Can you smell that? That is the smell of autumn, my friends. And do you know what autumn brings? Besides dead leaves, pumpkins, and black cats, the autumn season brings with it the start of the NBA season.
This year will mark the start of the most highly anticipated NBA season in recent memory. Finally, all of us will stop dissecting the new-look Miami Heat, the up-and-coming Oklahoma City Thunder, and whether or not Tracy McGrady is a good fit for the Detroit Pistons. We will finally see some real basketball. The speculation will end and we will witness answers to all the questions we have had over the summer.
It will be a fun ride.
Since the NBA season is swiftly approaching, I would like to take some time and dissect one team no one seems to be talking about: the Utah Jazz. This Deron Williams-led squad had a fantastic and quietly brilliant offseason and look to have a tremendous 2010-2011 campaign.
But will they have enough firepower to make the playoffs at the end of the season?
Here are my 10 reasons why the Utah Jazz will continue playing through April...
Jerry Sloan Utah Jazz
This may be a bit of a negative reason in a sense, but it's only true. The Western Conference is weakening and the Eastern Conference is becoming a superpower.
Elite teams of the past like Dallas, San Antonio, and Phoenix are slowly losing their shine, and other teams of the future are slowly becoming elite like the Thunder, the Blazers, and the Kings. Amongst all of that, the Utah Jazz remain right in the middle. They haven't really improved dramatically, but they also haven't gotten worse at all.
They will remain in the playoff race because they can still compete. This team can win a seven-game series with pretty much every team in the league (except the LA Lakers). And because most teams are declining, the playoff race seems to be a bit easier, especially if they are looking to lock a high seed.
The Jazz will be in the upper echelon of the Western Conference with home-court advantage come playoff time.
Now, keep in mind, this isn't the deepest team in the league by any means. When you throw out names like Boston, Dallas, or LA, the Utah Jazz depth doesn't seem significant at all. Lots of the guys on this team aren't well-known and wouldn't be brought up in a conversation about top NBA players.
On the contrary, the guys on this team know each other, know the system, and have chemistry. That last word is really important. They could have the deepest, most-talented team in the league, but without chemistry they would go absolutely nowhere. Clippers, anyone?
Names like C.J. Miles, Ronnie Price, Sundiata Gaines, and even Mehmet Okur are not household names. But to Utah Jazz fans, the thought of losing any of these guys would be devastating. They are all part of a system, know their roles, and contribute to form a fantastic team.
Check out this depth:
PG- Deron Williams, Ronnie Price, Sundiata Gaines
SG- Raja Bell, C.J. Miles, Othyus Jeffers
SF- Andrei Kirilenko, Gordon Hayward
PF- Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Jeremy Evans
C- Mehmet Okur, Francisco Elson
That roster is nothing to scoff at, even if you don't happen to know all the names. Sundiata Gaines became a D-League savior last year, C.J. came alive in the postseason, and Elson was a perfect pickup to boost an already deep front line.
There is even talk that the Jazz could resign Kyrylo Fesenko, and they also have recently worked out Earl Watson. Add both these guys and the depth is undeniable!
As I stated before, most of these guys have been together for awhile and know how to make it to the postseason. The guys they picked up will fit right in, learn the system, and this team will find themselves in the playoffs once again.
Lots of Jazz fans booed at the selection of Gordon Hayward as the ninth pick of the 2010 NBA Draft. A year ago, no one had even heard of this kid. I barely knew who he was either, until I watched the March Madness championship game, where Hayward nearly won it all for underdog Butler on a last-second heave from half court.
Even with his team's ridiculous Cinderella run through the NCAA Tournament, the thought that the Jazz would use the highly coveted pick they received from the New York Knicks back in February of 2004 on a kid who looks like he just walked off the farm was...well...preposterous.
With other guys still on the board like Cole Aldrich, Paul George, Luke Babbitt, Xavier Henry, Patrick Patterson, and even Ed Davis, most experts scoffed at this pick.
But all of the criticism has died down. It seems like Gordon Hayward will be a perfect fit in the Utah Jazz system. For one, he seems like Jerry Sloan's type of guy: disciplined and a hard worker.
And for two—this is a big one—Hayward has already withstood lots of expectations. Can you imagine what this guy looked like in high school? Just a young, scrawny farm boy who wanted to shoot a few hoops for four years. He wasn't even supposed to get into college basketball. He proved us wrong there. Hayward played for a lowly Butler team that wasn't expected to really do much last year.
