The Jazz didn’t win a lot of games, but set themselves up for a bright future.
Oh, how easily success fades in the NBA. It’s hard to believe it’s been eight years since the Utah Jazz lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. Since then, they’ve said bon voyage to long-time head coach Jerry Sloan, who manned the helm for 22 years. Utah has also waived goodbye to Deron Williams, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, and a slew of others who have tried to fill the Stockton-and-Malone void. It’s difficult to pick and roll with losing times, but let’s take a microscope to this past season for the Jazz.
1) Final Record: 25-57
Utah finished with the third-worst point differential (-7.2), trailing only the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers. The Jazz went 16-25 at home and 9-32 on the road — talk about your double-edged sword. It tied with the Boston Celtics for the fourth-worst record in the NBA. At least there is an 11.9-percent chance Utah ends up with the top pick in the 2014 draft.
2) Expectations vs Reality
The season Utah had was expected. It competed in a reputable Western Conference, which booted a 48-win Phoenix Suns team out of the playoffs. Minnesota was nine games back of the eighth seed in the West and would have made the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. That goes to show the Western Conference is a league of titans. Having said that, the Jazz entered the season with low short-term expectations. They let Jefferson and Millsap walk in free agency in order to commit to Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. The goal was to give Trey Burke some experience as the franchise’s future point guard. It also didn’t hurt that Gordon Hayward decided to emerge as an up-and-coming scorer. He led the team in points with 16.2 a game on 41 percent shooting. Now, Utah will have a top-10 pick to partner with a young nucleus already in place. Mission accomplished.
3) Coaching Staff
Since Tyrone Corbin took over for Sloan on February 10, 2011, he’s gone 112-146. Utah made the playoffs in 2012, but it was outed in the first round. Before this season, Corbin had a winning percentage just south of .500 with a team lacking a go-to scorer and a cornerstone point guard — in a point guard-driven league. Corbin guided Burke to just less than 400 assists as a rookie with about 13 points a game. Including the progression of Hayward, Corbin did a fine job during a filler season. It was basically a voided check for the Jazz, in hope of landing a top lottery pick. The Jazz’s brass obviously felt Corbin ran his course as the team’s main man, as he was fired after the season. I don’t necessarily agree with the decision because he has a young, inexperienced team. It will be interesting to see who Utah targets to replace Corbin. Either way, with the talent expected to be in the locker room next season, the Jazz should look to improve its record by at least 10 wins.
Hayward made bigger strides in improving his game than the other players did. I think he proved he can hang as far as scoring the basketball is concerned, but he also made a step up defensively by almost doubling his steals total from last season. Burke had a slow start, but he eventually found a groove. I think Utah can start to give him the reigns next season to orchestrate the offense. Favors was efficient offensively with a field goal percentage above 52 percent, but he has to get more touches on the block. Giving your ‘star’ big man 10 shots a game isn’t going to cut it. Kanter was solid with about 12 points a game, but he and Favors have to do a better job on the glass. They combined for about 16 rebounds a game. If they can dedicate themselves to cleaning up on the boards, Utah will have one of the better front courts in the league because Hayward snatches five rebounds a game. Richard Jefferson also averaged double figures for the Jazz, but I wouldn’t rely on him going into the future. He’s a free agent, and the Jazz have a youthful wave crashing in. Jefferson is most likely on the way out. After Marvin Williams’ nine points a game in an average of 25 minutes a game, the production level kind of drops off. The Jazz need to plug and chug some veterans onto the bench to solidify the roster.
5) Front Office
The Jazz have drafted well in the past few years and swinging the Williams-Favors trade was big. Favors and Kanter seem like they can form a solid one-two punch down low. If Burke continues to progress, the Jazz will be in good hands. Dennis Lindsey has done a fine job piecing together that roster. He still has some moves to make, but a general manager’s job is never done. I would be a little surprised to see Marvin Williams come back because he’s a free agent, who made $7.5 million last year. If he’s going to get less than 10 points a game in 25 minutes, I think the Jazz consider letting him walk — barring a pay cut. Utah is going to cross its fingers for Jabari Parker, but Andrew Wiggins is not a bad consolation prize. Depending on how the lottery shakes up, Dante Exum might be next on their list. Exum and Burke would make a fine backcourt duo. They both have the ability to score combined with good vision.
Similarly to the Sixers or Magic, the Jazz knew this year was going to be a waste as far as winning went. Utah is in it for the long hall. Getting a player of Parker’s or Wiggins’ caliber would drastically improve the team. Both can be go-to scorers who find their own shots. That would essentially push Hayward into a Scottie Pippen-like role. And that would work out for everyone because the man has game, and he’s only 23. Watch out for the Jazz next year. There could be some more competition for that eighth seed.