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Given how competitive the Western Conference playoff race promises to be in 2015, the Utah Jazz can't be considered likely to make the postseason. They did, after all, finish with the conference's worst record in 2013-14.
There's plenty of reason for Jazz fans to maintain optimism, however.
With swingman Gordon Hayward set to hit restricted free agency, Utah is projected to have over $30 million in cap space this summer. As much as half of that space could go toward retaining Hayward, who, last fall, was seeking a deal in the four-year, $50-million-plus range, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
That still leaves over $15 million in cap space to improve elsewhere, although Utah can't go crazy in terms of long-term spending. If the Jazz can't reach an extension agreement with center Enes Kanter by Oct. 31, he will become a restricted free agent in the summer of 2014.
The real beacon for hope, in that case, will be June's draft. By virtue of winning a tiebreaker with Boston, the Jazz have the fourth-best chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick, and, worst-case scenario, they have a guaranteed top-seven selection. Utah also has Golden State's first-round pick (No. 23 overall) thanks to being on the receiving end of the Richard Jefferson/Andris Biedrins salary dump last summer.
Barring any lottery-night surprises, that means Utah will be in line to draft either Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid or Dante Exum, along with a role player in the late-first round. As long as the Jazz retain Hayward, adding a top-five pick to an already strong, young core could spell major improvement for the Jazz in 2015.
Is it enough to make it to the playoffs? Given the strength of the West, that's questionable. Then again, who in their right mind expected Phoenix to remain in the 2014 playoff race until the final week of the regular season?
Unless otherwise noted, all player and team statistics via Basketball-Reference.com or NBA.com/stats and are current through the final day of the 2013-14 regular season. Salary information is via Spotrac.com and does not factor in unrestricted free agents, restricted free agents or 2014-15 rookie contracts.