NBA 2012: 5 Things the Utah Jazz Must Do to Return to the Playoffs
- Utah signs-and-trades All-Star forward Carlos Boozer to the Chicago Bulls
- Jazz acquires forward/center Al Jefferson from the Minnesota Timberwolves
- Utah signs guard Raja Bell
- Jazz drafts forward/guard Gordon Hayward and forward Jeremy Evans in the 2010 NBA draft
- Utah goes undefeated in the NBA preseason (5-0)
Not one true Jazz fan thought that a season with this much promise would turn out the wrong way. Well, to be blunt, things just went from bad to worse after the NBA preseason:
- The Jazz hover just above the .500 mark during the first-half of the regular season
- The longest-tenured coach in professional sports history, Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan, resigns/retires
- Utah sends All-Star point guard Deron Williams to the New Jersey Nets in a trade
- Jazz fall below .500 with a 39-43 record at the end of the season
- Utah misses the playoffs for only the third time in the last 23 years
After spearheading the season like a battering ram, the Jazz whimpered out and let internal conflict strike rampantly.
At their last home game, fully knowing that their team had failed to make the playoffs, a sea of eager Jazz fans came to support their broken team. They caught a glimpse of hope for the future as Gordon Hayward single-handedly put away the Jazz's division rival Denver Nuggets with a stunning 34-point performance.
The majority of fans left the arena that night a little heartbroken and disappointed that their hopes had been refuted. But, with the playoffs over, the NBA draft behind us and a lockout in full swing, the average Jazz-fan must wonder: What could the Jazz do to get back in the playoff picture?
I have some ideas, so read onward...
*The Steps They've Already Taken Toward the Playoffs
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- Exercising C.J. Miles' team-option for the 2011-12 season; thus giving him a sense of importance to the team and incentive to stay in Utah and get better as a player.
- Exercising rookie-contract team-options for Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Jeremy Evans.
- Drafting Enes Kanter, C, and Alec Burks, PG/SG.
- Trading Deron Williams to the Nets for Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, a 2012 (1-7 protected) first-round draft pick and cash considerations.
- Matching the Portland Trail Blazers $32 million qualifying offer to Paul Millsap.
- Acquiring Al Jefferson from the Timberwolves (for basically nothing).
- Giving much-needed support to newly-tendered head coach Tyrone Corbin.
...and so far not re-signing Earl Watson, Ronnie Price, Kyrylo Fesenko and Francisco Elson.
5. Re-Sign Andrei Kirilenko
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Anyone who just saw the headline and rolled their eyes probably has 5,000 good reasons why the Jazz should boot Kirilenko. Well, in all honesty, I'll give you one great reason that invalidates the disinterest toward the long-time Jazzman. Here goes:
You will never find another Andrei Kirilenko. He's one of a kind!
Putting aside the fact that he's a much needed 10-year veteran on a young team, and that he has played out his career in Utah, there's just that unique intricacy and style of play that Andrei brings to the table.
Who can match his intelligence in the Jazz flex offense (who is still on the roster)? Who could the Jazz possibly get to fill the void that would be left if AK-47 went elsewhere? There's a lot more "good" about Kirilenko than "bad," and that's going to help the team endlessly throughout these next few developmental years.
He has stated several times that he would be happy to take less money and stay in Utah. CEO Greg Miller and GM Kevin O'Connor have both stated that they would like to have Andrei back for the 2012 season.
Should the Jazz re-sign AK-47? Yes or no? Comment below, I want to hear what you think!
4. Inherit the Logjam, Make Nice Player Mix
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Confused? Let me word it more simply: Don't trade anyone!
Who ever said it was a bad thing to have a lot of good players? Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum worked out. Z-Bo and Marc Gasol are fine-tuned. Why not add two more to come off the bench who are just as good?
Enter the Jazz frontcourt.
Paul Millsap. Al Jefferson. Derrick Favors. Enes Kanter. Four names with which I hope provide a plethora of rings and engravings in a hall somewhere. Four names I want to hear voiced by announcers in every breathtaking play of the NBA finals. Four names. Four players. Let's make something out of it, shall we?
Utah didn't match a $32 million offer sheet given to Paul Millsap because they thought he would be a
sub-par, tradeable jersey down the road. They matched it because they saw the game behind the player. Millsap is barely entering his prime for God's sake! Let's not give up hope, but trust in what is to come.
Al Jefferson, only 26-years-old, figured out the offense enough by the end of the season to put up 20 points and 10 rebounds every night. And, wiith a full season under his belt, I can already hear
"Breakout Season" whispers being chanted.
How many centers can put up 20-and-10-a-night anyways? Because of the skill at his position, Big Al's future is set in stone in Utah; of course, until it's his choice to stay or go. Although, if the Jazz somehow believe that they need to trade a big, I would reluctantly say that Jefferson would be the choice.
