NBA Trades: Bold Predictions for the Utah Jazz in the Post-Williams Era
The Utah Jazz are in a tough spot.
They're currently sitting tenth in the Western Conference and have 21 games remaining, 11 on the road. 13 of those games are against playoff-possible teams and 11 against Western Conference teams ahead of them in the standings.
They've also lost 16 out of their last 21 games. The odds are against them.
But it's not all bad news. The Jazz looked to pull it together on Monday night against the Boston Celtics, but lost in the waning moments despite their best effort in the new year.
The atmosphere was different and breathed new life into the newly reconstructed Jazz. The fans felt it. The players felt it. Energy returned to what had been reduced to a lack-of-Solutions Arena.
Here's a few bold predictions for the rest of the season:
Tyrone Corbin Benches Raja Bell…Finally
The Utah Jazz aren't getting production from Raja Bell. He's not producing offensively and is getting lost behind screens or beat off the dribble defensively.
Tyrone Corbin is going to bury Bell in the rotation because he should. What other choice does he have?
Bell has failed to score five or more points in 16 different games this year.
And going back to where Utah's woes began, a game against the Washington Wizards in January that eventually led to a six-game losing streak, Bell averaged only three points per game despite playing no less than 30 minutes in five of the six games and taking 30 shots.
The once highly regarded sharpshooter is shooting a measly 42.6 percent from the field and 35 percent from downtown despite the fact that he played with Deron Williams for nearly 50 games and currently plays with Devin Harris, two of the games best point guards.
Bell is the weakest link in the Jazz starting five. And with the Jazz slip-sliding out of the playoff picture it doesn't make much sense to watch him stink the place up for 30 minutes a night.
At this point in his career, Bell isn't a threat to attack the rim. Defenders can sag into the painted area to double-team Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson if need be.
Eventually, Corbin will bench Bell.
Everybody made a big deal about Bell snubbing longtime-nemesis Kobe Bryant and his precious helicopter tour of Los Angeles by joining the Utah Jazz last summer, but, in the end, it is Bryant who will laugh last at this too.
Mehmet Okur Returns, Leads to Big Things
Mehmet Okur hasn't had much luck this year as he's dealt with Achilles, ankle and back injuries. He's been sidelined in all but 13 games this year.
But now he's only waiting for a doctor's clearance that will put him back on the court. And the Jazz could desperately use him.
Okur's return, which will happen sometime in March, will help give the Jazz some extra momentum with only a slight lift from the bench that now includes Derrick Favors whose averaging over eight points for the Jazz.
With the best balanced, bench attack that Utah will have once Okur returns with C.J. Miles, Favors, Earl Watson, and Gordon Hayward the Jazz will undoubtedly surge.
Derrick Favors Finds His Grove, Leaves Nets Regretful
If Jerry Sloan didn't play rookies, it wasn't because he didn't like them.
He didn't trust them with the complexity of the system when he had veterans. Gordon Hayward and Wesley Matthews are either the exceptions or opportunists when the injury-bug comes around.
And the biggest concern for the Jazz immediate future was finding time for Derrick Favors who struggled offensively in New Jersey's system.
However, he's picked up the offense rather quickly.
In three games Favors is finding the UCLA offense to be rather friendly to bigs, and when executed properly, that's the nature of the flex offense.
The majority of Favor's minutes will be with point guard Earl Watson--known for the "Early-Oop" which he mastered with rookie Jeremy Evans.
Favors is even more athletic but weighs almost 80 pounds more. He's a much stronger, longer target.
Defensively he offers the Jazz a pick-and-roll defender, an issue that needed immediate attention, and a huge body around the basket.
Learning from Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap will be different than Brook Lopez and will prove to be more helpful. Millsap is one of the game's most productive and forgotten players. He knows the system inside and out.
Jefferson's low-post game is one of the game's best and his footwork is only rivaled by few. Now that he's starting to get the Jazz system, his ability to help Favors' game will be maximized.
Al Jefferson Wins Western Conference Player of the Month in March
Despite losing a Hall of Fame coach and an All-Star point guard during the middle of February, Al Jefferson hasn't missed a note in the month.
And yes, the Utah Jazz won a total of two games during that span, but you can't put that on the big back of Big Al.
Jefferson has been playing out of his mind lately, especially during February, putting up 23.8 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks per night in 12 games. He was fifth in the league in efficiency while shooting 55 percent from the field for the month.
Those numbers would be higher too if it wasn't for a four-point effort where he shot 2-14 against the Phoenix Suns on February 11, 2011.
On Feb. 28 Jefferson took it to Kevin Garnett and the Boston Celtics in another losing effort. Jefferson had 28 points, 19 rebounds and two blocks, a game that included a prolonged stare-down and verbal altercation with Garnett--the league's loudest tough guy.
The just-turned 26-year-old is showing mental toughness and deliberate leadership in the absence of Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan. Since Williams has been out Jefferson has been averaging 27 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game.
With the Jazz pushing hard for the playoffs, Jefferson will continue to put Utah on his back. Western Conference Player of the Month in March will serve to be only a byproduct of what Jefferson really means and does for his team.
