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12 reasons Utah Jazz fans will like 2018 more than 2017

Hint: A lot of it has to do with some guy named Donovan Mitchell

2017 was a h*ckuva year for Utah Jazz fans. From the highs of the Jazz going to the 2nd of the playoffs to the lows of Gordon Hayward turning his back on Utah to the high flying dunks of Donovan Mitchell, 2017 proved to be one that will be remember for better and, unfortunately, for worse. Fortunately, 2018 is looking to be a year full of promise for the Utah Jazz. Here are 10 things Jazz fans have to look forward to in 2018.

12. Dante Exum returning from injury

NBAE/Getty Images

The #5 pick from the 2014 NBA Draft has had a rough rookie contract with two of his years spent rehabbing from injuries. His most recent injury came during preseason when TJ Warren landed on his shoulder which would force Exum to have what could have been season ending surgery.

(It’s not guaranteed that it was season ending surgery, we here at the Dunk are reserving hope that he could return for a playoff push in March.)

What is guaranteed is Dante Exum will return to the lineup sometime in 2018. With Donovan Mitchell’s development, we’re excited to see the chaos an Exum-Mitchell backcourt could bring to the regular season. Those two were just vegemite dynamite in Summer League and Preseason. Plus we’re just itching to start using the DMX nickname for the Jazz’s backcourt.

11. A proper offseason

The Utah Jazz’s 2017 offseason was held hostage by Gordon Hayward. By the time Hayward had made his decision, the Utah Jazz’s options were—how should I put this—limited? The Utah Jazz then doubled down on their defensive identity which allowed them to find some great values with Thabo Sefolosha, Jonas Jerebko, and Ekpe Udoh, but not quite the type of production that replaces Gordon Hayward.

Ricky Rubio was also added to the roster because Hayward had said he could play with Rubio. Now in 2018, the Utah Jazz get to approach the offseason building around a core that they are sure will be around for years to come: Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. Utah could have as much as $26.2M cap space in the offseason, and that’s if they do not look to move the contracts of Ricky Rubio, Alec Burks, and Joe Ingles (not saying they do so, just talking about money here).

The Utah Jazz will have big decisions to make with Rodney Hood and Dante Exum as they are restricted free agents, but all moves will now be made with an eye of building around an All-NBA Center and what could be the possible Rookie of the Year. This is a special offseason indeed.

10. 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend - Los Angeles

If you would have asked any Jazz fan if Utah would have a representative at this All-Star game with Hayward in Boston and Rudy Gobert hurt ... they would have thought you were out of your mind. But here we are after Donovan Mitchell put forth one of the best Decembers ever by a rookie and he’s starting to get All-Star buzz. That’s not to say that he’ll make the All-Star game, but he’s getting some serious buzz. Donovan Mitchell would have to continue his legendary streak of great play that started end of November to get himself there, but if there’s anyone who can do it, it’s Donovan.

What IS more likely is we’ll see Donovan Mitchell in the rising stars game and the Dunk Contest. Donovan Mitchell is one of the three best rookies in this rookie class that already has Jayson Tatum, Kyle Kuzma, Ben Simmons, Dennis Smith Jr., and Lauri Markannen. It’s bananas. He’ll definitely be chosen to be in the Rising Stars game. Easy.

The next one should be exciting for all Jazz fans. I’ve been saying this since his first Utah Summer League game when he turned the layup line into a dunk show.

Mitchell has only gone up from there. He has put in highlight dunk after dunk after dunk this season.

He’ll be in the dunk contest. Book it.

9. 2018 NBA Trade Deadline

After being forced to punt during the 2017 NBA Offseason, the Utah Jazz could resume their roster upgrading activities in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline. This year’s deadline is a little different as the deadline happens the week before (February 8th) the All-Star game (February 16).

Entering the Trade Season the Utah Jazz are armed with the expiring contracts of Derrick Favors and Joe Johnson alongside the 2nd year non-guaranteed contracts of Jonas Jerebko, Thabo Sefolosha, and Ekep Udoh. To a team that’s looking to save some money and start tanking, the Utah Jazz could offer a variety of expiring contracts, young talent (Dante Exum and Rodney Hood), and a middle of the pack 1st round draft pick for right player should they come available.

Dennis Lindsey has shown he is willing to move a 1st round pick for an established player before (see also, George Hill). The Utah Jazz have made trade deadline moves before under Dennis Lindsey with the acquisition of Shelvin Mack for a 2nd rounder and before that, shipping Enes Kanter for Tibor Pleiss and the pick that ended up being traded for Ricky Rubio. Hopefully, if Dennis Lindsey makes a move at the trade deadline, he ends up with a lot more to show for it than Tibor Pleiss, Shelvin Mack, and a 1st rounder that becomes Ricky Rubio.

The good news is Dennis Lindsey has an established core that he knows will be here for at least another 4 years together of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert.

8. Rudy Gobert’s return from injury

Utah Jazz v Boston Celtics Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

Rudy Gobert will be returning from injury in just two weeks. The Utah Jazz have sorely missed his defense in his time away from the court. Rudy Gobert was recently re-evaluated and it looks like he’s two weeks away, as opposed to two weeks ago when he was two weeks away from being two weeks away.

