Where Do the Jazz Go From Here?
A furious finish to the end of the season secured a spot in the playoffs for the Utah Jazz, but now a four game sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs has this team readying for the offseason.
The Jazz closed out the 2012 NBA season with five straight victories, propelling the team into the postseason after missing the playoffs just a season ago. This streak included an impressive overtime win against the Dallas Mavericks and a playoff-clinching double-digit victory over the playoff-hopeful Phoenix Suns.
This was supposed to be a rebuilding year after trading away All-Star point guard Deron Williams last season, but this young team was able to fight its way into the playoffs.
Even though it was a quick exit to the 2012 postseason, the Jazz have reason to be optimistic about the future. Derrick Favors had a double-double in each of Utah’s final two playoff games and, even though he struggled with his shot against the Spurs, Gordon Hayward looks like he’s going to be a solid player in the NBA for years to come.
That being said, let’s take a look at what could be Utah’s game plan going into the offseason:
Coming in to replace entrenched head coach Jerry Sloan midway through the 2011-2012 season was no easy feat, but Tyrone Corbin has done an admirable job for a team in transition. Becoming the first Jazz head coach since Sloan took over the job in 1988, Corbin has weathered the storm with a 44-50 regular season record and this season’s playoff berth.
Corbin has done a quality job rebounding from losing Williams via trade less than two weeks into his coaching tenure, then taking this young Jazz team to the playoffs in his first full season at the helm.
Although there have been some rumbles from the locker room from both Raja Bell and C.J. Miles, Corbin has two years left on his contract (with a team option for the 2013-2014 season) and the Jazz appear committed to their head coach moving forward.
The Jazz will be sending their first round pick (lottery protected) to the Minnesota Timberwolves this season. However, if the Golden State Warriors don’t land a top seven pick in this years draft, that pick would belong to the Jazz.
This makes predicting Utah’s draft approach hard to decipher at this point in the game as it really all depends on how the lottery balls bounce.
If they do get the Warriors’ pick, options in the 7-14 area could be point guard Damian Lillard with incumbent starter Devin Harris not performing as well as anticipated thus far in Utah. Small forward could also be an area in which the Jazz could look to improve, with both Josh Howard and DeMarre Carroll entering free agency – although Carroll is likely to be retained by Utah.
If no first rounder, the Jazz would have a middle of the pack pick in the second round and would likely look to add some backcourt depth at either spot.
Free Agency and Trades:
Two of the biggest issues going into the offseason for the Jazz are at the point guard and power forward positions.
The team’s starter at point guard, Harris, hasn’t lived up to expectations after Utah traded away Williams for Harris and Favors last season. It’s clear that Harris isn’t the answer, so figuring out who is going to lead this team from the point guard position is going to be key this offseason.
If the Jazz go the free agent route, there’s no shortage of talent in the 2012 point guard free agency class. Steve Nash (unrestricted) would be an excellent fit on this young team, but Nash would be impossible without a sign-and-trade, as Utah won’t have the flat out cap room to be a major player this summer.
Best case scenario, the Jazz will have roughly $7-$8 million to spend on possible free agents this offseason.
Other more attainable and most likely cheaper, free agent point guards Goran Dragic (unrestricted) and possibly Jason Kidd (unrestricted) could also be on Utah’s radar.
The power forward position is another area the Utah front office is going to have to examine closely before the start of next season.
Favors has excelled for the Jazz and he looks to challenge incumbent starter Paul Millsap at the power forward position next season. Millsap has been dangled as trade bait over the last few seasons and his status on the team is something the Jazz must figure out over the summer.
If Utah feels that Favors is the player they want starting at the four both next year and for many years to come, the time is now to get some value for Millsap via trade. Millsap, who’s scheduled to make $7.2 million next season, is in the final year of his contract.
If Utah does decide to trade Millsap, they must not only get equal value for the steady power forward but also a veteran who can be a quality influence and leader for this young squad.
Another scenario would be keeping both power forwards and going with a bigger lineup by starting Favors at small forward, a la Game Four against the Spurs. Favors had 16 points and 10 rebounds on 50 percent shooting Monday night while Millsap had 19 rebounds and 10 points but needed 17 shots to get there.
Looking to the 2013 offseason, Utah has just four players on the books for the 2013-2014 season and possess a team option on all four (Favors, Hayward, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks). This means the Jazz are going to have plenty of decisions to make as to how this roster is going to look over the next few seasons and Utah will have plenty of flexibility to try to get that done.
In an extremely competitive Western Conference, Utah will still look to be in the mix as a playoff team next season. Hayward (22), Favors (20), Burks (20) and Kanter (19) provide Utah with a young core that only looks to get better over the next few seasons.
Utah will be hoping for the Warriors to miss out on a top-7 pick, which would provide the Jazz with yet another possible young cornerstone for the future. Bargains could also be had on the free agent market if the Jazz can find the right player at the right price.
This summer will look to be frenzied with any number of options happening and this could be a much different looking team at the start of the 2012-2013 season.
Even if this team stayed exactly the same next season with only a few minor tweaks, the Jazz will still be right in the thick of the playoff race. Now is not a bad time to be a fan of the Utah Jazz, as this squad is built to compete while also having flexibility to shape this team as they want over the next few seasons.