Six Moves the Utah Jazz Should Make
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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Everything changed for the Utah Jazz during a two-week span last February. Their head coach Jerry Sloan, who held that position for 23 years and really embodied Jazz basketball, resigned. Shortly afterwards they shocked the basketball world by shipping off All-Star point guard Deron Williams to the New Jersey Nets in exchange for point guard Devin Harris, young power forward Derrick Favors and two first round picks along with cash considerations.
Unwilling to go through the same type of drama that the Denver Nuggets did with fellow All-Star Carmelo Anthony, the Jazz decided to cut to the chase and embrace the rebuilding process immediately. They already have a nice young core assembled; now all that’s left is to continue to build for the future. As far as the immediate future is concerned, here are our suggestions for the six moves they should make for the 2011-2012 season.
Let Andrei Kirilenko Walk
The time has come for the decade-long relationship between the Jazz and Kirilenko to come to an end. They had a great run together that is highlighted by a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2007 and Kirilenko’s selection to the 2004 Western Conference All-Star team. However, they’re no longer the best fit for each other.
The Jazz have Hayward, who they invested the 9th overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft in, who needs playing time. Meanwhile, Kirilenko is at the stage of his career where he needs to secure what could be one of his last big paydays. He reportedly has 15 teams currently interested in his services, with the possibility of staying home and playing in Russia also being an option. There is more money out there than the Jazz will be willing to offer due to their current plan.
Kirilenko’s contributions and growth over the last 10 years will never be forgotten. He’ll always receive a warm welcome in Salt Lake City. Everyone there understands the situation and that it’s time for the next chapter in Kirilenko’s career to begin with a new team.
Wait for the big man market to play itself out, then shop Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Mehmet Okur
There is always going to be a market for big men, especially talented ones like Jefferson, Millsap and Okur. Currently there are several teams looking to improve their interior play with hopes of signing free agents like Tyson Chandler, Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan and Nene.
Once the dust settles and the free agent mark dies down, there is still going to be several teams out there in need of improving their frontline and the Jazz will be one of the few teams with an excess of big men.
Favors and Enes Kanter, the third overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, are the future at the post positions in Utah. Ideally, the two of them will man the paint for the foreseeable future. The Jazz should hold onto one of the three above mentioned veterans, though, for depth purposes. Jefferson may be the one they keep by default, as the two-years and $29 million remaining on his deal could end up being hard to trade.
Millsap and Okur, on the other hand, have much more cap-friendly contracts. Okur’s $10.8 million deal is expiring and Millsap earns a modest $13.9 million in the remaining two years on his. Millsap is highly regarded around the league and will be coveted by several teams, the Jazz just need to wait for things to settle down and then the offers should start to roll in. In return the Jazz should look for more talented young players and multiple picks in 2012 draft, which is guaranteed to be loaded since the new Collective Bargaining Agreement does not include an increase to the current age limit of 19 years old.
Be Patient With The Young Players
It’s awfully tough to avoid the temptation to abandon rebuilding, a term that Jazz General Manger Kevin O’Connor refuses to use, through youth and bring in veterans who can help win ball games now but the Jazz need to have faith in the development of their core. Hayward, Favors, Kanter and Burks possess serious upside. Even seven-year veteran C.J. Miles, who is just 24 years old, has room to grow. That’s who the Jazz need to rely on this season, as tough as it may be at times.
Young and inexperienced teams can be as disappointing as they are fun to watch. Despite that, there’s no better way for players to grow than learning under fire. Sacrificing wins this season will be worth it down the line when their core is peaking and getting the Jazz back to being the perennial playoff team that they grew accustomed to being under Coach Sloan.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have really set the blueprint for how a team like the Jazz should operate. If the right veteran is available then he should be added, but the Jazz should be very hesitant to bring in anyone who isn’t going to be comfortable being a part of the ongoing rebuilding process.
Also be patient with Ty Corbin
Just about everyone who spends any time in coaching dreams of becoming a head coach in the NBA someday. That dream became a reality for Corbin last year, unfortunately it happened in a nightmare of a situation.
It’s impossible to replace Sloan. He’s a Hall of Famer and one of the best to ever coaches ever, not just in basketball but in all of sports. Corbin had the luxury of learning under him for seven seasons before becoming his replacement. Still, he’s no Sloan.
That doesn’t mean that he can’t become a great head coach himself. He just needs ownership to be just as patient with him as they are the young guys.
Three years into his head coaching career Sloan had a mediocre record of 94-121, which got him fired from the Bulls in the 1981-1982 season. He then went on to coach the Jazz to 16-consecutive winning seasons, two Finals appearances and 20 playoff berths in 23 seasons. Had the Bulls not ended up hiring Phil Jackson shortly afterwards, they would have regretted their lack of patience for a long time.
Corbin only managed to go 8-20 last season as the Jazz fell out of the playoff picture and into the lottery. His record is likely to remain unimpressive for awhile. Rather than focusing on that, Jazz ownership and management need to keep a close eye on his relationship with the players and how they respond to him. If they’re improving under his guidance and believe in him, there’s no reason to make a change. For the next two seasons, those things are more important than his record.
Reload At Point Guard
A lot of the decisions the Jazz need to make are clear cut, except at the point guard position where things are a little bit more up for debate. The Jazz have a viable starter in Devin Harris, who has flirted with being an elite-level point guard but lacked the consistently to firmly establish himself as one.
The first order of business has to be finding a legitimate backup for him. If Harris is going to be the Jazz’s guy, they have to be mindful of his durability issues. An excessive work load will lead to him breaking down. To avoid that, the Jazz should look at proven guys like JJ Barea, T.J. Ford and Sebastian Telfair to back him up. They have the full mid-level exception to lure free agents with.
It only makes sense to field offers for Harris, who has an attractive deal that was frontloaded and expires at the end of next season. His stock has been higher, but the Jazz should still be able to get a decent package in return from a team who is hurting at point guard and in need of experience.
Coach Corbin’s input will be vital on this matter. Coaches look at point guards as the extension of themselves on the court. If his confidence in Harris’ ability to run his system the way he wants is high, they should hold onto him – unless of course the opportunity to obtain someone better presents itself.
Gauge Raja Bell’s Willingness To Usher In The New Era
The situation has changed completely from what it was last summer when Bell signed with the Jazz over the Los Angeles Lakers. Bell passed on joining the then-defending champs partially because of the bigger pay day, but also because the team was poised to be a factor in the Western Conference with Williams, Jefferson and Kirilenko.
Now two of those three are gone and the Jazz have taken a few steps back to hopefully make huge leaps over the next few years. They owe it to Bell to find out how he feels about that and whether or not his heart is still in being a Jazz.
It would be perfectly understandable if the 35-year-old Bell preferred to be shipped off to a contender, a request the Jazz should honor if it is made. If he is willing to stay, he’d be a perfect veteran to serve as a leader and help teach the young guys what it takes to win in the league night in and night out.