guy, no superstar to lead them in the clutch moments. But it can also be a good thing. Clutch moment – who’s going to take the shot for us? We don’t know… and nor does the other team. We have multiple players that could take it – opponents can’t focus in on a single player and try to shut him down. For years, as the league has seen the rise of superstar wings, the Jazz have battled (and battled well) with a strong PG/PF combo. Stockton/Malone. Deron/Boozer. McLeod/AK. (Okay, maybe not so much on that last one.) That doesn’t seem too likely to change now – in a league of 25 ppg scoring wings, chances are that neither Burks nor Hayward will be joining that group anytime soon.
The Jazz have been building with a team mentality. They find guys that they think will fit into their team, guys that won’t disrupt it all for their own stats … guys that will play together like the recent Pistons teams (well, not too recent) and not like the LeBron + 4 Cavs teams. Players need to play well. Together.
So what needs to fall in place? Simple. They need to develop well, and develop together (which means that "this which should not be mentioned" really hurts because it impedes on that). Young team, young coach – they should all grow together. As they play together more, they’ll learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses – and hopefully find ways to overcome them. Maybe I’m dreaming a bit too much though – technically this should happen with every team, right? And yet, it never seems to happen.
The Jazz are building a team – now they just need the players to realize that, accept it and play like it. With Favors, Hayward, Miles (?), Harris (?), Burks, Kanter and Evans, the youth movement is well underway. (The ‘?’ refers to the fact that some will argue whether they count as young players or not, and I’m not in the mood to argue that right now.)
Yucca Man: The OKC comparison is very interesting. You never can tell for sure, but it's unlikely any of the Jazz picks will be as dynamite as Kevin Durrant. At the same time Burks, Hayward, Favors, and Kanter all seem likely to be quite a bit better than James Harden — OKC's #3.
I don't know what it will take. But I like the overall potential of our young guys more than all of OKC's.
Amar: #1: give the young guys playing time. #2: never ever face injuries. #3: become the darlings of the NBA and get a ton of calls in your favor. It’s a hard recipe to follow, but it’s the exact recipe that the Oklahoma City nee Seattle NBA team used to get where they are today.
Question 4: There are eight guys who drew at least one paycheck from the Jazz last season who are free agents right now: Andrei Kirilenko, Ronnie Price, Kyrylo Fesenko, Earl Watson, Francisco Elson, Kyle Weaver, Marcus Cousin, and Sundiata Gaines. Which one of these guys do the Jazz absolutely have to bring back? Which one of these guys is the most likely candidate to return? (doesn’t have to be the same player)
Basketball John: It's no secret that I believe they need to bring AK back. He's a game changer and now will come with a more attractive price tag. Some would worry that he would steal minutes from the youngsters, but out of everyone, he would likely be the most open to having his minutes reduced and giving playing time to develop to others. Otherwise, I feel there will be a lot of regret when we see how he plays with another team and what he contributes.
Clark: None of these guys are "must returns" in my opinion. Back up point guards and big men like Watson, Price, Weaver and Fesenko are a dime a dozen in this league, even though I love Watson and Fes' attitudes. It would be nice if AK returned and he's still a great player, but I think you can make as good of a case for why he and the team should part ways as you can for bringing him back. But I think Watson is the most likely to return and the only one of those guys who does.
Clint: Earldrei Watsonenko. Wait. I might be saturated with EuroBasket at the moment. Apologies.
Seriously though, both Watson and Kirilenko, provided the latter is reasonably priced, fit right back into the puzzle virtually seamlessly. If the Jazz hold to their modus operandi of the last several years they will carry only 13 players on the roster (the max is by rule 15). That leaves only two spots open at the moment and this pair seems the most likely.
There are precious few point guards of any value for a decent price on the current free agency market, and it feels like the Jazz need to jell a bit before even thinking about stirring up the pot again, beginning the rebuilding of crucial team chemistry all over again. For the money, it's hard to beat good ol' Earl, a guy that now knows what the Jazz are about, will show up and give it a go every night, and won't break the bank.
For 7-8 million dollars Andrei is still a steal, especially if you've seen what he's been doing for Russia this summer. Every opposing coach, every opposing player whines incessantly about trying to contain him. Because they can't.
Let's just hope no one else has noticed him tearing it up at EuroBasket. Moni.
