There Better Be A Second Act
December 28, 2009 -
When I learned the Jazz had just traded away Eric Maynor (along with Matt Harpring’s contract) to the Oklahoma City Thunder for nothing more than cap relief and the rights to some former 2nd-round pick who will never play in the NBA, my first thought was, “This had better only be the first move.”
The Jazz wouldn’t really trade away their promising rookie 1st-round draft pick (who also happened to be the best backup point guard they’ve had in nearly a decade) just to save a few bucks… Would they? Teams committed to winning don’t just give away young talent without getting a quality asset in return. No, the Jazz must be clearing that cap space in preparation for a bigger deal that will bring in a true impact player...
In fairness to the Jazz front office, the “few bucks” they save is actually around $12 million when you combine the salary and luxury-tax impact from dumping Harpring’s contract. That’s a lot of dough, especially for a small-market team. Still, it doesn’t exactly send the message to your season ticket holders that you are committed to winning.
Back in June, I wrote an article entitled Five Mistakes the Jazz Could Make This Summer. With this trade, Utah has now made three of those five mistakes (although they waited until winter for this one). Fortunately it’s not too late for them to repent. With one aggressive deal, the Jazz could fix all three transgressions and land back on the path to salvation. The mulit-million-dollar question (literally) is will they have the stones to make it happen? I'm skeptical.
Farewell Eric, we barely knew thee. I was disappointed when the Jazz drafted you, but you managed to change my mind in only a few short months. Best of luck in OKC, and try not to make the Jazz look too foolish for giving you away.
In the meantime, I’ll sit here waiting and hoping for Act II.
First Quarter Season Update
December 20, 2009 –
The 2009-10 NBA season is now more than one quarter of the way complete. I give the Jazz a B-minus for their performance thus far. Utah is 16-11, good for 2nd in the Midwest division and tied with Houston for 5th in the Western Conference. If you take the glass-is-half-full perspective, you can point to the rash of injuries the team faced as a legitimate reason they don’t have a better record. You can also bring up their 3-0 record against the Spurs, and other marquee wins against the Blazers, Lakers, and Magic as cause for optimism, proving the Jazz can beat the NBA’s elite (at least at home).
On the other side of the coin, you can point to complete meltdowns in the 4th quarter of close games against good teams (Lakers, Rockets, Nuggets, Mavs). Then there are the two inexplicable losses to the inept Minnesota Timeberwolves.
Speaking of, how in the world do the Jazz beat the Lakers and the Magic (2 of the 3 best teams in the league) in consecutive outings and then turn around and lose at home to the T-Wolves (the 2nd-worst team in the league) the very next game? As of that December 14th loss to Minnesota in Utah, half of the T-Wolves 4 victories had come against the Jazz. The silver lining here is that the Jazz only have one additional loss to a sub-500 team (Sacramento), and the Kings are actually surprisingly respectable with a 12-14 record.
One word basically sums up Utah's theme thus far – inconsistency. The Jazz have been pulling a Jekyll-and-Hyde act all season. You just never know which team is going to show up on a given night. In my 2009-10 Season Preview article, I noted a high level of uncertainty about how the Jazz would perform this year. The first quarter of the season has done nothing to change that opinion. Below are a few of my random observations:
- Deron Williams - DWill is playing great and has looked like a true superstar at times. It will be a true crime if he doesn't get his first all-star bid this season.
- Carlos Boozer – Booz has returned to his all-star form, has remained healthy, and is playing better defense than in previous seasons.
- Kosta Koufos – I really expected him to have a breakout year, and he hasn’t even been able to get off the bench.
- Ronnie Brewer – He hasn’t played poorly, but his production is down over last season despite playing more minutes. I was hoping for further improvement, but he may have already peaked.
- Wesley Matthews – He may not have even made the roster had Korver and Miles not gotten injured in the preseason, yet he managed to win the starting SG position and has been hailed as the best defender on the team.
- Eric Maynor – I made no bones about my disappointment with Utah’s draft selection, but Maynor has shown solid potential and plays with poise beyond his years.
Things to watch:
- Minutes - How will Sloan integrate CJ Miles and Kyle Korver back into the lineup now that they are healthy? Will a full roster actually hurt the team since there will be fewer minutes to go around?
