We knew the Lakers and Nuggets would be strong, and neither team has disappointed so far. But few pundits expected to see the Jazz almost neck-and-neck with the other two.
Despite its 105-100 loss to the Hawks at EnergySolutions Arena on Monday night, the Jazz remain one of the hottest teams in the West. Having won 17 out 20 games and seven-straight on the road, Utah is now within a game of second place Denver.
But how long will this magic carpet ride last for the Jazz?
Trouble could be brewing.
Just before last Friday’s trade deadline, the ultra conservative franchise shipped rising star Ronnie Brewer to Memphis for a dubious first-round pick. The move was made in an effort to save money. Not to get better mind you—but to save some deniro ($2.7 million to be exact).
General Manager, Kevin O’ Connor isn’t even sure if it was a good deal for the Jazz. In a radio interview just moments after the trade was announced, O’Connor acknowledged that he was extremely concerned about how the departure of Brewer would affect the team's chemistry.
And Utah’s Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan said that he wasn’t crazy about making trades, period.
The truth is O’Connor won’t know if trading Brewer to free up a log jam at the swing position works until the playoffs roll around. That’s when the loss of depth and decreased athleticism could come back to bite the Jazz.
Most of you have already heard Deron Williams' comments about the trade, and he was not kind to Jazz management.
“It stinks,” D-Will said, after Friday’s shoot-around at Golden State. “I think if we’d make a trade it would be something a little different than that,” the All-Star point guard continued. “You look at all the teams in the West and we essentially got worse, if you ask me.
That’s powerful stuff and Jazz CEO Greg Miller knows it. He had “no comment” in regards to Williams popping off. He knows that keeping Deron in a Jazz uniform is the only thing holding this franchise together. No need to get into a war of words with the face of the franchise.
But Jazz fans, this trade can’t end well for Utah. You’ve got to be little disappointed to see the front office derail a good season over a couple million bucks—that’s just being cheap and it sends the wrong message to the paying customer.
On the court, I can already see Kobe Bryant and Carmello Anthony licking their chops at thought of facing the “Matador” defense of CJ Miles or rookie Wesley Matthews in a winner-take-all playoff series.
It’s almost laughable to watch Miller and O’Connor scramble to pinch every penny to avoid paying into the luxury tax. Something Miller said the team was prepared to do this season.
No, instead Miller does something only the Clippers would do. Not the Utah Jazz. Thus far, the Jazz have trimmed salary by $10 million but Utah will still be one of 11 teams to fall into luxury tax hell.
Financially, the Brewer deal is a small victory, the team is only $2 million over the leagues tax threshold. But as far as becoming a legitimate contender this year, Jazz management sent a devastating message of "we're not title contenders" to their players and fan base.
If they were serious about improving, Washington's Caron Butler would have been a nice addition, but instead he's a Maverick.
In fact, they could be further away. This may spur D-Will to leave the Jazz in a couple of seasons. Right about the time Jason Kidd retires in Dallas. (In 2008, Williams and the Jazz agreed to a four-year $70 million extension, but he has the option to leave in the summer of 2012 if he desires.)
Here’s the bottom line. Greg Miller has got neither the experience nor the fortitude to lead this franchise to an NBA title—it’s a business to Miller, not a passion. Therein lies the problem. The Jazz will be good, but not great.
Perhaps Miller should level with the fans.
Come clean and tell loyal Jazz supporters that the team is in financial survival mode and can’t afford to go to the next level. Just put it on the table.
This edition of the Utah Jazz is not to be mistaken for the Stockton–Malone era—when the franchise did take a shot at the brass ring.
It’s plain and simple: Denver made a great move to get Chauncey Billups and L.A. was savvy enough to find a way to snag Pau Gasol. Those are the types of moves that produce championships.
What have the Jazz done?
They gave max-money to a role player (Andrei Kirilenko) and then matched one of the worst offer sheets in team history, by keeping swingman CJ Miles.
Now the team is strapped for cash.
That’s why we're seeing the Jazz jettison good, young, talent in favor of an unknown future pick. And that’s why the Jazz will be watching the NBA Finals rather than participating in them.