Friday, October 10th, 2008 at 8:00 am  |  44 responses

Utah Jazz Season Preview

Another era is winding down in Utah. Can this Jazz team go out with a bang?

The Utah Jazz conclude our Northwest Division previews. You can read past previews here.

by Ben Osborne

There’s definitely some irony in my being asked by Ryne to do the Utah Jazz preview, thanks to the acrimonious relationship I have with many Jazz fans who read SLAM. While I honestly can’t think of one regular commenter on this site who supports the Jazz (I’m sure you guys will correct me if there is one; and if not, I wonder where they go for their online hoops coverage), there is no team whose fans produce more angry letters to Trash Talk than Jazz fans. Their beef is simple, and to a degree, understandable: they want one of their guys on a cover! With the Stockton-Malone teams playing in era that SLAM came out less often, and definitely not seeming like a very SLAM duo, those guys never made it onto our esteemed front page (Mailman did as a Laker, once), and while you could make a case for Carlos Boozer and/or Deron Williams, those hardly sound like surefire big sellers. At this point it’s almost more fun not to cave in, continuing to produce letters that swear we are biased against the Jazz.

Here’s the thing, though: this era of the Jazz could force the cover issue if they’d just reach that next level. Lead the conference in wins, make it to the Finals, win a Finals. And yet, even coming off back-to-back 50+ wins, first-place-in-the-Northwest seasons, and returning 13 (thirteen!) players on the roster from last season, does anyone really feel that confident that the Jazz can pass the very-good-but-not-great threshold? Not that I’m aware of. The way I see it, there’s only one major variable with this team that could make such a thing happen, and it’s a tall order. In the interest of creating a little drama, I’ll get to it last. Here’s a little summary of the components of the Jazz, who went 54-28 last season and lost to the Lakers in the second round of the Playoffs as Kobe Bryant paraded to the free-throw line (John Hollinger reminds that KB took an average of 16 FTs/game in that series).

Coach: The amazing Jerry Sloan. During the 2007 Playoffs, I did a post on the site which was basically re-running an interview I’d done with Sloan in 1998. That sitdown was 10 years ago, and Sloan was the most old-school coach in the game then. Obviously, you—and the Jazz players—know what they’re going to get from him, and with this bunch that should work just fine, at least strategically. You might wonder how they can be motivated by Sloan through yet another season, but shoot, from ’88 (when Sloan took over during the season) to ’01, the Jazz won 50 games all but two years (one of which was the lockout year when they went 37-13). So I guess that’s not much of a worry at all.

Bench: The most minutes off the Utah pine should go to Kyle Korver (couldn’t have fit in better after he came over from the Sixers last season), Paul Millsap (solid as a rock), Ronnie Price (apparently the everyday back-up for Williams, though since Brevin Knight is on the scene as well that role might be in doubt), Matt Harpring (nice career that should be winding down soon) and CJ Miles, a pretty fresh wing man who is still getting better. The Jazz also drafted Kosta Koufos, who I saw a bunch in high school and loved, but who didn’t do as well as I thought at Ohio State. After just a year of college, he’s obviously young, but his offensive game is pretty mature, so he might be a factor for the Jazz right away. He’s got to be better than Jarron Collins, doesn’t he?

Starting frontcourt: Yet again, the Jazz will roll with Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur, a funky mix of three dudes who have been All-Stars in their career. It would be harsh to say any of these guys are on the downside of their careers, but they’re not getting better or younger, either. Boozer and Okur can opt out of their contracts after this season, and AK47 is getting more erratic by the year. Basically, before these guys’ truly see their skills atrophy, or get involved in contract disputes or even leave Utah, this is the year for these three to play as much—and as well—as possible. If they do that the 50-win mark will be a lock and at worst you’re looking at another second-round Playoff appearance. Which leads me to…

