Happy New Years to one and all. 2014 is upon us and like all dutiful Jazz fans, I have pondered what could transpire this year for the team. It could be one of the biggest years in franchise history, with many things to look forward to. Here’s a little primer of things on my radar and most likely yours.
Player development is naturally the major focus of the 2013-2014 Utah Jazz campaign. So far, the results have been mostly positive. Derrick Favors continues to be solid defensively, but has been much better offensively. He is finishing inside and is being more decisive, aggressive and confident in his moves. Alec Burks has been a bright spot for the Jazz. Almost everything about his game has improved. From his decision-making to his outside shot, Burks looks like he’s taken the biggest leap of all of Utah’s returning players. Gordon Hayward’s shooting is still south of 40%, which is a major concern. The rest of his game, particularly his play-making and rebounding, has been great. Jeremy Evans has shown his abilities to contribute in a more regular role.
Enes Kanter has been the biggest concern. Some facets of his game have either stalled or digressed. There are many potential reasons: his move to a much more prominent role; the move to the bench; the fact that he spent most of the off-season recovering from his shoulder injury. His TS% has dropped from 58.8 percent last season to 49.5 percent this year and his eFG% is down from 54.5 percent to 46.2. His declining rebounding has been very noticeable. Kanter’s TRB% has gone from a stellar 18.3 mark his rookie year to 16.5 to 13.1 this year. The big Turk is only averaging 8.3 rebounds/36 minutes. While this is all disconcerting, there is still a lot of season to play and he’s shown some nice signs recently. I, for one, am a big Kanter believer and think he will be just fine. His offensive moves are great for a young big and he has displayed some nice perimeter marksmanship.
This is the day that contracts become guaranteed for the rest of the season. The Jazz have three players–Mike Harris, Diante Garrett and Ian Clark–who are probably working hard, while keeping their eyes on that date. Clark has a $200,000 guarantee, but is not fully guaranteed. It will be interesting to see what Utah does with this trio. There is a possibility they could retain all three, but it also could depend on who else is already available or who might been cut loose by other teams. The Jazz may want to have some flexibility with roster spots for future moves. And last season, Lindsey used a vacant roster spot to “try out” players like Travis Leslie and Jerel McNeal.
JERRY SLOAN CEREMONY
January 31st is circled on many Jazz fans’ calendars. It will be a terrific opportunity to pay homage to one of the all-time greats, Jerry Sloan. There will be press conferences, takes from national talking heads and the whole gamut. It will be interesting to hear Sloan’s words that day, as well as to see his emotions. Likewise, many Utah legends will naturally be in town for the festivities. It will be a day to remember.
Dennis Lindsey has already shown that he is proactive and willing to orchestrate bold moves: one need not look further than Draft Night and the trade that brought Trey Burke to town. The Jazz possess a number of assets. The Jazz will naturally field phone calls for all the aforementioned young guys. They have $33 million in expiring contracts in veterans Richard Jefferson ($11M), Andris Biedrins ($9M), Marvin Williams ($7.5M), Brandon Rush ($4M) and John Lucas III ($1.6M, with a team option for 2014-15). Yes, last year the Jazz had a ton of expiring deals and did not make any moves, but I get the feeling that Lindsey won’t be scared from using these assets if something makes sense both for the team and the players involved. They also have that bevy of draft picks including their own picks, Golden State’s first round picks in 2014 and 2017, as well as extra second-rounders in 2016, 2017 and 2018. It will be a busy six weeks for Lindsey, Kevin O’Connor and company.
Around the NBA, this could be active trade deadline. Guys like Rudy Gay, Grevis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson and Derrick Williams have already been moved. Many prominent names have been circulating in rumors (granted, though, they are just rumors): Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Rajon Rondo, Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner, Omer Asik, Spencer Hawes, Arron Afflalo, Paul Pierce, Ben Gordon, Michael Kidd-Gilcrest, Luol Deng, Kenneth Faried, Greg Monroe, Danny Granger, Jameer Nelson, Emeka Okafor, Jimmer Fredette, Demar Derozan, Kyle Lowry, Iman Shumpert, and so forth.
The Jazz will most likely have little representation during All-Star Weekend. Trey Burke will be a lock for the Rising Stars Challenge and while he’s there, could be asked to participate in the Skills Challenge. Jeremy Evans could be asked to compete once again in the Slam Dunk Contest. That might be it.
The big question will be Burke’s potential to come away with the Rookie of the Year award.
JAZZ’S RECORD AND THE NBA DRAFT
Much has been said about the conflicted emotions of Jazz fans, thanks to the desire to see the team win as well as the upcoming Draft. Currently Utah would be in line for picks #2 and #22 in the 2014 Draft, but a lot will shift between now and then. Fueled by Burke’s great play, the Jazz have been seeing lots of solid wins–much to the chagrin of fans riding the Andrew Wiggins/Jabari Parker/Joel Embiid train.This will perhaps be the biggest story of 2014. My advice: enjoy the season, root for our team and whatever happens will happen. Whatever the case may be, the Jazz will come away with two great players in the Draft and if there is a guy that Lindsey has his eyes on, the team has assets to maneuver as needed. The Jazz could very come away with a player who could help shape the future of the franchise and help swing things in a major upward direction.
The first item of business for the Jazz’s free agency efforts will center around Gordon Hayward. While Favors and the Jazz came to an extension. Hayward’s camp and Utah could not do so in October. Both have publicly stated their desires for an agreement come July and that will most likely happen– it’s the price tag that will need to be determined. Marvin Williams will be another to watch. If he does not get moved, which could very well be the case, Utah could look to keep him going forward. Next, there will be the potential for extensions for Burks and Kanter. The Jazz could lock them in, but there will not be pressure to do so with the extra year to watch and evaluate.
The Jazz will have ample cap space and could be players in free agency, but that will be tied to what happens between now and July 1st.
One other major free agent is head coach Tyrone Corbin. His contract expires at the end of the season, so all eyes will be focused on what happens on this front.
No need to explain. Every Jazz season is exciting. The team could be dramatically different between now and then, but the future is very bright.