The play that the Utah Jazz have recently put on tour is nothing short of destitute and is raising immediate concerns for one of the most consistent organizations, capped Tuesday night by 120-91 route against the Los Angeles Lakers last night.
Prior to their five game road trip, the season had seemed rather promising for Utah, a team who lost most of their key guys during free agency over the summer.
But the Jazz have lost five in a row with the San Antonio Spurs coming to town.
And while that concern is the forefront of the Jazz’ problems, another one may brewing that could set the organization further back than any single season.
All-Star guard Deron Williams’ merriment in Utah may be running thin, spelling worse news than the combined losses of Carlos Boozer, Wesley Mathews, and Kyle Korver.
It’s well known that General Manager Kevin O’Connor pretty runs the business end of basketball the same way that head coach Jerry Sloan runs his basketball team: without panic. So Utah probably won’t get involved in anything too risqué before the February 24 deadline.
The Jazz need to find a way to put the train back on the track, but also need to start looking towards the future, a future that will satiate Williams enough to resign in 2012.
There are six players for Utah who have expiring contracts, and none larger than forward Andrei Kirilenko’s, leaving them with seven available roster spots.
Kirilenko’s large contract ($17.823 million) comes off the books this summer, giving the Jazz some much needed breathing room even without the most stellar of players in 2011’s free agency period.
But with disgruntled players and dying contracts ruling the game’s transactions nowadays, the Jazz can sorely afford to see Williams’ current frustrations build.
Keeping the strengths and weaknesses in mind of the Jazz in mind, here are 10 players Utah should pursue signing this summer if they hope to keep D-Will in the Beehive State past 2012:
There is nothing jaw-dropping about Kyrylo Fesenko. Nothing fancy, either. There is, however, his bulk, framed by his Ukrainian mass. Fesenko is big, even for the NBA.
Fesenko is in his fourth year, all with the Jazz, and he shows some real potential, and it probably won’t cost Utah much to re-sign the 7’1” and 280-pounder.
His statistics aren’t baffling, more like underwhelming. However, when Fesenko plays, he plays hard. Nothing at the basket comes easy when he’s around. If he can reach the offensive player, he’s going to take him down hard.
There aren’t many enforcers left in the NBA, and Fesenko isn’t necessarily ever going to be one of the few. But he can do it in four- to five-minute spurts and alter shots in the paint.
There is truth in numbers, but numbers aren’t the exclusive narrator for all basketball truths. The truth is that Fesenko impacts games at a cheap price.
Back in the 2008 NBA Draft, the Jazz took Ante Tomic in the second round with the 44th pick. However, Tomic is currently playing out the end of a 3½-year contract with Real Madrid in Spain.
This summer will be the first opportunity the Jazz will have to sign the 7’2” Croatian who is drawing Pau Gasol-like comparisons. However, with potential pay cuts and a lockout looming, it may become more difficult to get the European standout to come so soon.
The good news is that the scouting reports on the developing Tomic are all very similar, praising his footwork and soft touch, while seeing his lack of strength as his biggest weakness.
Tomic is also considered an incredibly smart basketball player who can handle and pass the ball very well for his size, possibly the perfect fit for Jerry Sloan’s intricate system.
Some of the Jazz’ biggest weaknesses this year have been putting a tall scorer in the middle, and they’re playing multiple undersized lineups.
Utah is also starting two natural power forwards. Tomic could fill the middle nicely for the Jazz.
Mo Williams was originally drafted by the Utah Jazz in 2003. However, Williams only appeared in 57 games and saw less than 14 minutes a night.
Williams has had a successful career outside of Utah, highlighted by multiple years in Milwaukee and Cleveland.
His numbers may be down this year, but Williams is still only 29 years and putting up double figures every game.
Mo would be perfect fit for Utah’s second unit, a unit that has both backup point guards with expiring contracts. Neither Ronnie Price or Earl Watson are known for scoring and Mo Williams could easily fill that role.
Typically the Jazz’ second unit is known for feistiness and pushing the ball relentlessly. Sloan’s offense is also shooter-friendly with a lot screening and curls, Williams' art.
Heading into what will probably be Williams’ second-to-last contract, he will probably come relatively cheap, but probably more expensive than Price and Watson combined.
Utah has been very efficient in the NBA Draft. C.J. Miles is a product of that efficiency.
Miles is currently playing in his sixth NBA season but hasn’t turned 24 yet, a marker he won’t reach until a month before the playoffs.
The most basic reason why the Jazz should resign Miles is for continuity. Utah’s system is built on familiarity, a problem that they’re encountering now with multiple new players.
Combined with his youth and athleticism, Miles is putting up career numbers for the fourth consecutive season, averaging 11.9 ppg for the year.
Miles has also showcased his offensive abilities halfway through the year. He’s had 20 or more points in nine games off the bench this year, including one stretch in December where he broke that plane in four out of eight games.
The Jazz are 9-0 when Miles scores 20 or more. Utah is also 14-2 when he has scored at least 14 points.
The problem with Miles is his inconsistency and, at times, bad shot selection. He’s taken on a much larger role within Utah’s system this season and experienced both great success and repeated failure.