End of Sloan Era Proves to Be Positive, Corbin Signs Extension
After being pursued for years by teams across the NBA and turning them down, Corbin has received the team that he wanted--maybe not in the circumstance that he wanted, but it's his team.
More importantly than Corbin wanting the Jazz is how badly the Utah brass has wanted him to eventually take over. It has been the long term plan to have him at the helm when Jerry Sloan walked away.
Corbin played for nine teams during his 15-year career and will be able to draw from the experience of playing under multiple coaches before being molded by Sloan purposefully for the last seven years.
He knows Sloan's system from dual perspectives, player and coach.
But he isn't Sloan, and that's not a bad thing. Corbin is his own man, a player's coach in his own right who has experienced the modernity in today's game. It will be his ability to blend his experiences as player and being protege to a Hall of Fame coach that will pay off sooner rather than later.
Owner Larry Miller and GM Kevin O'Connor believe in Corbin, as did Sloan. The players are playing hard for him, harder than they've played all year.
Corbin will sign a long term extension.
Nobody Remembers Deron Williams
Forget Derrick Favors. Forget the first-round draft picks.
All the Jazz needed to replace a regarded cancer was Devin Harris. And he'll fill in nicely even without all the additional love the Nets threw away.
First, there are the statistics. Deron Williams averages seven points and three assists more than Harris, roughly, per game.
When you consider the fact that Williams is making $6 million more than Harris for the year, you can throw away seven points and three assists.
No NBA player would ever be offered $6 million bucks by any owner who thought that the result would be seven points and three assists. Raja Bell makes half that for similar production and he's considered to be underachieving.
Next season Williams will out-earn Harris by seven million dollars and by nearly $10 million in 2013 if he doesn't exercise his player-option and search for greener pastures. Those years will be Harris' prime years.
But throw away finances too.
Harris is helping the Jazz build a post-Williams culture, one that isn't plagued with referee-player stare-offs. He's pushing the ball and cracked the starting rotation in league's most difficult offense in only his second game as a Jazzman.
Harris is only two years removed from being an All-Star. His numbers have dipped because he's been playing in New Jersey and with some of the lowest-grade, collective basketball players that the NBA has to offer. Now that he's stepping into a winning culture, albeit a currently struggling culture, the expectations for him to succeed are rising.
And he's taking those expectations personally and responded to the trade by saying that he was brought in to Utah to make sure they made the playoffs, not for another rebuilding project.
Translation: Harris is treating the situation as if Jazz ownership believes he can offer the Jazz more than Deron Williams did.
Even if that's not management's direct intention, that's the type of fire and leadership that the Jazz need and have needed all season. It can't hurt to have a player that puts responsibility on himself publicly and before things settle.
Plus, with that type of attitude from the team's engine and having the Jazz' possession-by-possession fate in his hands, Harris has established himself as a natural leader.
The culture is changing, or maybe it's simply returning. Either way, Deron Williams is almost already an afterthought in the Beehive State.
Jazz Make Playoffs, Clinch 7 Seed
There are 21 games remaining on Utah's schedule. The Jazz are currently a full game back from the sole remaining playoff spot, which is currently occupied by the surging Memphis Grizzlies.
And their schedule isn't at all easy. It's one of the toughest remaining schedules in the NBA.
But that's exactly why they'll get in. Utah is uniting in an old-fashioned, Jazz-like way. And even though that's yet to materialize into more wins than losses, the togetherness that they're sporting is contagious.
Al Jefferson is pumping his chest. Ty Corbin is screaming and yelling on the sidelines and finally revealing who he is, no longer looking burdened by coaching in the shadows of a legend. Paul Millsap is showing true leadership with a shut-mouthed defiance to underachieving.
And Devin Harris is complementing all three.
The name on the front of the jersey means something to the people and players of Salt Lake City. Now they're reunited in the post-Williams-Boozer era. The playoffs are part of Jazz basketball, not a hoped-for aspiration of desperateness.
There's only three games between the fifth seed and the tenth spot in the Western Conference. Every year it comes down to the wire. The Jazz will clinch the seventh seed.
Jazz Upset Mavericks, Advance to Second Round
The Utah Jazz will upset Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs.
History says that when it counts, the Mavs underachieve. In the 2006 NBA Finals, Dallas held a two-game lead over the Miami Heat only to lose the championship series in six games by dropping four straight.
The very next year, Dallas won 67 regular season games and claimed home court advantage in the West but got burned by a barely-scraped-into-the-playoffs Golden State Warriors team that only won 42 games.
Dallas is susceptible in the postseason. And with the Jazz surging late in the season and into the playoffs, the Mavericks will crumble.
Last season, despite missing two starters, the Jazz overcame the Denver Nuggets in the first round without home court advantage.
Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams are gone, but Al Jefferson hasn't been to the playoffs since Boston traded him for Kevin Garnett, and it put him into irrelevancy for the majority of his career.
Devin Harris was traded to Nets for Jason Kidd in the 2006-2007 season. He hasn't seen the playoffs since either. Both have something to prove in this stretch.
In fact, the entire Jazz team has something to prove to everybody, to Deron Williams, to Jerry Sloan, to Carlos Boozer, to Wesley Matthews and Jazz Nation.
They don't care about tiredness or frustration or boo-boos. There's a new Jazz team. And that's a good thing.
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