The New Orleans / Utah Jazz are an up and down franchise. I think it's okay to admit that. Over the decades they've been: an expansion team that didn't win; a team in financial peril that had to move across the country; a team building some stability; a team on the rise from the playoffs to the NBA Finals; an upstart rebuilding team building through the draft and restricted free agency; a headline maker for all the wrong reasons; a franchise that looked absolutely lost; and now today a team trying to get healthy enough to compete. The most difficult time since the first five plus seasons in the entire franchise history has been these most recent five plus seasons. (And on a personal note, wow, it's been a blast writing about this era of basketball every day.) With the Jazz, well, they've championed stability over even competency at times. But when times are really bad, as is the rule in professional sports, a head coach is on the move. We can just look at the number of coaching changes over a stretch as evidence -- three coaches in five plus years is where we are now, and there were four in the first six years back in the 1970s.
I'm not advocating a coaching change at all. Just pointing out that right now the Jazz are effectively trying to repair their sails and fix the rudder after a really bad storm at sea. Couldn't I have used a more musical analogy? Okay. It's just that if this franchise was a band, they changed managers three times in a few years (Jerry Sloan, Tyrone Corbin, Quin Snyder) and while they have a nice rhythm section, they are still trying to find someone to fill the shoes of their gifted saxophone player who nearly broke up the band (Deron Williams).
Honestly, I feel like the band is heading for stardom, and they are going to put up a lot of great records over the next few years. (Do kids still know what a record is? Uh, they'll be droppin some fiya mixtapes. See? Happy? I'm meeting your millennials halfway.) But before we get there, let's look at the teams from 2010-2011 till today, and see if there are any patterns.
The Jazzmen of the last five plus seasons:
Since 2010-2011 and today there have been 66 players on the roster -- even if for just a 10-Day contract or holding onto a player between the time of trading for him and waiving him. Some played a lot per game. Some just played a lot because they've been here for so long. Here they are. (N.B. Any partial season is rounded to 0.5 seasons, doesn't matter if you are a trade orphan like Kendrick Perkins, a 10-Day contract guy like J.J. O'Brien, or someone who is cut with only a few weeks left in the season like Raja Bell.)
These are all the players who played at least 2,000 total minutes in the 238 possible games the team has had (regular season only, I'm not counting the four game exhibition against San Antonio a few years ago). Half of those players are guys who were drafted by the Jazz -- more than half if we include Derrick Favors who was traded for during his rookie season. Those rookies (+DFAV) have played an average of 25.22 mpg during this stretch of Jazz history. Of course, the distribution is skewed because not all of the players who qualify as rookies were on their rookie contracts during this period of time. Deron Williams and Paul Millsap were both established vets by 2010-2011, and their big minutes were a product of their time spent here. I think that if you look at Favors' minutes over his first few seasons you'll see that he probably didn't get as many as he should have. But that's just me.
I do need to point out that Al Jefferson was a trade, because of the Carlos Boozer sign and trade with the Bulls that brought back the trade exception that Utah needed in order to get Big Al. Also of note, Utah had to drop Kosta Koufos in that deal as well. A number of people have remembered Big Al as a free agent signing, that's completely not true. As for the actual free agents, well, these six guys are the pick of the litter. Really. It's hard to find more important free agent pick-ups than Earl Watson, Raja Bell, Trevor Booker, Joe Ingles, Randy Foye, and Richard Jefferson. The last two were fantastic when they were here, but planned to only be here for one year. Gotta love vets joining a lotto team during a contract year.
This next group is from everyone who has played at least 500 minutes, up to just under 2,000.
|34||John Lucas III||1||42||591||14.07||1||1||FA||UFA|
None of these players were game-changes, except for Andrei Kirilenko -- and we hope Dante Exum. And we all have high hopes for Raul Neto and Trey Lyles. These guys should be solid rotation players on the next Utah Jazz playoff teams, right? The other interesting thing here is that 10 of the 15 players in this group were free agent acquisitions. And 40% of those were NBA-DL call-ups. The last major grouping here is obviously that MOST of these guys were one-and-done Jazzmen for this five plus seasons. Even Andrei was in his last season, same with Ronnie Price -- a fan favorite. The only players with longevity here are NBA-DL call ups who made it through to their next season: DeMarre Carroll and Chris Johnson. What a crazy world.
