Utah Jazz Offseason Grade
September 24, 2010 -
At one point during the first part of July, the Jazz appeared headed for disaster. They had lost four key contributors from the team that began the 2009-10 season (Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, and Eric Maynor) and got no one back in return. Thanks to the Portland Trailblazers, who seem to have made it their mission to offer oversized, front-loaded contracts to all of Utah’s restricted free agents, the Jazz were on the verge of losing a fifth (Wesley Matthews). To make matters worse, Utah was still over the salary cap and therefore didn’t have the means to pursue any marquee free agents from other teams. The future looked bleak, raising fears that Deron Williams would soon want out. The logical next steps were for Sloan to announce his retirement, Nuskin to drop their sponsorship of the Jazz Dancers, and the ESA scoreboard to crash down on center court.
Just as the last glimmers of hope were flickering out, Kevin O’Connor ducked into a phone booth, exchanged his suit for some purple and green tights, and emerged as Super GM. (OK, that was lame, but KOC really did pull off a minor miracle when all seemed lost.) Over the remainder of the summer, the Jazz did more than just salvage their offseason—they somehow managed to actually improve their roster over last year.
It all started with a move that reminded me of the Lakers’ infamous “trade” with Memphis to acquire Pau Gasol for a ham sandwich and a bag of stale chips (about which I’ve always wondered who in the LA front office had incriminating photos of whom in the Memphis front office). The Jazz managed to steal Al Jefferson from Minnesota for Kosta Koufos, 2 protected 1st round draft picks, and a trade exception. Sucks to be a T-Wolves fan.
Jefferson is a beast. While it may take him a while to get comfortable with the new system, he should eventually have no trouble replacing Boozer’s scoring and rebounding. Plus he’s bigger and younger. This was a clear upgrade.
Next, the Jazz brought back Raja Bell on a free agent contract. Bell should be able to replace Matthews production for about a third of the price. He also brings leadership and toughness that the Jazz have been lacking in recent years.
After trading for Jefferson and signing Bell, I fully expected the Jazz to round out their roster with rookies and D-leaguers just to keep the tax bill to a minimum. But KOC wasn’t finished. First, he signed 7-footer Francisco Elson who will give the Jazz additional size and athleticism behind Jefferson at center. I don’t expect too much from Elson, but with Okur likely to miss the first part of the season, this was an important signing.
Finally, the Jazz shored up another weakness by signing Earl Watson to backup Williams at the point. I was actually thrilled with this move. Watson is a tough defender and can run an offense effectively. Though he won’t see much playing time behind Williams, he gives the Jazz exactly what they need—a savvy vet to prevent the game from slipping away while Deron gets a breather.
In my 20+ years as a Jazz fan, I don’t ever recall a roster makeover quite this drastic. I’ve been screaming for Utah to make some moves for a few years now, and they finally did it. I really like this team on paper. The Jazz definitely got bigger and tougher. The biggest question is how well will they jell together?
Training camp starts next week, so we'll find out soon enough. If this group can develop the right chemistry, they could really make some noise.
Additions: Al Jefferson (trade), Raja Bell (FA), Francisco Elson (FA), Earl Watson (FA), Gordon Hayward (draft), Jeremy Evans (draft)
Subtractions: Carlos Boozer (FA - Chicago), Wesley Matthews (FA - Portland), Kyle Korver (FA - Chicago), Ronnie Brewer (trade – Memphis), Eric Maynor (trade – OKC), Kosta Koufos (trade – Minny)
Offseason Grade: A-minus. They certainly exceeded my expectations and made the most of a potentially devastating situation. Had the Jazz managed to keep Wesley Matthews, they would have earned an A.