Diana: I like our free agents they remind me of typical Jerry Sloan type players, a time and style of play I was missing greatly at the end of the season. I feel the Jazz would be foolish to not sign their current longest tenured player in Andrei Kirilenko. There are no SFs on the free agent market that can even come close to bringing us what AK can bring to the Jazz. AK is a one of a kind player who can help our young players succeed on the court. Before his injury after Deron was traded he was the player making everyone have a role on the court. He knew were to get players the ball, he knew how much to take control or let Devin run the show. I however do not think AK will be back solely based on my interpretation of Greg Miller's interview on Sports Beat Sunday after the season ended. I think Earl Watson will be the player to come back to the Jazz. I like Earl and will be excited if he does decide to return. He is a great backup point guard and an even better teammate. I also see the Jazz doing the easy thing and bringing back Ronnie Price.
Jody: Because they didn't draft a point guard, the Jazz have to shore up that position. As in, that's their top priority whenever the free agency madness begins. Well, that and getting another capable swingman in the rotation.
He isn't flashy and won't make an All-Star squad, but Earl Watson would give the Jazz the best bang for the buck from that list of ex-players. Watson played better in the second half of the season, and he's a savvy veteran who knows his role, is good in the locker room. He's a safe pick. Plus, he's now a TMZ star, so that could up his street cred. (By the way, that was lame how TMZ weaved Watson into a WNBA/lesbian conversation. And how did that celeb-centric show overlook the fact that he was (is?) married to "My Wife and Kids" star Jennifer Freeman!? OK, I had to Google her name, but I'm not a celebrity-stalking show.)
AK-47 would be a valuable re-addition to the Jazz — if he comes back at the right price and gives Utah one of those so-called hometown discounts. The way Kirilenko played this summer for Russia certainly reminded NBA execs of his versatility, so he probably earned himself some extra cash — that likely won't come out of Greg Miller's wallet.
Kyle Weaver would be an intriguing guy to bring back as well. He had that one great game in Sacramento but fizzled off after that during his 10-day stay with Utah last spring, but he has some skills the Jazz could use in the swing spots.
Fesenko Friday will be the biggest victim when the next NBA season begins. O'Connor said the Jazz will consider bringing Fes back, and the GM even used the old "You can teach height" saying. But that seemed to be the problem with this 7-foot-1 Ukrainian who struggled to learn lessons about remaining focused and staying in shape.
Francisco Elson was a hoot in the locker room, but "Sensei" might have seen his last NBA playing days. And I think the Jazz have too many other big men to bring Cousin back.
If the Jazz don't re-sign Watson, it wouldn't be shocking to see them keep Ronnie Price in the fold. But he digressed this past season, so that might not happen, either. And Mr. LeBron-killer himself, Sundiata Gaines, is under contract with New Jersey, although his next two seasons are non-guaranteed with the Nets. The Jazz liked Gaines but didn't have any PG roster space for him last fall, so it wouldn't be shocking if a Utah reunion happened.
Long answer short: Bring back Earl Watson and Andrei Kirilenko, but only if the opposite of a max contract can be worked out.
Moni: I am going to go with AK for the one the Jazz have to bring back (I know, total shocker) because you can't have a team without vets that know the system (assuming we have a system), but Earl Watson is right up there with him. Most likely one, Earl.
Spencer: A cheap Kirilenko is probably a no-brainer, making him most likely. But a true commitment to developing young players leaves him expendable. Among the rest of those names, a healthy Ronnie Price is my sentimental pick -- but I might be the only one on that bandwagon.
Sujal: Andrei Kirilenko. Let’s be brutally honest – Weaver, Cousin and Gaines are in no way "have to bring back" players. Price and Watson – one of them has to be back. Both of them? Probably not. I like Price, but he’s not a PG and we have our "shooting PG who should be a SG but isn’t tall enough" (Harris). Watson played well last year, but I wonder how important a back-up PG is in terms of "we need him back." Elson was a nice addition, but an overload of bigs makes it less likely that we need him back. Fesenko – well, he’s funny. Unfortunately, we’re trying to build a basketball team and not a group entry for "Last Comic Standing." And, while time hasn’t exactly come in a plethora for Fesenko, he hasn’t exactly shown a bunch (save for random games). I’m a huge Fesenko fan, and have been since day 1, but the recent additions of Favors and Kanter can’t have helped him keep his roster spot. That leaves AK- who has (if I remember correctly) expressed a desire to return. He might go from starter to bench-player during the season (depending on Burks), but whatever. He brings more to the table than any of the other players (and I’m not even talking about the "new hair every week").