Starting backcourt: Ah, the one potential variable. Not necessarily at the off-guard spot, where Ronnie Brewer is a long, defensive-minded player who somehow shot 56 percent from the floor last year. He could get a little better, but I don’t think he has the offensive skills, nor will he get the green light or the minutes, to become a star. No, in my opinion Utah’s one shot to turn a 54-56 win, second-round season into 60 wins, a top seed in the West and a berth in the Finals would be if their best player, Deron Williams, entered that zone his man Chris Paul did at the end of last season. I know they are different players and they get somewhat sick of the constant comparisons, but I think it’s relevant. CP3 reached a level last year where he was basically unguardable, and the Hornets rode that to the brink of a WC Finals matchup despite a roster that, on the whole, was not as good as Utah’s. Williams averaged 21.6 ppg and 10 apg last season while becoming just the third player in NBA history (after Magic Johnson and Kevin Johnson) to have 1500+ points, 800+ assists and shoot better than 50 percent from the floor in a season. He’s a top-10 player in the League and is only entering his fourth season. If he can somehow up those numbers a bit while, even more importantly, completely taking on the role that this-is-my-team-and-at-the-end-of-big-games-I-am-not-going-to-let-us-lose, then the Jazz can reach the next level…

Projection: Will they? Meaning no disrespect to Deron, I don’t think so. But they’ll come close. Despite stiff comp from the Blazers, I see 55 wins and yet another NW Division title, but no Finals appearance. As for a cover? No guarantees there either.

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  • Michael

    so for a jazz player to make the cover they have to win a chip. or be more ‘slam’ like marbury and ai i guess

  • d-rob

    The only sure thing in which Utah will make it in the SLAM cover is when they win the ‘chip.

  • Benoit Benjamin

    Jeff horbacek was ‘slam’

  • http://www.hibachi20.blogspot.com Hursty

    *Hornacek Benoit.
    I hate Utah. Sorry Ben. I just hate them so much right now, although they will always have a special place in my heart for the hard times they’ve put me under.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    Things I like about Utah: Sloan and Deron.
    Things I hate: pretty much anything else.
    Go Jazz!

  • http://www.hibachi20.blogspot.com Hursty

    Everybody hates the Jazz Ben. Fact.

  • Staff

    Great write up, Jazz dont sell, its one of those facts of life…but the league will always need them and sloan, it would be so wierd without teams like them. They are like the Supporting cast of a movie. Always contribute to the excitment but never take the spotlight.

  • http://www.hibachi20.blogspot.com Hursty

    Go Rockets! Oh wait…. sh*t.

  • matt the jazz fan

    Um i don’t know what the criteria to qualify for “regular commentator” are, Ben, but I know I qualify as a Jazz fan.

    Hint: see my screen name.

    Now back to reading the preview.

  • Michael

    given what he has accomplished and the fact that cp3 has been on the cover, i would have thought deron was a lock to get one, maybe one of those nifty double covers that slam seemed to get fond of for a while..

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com DP

    They have to be beasting now that Ronnie has gained 25 pounds of meat to his bones.

  • neaorin

    I don’t know about that Jazz – Hornets roster comparison, Tyson Chandler was huge for them in the playoffs, David West was David West, and Peja shot like 55% from three. But you’re right, replace Deron with CP3 on the Jazz and I think they’re Finals-bound.

  • Froggiestyle

    Pretty fair assessment. They’ve got some decent players that are streaky. Top things not to like, ummmm mormons (an m away from morons), not having their own team name (Jazz is so unmormon its painful) and magic underwear – not to mention forced marriages, forced births, near-r*pes. But you know its all good ?!?

  • matt the jazz fan

    improvement from deron rather than the two-guard spot? are you kidding? let me repeat: ARE YOU KIDDING? deron took over tons of games. in the playoffs too. arguably some variable effectiveness from the front court. but it’s the starting two guard spot, and small forward, that are the problem. NOT PG.


  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    Matt: I’m quite sure Emry didn’t say Deron was a problem. He just thinks (and I happen to agree) that Deron still has a ton of growth left in his game and that he could end up being the unquestioned leader and THAT person to always take the last shot. Right now he isn’t there.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    But yes, your 2-guard spot could certainly use some improvement. No question.