- Trades – Will the Jazz make a move before the February trade deadline? Should they? I’ll speculate/opine on that in my next update.
December 8, 2009 -
The Utah Jazz didn’t exactly explode out of the blocks to start the 2009-10 season. While they are playing better now, it took them 13 games to get above .500 for the first time. Much of the slow start could be attributed (once again) to injuries. The absence of their two best shooters (Korver and Miles) really hurt them, as evidenced by the steady dose of zone defense they saw from opponents.
But the problems run deeper than that. Plain and simple, the Jazz have a flawed roster. The team has plenty of talent, but the players don’t complement each other particularly well. While the best long-term solution would be to make a trade or two (something I hope to see happen prior to the February deadline, but I’ll save those thoughts for another post), let’s assume for now that the roster remains the same. Sloan can still mitigate some of the problems by using the right mix of players together and avoiding certain problem combinations:
Problem Combo #1 – Boozer and Okur make possibly the weakest defensive frontcourt tandem in the entire league. While both are talented offensive players, neither is a shot blocker, neither is a strong individual defender, and both are horrible at help defense.
Problem Combo #2 – Brewer and Kirilenko make one of the worst-shooting wing tandems in the league. While both are athletic, exciting players, neither can stretch a defense nor be counted on as a consistent scoring threat.
Unfortunately, Jerry Sloan was playing both of these combinations together in the starting lineup of Williams, Brewer, Kirilenko, Boozer, and Okur at the beginning of the year. In fairness to Sloan, he has been somewhat limited by the numerous injuries and illnesses that have left the roster depleted all season. Ironically, it was injury and illness that basically forced Sloan into what I believe is the most effective starting lineup for the Jazz, which I’ll outline in a minute.
Since I know Sloan values my opinion, I’ve created a set of basic rules for him to use when determining his lineup combinations. They are as follows:
Rule #1 – Always have at least one shot blocker and one 3-point shooter on the floor at all times
Rule #2 – Avoid playing Boozer and Okur at the same time whenever possible
Rule #2A – When Booz and Memo do play together, Kirilenko should also be on the floor to ensure at least one shot blocker in the frontcourt
Rule #3 – Avoid playing Kirilenko and Brewer at the same time
Rule #3A – If AK and Brew must play together, Memo should also be on the court to ensure at least one 3-point shooter.
In my humble opinion, the best starting lineup for the Jazz right now is Williams (PG), Matthews (SG), Brewer (SF), Boozer (PF), and Fesenko (C), leaving Maynor (PG), Miles (SG), Kirilenko (SF), Millsap (PF) and Okur (C) coming off the bench. Minutes would be distributed as follows:
PG – Williams (38), Maynor (10)
SG – Matthews (24), Miles (24)
SF – Brewer (24), Kirilenko (24)
PF – Boozer (24), Millsap (24)
C – Fesenko (12), Okur (26), Boozer (10)
This distribution would severely limit the amount of time either of the aforementioned problem combos would need to be on the floor together. Minutes at the wing positions would essentially be up for grabs depending on matchups and who was playing better on a given night.
Sloan will have some tough choices to make when Korver and Price get healthy again, leaving a huge logjam in the backcourt. This is one reason why exploring a trade is still the best option. I’ll share my thoughts on that soon.
Blog Format Change
December 2, 2009 -
With apologies to my loyal readers (I really appreciate both of you), I'm going to make a format change to my blog. While I had intended to provide a breif recap after each Jazz game, I just haven't been able to keep up. With my work and family schedule, I rarely get to watch the games live. Although my DVR (unquestionably one of the greatest inventions in the history of mankind) still makes it possible for me catch nearly every game, sometimes I don't watch them until a day or two after the fact. At that point, a game recap feels pretty dated.
With family in town for Thanksgiving, I've gotten way behind. Rather than trying to play catch up, I'm going to discontinue the regular game recaps. That will give me more time and flexibility to share my brilliant insight on topics and trends not specific to individual games. I may still do an occasional recap when I get the chance to watch a live game, but they will be the exception rather than the rule.
Thanks for understanding, and please keep the comments coming (or start them, as the case may be...)