Most likely to return? I’m going to go with Watson. Because we need a back-up PG to Harris, or something like that. And because AK is probably going to be deemed as "too expensive" or something odd like that. Not a bad thing, obviously – having a veteran PG who knows the system will definitely help the team. But if you look for who brings more to the team, I’d have to put my vote in the "AK" column. I just don’t know if the Jazz will do it – especially with the numerous ‘big-men’ available plus the seeming development of Jeremy Evans to make the clog that much bigger.
Yucca Man: I've extolled AK ad nauseum on this blog, so I'll be brief about him: 1) He's a very good player, 2) He's said he'd give the Jazz a hometown discount. Nobody says that (see Wesley Matthews in 2010, Millsap in 2009), 3) His elite skills will facilitate development of the young guys more than any other vet, 4) He is more likely to accept reduced roles than any other vet, 5) He has more to teach the young guys than any other vet, and 6) I still want the Jazz to be a team that stands for loyalty and continuity.
As for Fes: I don't think he's the second coming of Hakeem. But 1) the Jazz play well when he's in, 2) he happily fills his role as a backup, secondary guy and he does it fine, and 3) if Fes returns there is roster flexibility to trade Al—which I believe is absolutely necessary for this team to reach its potential as soon as possible.
Who will they bring back? I'd bet on Ronnie and Fes. Greg Miller sounded more upbeat and positive about Fes than he was about AK at the end of year interviews. And I don't think Ronnie's going anywhere. He'll be cheap, he'll fill a roster spot, he knows the team and the coaches, and that will let him keep his job.
Sadly, I feel like predicting AK's return is a 50-50 crapshoot at this point.
Amar: If you asked me this question BEFORE the start of all the FIBA Europe tournament games I would have been inclined to say Earl Watson. Earl is a steady, pass-first PG who has shown leadership and defense off the bench. He’s a veteran and a consummate professional who is not injury prone. In a way, he’s almost the perfect complement to Devin Harris. But my answer for "who we absolutely have to bring back" is Andrei Kirilenko. Yes, he’s my favorite player in the entire NBA – but this isn’t just a homer decision. It’s a zero-sum argument, and it’s super simple. There is only one AK-47. If we don’t have him, he’ll be on some other team doing all of the crazy things that we’ve all (even Andrei supporters) started to take for granted. In a free system with a greater individual responsibility he is without equal for his size and effectiveness on both ends of the court. He’s the last remaining link from the Stockton / Malone / Larry H Miller / Jerry Sloan / Hot Rod days. He has the most experience, and he outlasted a number of guys who knocked him lower and lower on the Jazz totem pole (namely Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams). Working in a place that he loves, finally free from the oppressive burden of both a ridiculous contract and a coach that had it for him, Andrei could be situated to have one of the best years of his professional career next season. And he could do it coming off the bench playing 28 minutes a game – resting his body – and helping to mentor the legion of young guys on the team. Who better to do it than a guy who has started at SG, SF, and PF for this team? (And played PG for us in the 2nd round of the NBA playoffs) The most likely candidate to return is Ronnie Price. He’s a Utah guy, and doesn’t have the talent to be courted by a big money team in another country; nor the desperation to need to play for a few months somewhere else. He’s also the player representative for the Jazz players in the NBAPA, and unless the Jazz brass do him like they did Dee Brown (telling him "smell you later" after his selfless work doing Jazz promo stuff in rural communities), we’ll see him filling out the roster as the number three PG.
Question 5: It’s September right now. By my off-season calendar players should be reporting to teams in two weeks and training camp is supposed to start shortly after. We’ve already missed out on summer league, free agency, trades, and all the time to fret over and over-analyze the roster / speculate on what needs to be done still. Instead of occupying your waking hours with the Jazz, what have you been doing? Did you pick up a new hobby? Did you find time for an old love? Think of this as the "what I did over the summer" type of question you get during your first week back to school.
Basketball John: I stare out the window and wait for the NBA.