Then arrives our future: Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. Two very promising players who have a limitless ceiling. Derrick Favors has been compared to Amar'e Stoudemire—not bad for a rookie! Enes Kanter comes with that "uniqueness" tag of breaking the mold, as he can shoot the three (similar to Mehmet Okur) but is a tenacious force on the glass and on the offensive block. Oh, and, if you were stunned that I mentioned his shooting ability, look up some workout videos!
Lastly, imagine with me for a moment: the Jazz are finally two players deep at a respective position!
Why take that away?
There are endless possibilities here, just imagine...
3. Believe in My Idol, D-Harris
One of the biggest proponents of basketball is team chemistry. Period. Devin Harris is the unvoiced leader on the court and deserves to be trusted fully and without hesitation. I'm quite sure that it's safe to say he is one of the best point guards in the NBA right now, even though his statistics falter somewhat behind players like Russel Westbrook (21 PPG and eight APG). Honestly, I'd rather have Devin Harris anyways.
He hasn't had the chance to be on a good team since being traded from the Mavericks to the Nets and, with half of a season under his belt in Utah, D-Harris should have a great season next year filling in as one of the main scoring options for the Jazz.
Devin Harris is also one of the select players at his position who I, if I were a coach, would give the responsibility of holding a team together at halftime, leading the players out of the locker room and having the ball in his hands with five seconds on the game clock, trailing by two points.
A word to describe Devin Harris that fits him well would be "mature" and even "a professional" if used in the right context. I don't see him as a Deron Williams, LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony (having no loyalty, skipping town as soon as you get the chance and causing internal problems in a franchise). I see him retiring in a Jazz uniform a long way down the road—that is, if he gets the right treatment and publicity he deserves.
On a more upbeat note, Devin Harris is just in the prime of his career, along with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap; two of Utah's biggest threats on the floor. That makes three great players at different positions on the floor who have the same hard-nosed and responsible work ethic. That is such a great fit in Utah that there are simply no words to explain it.
If the Jazz veterans play to their full capabilities, we would see numbers, combined, of 50-60 points, 20-25 rebounds and 10-15 assists per game; night in, night out.
Moreover, all this talk of trading players out of Utah's frontcourt should be deemed nonsense with a glance at this section. Why trade a valuable piece of your franchise for a profit loss? Sorry to break it to anyone, but most trades involving small market teams, such as the Jazz, result in a gain by the other party and a pissed-off fanbase back home.
Simply put, if you have something that 29 other teams want, keep it and save yourself the risk of gaining nothing in return for a marquee-caliber player.
We derailed quite a bit from the topic, but let's finish up:
Devin Harris is the point guard of the future in Utah. End of story. How is that not exciting? Harris is a top-five pick in a strong draft class at the age of 28. What more could you ask for? Well, besides someone with a franchise-altering price tag, i.e. Chris Paul.
Don't like my view on Devin Harris? Comment below and tell me what you think.
2. Be Patient
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The entirety of Jazz Nation needs to learn the simple trait of patience. Is anyone serious that the Jazz are going to bring home a championship next year?
So, enter...patience? Yes, patience.
All-time greats, legendary players and stars aren't born overnight. They are crafted and disciplined to shape the mold. What starts out as raw talent becomes finesse and skill through years of practice.
So, give these players time to grow and develop; don't be greedy and rush them into a position they aren't ready for. All true Jazz fans have seen glimpses of greatness in our rookies Gordon Hayward, Jeremy Evans and Derrick Favors. Not to mention Enes Kanter and Alec Burks.
One of the biggest things the Jazz must do to return to contention is have patience.
1. Throw Caution to the Wind, or Begin a Journey
The No. 1 thing the Jazz must, and will, do to return to the playoffs is to make a decision. The right decision. Do we trade our assets and become a better team now, or do we sacrifice wins and rebuild our team?
Utah does indeed have the ability to trade for players like Danny Granger, Andre Iguodala, or even a Dwight Howard or Chris Paul. But, in order to grab these commodities, the Jazz would have to give up future draft picks and young and proven talent alike. That could, in fact, be the right way to go, but it comes warranted with back-breaking risks.
Our second option seems to be coming to fruition already, with a nearly-completed starting lineup of the future (SG Alec Burks, SF Gordon Hayward, PF Derrick Favors, C Enes Kanter). All they lack is a point guard, but do they trade these unproven players for veterans and skip the rebuilding mode, or do they hold out and trust that these players will reach their potential?
There are two possibilities, two upsides and two downsides: win, or rebuild? Sell tickets or possibly sell even more tickets later? Bet everything and fail, or lose fan support with lacking talent that didn't reach potential?
We're surrounded by "ifs" but there's also insurmountable potential and opportunities to begin a new era that could go down in Jazz history as one of the best of all time.
There's a buzz in the air, and I'm getting the vibe that Utah won't be out of the playoffs for long.
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