The Utah Jazz have failed to make the postseason for the past two years, and it leaves questions about how long it will take for the franchise to become a perennial playoff team again.
Missing one season's postseason feels more like seven to Utah fans after they were treated to 20 straight playoff appearances under Jerry Sloan and Frank Layden at one point. The team has never won an NBA title, but it has a rich history of getting past the regular season.
With that said, what's next for the struggling Jazz?
Utah's biggest battle will be competing in the ridiculously talented and balanced Western Conference. It wouldn't be too surprising to see the Jazz make a postseason push if they were playing in the East, but they're in the unfortunate position of needing to win more games than they lose (this is how it should be).
The Jazz are in a position where they could have a team that is plenty talented enough to make the postseason, yet doesn't simply because of how equally good the conference's other teams are.
The organization is at a crucial juncture. It can start heading toward more wins and continue to improve, or it can level out at a mediocre level and fail to ever truly turn the corner. The latter option leads to years and years of no hope and lottery picks.
They probably want to avoid the second option.
Let's take a look at what factors contribute to how long it will take Utah to become a perennial playoff team.
The 2014 NBA draft could be the difference between the Jazz consistently making the playoffs in three years versus five years. It's really that simple.
A large chunk of Utah's future rests on the fate of ping-pong balls.
Yes, that was strange to type.
Walking away with one of the first three picks could literally change the franchise. Securing the No. 1 pick would put the Jazz on the fast track to future success.
One of Utah's biggest problems has been its inability to secure great players to long-term contracts. The location is just not appealing to an NBA player. This leads to free agents forgetting to even consider the Jazz in their decision, unless they want to try to rebuild their career.
If you couldn't already tell, all of that talk was leading up to the fact that Utah needs to do its best to draft Jabari Parker. He is one of the draft's three best players and happens to be of LDS (Mormon) faith. The state of Utah is predominantly LDS, and Parker would be a great candidate who might want to be a member of the Jazz longer than four or five years, maybe even for his entire career.
Parker is the grand prize, but Andrew Wiggins or Joel Embiid wouldn't hurt, either.
The Jazz have role player after role player, and it's time for them to have a superstar—no, Gordon Hayward is not a star. Putting people around a player like Parker or Wiggins wouldn't amount to much immediate success, but the payoff could be huge in three or four years.
Big enough to consistently make the playoffs.
The Correct Head Coach
Jody Genessy of the Deseret News heard from Jazz president Randy Rigby about the search for a new head coach. Here's some information that Genessy picked up:
Rigby said the Jazz front office won’t make exploratory phone calls until the coaching criteria, research and analysis have been completed ahead of a “very comprehensive” search.
After that’s set in place, the Jazz anticipate interviewing what Rigby described as “much more than 20” candidates — from “iconic players” to guys with NBA head coaching experience, assistants, and coaches from international leagues and the college ranks. Former University of Utah coach Jim Boylen and Italian coach Ettore Messina are two of the more popular names circulating right now, but Rigby said the organization isn't to the point where it's even identified potential targets.
Looking at more than 20 candidates sounds like a ridiculous number of names, but it's exactly what Utah needs to do.
The Jazz can't afford to mess up this decision.
The Jazz had the NBA's third-youngest team during the 2013-14 season with an average age of 24.8 years. A team with this much youth needs a coach who will grow with them into something great. Tyrone Corbin only coached for three full seasons and wasn't able to truly develop alongside his team.
Utah needs to be selective in its search because matching the right coach with the right team is one of the best recipes for long-term success. Jazz fans know about this pretty well from their experiences with Mr. Sloan.
Trey Burke and an Elite Big Man
Both have been very solid big men. Nobody is taking anything away from them in that respect, but we're talking about back-to-back No. 3 picks. Utah just isn't getting what it needs to out of them. Here's some proof:
Both had career-best years this past season, but neither is making a big-enough impact. Go to a Jazz game in person, and it's easy to see either or both somehow disappear on any given night. Their numbers are there, but the impact just isn't.
The good news is that Favors is 22 and Kanter is 21 years old. Each has at least three years of NBA experience and is trending upward in terms of his statistics. The potential is greater than it's ever been, and their success would greatly contribute toward an increase in the win column.
Having great big men is important, but it doesn't mean much if there isn't any captain.
This is where Trey Burke comes in.
Burke put up impressive rookie numbers by averaging 12.8 points, 5.7 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game last season. He also shot 33 percent from three-point range and demonstrated that all of the tools are there. Now it's time for him to become the leader.
Utah needs the same guy who carried his University of Michigan team to the 2013 NCAA National Championship Game. Burke has proven that he's capable of leading a team to great heights, so the Jazz can't afford for him not to do the same in the NBA.
Add Burke with an elite big man or two in Favors and Kanter, and Utah won't have to wait long until it’s a perennial playoff team.
Total Time: Three years with Jabari Parker. Five years without him.