Team Name: The Mighty Utah Jazz
Last Year’s Record: 40-42
Key Losses: Trey Burke, Trey Burke’s parents, Trevor Booker, Tibor Pleiss, the Idaho Stampede
Key Additions: George Hill, Joe Johnson, Boris Diaw, Joel Bolomboy, the Salt Lake City Stars
ONE. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?
The Utah Jazz decided against holding only a never ending supply of future picks, and decided to cash some of their assets in and get players who can help the team win now. They did precisely that.
- They traded away their #12 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft and received George Hill (from the Indiana Pacers, in a three team deal that also involved the Atlanta Hawks). That #12 pick became Taurean Prince, a cerebral player no doubt, but I don’t think adding small forward prospects was the right thing to do when the team’s current best player is a small forward.
- Utah also traded away prospect combo guard Olivier Hanlan to the San Antonio Spurs for aging Boris Diaw (and cash and a future pick). The Spurs needed to dump salary in order to sign the free agents they coveted. The Jazz were more than happy to oblige, Bobo’s talents are unique in the NBA. His experience will be invaluable for this team that is still trying to learn how to win.
- Seven time NBA All-Star Joe Johnson was signed as a Free Agent in July, the first time the Jazz actually signed an impact free agent who had such a legendary reputation and length NBA resume.
- It’s not an actual roster move, but having Dante Exum return from injury gives the 2016-17 Jazz something that the 2015-16 Jazz did not have.
TWO. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
Utah remains beefy inside. Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert could play the their strengths in any era of NBA basketball. They are rugged rebounders who set screens and defend the paint. Most teams are going small — even the Jazz may elect to do so this year — but Utah does not have to. Not even when going to the bench! Utah has another 7’er on the roster in maligned Romeo / shot blocking savant Jeff Withey. Withey may be the 5th big in the rotation though because of Boris Diaw and Trey Lyles. Diaw’s versatility is well publicized, but his quire Lyles is just as versatile. The 6’8 Diaw can play each frontcourt spot, but probably less small forward than he used to. Lyles started at small forward in the NCAAs, and at 6’10 got some minutes at center as well as an NBA rookie. Both can handle the ball, rebound, hit the three, and score in the paint. GM Dennis Lindsey also greedily selected Joel Bolomboy late in the 2nd round. He is an athletic freak who has drawn comparisons to a mix of Paul Millsap and Jeremy Evans -- two other Utah Jazz late 2nd round selections of drafts gone by. Utah is mountain range big in the paint. That’s a strength very few teams boast.
Usually the first strength listed would be your possibly All-Star, but with the Jazz it’s inside out. The out is Gordon Hayward. The 6’8 former tennis stud has transformed his body to that of a Greek God over the years. He is verily ‘swole’ now. As a result he can now legitimately play shooting guard, small forward, and power forward for Quin Snyder. And regardless of where he is, he will be someone who initiates the offense. Somehow he’s still under-rated everywhere outside of Utah and Boston. Color may have something to do with that. But Hayward is a legit stud ready to go over, under, or through any defenses set up to thwart him.
A third strength, a new one for Jazz fans, is depth. Even during the John Stockton and Karl Malone years the franchise wasn’t able to make such a deep team. Those Finals era teams had Hall of Fame talent at the top, but were actually quite shallow. Utah has been burned over the last few seasons with bad injuries to rotation players. This year if that happens (and we hope it does not) they will be able to handle it. Point guard is set with four guys who could crack every team’s rotation. The bigmen are a legion of doom. And the wings are versatile enough to cover for either size / position extreme in a pinch — someone like Alec Burks can shift over to point, someone like Joe Ingles can play stretch four.
