It’s been an interesting and critical off-season for the Utah Jazz. Training camp is less than a month away and while many have been caught up in the craziness surrounding college football conference alignment, Jazz fan’s have also been treated to one of the most eventful and perhaps critical periods in many years. One that could define the post-Larry Miller era of Jazz Basketball. Here are a few of the highlights and what they could mean for this season and beyond.
2010 NBA Draft
Jazz fan excitement for the NBA draft was tempered somewhat by the better-than-expected second have of the season Mike D’Antoni and the New York Knicks were able to muster. The Jazz had been sitting on the Knicks pick for six years, aquired when Isaiah Thomas was desperately trying to dump Stephon Marbury and the Jazz stepped in to help facilitate a three way trade with Phoenix. With the apathy that is Knicks basketball, hopes were high for a deep draft and a stellar lottery pick. It appears that the Jazz may have missed on both accounts in 2010. The Jazz were stuck with the 9th overall pick and surprised Jazz fans with the selection of 2-year Butler University standout Gordon Hayward. The pick surprised many Jazz fans. There were a lot of holes to fill, particularly on defense, and the Hayward pick (at the time) seemed to really do nothing but add another young, inexperienced offensive talent at the 2/3 spot where the Jazz have been particularly deep for years and have perpetually had little success finding talent that sticks in past drafts (Stevenson 00, Pavlovic 03, Snyder 04, Brewer 06, Almond 07,). For me this pick was another “wait and see” moment Kevin O’Connor often creates. At the time it seemed very out of sorts with the fan’s vision of where the Jazz should be heading coming into 2010 but he summer excitement was far from over…
Free Agency Losses –
The summer of 2010 will be forever remembered for the summer LeBron James “jumped the shark” and alientated not only the whole state of Ohio but I believe that most casual fans of the NBA were also rather disgusted by his self-aggrandizing “The Decision” debacle. In any case, many have a new public enemy number one with LeBron, Wade and Bosh supplanting Kobe and the Lakers as the new team to hate. Once the dust settled on LeBron the market for the rest of the free-agent class of 2010 was set and many players quickly found new homes in new cities. for Jazz fans the writing had been on the wall for a long time that Boozer was gonzo so his signing with Chicago was a bit of a for-gone conclusion. I was glad he was man enough to sign with one of the cities where he ran his mouth off last off-season at least. Boozer was a great talent and in my opinion will be missed in Utah but the reality was he was not a good enough player in Utah’s system to beat the Lakers. We had chances and failed so it was time to move on. Watching Korver walk away and then not getting Brewer back after Memphis opted not to pick up the final year of his contract were more signs that this team was moving on. Surprisingly, they both opt to join Rose and Boozer in Chicago creating this new Eastern Coference version of 1/4 of the Jazz roster in Chicago.
So Long Wes Matthews
Having never been a part of the NBA culture I don’t want to give the impression that I know how and why negotiations go the way they do. From what’s reported in the media it’s like these guys never talk to one another and have no idea what the other one is trying to get out of a particular deal. The Jazz loss of Wes Matthews will forever be one of those losses of no understanding for me. I can’t remember a rookie who has endeared himself to the Jazz fan base and even Jerry Sloan in quite the manner the tough-minded Wes Matthews did last year. The kid played with a chip on his shoulder and perhaps it was that attitude that foced Utah out of the chance to match the outrageously front-loaded gimmick contract Portland signed him to. I’d imagine all parties on the Matthews / Portland signed thought the Jazz would do all they could to bring Matthews back but the reality is Kevin O’Connor has never been one to put all his eggs in one basket and while his energy and heart may be missed Kevin O’Connor and the Jazz were just getting started…
Free Agency Wins – Jazz roll dice on Al Jeff and ring the Bell again
At this point in the summer, Kevin O’Connors foresight and grand scheme start to take shape.On July 13th the Jazz use a trade exception they aquired in the sign and trade they worked out with Chicago for Boozer, to aquire Al Jefferson from the Minnesota timberwolves. While Jefferson has put up good numbers on bad teams for a number of years he’s never proven he can do it alone and never been surrounded with a system or talent to perhaps compliment his abilities. I was somewhat skeptical of the deal until listening to his press conference where he truly sounded both excited and somewhat overwhelmed by the opportunity for a new start. Jazz fan’s got more good news when Raja Bell spurred a personal invitation from Kobe to join the Lakers to re-sign with Utah. I think Raja sounded generally excited about the chance to come to Utah and play for Sloan again. Despite Kobe’s open arms, I’m sure the 10 million he got from Utah doesn’t hurt either.
Since the doors were closed on the Rocky Mountain Review, Utah still prefers family friendly Orlando to the excitement and lights of Sin City and the Vegas Summer League. The Jazz finished 3-2 in their five games in Orlando. Young Gordon Hayward played pretty well throughout averaging about 10 points per game and showing the maturity and understanding of the team-first concept that probably impressed Jazz brass. Koufos was the anchor for the Jazz and perhaps the only reason I mention that is his play may have encouraged the Timberwolves to take him off our hands in the Jefferson trade. On the disappointing side, 2nd year players vying for rosters spots, Otheus Jeffers and Sundiata Gaines were rather invisible throughout and did little to impress despite their supposed knowledge of the Jazz offense.
Until we see how these key losses and aquisitions pan out, The Jazz have done nothing but placate fans by doing what needed to be done – replace key losses with serviceable replacements. From a PR standpoint, outside of loosing Wes Matthews, the signings of Jefferson and Bell seem to have kept Jazz fans interested in the upcoming season. Camp will be interesting as we see who will take the final few roster spots and how well these new faces gel with the remaining pieces and parts.