Last season: The Jazz finished 43-39, but they missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. Nobody really knew what direction Utah was headed, perhaps including Utah itself. The Jazz kept Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, both on expiring contracts, past the trade deadline to make a playoff push. All they got was the honor of tying the 2010-11 Rockets as the best team in the last four years to miss the playoffs.
Signature highlight from last season: This was really impressive, but Utah still fell just short – /metaphor – by losing in overtime.
Key player changes: Al Jefferson (Bobcats) and Paul Millsap (Hawks) left in free agency, radically altering the Jazz’s identity. Plus two other starters, Mo Williams (signed with Trail Blazers) and Randy Foye (traded to Nuggets), are gone just in case someone wanted to pretend this was business as usual in Utah.
The Jazz re-stocked by drafting Trey Burke and Rudy Gobert in the first round and accepting the contracts of Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins and Brandon with the sweetener of the Warriors’ first-round pick – AKA Utah is tanking.
Keys to the Jazz’s season:
1) How many starters can eventually start on a playoff-series-winning team? Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter give Utah a full lineup of young players who can grow together. Now, the Jazz must decided how many of those five are worth building around. They should get plenty of minutes for evaluation.
2) Is Tyrone Corbin a good coach? It doesn’t matter how good the Jazz’s coach is this season. They’re Riggin’ for Wiggins, anyway. But at some point, they’ll need a good coach, and that might not be Corbin. The most important thing an NBA coach does is allocate minutes, and Zach Lowe of Grantland makes a solid case that Corbin does that poorly.
3) How much can Utah gain by flipping its veterans? Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins, Marvin Williams and Brandon Rush represent more than $30 million in expiring contracts. All four might be able to help contenders on the court, too. Utah kept the expiring contracts of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap last season to make a playoff push. This season, there will be no such illusions. If the Jazz can get future value from those four, they’ll surely take it.
Why you should watch the Jazz: See “Why you should watch the 76ers.” Apply more so to Western Conference teams.
Prediction: 23-59. The Jazz are too far into their rebuild and have already acquired too much young talent to be truly horrific, but they’ll still be bad. All their top players will be placed in the largest roles of their careers, and there will be growing pains. At best, Utah will mirror the 2008-09 Thunder – a team that went 23-59.