Seeing Rudy Gobert on the court with Rookie of the Year hopeful Donovan Mitchell is reason enough to be excited for 2018.

7. The easier half of the NBA schedule

Utah Jazz v Golden State Warriors Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

THANK THE BASKETBALL GODS, DECEMBER IS OVER. It was no secret that the Utah Jazz played a gauntlet of a schedule in December. The Jazz most certainly have taken their lumps, but the schedule finally eases up for the second half of the season. The timing couldn’t be more fortuitous for Utah. Donovan Mitchell seems to have found his stride in the NBA and Rudy Gobert is due back from injury in a couple weeks. The schedule becoming easier for Utah around trade season when they could be integrating a new talent could prove to be an advantage.

6. The 2018 NBA Playoffs with a new core

Utah Jazz v Golden State Warriors Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Should Donovan Mitchell’s special rookie season continue, there’s a very real chance we get to see the Jazz in the postseason again. The Utah Jazz would expect to see the Golden State Warriors in the 1st round. Donovan Mitchell would be facing off against Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. The Utah Jazz would be heavy underdogs in such a matchup, but the joy of seeing Donovan Mitchell lead a Utah Jazz squad back to the playoffs the season after Gordon Hayward left for the Celtics would be absolutely exhilarating.

5. A possible Rookie of the Year winner

Donovan Mitchell is trending in the right direction to be at the head of the Rookie of the Year discussion. The last Utah Jazz rookie to win the whole thing was Darrell Griffith. Must be something about Louisville guards who play for Utah. Donovan Mitchell, if he continues this play, will be in some rarified air. Only 12 players in NBA history (as far as rebounding stats go) have averaged 18 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1.5 steals a game. Those players are Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, Ron Harper, Larry Bird, LeBron James, Tyreke Evans, Grant Hill, Alvan Adams, Willie Anderson, Magic Johnson, Steve Francis, and, you guessed it, Donovan Mitchell.

4. 2018 NBA Draft

If the Utah Jazz miss out on the playoffs this year due to injuries, bad luck, and lacking additional talent around Mitchell and Gobert, they can find peace knowing this year’s NBA Draft is brimming with talent. They also can take solace in knowing that Dennis Lindsey’s strength is the draft. Whether it’s wheeling deals for a veteran starter like George Hill, finding value in the teens with a player like Mitchell or finding value in the late 1st round and 2nd round with players like Rudy Gobert, Rodney Hood, and Raul Neto, Dennis Lindsey is good at this draft stuff.

That’s not to say he hasn’t missed on some guys like Trey Lyles instead of Devin Booker or trading up for Trey Burke, but he’s ahead of the curve most of the time when it comes to the NBA Draft. Utah could package some of their expiring deals and their 1st rounder to move up in this draft, stay put and get exceptional value, or trade their 1st rounder for a veteran player. Whatever happens, this is the time of year Dennis Lindsey lives for.

3. 2018 Utah & Las Vegas Summer League

If you haven’t had the chance to go out to Utah Summer League, you’re missing out. Those who ventured out to the Huntsman Center were well rewarded with inspiring play from Dante Exum and Donovan Mitchell. They can say they were there when Mitchell’s star began to rise. They got to see Dante Exum finally opening the door to his potential. They can say they saw Eric Griffin (the first player to ever be offered a 2 way contract by the Utah Jazz) play his tail off and making high flying dunks.

Those that attended got to see Markelle Fultz before his injury, Jaylen Brown show out, and Jayson Tatum get his lunch money stolen by Donovan Mitchell the beginnings of the soon to be special year from Jayson Tatum. Now that the Orlando Summer League is no more, the Utah Summer League will be the first one on the schedule for the summer before the Las Vegas Summer League.

2. New Utah Jazz uniforms and a new court

This season we get to see the Utah Jazz in uniforms that are sure to be a collector’s dream in the years after this one. Utah will be sporting colors that are unique to Utah and Arches National Park. They will even have a court design that features the Delicate Arch. It’s going to be incredibly unique.

After this season, Utah will get another shot at a brand new unique City uniform design. So this year it was arches and Moab next year it could be Park City, Temple Square, Seagulls or This Is The Place. Whatever it turns out being, with Nike we’ll get to see one of kind designs every year that certainly won’t bore us.

1. Donovan Mitchell with a full offseason

Cleveland Cavaliers v Utah Jazz Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

With how good Donovan Mitchell has been this season, it’s crazy to start thinking about how exceptional he can be with a full offseason of work and development. Donovan Mitchell is averaging 18 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists. If this is how Donovan plays when the game is sped up, just imagine his ceiling when the game starts to slow down even more.

Johnnie Bryant was known for his work that he has done with Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert. Now he gets a player with the potential of Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell has the chance to be Bryant’s developmental pièce de résistance. Mitchell getting a chance to hone his craft for an entire offseason has to send chills down every opposing team’s spine.