2010-11 Season Preview: Utah Jazz

Overview

You’ve got to hand it to the Jazz front office. They started the summer licking the wounds of a Laker sweep, they proceeded to lose four key players (Boozer, Korver, Matthews and Koufos), and still managed to add a set of players that may well be better suited to beat the Lakers.

Roster

Name Pos Yrs 2009-10 Stats
Raja Bell* G 10 11.8 PPG .444 3P%
Francisco Elson* C-F 7 1.0 PPG, 1.2 RPG
Jeremy Evans* F R
Kyrylo Fesenko C 3 2.6 PPG, 1.8 RPG
Gordon Hayward* G R
Al Jefferson* C-F 6 17.1 PPG, 9.3 RPG
Andrei Kirilenko F 9 11.9 PPG, 1.2 BPG
C.J. Miles F 5 9.9 PPG, 2.8 APG
Paul Milsap F 4 11.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG
Mehmet Okur C-F 8 13.5 PPG, 7.1 APG
Ronnie Price G 5 4.3 PPG, 2.1 APG
Earl Watson* G 9 7.8 PPG, 5.1 APG
Deron Williams G 5 18.7 PPG, 10.5 APG

* New to team

Head Coach: Jerry Sloan
Assistant Coaches: Phil Johnson, Tyrone Corbin, Scott Layden

Meaningful Offseason Moves

  • Released Kyle Korver
  • Drafted Gordon Hayward and Jeremy Evans
  • Sign and Traded Carlos Boozer and a second round pick to Chicago for a trade exception
  • Traded Kosta Koufos, two second round picks and a first round pick to Minnesota for Al Jefferson
  • Declined to match Wesley Matthews offer sheet from Portland
  • Signed Raja Bell for 3-years, $10 million
  • Made a qualifying offer to retain Kyrylo Fesenko
  • Signed Francisco Elson for 1-year, veteran’s minimum
  • Signed Earl Watson for 1-year, veteran’s minimum

Why the Jazz are Contenders

Let’s start with what happened to the Jazz in the second round of last year’s playoffs. The Jazz hobbled into the second round after barely surviving the Nuggets in the first round. The Jazz suffered two key injuries (Okur, Kirilenko), and wound up in a scenario wherein they had to send Boozer, Milsap, Fesenko and Koufos to handle Odom, Bynum and Gasol. Meanwhile, without AK, they had little choice but to put an undrafted rookie (Wesley Matthews) to handle Smoke Monster on the defensive end.

You can probably guess what happened next. The Jazz were ripped apart on the interior (both in regards to points produced and rebounds earned) and Smoke Monster shredded Matthews on the perimeter.

In defense of the Jazz, they made things interesting in Games 1 and 3, and having watched that entire series, I can say with confidence that the Jazz B team may have been the better squad when compared to the Lakers B team.

Still, it wasn’t a pretty series, and the Lakers rolled over the Jazz on their way to their eventual championship.

After Game 4, Deron Williams put it as simply as it needed to be said:

“We’re a playoff team and they’re a championship team. Until we start to make some moves, that’s the way it’s going to be.”

Flash forward to the start of training camp…

The Jazz look much different than the team that slumped out of the Playoffs on May 10th. The drafted sharp shooting Gordon Hayward and Jeremy Evans, they parted company with Boozer, Korver and Matthews (as most of us assumed they would), and then – surprisingly – made two meaningful moves, both of which required more money than the Jazz front office likes to spend.

With Al Jefferson, the Jazz get a bigger body than they had with Boozer, though a guy who has yet to prove himself as anything more than a good player on a set of bad teams. The Jazz also grabbed a lock down defender in Raja Bel, and paid meaningful dollars to bring him back to Salt Lake City.

(How lock down you ask? Smoke Monster was in the process of recruiting Bell to join the Lakers when the Jazz called his agent. Reportedly, Bell decided to sign with the Jazz within 30 minutes and after making two phone calls – one to his family and the second to Kobe canceling an upcoming recruiting meeting).

The Jazz also locked in Fesenko to stay with the team and signed Francisco Elson and Earl Watson to join the squad. All told, the Jazz have six new players heading into the season. They bring size, toughness and experience (Jazz beat reporters are proclaiming this to be the most emotionally mature squad to play for Sloan since 96-97).

They also bring something else, something that I feel blends well with a prevailing emotion in the Jazz locker room.

In the interest of full disclosure, I know that I’m a homer, and I know I’m prone to dramatizing these sorts of things, but even when I consciously  put all that aside, it feels like these players are all – in their own way – very, very hungry.

With a guy like Jefferson, you have a guy who is six years into his career but has played for a very bad Celtics team before moving to a very bad Timberwolves team. Jefferson went into training camp wanting to do ‘everything they ask of me,’ almost to a fault at first.

With Gordon, you have a guy who is used to – maybe even wants to – play for the underdog, as he lead Butler to an improbable run to the championship, and was the guy who launched a potentially game winning half court three, missing by only three inches (or as some ESPN pundits pointed out, less than 1 degree on the x-axis).

With Bell, I mean, the turned down a red carpet courtship by the reigning finals MVP to join the Lakers, make a ton of money, and probably win a title, all to return to a small-market franchise and a coach he believes in.

A coach who – by the by – has taken the Jazz to the playoffs 19 times in 22 seasons, has a lifetime .604 winning percentage as a coach, was inducted into the Hall of Fame last year, but has never won a title (or coach of the year, for that matter).

And Sloan’s on court general isn’t too shabby either. Williams is coming off his first All-Star selection, and shows no signs of slowing. In fact, if anything, Williams talents and skills are slowing getting honed to a very particular target.

“I hate the Lakers.” [says] Deron Williams, telling the Salt Lake Tribune precisely how he feels about the team that ended his championship chase three years in a row. “They’re so good,” D-Will added. “I hate them because they win all the time. They’re a tough team. We definitely talk about it. It’s not a secret. We hate the Lakers.”

I know that pre-season doesn’t matter, and I know that teams like the Lakers are basically phoning those games in, but the Jazz went 8-0 in this year’s pre-season. Two of those games came against the Lakers, in Los Angeles. I got to watch the first of the two at home in the middle of the night.

Not for nothing, but the Jazz were not playing with a pre-season mentality. Williams may not have been on the floor, but the Jazz B-team, lead by Hayward, went after the Lakers with everything they had. At the end, Hayward ended the night with 26, and the Jazz got a win. Smoke Monster quickly laughed it off, but the Jazz weren’t messing around.

To be honest with you, I don’t really know if the Jazz added enough components to overtake the Lakers, or the Heat, or the Celtics. It’s a very difficult call, and one we won’t know until next spring. The Utah Jazz, once again, are the contending underdogs.

But tell me truthfully, isn’t that exactly where you want them to be?

Video

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~ by djepperson on October 26, 2010.

2 Responses to “2010-11 Season Preview: Utah Jazz”

  1. Short answer? Yes.

    I just got tickets for Thursday night, and I am very much looking forward to seeing first hand how the team looks!

    • Nice! I’ll be getting the NBA League Pass so I can be watching through the season. I’m also planning to get to a couple games of theirs when they’re out East (Celtics, Knicks, Nets).

      I’m pumped for the season, man. Good times ahead.

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