THREE. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
The team hasn’t figured out how to win games yet. No team was as frustrating to watch down the stretch of close games than the Jazz were last season. Utah lost at least 8-10 games where they were winning with 4 minutes to go. It wasn’t fun. Not at all. I guess that’s why the front office went out and head-hunted for vets who knew how to win games — including hotly contested playoff battles. Joe Johnson is simply one of the best closers of all time. George Hill is battle tested against some of the top point guards to lace them up in this era. Boris Diaw has played in Finals games in every type of basketball tournament, from the NBA to International tournaments for medals. Unfortunately, experience isn’t shared through osmosis. These three guys know how to win games, and know how to knock out teams on the ropes. The rest of the Jazz roster is still pretty clueless.
Offensively there are struggles. And when compounded with the inability to close out close games, this is force multiplier of struggle. Sure, Utah can get a three when they need one, but against an entrenched defense there hasn’t been enough ‘star play’ to elicit a defensive shift to get someone a good look. A LeBron James, or heck, a Paul George is great enough to force the defense out of their set, and allow for there to be an advantage found somewhere on the court. That hasn’t been the case for the Jazz who rely upon high screens to free up players for prayers. Other teams have players who can create on their own. I guess this is where Joe Johnson comes in, but he’s in his 16th year right now. There may not be a lot of tread left on those tires.
Injuries? Injuries have been mostly acute in Utah. But there have been so many of them — often at the same time -- that rotation players couldn’t be relied upon. That’s been a weakness for sure. We all know it. Utah is predicted to make that jump THIS season that they should have made TWO seasons ago. Injuries were a significant obstacle. Hopefully that is a think of the past now.
FOUR. What are the goals for this team?
There are a few.
- Make The Playoffs
- Win enough games to make the playoffs
- Return to the NBA Playoffs
- Get out of the NBA Lottery
- Be one of the top Eight seeds in the Western Conference after 82 games
- and MAKE THE DAMN PLAYOFFS, C’MON GUYS!
Fans, like me, play around with silly things like winning 50+ games or winning the North West division. But that’s not what’s really important. The team needs to be moving forward — they have to if they want a chance of retaining Gordon Hayward in a Jazz jersey after this year (he is going to opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent). And that means they have to make the playoffs. I’d want them to win a round in there too, but I’m greedy. But for the team, no one is throwing out numbers. They are all throwing out the “P” word though.
And it’s long overdue in Utah, we haven’t hosted a playoff game since Josh Howard was starting. Don’t Look it up, trust us. We remember even if you don’t.
FIVE. What can stop the Utah Jazz?
Honestly? Even though I’m a homer I need to point out that Utah is far from invulnerable. With all this pre-season hype there is now pre-season expectations. With all this depth comes other problems as well. Players have needs. They need security. They need to get paid. They need to play. They need to feel valued. Some even need their touches on top of all of that. When you have undeniable stars or strong locker room voices, everyone can be kept in some semblance of order. When there’s little to distinguish the talent levels or seniority, things could get weird. Things haven’t been weird like that in Utah since Mark Jackson staged a locker-room coup against John Stockton.
This could be the year something like that returns if the team struggles early. Wins keep everyone happy. And for a team constructed like this, I think it could placate everyone. Without that some players may be looking at their contract year status (Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert, and George Hill are all projected to start and be in contract negotiations this calendar year).
I don’t actually know who is the best player out of Joe Johnson, Rodney Hood, and Alec Burks. Two of them will be coming off the bench this year though. All three of them are going to know that.
Boris Diaw is a man for all seasons, and has interests outside of the game. He’s done it all on the court, and we are weary of what happened to him when he was traded to the Charlotte Hornets — he ballooned up and lost focus. This off-season after France’s Olympic flame-out he spent more time on social media, living the good life, and promoting his films that he is involved in at Gala events. He’s not in basketball shape right now. This is the guy who is supposed to be giving life advice to our young bigs. Moving from the Spurs and title contention to the Jazz and just making the playoffs, I really hope he’s just not going through the motions here.
Honestly, off-the-court stuff — like Lakers level distractions, but not New York Knicks level distractions — could sink this season; and not anything on the court. Hopefully by vocalizing it, and blogging about it, I have no secured the opposite will now happen in real life. Bless you Reverse-Jinxing!