Clark: I've had a fairly busy summer. I had my first kid, a boy, and I named him Karl Stockton Schmutz. Not really. But I am bummed that we won't have to chance to watch NBA games together this fall. I trained for a triathalon all summer and lost about 30 pounds. I've found a deeper interest in some of the other fall sports, particularly college football. But I think I miss the NBA more than I thought I would. But it is really the uncertainty of when the league will return and what it will look like when it does, that concerns me the most.
Clint: It's funny how even though we're yet far from missing any meaningful NBA basketball it still feels as though we are. Luckily there's been a tremendous European tournament going on to occupy the perceived hole in our basketball lives.
I'm not sure what I'd do if I couldn't sit around making up silly names for players like Sarunas Yesitscabbages, or fall in love with a player that has Milos and Milos of heart while listening to the stunning game-calling of Liam Canny.
Diana: haha I love this question. I think I still paid too much attention to the Jazz even though nothing was going on with the team. I filled my days with my kids when they were on summer break, family came into town this summer which kept us busy and just got back from our own family vacation to California. I also am developing my girly interests and have sewn, crocheted and cross-stitched a lot of projects this summer. Oh and lets not forget about Netflix, discovered new shows like Mad Men and developed a crush on Don Draper :)
Jody: To the chagrin of my still-obese body, I forced myself to complete an Ironman triathlon in late June in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Yep, I moved my big booty 140.6 miles in one day — on purpose and without a motor. Here's the story I'm sticking to. I also did an ultra relay that ended outside of Zion National Park and required me to run (and waddle/walk) for 30-plus miles in a 26-hour period.
But I've also put a big ole dent in the left cushion of my couch, where I've vegetated while watching a variety of TV shows.
Mad Men? Yep, watched that and am now considering a career shift to advertising.
Parks & Recreation? Oh yeah, I've had many LOL moments gazing it on my computer screen.
Friday Night Lights? YES! The best show that nobody watched has helped me to have a full heart and clear eyes (we'll see about the "can't lose" part).
I've also had fun camping and have become reacquainted with three little rugrats who wondered where their daddy was all last season. That's been nice. I also get to write about college football, which is a blast.
But I'm pretty sure my wife is as excited for the NBA season to begin as I am. Her couch is starting to look awfully lopsided.
Moni: I did have some half-baked idea about going to the gym more early on in the summer, but then Eurobasket['s friendly games] quickly rolled around and the gym was forgotten. So to sum up my summer, enjoying Eurobasket and sunshine. Oh, and I had roughly 1,000,008 conversations about the Jazz with Diana.
Spencer: As anyone who follows my twitter feed is probably aware, I discovered Friday Night Lights recently and haven't been able to pull myself away. I may or may not have binged on four episodes in a row the other day.
Surgery on a torn Achilles tendon in July left me hobbled all summer, but I'm considering it as participatory journalism to better understand Memo Okur's recovery.
Sujal: I guess you could call this a hobby: I ran away from home (not really – more like from life) and ended up starting med school in Grenada. Yeah, I’m not sure how that counts as running away from problems, but that’s my life – always leaving me baffled. My hobby now consists of class for 4 to 8 hours a day, and studying for the rest of the day. In my spare time (about 30 minutes a day), I fret about fantasy football and my injury-hampered squads and take naps. The highlight of my month (after classes started) was the ability to take a 2 hour nap after a "unified" exam. Seriously.
This summer, I’ve had a lot of things happen. I’ve missed out on most NBA "news" (if there has been any) over the past month+. I’ve seen my favorite baseball team implode and fall from 1st place to 5th place in their division. I’ve seen Cam Newton "lead" my favorite NFL team to an 0-2 start while breaking Peyton Manning-held records. I’ve seen the Utes crush BYU just a week after going too conservative against USC (this one I literally saw with my own eyes, thanks to ESPN 3). I’ve seen dissected cadavers and pictures I would like to never think of again. I’ve seen life make a drastic change, one that has me just as confused as before. I’ve seen facebook change (again). I’ve written 700 words about multiple choice scantron sheets (oh, what medical school does to the brain). This has all helped me realize one very important thing – I almost, kind of, maybe miss the NBA.
On the plus side, at least you guys are missing it with me. Right?
Yucca Man: I'm kind of pathetic this way. I've spent a good deal of my summer feeling grumpy, annoyed, and lost thanks to the lockout.
Moni's Euroball updates are all that have kept me sane.
Amar: I recently purchased a Lamborghini Countach LP400 ’74. It cost a lot of money, but it