Fix-A-Team: The Utah Jazz
It’s time to get some real players in Salt Lake City.
As squads bow out of the Playoffs, “Fix-a-Team” will identify team’s key strengths and weaknesses, opportunities to get to the next level, and key threats to ascension. You will recognize this as a SWOT analysis. Today, we review the Utah Jazz.
by Eddie Maisonet, III / @edthesportsfan
It’s a shame the Utah Jazz caught the same injury bug Portland had earlier this season. The way they played inspired in the second half of this NBA season was truly a sight to behold. And their First Round dominance over a more talented (not in the coaching department) Denver Nuggets team made us realize that Deron Williams is quite possibly the best point guard in the land (I won’t crown him yet, the throne still belongs to CP3) and coach Jerry Sloan is without a doubt one of the three best coaches (Phil, Pop, Sloan) in basketball today.
But, with all of the things I just highlighted, even if they were 100 percent healthy, even if the Jazz two Deron Williams’ on the court, even if vintage Karl Malone and John Stockton were back on the squad, you can even throw Jeff Hornacek on the team…they still would’ve got mollywhopped by the Lakers. They were out-sized and simply don’t have enough talent to contend. The Jazz must upgrade their personnel, and I have a couple of ideas.
As stated previously, in Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan they have two individuals who rank in the top three easily in their respective positions in the NBA (point guard, coach), plus they have a great assortment of role players in Andrei Kirilenko, Paul Millsap, Ronnie Price, CJ Miles and Wesley Matthews. They are all great players to have on your bench who do a couple of things very well.
A consistent theme of the fix-a-team series is that a lot of these Playoff contenders are severely lacking in one thing, open payroll. We all witnessed the absurd trades Utah pulled off this year (sending Ronnie Brewer to Memphis for a First Round pick, and trading Eric Maynor to OKC for a Double Down sandwich from KFC) just so they could get under the luxury tax. They are projected to be at $55 million in payroll for ‘10-11 with the expected cap to be at $56 million. They’re paying AK-47 an insane $17.8 million in ‘10-11 as he’s in his final year of his contract, plus are on the hook with Mehmet Okur for $20 million over the next two years. Oh yeah, Carlos Boozer is an unrestricted free agent as of midnight last night.
The biggest problem for the Jazz is they have no height and no one to protect the rim. AK-47 was the only one who could do that in the past, but he’s still a person who primarily guards swingmen thus he can’t always provide weak side help on the rim. The Lakers simply bullied Utah in their sweep as Gasol/Bynum/Odom averaged over 33 rebounds per game in the series. Hey Utah, go get someone taller than 6-7 (Boozer and Millsap might be 6-7) than can go up and get a rebound!
Jazz general manager Kevin O’Connor has done a tremendous job of finding talent in the Second Round of the Draft (Millsap, CJ Miles) yet the franchise has airballed on first round picks (outside of Deron Williams) for the last 10 years. The team has been built by making shrewd deals and lucking up on unrecognized talent. Here are a couple of moves they could consider for long-term growth of the franchise.
1. Do anything you can to unload Andrei Kirilenko for a big man – The fact that AK-47 has a hot wife who allows him to cheat once a year AND makes $17.8 million next year is basically hitting the Lottery. So Utah don’t feel bad for trying to move the man, make a deal! A couple of names come to mind.
• Trade for Emeka Okafor – Yes, I know he’s got $50 million remaining on his four-year deal and yes I know New Orleans would love to deal him. (First off, stupid signing by the Hornets, especially with Chandler being free after 2011) So my thought is this, why not replace Boozer with someone you have in Mehmet Okur and let Okafor play center. Okur at the very least can still do what Channing Frye did in Phoenix and Emeka can still get you a double-double and two blocks. He’ll save you $6 million in ‘10-11 and could free up some cash to sign another player or two for next season.
• Sign Jermaine O’Neal – Give J.O. some credit, the man played 70 games and put up a respectable 14/7/1.4 line for Miami this season and now is a free agent. He’s still very capable of protecting the rim and could be had for the cheap.
• Sign Brendan Haywood – The 7-footer from UNC showed he’s capable of being tall in the lane and getting you some rebounds. I think Dallas realized that after some of his luster wore off his arrival that yes, he was an upgrade over Erick(a) Dampier but no, he’s still not slowing down elite big men. Granted Dallas doesn’t give him any defensive help, but Utah could. Interesting to see where Haywood’s value lands in the “Summer of ’10.”
2. Draft the right big man. This is going to be vital for Utah, as they own New York’s First Round pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. Unless they get lucky and get in the top three (Which by the way, I think they have to consider Evan Turner if they land No. 1 or No. 2 overall. But, if they get the No. 1 pick go ahead and draft Wall and see if you can trade him? More teams should do this.) If they get No. 3 then Derrick Favors or DeMarcus Cousins lands in their lap, however, they’re projected to have the No. 9 pick. ESPN’s Chad Ford has them selecting Greg Monroe, but I’m not sure that’s the best fit. If I’m Utah, I feel better about Baylor’s Ekpe Udoh and Marshall’s Hassan Whiteside. Both are more athletic than Monroe, and both are extremely gifted shot blockers. I believe Monroe is the safe pick, yet Udoh and Whiteside could be all-stars. Make the right choice Utah!
Utah is in the unfortunate circumstance to be in probably the toughest division in basketball (Northwest) as four of the five teams finished with a .600+ winning percentage. Plus, Minnesota should be improved with their three picks in the First Round and the return of Al Jefferson (and maybe Rubio?) as well. The Western Conference within itself is stocking up as Houston (Yao Ming) and New Orleans (Chris Paul) both return healthy all-stars to their squad as well. Carlos Boozer’s days in Utah are over and Wesley Matthews is a free agent after signing a one-year deal out of Marquette. He’s proven he can be a quality player in this league and folks are going to try and snatch him.
Tip of the cap to Jerry Sloan and what he’s done with this team, he’s consistently taken a team with mid-level talent to the Playoffs time and time again. How many years does Jerry Sloan still have in him? It’s already a travesty that he’s never won Coach of the Year and he deserves better. Get the man some help and empower Deron Williams to lead this team to the promised land.
Or at the very least move the team to Las Vegas so players would be a bit more attracted to play for you. Jokes Utah, jokes. (Kinda…)
Eddie Maisonet is a freelance sports writer, blogger and big time hoops fan from Oklahoma who currently resides in Cincinnati. Keep up with Eddie at SLAMonline as well as his blog Ed The Sports Fan and on Twitter.