  • Lz – Cphfinest3

    Jazzed or not Deron will claim a cover before too long. Ostertag… Ostertag… Ostertag.. Keefe… Keefe… Keefe… Jazz will always be hated. Sidenote, my pops who’s traveled most of the world, always tells me that Salt Lake City is the weirdest place he’s ever been.

  • http://hoops4life.com overtime

    hope they do something special while they still have this roster

  • Lz – Cphfinest3

    *weird in the spooky way that is.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    Mormons are spooky.

  • http://www.friendster.com/sesa Sesa

    Time for a new coach? anyone?

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Matt the Jazz Fan: I am a moron. Total space out on my part. Do you send me angry letters too or just comment on the site? Either way, thanks for reading and the correction.

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    It’s not that you don’t need improvement at the 2-guard, it’s that you’re not likely to get it. Ronnie Brewer is a nice player (I believe Hollinger called him the “most underrated player in the NBA” at one point) and I loved his steals on my fantasy team last year, but I don’t think his ceiling is much higher than we’ve seen. Obviously Deron is already amazing, but I think/feel that the Jazz best chance is that he and his teammates get the Jazz into some do-or-die games that he is able to take over a la Kobe/Bron/CP3. That’s just my opinion.

  • jdn41

    i bet if u guys came out with a jazz cover everyone would buy it

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    I almost thought Ben said he was a “morMon”. But hence he said “moron”. I think these almost similiar spellings spell out the writing on the wall.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    And just so i’m clear, i’m not calling Ben a moron.

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Thanks TAD. Though you did call me Emry.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    Oh sh*t. I did. I was going back and forth between Yao and this preview, my bad. I actually am a moron. Better than being a mormon though.

  • chronically_ill

    Hahaha why are all the Jazz players looking so grim in that picture? It’s like they’re all resigned to the fact that they’re stuck in Utah. Poor Ronnie looks like he’s stuck in detention or something!

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    That would explain the 25 pounds of muscle. Nothing to do in jail except eat and lift.

  • http://www.freewebs.com/betcats BETCATS

    a sob story a sob story

  • Donn

    Put Jerry Sloan on the cover!!!!!

  • nelson

    as a jazz fan who lives in salt lake city by way of NYC, i must say that there are many mroe jazz fans who come to site than you think. as for their season, i think its pretty accurate call. boozer is definitely on the decline and not the defensive presence they sorely need. if they start slowly, i can see management possibly exploring a trade with one of the opt out guys like booz to see if they can get something for him. he is already hurt and its the same hammy that kept him out 2 seasons ago. so…… first or second round for them is a good call.

  • Caleb

    The Jazz = my 2nd favorite francise behind the Hornets. Of course, if the Jazz and Hornets play… the Jazz become an enemy temporarily.

    I think the comments on Williams are spot-on. The guy is pretty amazing, but if he can just get himself into the “I am unstoppable” mode more often… it would help.

  • tealish

    They really need to give Sloan a lifetime achievement award for Coach of the Year. You know, similar to that MVP ish last season.

  • nelson

    someone needs to give asst coach ty corbin a chance. hopefully if sloan leaves soon, he can take over here but if not, someone somewhere should give this guy a chance instead of recycling the same old candidates for new head coaching spots.

  • http://chickadee14.blogspot.com Chickadee

    Is this where I get in line for feeling dissapointed by this team yet again?

    ‘Kay, cool. Just wake me up when this team decides to come up already. This team can definitely knock the Lakers off (yeah I said it) and contend in the Finals.

  • Funkdoc

    I don’t think Deron’s ceiling is that much higher either. He’ll have his superstar numbers, but I don’t think he’s the man that can lead the Jazz to the finals. Thankfully. Imagine a jazz-celtics finals. That we be more boring than the last album from Alanis Morissette.

  • Hurl

    You guys are right: Utah is a horrible place to live. You should NEVER come here!

  • Guaransheed

    They won’t make it past the second round andif they happen to, they are a big chance

  • Guaransheed

    They won’t make it past the second round and if they happen to, they are a big chance

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