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Utah Jazz Preview - Basketball John

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uth.gifUtah Jazz - Basketball John

Last Years Record: 51-31
Offseason Additions: Morris Almond, Kyrylo Fesenko, Ronnie Price, Jason Hart
Offseason Losses: Dee Brown, Rafael Araujo, Derek Fisher

1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?

This question might end up being better asked as "What significant moves weren’t made during the offseason?"  The first non-move was releasing Derek Fisher from his contract so that he could be close to medical care for his daughter.  In an unheard of deal, both parties released the other from the contract.  The Jazz would get no compensation from letting Derek walk away and Fisher would leave about 20 million on the table.  He would make up most of that with his next deal.  And while other motives have been suggested for this request, his release allowed the Jazz to complete their next non-move; losing out on the Morris Peterson bidding to the Hornets.  The Jazz were going after a true #2 veteran, and while Utah was high on his list, he got an extra year out of New Orleans.  But from this we can finally find out if any of our last three draft picks can fill this role.  And of course there was a little dust-up from our emotional Russian forward, but he’s not going anywhere (at least not this offseason).

But I guess the team did make some moves.  They let Dee Brown and Rafael Araujo walk.  And while both were fan favorites, their games weren’t quite on the NBA level.  Hoffa, the Brazilian brute, is now playing in Russia while Brown is adjusting to life in Turkey.   To replace Fisher and Brown, Utah brought in Ronnie Price and Jason Hart.  They’re both capable backups to Deron Williams.  But it seems as though Dee could have been at worst the third stringer again.  But apparently if you’re not married, you’re a bad influence.  Larry Miller of all people should know that even Brigham Young gave males until the age of 25 to be married before considering them a menace to society.

And from the 2007 draft, the Jazz were to pickup Morris Almond and Kyrylo Fesenko.  Almond was considered the best pure shooter in the draft along with Marco Belinelli.  And Fesenko is already an instant fan favorite although he’s not expected to be a major contributor this year.  He may end up playing the majority of his minutes with the Orem Flash (home of the Flashers).

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?

With three All-Stars, the Jazz have (I refuse to say has) one of the best front courts in the league.  Mehmet Okur creates a mismatch for most centers in the league by being able to hit from anywhere on the floor.  Carlos Boozer had his first injury-free season with the Jazz and showed why they signed him to the contract they did.  He can out-muscles other power forwards and is quick enough to go around centers that may have to guard him.  What makes him great is that he’s deadly with either hand around the basket.  And despite last year, Kirilenko is still one the most dynamic players in the league.  He fills a lot of Utah’s defensive holes by being every where on the defensive end.  And there’s virtually no drop-off when Paul Millsap comes off the bench.  The three-time NCAA rebound champ transitioned his game nicely to the NBA and was one of the major reasons why the Jazz bench was one of the best in the league.

Deron Williams.  He had his breakout year in the 2006-07 season and made his name known on the national level by having a dominating performance in the playoffs.  When they talk about stepping it up for the playoffs, Williams’ play defined that.  He closed out his rookie year strong and carried it throughout the year as he led the Jazz to the playoffs for the first time in three seasons.  And despite losing to the Spurs in the Western Conference finals, Deron’s play in that series catapulted him to amongst the league’s best.

Coach Sloan.  Love him or hate him, Jerry is one of the best in the business.  He gets a lot of flack for how he handles players and for running the same offense since Naismith hung his first peach basket.  But the "I don’t give a damn about not winning the COY award" coach shows year in and year out that his system works.  He’s able to get the most out of the players he has.  You don’t have to look any further than 2003-04.  Expected to challenge the record for all-time losses by a team after the departure of Stockton and Malone, Sloan led them to a 42-40 record, only one game out of the playoffs.  Take a look at the roster.  And if you have any other questions, ask Shandon Anderson, Howard Eisley, Jacque Vaughn, etc. that left for greener pastures.

3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?

Surprisingly, outside of Millsap, the bench looks a little weaker this year.  Harping has been injured the entire pre-season with bad knees.  Hart and Price are decent backups, but they haven’t impressed during the preseason.  With Fisher last year, he usually ran the point with the second team.  I think there’s a drop-off with our new PGs.  Jarron Collins, while decent on defense, is a liability on offense.  And with Fesenko at least a couple years away, Collins will have to do.  There are many though that would have rather seen Collins go and Araujo stay.  Gordan Giricek has been solid for what the Jazz pay him.  And CJ Miles hasn’t been anywhere near consistent.  When you looks at the bench, it doesn’t exactly inspire you. 

Despite having Boozer and Okur down low, the Jazz were below average defensively in the paint.  They’ll out-rebound everyone, but centers especially have good games against the Jazz.  Fesenko could go a long ways to helping in this area though.  But if they can’t get help from within, you could expect Giricek and his expiring deal to be traded for a journeyman center/forward.
And perhaps the most glaring hole on defense is at the two spot.  Derek Fisher played out of position for most of the year as the two guard.  And as a result, each opposing SG would come to the game with a bib tied on and a knife and fork in hand, ready to feast.  Redd, Arenas, and Bryant all had second Christmases in Utah.  Not really Fisher’s fault, he shouldn’t have been playing the SG.  Ronnie Brewer looks to take over this spot and should be better here.  Williams makes up the other half of the back court.  And while he’s not Steve Nash on the defensive end, this is one aspect of his game that he needs to improve upon.

4. What are the goals for this team?

Even though last year’s run to the Western Conference finals was unexpected, anything short of competing again for a place in the NBA finals would have to be considered a disappointment.  Williams, Boozer, and Okur are in their second full season playing together.  And should we get back a resurgent AK, Utah will go deep into the playoffs.  They should win the Northwest title again in a weak division.  The Nuggets will challenge, but they haven’t shown that AI and Carmelo can play together on a consistent basis.  But should Martin return to form, it could be a good race. 

5. Who are these Utah Jazz that you speak of?

The Jazz have been the model of consistency for the past 20-25 years.  But year after year they’re picked to be worse than they turn out be.  In an interview on 10/18, Larry H Miller stated that his primary goal in running the Jazz was stability.  Now you understand why Stockton & Malone were there for 17 & 16 years respectively.  Jerry Sloan is beginning his 20th year.  And in the interview, Miller stated that when Sloan decides to retire, the job is Phil Johnson’s (longtime assistant to Sloan).  Larry’s goal is to have Williams retire with the Jazz.  How long does it take for teams that have lost star players to recover?  The Jazz have a contending team again just a few short years after losing the two Hall of Famers.  I think the majority of fans would take that.

Predicted Record: 55-27