• Jazz Aren't Title Contenders...Yet

    Al JeffersonAugust 2, 2010 -
    I was just about ready to throw in the towel on the Jazz front office, declaring them content to mire in mediocrity and unwilling to take the risks necessary to build a true title contender. Supporting my case was a mound of evidence compiled over the past 18 months in the form of trades that never happened, deals that occurred simply for financial reasons, and free agents lost for seemingly nothing.

    The last month has changed things considerably and proven that Greg Miller is indeed committed to more than just frugality. He wants to win, and as a fan, that’s what I needed to know.

    Trading for “Big Al” Jefferson and signing Raja Bell was a huge step in the right direction, but I’m not yet ready to declare the Jazz title contenders. Here is my assessment on the current team needs:

    - Post defender / shot blocker (Can that be Fess?)
    - Backup PG (If only we still had Eric Maynor…)
    - Outside shooting (Can CJ step up? Is Hayward ready to replace Korver?)
    - Wing scoring (Still looking for Hornacek’s replacement after all these years)

    Here's how I see the minutes shaking out to start the season with the current roster (and assuming Memo is still injured):

    DWill (38), Price (10)
    Bell (32), CJ (16)
    AK (24), CJ (12), Hayward (12)
    Millsap (36), AK (12)
    Jefferson (36), Fess (12)

    That’s not a bad looking lineup. Depending on the team chemistry and whether or not individual guys play to their potential, they could be as good as most anyone in the West. Still, I think the Jazz could become the primary contender to the Lakers with one or two more moves. Let's breakdown the weaknesses:

    Defensive C
    While Jefferson should be an upgrade over Boozer, he’s definitely not known for his defense. The Jazz still lack an intimidating presence in the middle. The best solution would be for Fesenko to evolve into that player, but I don’t really expect that to happen.

    The wild card here is Ante Tomic. How good do the Jazz think he will be, and will he come over for the 2011-12 season? I can see Utah being hesitant to trade for immediate help if they believe their center of the future is already in the organization and ready to contribute next year.

    Backup PG
    Price is OK, but there is usually a noticeable drop off when he comes in for Deron. I’m still sick about the Maynor trade, as the Jazz would be rock solid at the point if he were still on the team. As it stands, any extended injury to Williams would kill this team. If Utah could figure out how to add a vet like Earl Watson, they would be well served to make it happen.

    Outside Shooting
    On the bright side, at least Ronnie Brewer and Andrei Kirilenko can’t start together on the wings. On the not-so-bright side, Utah lost the NBA’s best 3-point shooter in Korver. Fortunately, the additions of Bell and Hayward should help ease the blow. The key here, however, is CJ Miles. He has a sweet stroke but a surprisingly low shooting percentage from behind the arc (34%). If CJ and Bell can both shoot near 40% (Bell is a career 41% 3-pt shooter), and Deron and Memo maintain their previous levels, the Jazz should be fine from the outside. Unless an obvious deal presents itself, I wouldn’t prioritize bringing in another shooter right now.

    Wing Scoring
    Similar to outside shooting, CJ Miles may be the key here. If he can finally have that breakout year that we’ve all been waiting for, he might become the consistent 3rd-scoring option the Jazz have been lacking since Hornacek retired. The other possibility is Kirilenko. We know he has it in him, but can he stay healthy AND focused for an entire season? I don’t have faith that either of those will happen, let alone both. With that in mind (and assuming Hayward won’t be ready to make a meaningful contribution), if the Jazz have the opportunity to acquire a top-tier wing -- even at some sacrifice -- they should strongly consider it.

    The million dollar question is which of Utah’s weaknesses can be improved from within, and which will require a move or two to remedy?

    As much as Utah needs a defensive post presence, swapping Boozer for Jefferson and giving more minutes to Fesenko should yield an improvement. Couple that with the potential that Ante Tomic could join the team next year, and it might not make much sense to prioritize going after another center.

    I honestly think the team’s biggest need right now is a consistent scoring threat on the wing. If Andrei Kirilenko returns to his all-star form of 6 years ago, the Jazz are an immediate title contender. There are few players in the league I would rather have than AK at his best. This is the guy who averaged over 16 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists to go with nearly 3 blocks, and 2 steals per game. He was amazing to watch.

    Unfortunately I don’t believe we will ever see that Andrei again, at least for any extended period. He’s still a valuable player, but the Jazz need someone more consistent to anchor the wing and provide a third scoring option behind Deron and Al.

    I don’t expect the Jazz to make another move this offseason, other than to round out the roster with minimum-salary players. But I do hope they keep their eyes open for someone like an Andre Iguodala who could be available at a discount. An all-star-caliber wing like that would give the Jazz a triple threat as good as any in the league.


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