The current regime in Utah must come to an end to usher in a new beginning.
Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap each started 78 games this season at center and power forward, respectively. While they put up impressive numbers, it simply is not going to get it done.
Under the leadership of their two big men, Utah has become a middling franchise stuck in neutral. They cannot improve with so much money wrapped up in their frontcourt. Jefferson and Millsap have proven that they cannot lead this team past much more than a first-round playoff exit.
Jefferson has been a very good player for years, but his skill set is more tailored to play power forward. He has a dizzying array of post moves, but continues to resemble a black hole on offense. One on one, he is arguably the best offensive center in the game with the ball in his hands, but this doesn't do his team any favors.
Millsap is a tough-nosed gritty player with a balanced game. However, his numbers have declined each of the past three seasons in Utah and there is little reason for Utah to open up their wallets for a 28-year-old who has already peaked.
Utah has only had two losing seasons since 1982. Winning matters to every team in the NBA, but to a rabid fanbase that bleeds purple and green, winning is a staple of this franchise.
However, this offseason is going to bring in big changes and throw a lot of questions at the doorstep of this franchise.
Luckily for the Jazz, the answers are as simple as can be. On the bench lies a pair of 21-year-old former No. 3 overall draft picks in Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors.
The time is now for Utah to insert them into the lineup without thinking twice about it. After investing so much into them it is time to reap the benefits. While it may take a year or two for them to fully blossom, there is no reason to think that they are not ready to step in an make an immediate impact.
This past offseason, Kanter went on a diet with the intentions of apparently turning into The Incredible Hulk. His numbers improved as a result from his rookie year across the board. While it is an incredibly small sample size, Kanter started two games this past season and averaged 20 points and 15 rebounds per game. That is nothing to sneeze at even if it is only two contests.
Favors was brought in during the Deron Williams trade. With three seasons under his belt now, Favors is undoubtedly ready to shoulder a bigger load after playing in Jefferson and Millsap's shadow.
This past season, Favors improved his game in some important aspects. He upped his rebounds to seven a game and averaged a very impressive 1.7 blocks in his 23 minutes per game, good for 13th in the league. He also improved his free-throw percentage to 69.
Kanter and Favors give Utah even more size than they had with Jefferson and Millsap. Instead of having an average to below-average front line in terms of size, Kanter and Favors would put them second to none. The two of them would be able to stand up to every frontcourt in the league.
Examining per-36 minute stats helps to get a more accurate assessment of what the transition would be like. Kanter and Favors scored slightly less last season, although their shooting percentages were equal or higher and they took far less shots.
Where it is even more striking is on the boards. Favors and Kanter were first and second on the team in total rebounding percentage, respectively. On the offensive glass, their combined offensive rebound percentage was 26.4, whereas Jefferson and Millsap's was only 15.6. That is a sizable difference that would result in younger players having much more faith in the two young big men knowing how active they are on the offensive glass going forward.
Utah stands to lose very little if they let their two mainstays head elsewhere. Jefferson and Millsap jumping ship would put a rebuilding process into effect, and while it may be painful to stomach for Jazz fans, it is for the best.
With the 14th pick in the upcoming draft, Utah will likely be going best player available. Michael Carter-Williams out of Syracuse would be a marvelous pickup, sticking with the theme of size. If he is available, he can seamlessly replace Mo Williams in the backcourt and give the team a potential star at each position.
Worst case scenario, Utah slumps in year one without Jefferson and Millsap and ends up with a high lottery pick in a 2014 draft that is already being heralded as one of the absolute best in recent memory.
The overlying concept here is that Jefferson and Millsap have had their chance, and they have not gotten this team where it needs to be. Mediocrity is no place to be in the NBA because it leaves almost zero chance for improvement. The squad has become stagnant and needs to be shaken up.
With two stellar young big men to build around, Utah may not even lose much production next season, if any at all. The long-term success of the franchise becomes monumentally brighter if Kanter and Favors are patrolling the paint next season.
Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks also made big improvements from the wing positions this past season, even further proving the need to embrace the youth movement in Utah. Without a stagnant frontcourt, this team can achieve much more than an 8th seed.