Over the past 23 years, Utah has been the model of consistency in all of professional sports. Today, they appear to be a franchise in turmoil.
Coach Jerry Sloan and longtime assistant Phil Johnson resigned mid-season. Gone even are the pieces of the "new" Jazz, who a few years ago were playing in the Conference Finals and seemed destined for a run at the title with one of the league's youngest rosters.
For a franchise that has made the playoffs 19 of the last 22 years (missed the playoffs three years following end of Stockton and Malone era) and have been over .500 21 of the last 22, things seem to be in panic and desperation mode in Utah.
However, you can hold off on writing Utah's eulogy. Utah is 5-12 since the trade of All-Star PG Deron Williams to the Nets, however, they have been far from a healthy team in that stretch. In those 17 games, Utah has not had Paul Millsap for 6 games, Andrei Kirilenko for 4 games, Devin Harris for 4 games and Derrick Favors for 2 games.
No question Utah has struggled in a stretch of futility the franchise has not seen since the 80s, but to say this franchise is not in great position going forward would be short-sided and irresponsible.
First off, Utah FINALLY gets rid of its albatross (Andrei Kirilenko's six-year $86 million) and looks to have a very cap-friendly roster. Also, Utah has one of, if not the best front office in the NBA.
It is no small task putting a team together with much less revenue and market than other power teams, yet making the playoffs 19 of 22 seasons. The Larry H. Miller family, team President Randy Rigby, and GM Kevin O'Connor just flat out do their jobs better than most in the league.
Utah has a great core of players locked into favorable long-term contracts. Al Jefferson ($14M for 2 years), Paul Millsap ($6.7M for 3 years), Devin Harris ($8.9M for 2 years), Derrick Favors ($4.8M for 3 years) and Gordon Hayward (2.6M for 3 years) are all players who are underpaid for their respective production and talent.
The team has a decision to make on the up-and-down play of CJ Miles, who can look like an All-Star or a bad Euro-League player, depending on the night. The team has an option on Miles for $3.7 million, which isn't bad for a player that averages 13 ppg.
Most importantly, Utah has two lottery picks in the top 12 (barring a lottery miracle). Because of this, Utah will not be down for long. In fact, as long as they draft smart, they will most likely end their playoff drought at one season.
Here is a list of what Utah's draft-board should look like on draft day. Since Utah's picks will both be in the top 12, and they have no other picks, there is no reason to have more than 12 players on their board.
Note: I am taking Jared Sullinger at his word that he will be returning to Ohio State. Even if he decided to enter the draft, he would not really affect the Jazz draftboard as, while a great player, he doesn't fit a need for the Jazz. Utah has too many holes not to draft for their needs and Sullinger is MUCH higher on boards of other teams than he would be for Utah.