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Utah Jazz Season Preview: Moving Forward

Over the summer, we saw the balance of power in the Western Conference change dramatically. Andre Iguodala signed agreed to a 4-year, $48 million contract with the Golden State Warriors and Dwight Howard inked a 4-year, $88 million deal with the Houston Rockets.

Along with these big time deals, there was a lesser publicized, yet just as important move which helped set the table for the big deals to be completed. The Warriors needed to dump salary if they wanted to make a big free agent signing and found a willing partner in the Utah Jazz. The deal sent Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson and Brandon Rush to Utah – all expiring contracts worth about $24 million. The Jazz will also receive two 1st round picks (2014 and 2017) and future 2nd round picks. (The Jazz also sent unheralded Kevin Murphy to the Warriors.)

The Warriors’ reasoning behind the trade is simple – they wanted to dump salary to sign a big time free agent in the hopes of moving from a playoff team to a championship contender, and were willing to give up 1st round picks to do it. The willingness for the Jazz to complete the deal, however, isn’t as clear.

Apr 1, 2013; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz power forward Derrick Favors (15) during the second half against the Portland Trail Blazers at EnergySolutions Arena. The Jazz won 112-102. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Already this offseason, the Jazz lost big man Al Jefferson to the Charlotte Bobcats. This wasn’t completely unexpected, but is still a big loss. It was always unlikely the Jazz would keep both Jefferson and Paul Millsap. In order to make the deal with the Warriors however, the Jazz had to renounce Millsap, who eventually signed with the Atlanta Hawks. Now, the Jazz are suddenly left without their starting frontcourt from last season.

Despite losing their two best players and taking on $24 million worth of salary for players that won’t make their team better next year, I like this trade for the Jazz.

First of all, the Jazz were going to be bad this year. Whether they kept Paul Millsap or not, (even if they resigned Jefferson too) this team wasn’t going anywhere. Not bottom of the league awful, but probably headed for a similar season as the last few years – stuck in NBA purgatory – not good enough to contend, but not terrible enough to get a high lottery pick.

The trade (and its effects) will make the Jazz a less talented team. But in today’s NBA, that is actually a good thing. Hovering around the 8 seed year after year means you won’t be winning a championship and will also have a hard time getting to that level. Rebuilding a franchise is difficult enough – especially in a small market. Doing it without top 5 picks makes it even harder. Obviously, being very bad, whether you are tanking or not, doesn’t guarantee a high lottery slot – but it increases the chances. Now, depending on how their young guys like Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward play, the Jazz may not be looking at a top 5 pick next year, but they’ll certainly be getting a higher pick than they did this year.

Furthermore, we knew what the Jazz were with Jefferson and Millsap leading the way, and it simply wasn’t good enough – especially in a loaded Western Conference. With those two out of the picture, it is full-on rebuilding mode in Salt Lake City, and that will mean plenty of minutes for the two big men set to take over down low – Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. The two averaged a little over 23 and 15 minutes a game, respectively. That will increase dramatically, with the duo assumingly taking over in the starting lineup. The shake-up will also mean an increased role for Gordon Hayward, as he ascends to a leadership position with a very young team. Last year’s first round pick Alec Burks and this year’s selections, Trey Burke and Rudy Gobert should also see solid time in the Jazz rotation.

This year will really give the front office a chance to see what they have. Can Favors and Kanter produce and co-exist as a frontcourt duo? Is Hayward ready, and able, to step up and be a leader for the future? What can the recent draft picks add, as the team moves forward?

Maybe this will be a core the Jazz can build around, or maybe they will realize this group isn’t the answer. But when the year is over, they will know, one way or another what this team is about. Add $24 million coming off the books and two 1st round draft picks (including one probably in the top 10) in next year’s loaded draft, and the Jazz will have a lot to work with for the future.

So while losing Millsap stings, and this trade makes the Jazz much worse this year, it also gives them hope for the future. It provides them lots of cap space and multiple first round picks. And if the cards fall the right way – who knows, possibly a chance at championship contention at some point down the line.

Sure, having an awful season won’t be fun to sit through, but hovering around .500 and barely missing the playoffs or losing badly in the first round wouldn’t be much better. This will be a long year in Utah, but better times are ahead.

 

“Hope

Smiles from the threshold of the year to come

Whispering ‘It will be happier.’”

- Alfred Tennyson

 

jmaloney