Then...who would've guessed? There they were at the end of the season facing off with powerhouse, Duke University for an NCAA Championship. And by golly, they almost won it.
If this guy doesn't impress in the NBA, then that means he's given up. He will continue to impress and defy all of our expectations and become a valuable NBA player for years to come. His basketball IQ, shooting abilities, and work ethic are not anything to be scoffed at.
And largely due to a strong rookie campaign from Hayward, the Jazz will find themselves in the playoffs next year.
Do you remember a few years back after the 2006-2007 NBA season, when Andrei Kirilenko threatened to take his shoes and talent and skip back to play in Russia? He was coming off of a career-worst season in numbers with averages of 8.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, and and an ugly 3.4 field-goal attempts per game. His blocks per game were even down to a lowly 1.1 per game. The guy was not happy.
He had become the leader of this team after the departure of Karl Malone and John Stockton in 2003, and was used to being the main option on this consistent playoff team. But it seemed as if the focus was slowly shifting to emerging-superstar Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer.
Kirilenko wanted to be the go-to guy, but his play just wasn't convincing anyone. He had a massive and widely-publicized breakdown in which he stated that he wanted to be traded or else he would return to Russia.
Plus, he gets payed a lot. In 2004, Andrei signed a contracted extension worth $86 million for six years. Ridiculous, isn't it? Now you see why he wanted to be main go-to guy.
But eventually, all the trade rumors died down and he remained a Jazzman for the next season. Since then, he seems to have stifled his issues with his role and has accepted it. And he has rebounded significantly. He now loves his role on the team and will do anything it takes to bring Utah to the next level. His contract ends this year, and he will become an unrestricted free agent.
Lots of rumors of Kirilenko being shopped for a trade have surfaced over the summer. But the latest rumor is that the Russian forward would prefer to stay in Utah. And we'd love to have him.
Since it IS a contract year, expect Kirilenko's numbers to go up across the board as he looks to earn another decent payday, which may also be his last. He will struggle with injuries,as always, but I think this year will be huge for him.
EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah, is one of the toughest and rowdiest arenas in the NBA. Ask any NBA player and they will tell you the same thing. According to an NBA players poll conducted in February 2008, the ESA was voted the "most intimidating arena in the NBA." Heck, they even had a decibel meter installed during the 1997 NBA Finals. Decibel levels reached 110...that is close to the decibels put off by a jet engine.
Utah Jazz fans love their team and come out of the hills by the thousands to root them to victory.
Originally the Delta Center, a major staple in SLC, but since renamed to EnergySolutions Arena, seats 19,911 fans. On any given night, expect every single one of those seats to be filled.
And when the Jazz play at home, they rarely lose. Over the past decade, the team has possessed one of the best home-court records of any team. And if that continues, there is no reason that this team shouldn't be in the playoffs.
Paul Millsap has been waiting for his time in the spotlight for a long time. Last season, he signed a four-year, $32 million contract offer sheet with the Portland Trailblazers (which the Jazz matched to retain his services), but continued to be the sixth man while Carlos Boozer had a fantastic season.
But now Carlos Boozer is gone. And yes, the Jazz have received the services of Al Jefferson in return. What does this spell for Paul Millsap?
There is no way he's not starting for this team. Expect Al Jefferson to take over the center spot, and Paul Millsap will man the 4-spot. Okur will become the team's sixth man, especially while he recovers from Achilles tendon surgery.
Millsap will then emerge as a leading candidate for Most Improved Player of the year and have a career season. Jefferson and he will combine to form an elite frontcourt tandem; one that will be feared by many teams in the NBA.
His numbers will resemble the numbers he posted when Boozer was down with injury (about 16 ppg and nine rpg). I wouldn't be surprised to see him average a double-double for the season.
He is ready. He has lots to prove, and he won't let us down. His stellar play will help the Jazz in a tough Western Conference playoff race, and will eventually transfer over into the postseason.
I cried with joy when the Jazz acquired Al Jefferson for nothing. Kosta Koufos? Really? I don't think I ever saw Koufos play. But Al Jefferson was one of the most underrated pickups of the offseason. The departure of Carlos Boozer was hard for lots of us to stomach, but the arrival of Jefferson made us all forget. Boozer who?