This group extends from the under 500 minutes club all the way down to players who have, at the very least, gotten into five Jazz games.
I guess these are the people who are more and more like mascots than actual players. Mehmet Okur and Kyrylo Fesenko are icons for very different reasons. Andris Biedrins will always have that spin move against Andrew Bogut. And both Tibor Pleiss and Jack Cooley have been better in the D League, man, is this group just centers? Whatever it is, it's one where seven players are NBA-DL call-ups. There isn't much to say beyond, perhaps, the Jazz shouldn't have cut Ian Clark so soon?
Of course, the last group are players who have played 30 or fewer minutes for the Jazz -- all the day down to just roster placeholders.
|65||Erik Murphy *||4||0||0||0.00||0.5||0.5||Trade||CHI|
Yes, 11 of the 16 players were are NBADL guys. One guy, Jordan Hamilton, was signed then cut during the span of training camp to preseason to the regular season. Erik Murphy wasn't a trade, per se, but I list him as one as the Jazz were doing the Bulls a favor there. Also, this team would be a lot different with Kendrick Perkins on it. For one, the team would have some old school toughness on it. But would also be on Shaqtin a Fool more. So I guess I don't see a downside.
There really isn't much to say about this last group though. They aren't the reason why the Jazz went 202-238 over the last five plus seasons (45.91 win %). The high volume of roster turn over, and the sheer volume of NBADL guys is a product of injuries. The John and Karl teams didn't have to trawl the bottom-feeders to fill out a roster. Over this time period at least 4,983 total minutes have gone to NBADL call-ups. That's a nice feeling if you work for NBADL PR. It's less nice if you are a Jazz fan knowing that an average of 11.33 mpg has gone to someone who wasn't good enough to get drafted, every game for nearly six years.
Maybe the problem, if there is one, is depth? It's hard to complain about that when Lebron James can will a team of useless boobs to two NBA Finals in Cleveland. I think the problem has to be the best players still. And during these five plus seasons that's been the main issue. They traded away their star (Deron Williams). The guys they developed and didn't re-sign went on to be them (Paul Millsap). They guys who got big minutes over a short term slowed down the development of the new young guys (Randy Foye, Richard Jefferson). And injuries further caused development attrition to some of our guys (Dante Exum, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks).
The only nation-wide standouts are Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert. Even today Derrick Favors gets snubbed by USA Basketball. You can't fire the players so you fire the coach. But here I don't think the Jazz need to fire anyone to get better. They may need to hire a better training staff, but hey, injuries happen to everyone. It's just that there have been way more injuries than normal over this period of time too. (I cannot stress this enough.)
I'm advocating for keeping this band together for a while. We have yet to see what they can do while healthy. And really, in the greater historical perspective I think that this is the beginning of a new, great Jazz era -- and not the lagging doldrums of a rudderless team. Crap. Mixed metaphors again!
Utah is going to be okay. But it's also okay to look at what mediocrity looks like. We've all lived it for five plus seasons now. Talent solves a lot of problems. NBADL call-ups and D grade Free Agent signings don't move the needle much. Imagine how mediocre the Jazz would have been without Memo and Booz (RFA signings)? Ultimately, building through the draft is long, and doesn't always pay off. Quin Snyder and Dennis Lindsey is making sure not to recreate the same mistakes of Tyrone Corbin / Kevin O'Connor. That, more than everything else, is reason to feel good about where this team is going.
The Jazz have been an up and down franchise, but are on the 1s and 3s once again now. And it's going to be great to be someone who follows this team every day again.
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