But the future is bright for Miles, and he’s expressed interest in remaining with the Jazz.
The Raja Bell experiment in Utah hasn’t gone as planned for the Jazz. Bell originally snubbed Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers this summer to have his second stint in Utah.
But it hasn’t worked out.
Bell is 34 years old and it’s showing. He’s a step late on defensive rotations and he’s shooting a dreadful 42 percent from the field this year.
The number itself isn’t staggering. But Bell doesn’t take contested shots. Most of his shots are coming as spoon-fed freebies from Deron Williams. He's simply missing the shots.
Utah’s intention, and Bell's, is well-merited though. The Jazz wanted to add a veteran with an attitude. They were just hoping for better results. A little less veteran. A little more attitude.
Shane Battier could be the Raja experiment Part Two. Battier is still the defensive stalwart he has been in recent years, but he’s also helping to lead a struggling Houston Rockets team.
Battier is a savvy veteran and a class-act with character, which are characteristics that the Jazz explore when they make contract offers or draft players.
Add Battier’s Duke IQ to his hard-nosed attitude, and a marriage with the Jazz seems possible.
The verdict for Greg Oden is still out, though hard to believe. Back-to-back seasons with microfracture surgery is nothing to be take lightly with big men.
But Oden only turned 23 years old this month. And he’s a rare physical specimen.
It is obvious that his health is a big issue, but some team will take a chance on this guy and pray for some luck.
The Jazz should be one of those teams that tries to get the 7-footer.
For his two-year career, which adds up to a full 82-game season, Oden is averaging only 22 minutes per game. But he’s made those minutes very productive, putting up 9.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks.
He’s also been very efficient by shooting almost 58 percent from the field.
Oden’s knee issues will make the decision easier for some teams who won’t consider him. But Oden’s stock has dropped severely and will limit the amount of money and time of any contract offer.
He won’t ever be cheaper. And if he can remain in a uniform, the Jazz’ middle would be much more capable of dealing with the length and size of the Western Conference’s elite.
If there is one target that Deron Williams would love to pass the ball to, it is the Jason Richardson-archetype. Utah’s only superstar has never played with an athletic wing player who could shoot on the perimeter, defend, and finish at the rim.
Williams’ specialty is in the fast break, but he’s made his living playing alongside centers and power forwards.
Adding a much faster and much more capable player to the back court will be an upgrade for the Jazz, but it will also help maximize Williams’ efficiency by reducing his role. Addition by subtraction.
Richardson did turn 30 recently, but his numbers didn’t drop until he arrived in Orlando, where there are shooters aplenty. Playing alongside Steve Nash in Phoenix saw Richardson dropping 19.3 ppg.
Currently, Richardson is one of the highest-paid players in the NBA and will be much cheaper to sign, especially if player salaries get cut this summer.
Before a knee injury sent Caron Butler into surgery, he was playing some of the best basketball of his career. His numbers were not at an all-time high, but his role had never better suited him.
The bad news is that it is a contract year for Butler. Because knee injuries are some of the most dangerous, especially for players who are already 30 years old, he'll probably receive a significant reduction in pay this summer.
The good news is that Butler suddenly became cheaper, because most of the risk will fall on his employer should he get hurt again. But don’t expect him to come very cheaply, either.
Butler would be a perfect complement for Deron Williams. Any wing player who can get his own shot relieves a lot of pressure from those around him.
And with Butler’s ability to slash into the lane, Williams would be the perfect fit for him as well.
Also, Butler stretches the floor, shooting a career-high 43 percent in 29 games this year, and he would open up the middle for Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson.
There aren’t many things as luxurious as instant off-the-bench offense. That’s exactly what Jamal Crawford is.
The Atlanta Hawks have made it clear that they aren’t incredibly interested in keeping Crawford past this season. After signing Joe Johnson to the heftiest contract of the summer, they can’t really afford to keep him, either.
While a Crawford and Jerry Sloan relationship seems far-fetched, it may not be. Sloan isn’t as feisty as he once was, and Crawford isn’t as erratic, though “shy” wouldn’t be a word to describe him.
Besides, Crawford is in the Sixth Man of the Year discussion and may even run away with the award for the second consecutive season, depending on what Jason Terry has to say about it.
The truth is that Utah’s offense could use 16.1 points off the bench, Crawford’s production this year. It would smooth the transition from Deron Williams being on to off the court and bolster the second unit.
Crawford will be 30 before the end of this season, which means that he will probably be signing smaller contracts from here on out.
There are very few players who have the capability to guard multiple positions and still be able to handle and shoot the ball. Wilson Chandler is one of those players and a special talent.
Chandler stands at 6-feet-8, which just adds more versatility to his well-rounded skill set.
He’s also gone on to put up career numbers for the fourth consecutive season. But perhaps the most impressive part of his 17.1 ppg and 6.2 rpg is his decision-making and shot selection.
Chandler is shooting over 35 percent from behind the three-point arc, also a career high. Playing alongside Williams could see his numbers skyrocket because the average difficulty of his shots would probably drop.
Williams and Chandler would complement each other very well. Plus, there may not be enough room for Chandler in New York if Carmelo Anthony gets his way.