Throughout September and October, we’ll be examining all 30 teams in the NBA and previewing the 2013-14 season through the lens of each particular organization. I’ll be going through each team’s roster and expected outcome for the upcoming campaign in reverse order of predicted finish, starting with the worst team in the NBA. At the bottom of each preview there will be a table with each division that will link to already-completed previews.
The Utah Jazz have finally decided to go for it. By “it”, I mean that they have identified that the current roster won’t get them anywhere in the loaded Western Conference, and have decided to spend the 2013-14 season in an all-out race to the bottom of the pile. Andrew Wiggins and the 2014 draft class await, and the Jazz will do their best to be their very worse.
After a promising 2011-12 season that saw the Jazz squeak into the playoffs as the eighth seed, the Jazz took a step back last year, missing out on the playoffs by a two game margin. They also neglected to make the most of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap’s pending free agency, and saw their two best players walk away in the off-season with zero compensation.
A serious miscalculation in assets has set the Jazz back significantly further than they needed to be at this point in the rebuilding process. This summer, the Jazz elected to help out in the Golden State Warriors’ quest to dump contracts, and accumulated some additional picks in the process. For their trouble (taking on the salaries of Andres Biedrins, Richard Jefferson, and Brandon Rush), the Jazz acquired a total of two first round picks and three second round selections.
As far as current, mostly NBA-ready talent on the roster, the Jazz are pretty much down to Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and Enes Kanter, along with rookie point guard Trey Burke. Interestingly, they also acquired yet another raw, young big man on draft night in Rudy Gobert.
We’ll see if coach Ty Corbin elects to give Jeremy Evans some more playing time, as he has absolutely earned it in limited minutes over his first three years in the league. Along with Hayward, Burke, and the host of young front court talent, the Jazz could be pretty fun to watch this year. The nucleus looks decent for the future, but they won’t be doing a whole lot of winning in 2013-14.
Best Case Scenario
The rookies jell and Favors and Kanter each take additional steps forward, and the Jazz win a fair amount of their games against the Eastern Conference while holding their own in the West. Of course, any scenario that the Jazz actually manage 24-27 wins could be seen as a bad thing, given their apparent (and correct) desire to tank the season.
Worst Case Scenario
Again, this could actually be the best thing for the Jazz, but if Burke struggles to run an NBA offense as rookie point guards often do, Utah only has the aging Jamaal Tinsley and John Lucas as other options. Alec Burks has shown very little in his young career, and the front court depth is mostly raw. This team has quite a range of possible outcomes, and the Jazz could legitimately only manage 15-18 wins.
Most Likely Outcome
The more I think about it, the more the Jazz intrigue me. I honestly think they could be the worst team in the West by a fair margin, or they could surprise some people and be somewhat respectable. Of course, a lot hinges on Burke, and when you rely on a rookie point guard to be the linchpin in your success, your asking for a lot. I think he’ll be good, and I still like Kanter and Favors a great deal.
But the Western Conference is no picnic, and roster imbalance combined with extreme youth is generally not a great combination. I’ll go with 20-23 wins. Even though I like some of Utah’s current young pieces, the rebuild still seems dubious to me. There aren’t a ton of assets on the roster to trade for additional picks or to balance the roster, unless they start moving some of their mostly promising young players.
Utah Jazz (29)