Unfortunately, Jefferson hasn't experience much in the way of winning in his short six-year career. But think about it. He was the main staple in the trade of Kevin Garnett to the Boston Celtics. He was coming from a lowly Boston team and sent to an always-disappointing Minnesota Timberwolves team. I'm sure he's fed up with losing.
He couldn't have come to a better team. Jefferson is hungry for a glimpse of the postseason. And with Deron Williams leading the way, this team will be there.
Expect Jefferson's numbers, as well, to skyrocket across the board as he suits up with the best point guard in the NBA. It will be exciting to watch. I foresee the Jefferson-Williams tandem being better than that of Boozer-Williams. But that might just be me...
Jefferson is an improvement on Boozer in many ways. Neither of them were strong defensively, but Jefferson will be better. For one, he brings blocking to the table. Boozer posts a career block percentage of 0.5 per game, whereas Al throws down 1.2 per game. This will be huge for Utah, especially as they go up against formidable foe Los Angeles' Pau Gasol. Will Al Jefferson be the answer to get them past LA in the playoffs?
He will put up Boozer-esque number (perhaps even better) and will form a dominating "Big Three" along with Williams and Millsap to propel this team into postseason success.
There's not really much that needs to be said about Deron Williams. Highly regarded as the best point guard in the NBA, Williams has become the face of the franchise. He was selected as the third pick in the NBA Draft, ahead of rival Chris Paul.
And since then he has developed into a mature, consistent, and all-around fantastic leader for this organization. He loves the Jazz and the Jazz love him.
Last year, in the playoffs, he posted averages of 24.3 ppg, 10.2 apg, and 2.70 rpg. Many heads turned at this dominating performance, and the talks began of whether or not he has finally established himself as the best point guard in the NBA. Those numbers are hard to deny.
He led the Jazz over fourth-seeded Denver before eventually being dismantled by the 2010 Champion Los Angeles Lakers.
This guy knows how to lead a team and knows how to win. And next year, he will get it done by whatever means possible. Whether he feeds it to Jefferson or Millsap, drives to the lane, pulls up from behind the arc, or just makes an amazing play, we will all be witnesses as Williams continues to prove his eliteness to us all .
Williams-Millsap-Jefferson will become a three-headed monster for this team, as I stated before, with Deron being the leader. Utah is deep, talented, and experienced in the playoffs. Deron is ready. Is the rest of the league ready for Deron?
The slideshow could just stop here.
Jerry Sloan is the coach of the Utah Jazz.
As long as Sloan is the leader, this team will rarely experience disappointment. Jerry Sloan is an elite Hall of Fame coach. He is fourth on the all-time list of most-winning NBA coaches.
In NBA history, no coach has ever coached a team for as long as he has coached the Utah Jazz. He is going on his 23rd year as head coach of this team (22nd full season). And his team has been in the playoffs for 20 of those years. If that's not consistency, then I don't know what is.
But sadly, he has never been able to win an NBA Championship. He wants one before he retires and has a team that could possibly make it to that level.
On paper, it doesn't seem like this team could contend for much, but Sloan doesn't see that. He is a hard-nosed, intense, disciplined NBA coach who demands the best each and every night. If you don't like that, then you are in his doghouse. You will play his system in his way and how he tells you to, or else you're not in the game anymore. And his system works. (Heck, Utah Jazz players aren't even allowed to wear headbands)
Not much else needs to be said of this guy.
So the question is, will the Jazz miss the playoffs next year? Not if Jerry Sloan has anything to say about it.
Yes, to most this would be a lame reason. But, it just makes sense to me....
We're talking about the Utah Jazz!
If you've read all the other slides, than you'd know there really isn't much else to discuss. The Jazz will make the playoffs because they are the Utah Jazz. They have a high-class organization that will do anything it takes to win. They draft high-quality guys, make fantastic moves, and have a coach that puts all the pieces together.
But, still, the Jazz will get overlooked this season.
Most people will be watching whether or not the Miami Heat can produce, if the Celtics have another year left, what John Wall is capable of, and whether or not Chris Paul or Carmelo Anthony will stick with their teams. As fans religiously follow these story lines, the Jazz will fly under the radar, quietly compiling a decent record, and will find themselves in the postseason dismantling your favorite team.
High expectations? I think not.
It's just reality. It's the Utah Jazz.