We are who we are. – Ty Corbin
That is exactly what Utah Jazz head coach Ty Corbin said last month after questioning regarding the trade deadline that had come and passed with no Jazz movement. That is the basis for my writing today; the Jazz are who they are.
When the season began, many experts picked the Jazz to continue last year’s failures and finish at the bottom of the Western Conference. Yes, worse than the Kings, Hornets, Warriors, and Minnesota – all teams that annually make an effort to enter the draft lottery. They were a team whose best player was an overpaid Al Jefferson, an underappreciated Paul Millsap, and a disinterested Devin Harris. Sure, they had Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors (both players with immense talent and upside potential) and they had drafted Enes Kanter and Alec Burks, but youth and inexperience were going to slow this team down and Coach Corbin wasn’t going to have a successful second campaign.
After the first few games, it appeared they were right. But the team responded, due largely to a favorable schedule of lower talent teams visiting in SLC, but they showed the league they were not to be taken lightly and they tore through January. February brought a lot of road games, living out of a suitcase, and leaning on each other, and the losses started to catch up to the wins. March started much the same way but the team rallied down the stretch and started winning again.
So why is this team on the outside (of the playoffs) looking in? In games decided by 6 or fewer points, the Jazz are 11 and 12. That makes 23 games of 55 played decided by 6 or fewer points (an incredible 41.8%!) And three of those losses came in the last four games, all of which the Jazz could have won but either missed a last-second shot (OT game against Atlanta) or had the last-second put back waived off due to time expired (Sacramento and Phoenix at home). Both of those last two games were vital to the Jazz playing past April 26.
As it is now, I just don’t see them making the playoffs. Defense has been faltering since that Atlanta game almost as if the team hasn’t recovered from the game. Sure, remaining strength of schedule weighs in favor of the Jazz over the Suns and other teams at the bottom of the playoff race, but Phoenix is playing with immense amounts of confidence right now and the Jazz have a messed up schedule this next week when they visit San Antonio only to come home the next night to host the Spurs and then travel to Houston the next day for a Wednesday night game against the Rockets.
With the chances of the Jazz reaching the playoffs fading as quickly as Rick Santorum’s GOP chances I want to spend a few more paragraphs on what the Jazz can and should do once summer begins.
Point guard – Devin Harris is not the solution and he’s a shell of the player who made the All-Star team a few years ago and he’s set to make $8.5 million next season. He needs to be traded. Free agents such as Andre Miller, DJ Augustin, and Goran Dragic will all be available and with Jamaal Tinsley becoming a free agent as well, the Jazz have room to finally bring in a more invested player to run the show. Miller is a career 14 points and 7 assists kind of guy that could be brought in to tutor a young new talent. In the draft, the Jazz should target a player like Kendall Marshall of UNC or Damian Lillard of Weber State, though the latter is more of a scorer and not as suited for a Jazz style offense.
Shooting guard – Buh-bye CJ Miles. Thank you for seven years of NOTHING. #freealecburks. Just kidding. I still think he needs to be developed, however there are several available free agents in this year’s 2 guard crop – Nick Young, Ray Allen, and Shannon Brown. Ray Allen would open up the perimeter for the offense and his experience could be heavily leaned upon to instruct the young Burks. Whoever they bring in needs to be defensively sound and a straight long-range shooter.
Free Big Al – He’s set to earn about ¼ of the team’s salary cap next season. Millsap, Favors, and Kanter combined will earn only slightly more and all three are vastly more important to this team. Al will be making $15 million on the final year of his contract and will be attractive as a cap saver for a team looking to shed some. If the Jazz are willing to take on some bad contracts, there are some solid players out that the team could pick up. Would you trade him for a solid point guard currently under contract a in return for another serviceable, but back up big man?
Off-season training – This off-season will be key to the young guys’ development. Gordon Hayward will probably make the largest potential advancement in his career between his 2nd and 3rd years. Favors will finally be able to participate in off-season and training camp with a team that hasn’t given up on him already. Burks needs to focus on his consistency and equally as important, adding a few pounds to that frame so he can take the abuse an 82 game season will bring next year. And Kanter needs to just keep learning. He’s so raw and full of potential it is exciting, but he has to be willing to commit to the personal improvement and be dedicated to it.