It's now August. Not August 2014. But August 2015. A whole year has passed since the doldrums of the NBA season where readers accuse blogs of mailing it in. (#Hashtag #ShutUpAmar) Utah Jazz fans are absolutely rabid, waiting for the 2015-2016 NBA Season to start. What happened in the 2014-2015 season really whet the appetites of the loudest fanbase in the NBA. The Jazz, a team that ended up winning 33 games (a +8 game improvement), went 26 and 15 at home, including winning 12 home games in a row, including a 38 point defeat of the Los Angeles Lakers, and a double overtime win over the San Antonio Spurs. It was a great season for the franchise, but also the coaches and players as individuals.
Steering the Jazz to a significant turn around, Quin Snyder is voted third place for Coach of the Year. Gordon Hayward, fresh off of a Gold Medal winning performance at the World Cup, was spectacular at times during the season. Derrick Favors (the hero of that Spurs game where he got the offensive rebound and contact layup to win as the buzzer sounded) was mentioned frequently as an All-Star snub on TNT and NBA TV. Trey Burke defended his Skills contest victory, something Deron Williams never did. Alec Burks won Most Improved player. And Dante Exum is All-NBA Rookie 1st team, after being robbed of the ROY trophy.
It was the real development and discovery season for the Jazz as the Dennis Lindsey led front office finally found a coaching staff that could be congruent with the big picture. The team had ups and downs, but the overwhelming positivity of the fans and media mirrored the upward trajectory of the franchise in reality.
And Jazz fans wanted more, more, more!
But the fervor started last June, when the Jazz drafted two rotations players (Dante Exum and Rodney Hood), and in July when several trades were made. While the Utah roster looked like a solid developing club, the major media outlets felt like the solid off-season would not amount to many wins -- ESPN said the Jazz would win only 26 games, for example. The joyous summer ended with memories of the Vegas and FIBA still being talked about. The Jazz did not come to terms with either Alec Burks or Enes Kanter -- and they would both enter Restricted Free Agency after the 2014-15 season.
They both proved their worth to the franchise with excellent seasons, however questions arose about the team's ability to keep both of them. They were good young players, but still had flaws. Burks was not consistent enough to be a relied upon first option, and in a larger role saw his turn overs balloon with greater defensive pressure. Kanter had ups and downs too, and did not make enough threes to justify the number of them he attempted. His rebounding rebounded, but a February outburst during a blowout loss brought into question his attitude. Jazz fans were decidedly split on it, some loved his fire; others felt that Rudy Gobert, who would end up leading the team in technical fouls, was fiery enough. And that Kanter needed to be more Derrick-Favors-like in order to play better.
Teams would make strong plays for both players in free agency, or at least, that was the worry.
The Jazz had $44.9 million in contracts already committed, as they were forced to say goodbye to Carrick Felix because they would need the money due to the Burks uncertainty. Similarly, Trevor Booker's funny contract is included in that sum because Kanter could bounce. And with three 2015 draft picks it was possible that the team would be big-time movers and shakers once again on Draft night. There were parts to worry about as Ian Clark and Jeremy Evans were free agents as well.
Utah would wheel and deal on draft night, using their lotto pick on Croatian wingman Mario Hezonja from FC Barcelona in Spain. It was a no-brainer as he fell to #8, mainly because of his buyout concerns. (Facts: Jazz drafting at #8 with 33 wins is valid according to this; Hezonja is listed as a potential lotto pick according to many mocks, DraftExpress 2015, NBADraft.net 2015) Utah would then send their first 2015, along with Steve Novak, to the Oklahoma City Thunder to get back into the 1st round and poach Terran Petteway. The third pick was then swapped for a future 2017 pick. The pick was used to pick the next injury bust, so national observers felt like the Jazz won that trade.
Hezonja starts the rumors for the Jazz bringing in Ante Tomic from FC Barcelona. (Facts: possibilities for this scenario here), but talk of that was surely premature. The major problem remains his buyout situation -- which makes Jazz fans groan. But the Jazz have a plan.
Utah started free agency by dropping Booker, with only a song of his last year being guaranteed. They used that money free up the capital they need to deal with the RFAs. Long story, slightly less long, the Jazz waited and waited and waited, and both players eventually signed multi-year contracts. A few teams were rumored to be throwing out $13 million a year deals for Kanter, which would have made him a more expensive player than fellow #3 draft pick Derrick Favors. Instead he signed with the Miami Heat for $11.75 per, after Luol Deng opted out earlier in July. (Miami had earlier in the summer traded away Josh McRoberts and Mario Chalmers to the Golden State Warriors)
Alec Burks, fresh off of a big season, signed for a ridiculously high $11 million per, which the Jazz matched. The Jazz would end up selling future draft picks to teams during free agency for cash. Why cash? Well, the Jazz were super under the cap with moves to make. And moves they did. They bought out Mario, and brought him over and he signed his rookie contract on the same day that Ante Tomic was brought over, and signed his. (The Petteway presser happened weeks earlier with no incident. A local media member did ask a stupid question, but that happens every presser.) All the extra cash from selling picks helped out with the double buy-out situation.
Dennis Lindsey was not done yet either. Lindsey would then quickly add Andrei Kirilenko on a two year (last year is a player's option) deal for the hometown discount of $3.5 million per to play forward and help out the bench players. Soon after Ian Clark, Jeremy Evans, and Brock Motum were all signed. Motum, who had played the last season with the Idaho Stampede, was with the Jazz org for a year now.
All in all, Utah was at the Salary cap much sooner than last year. But with a team on the rise, with key players under contract, and for long lost players to cheer for -- Jazz fans were ready for the 2015-16 to start.
Of course, today, August 13th, 2015, people still lament about Raul Neto not joining the club. But there's always next year . . .