2013-14 outlook: Utah Jazz
What's in store for the Utah Jazz? Our panel of five looks back at the offseason moves (and nonmoves) and forward to what lies ahead in the 2013-14 NBA season.
1. What grade would you give the Utah Jazz's offseason?
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: C. The Jazz moved Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap to clear the way for Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, a difficult but forward-looking move. They acquired two first-round picks and three second-round picks, but swallowed $24 million in contractual flotsam to do it. Trey Burke brings strong floor-general instincts as a rookie (and a broken finger for the time being), but all signs point to a basement finish in the Northwest ... which might be the goal, anyhow.
Brett Koremenos, HoopSpeak: A-. By letting Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap walk in free agency, the Jazz left the comfort of veterans to move forward with the uncertainty of youth. But the hard choice is often the right one. The financial flexibility Utah gained by avoiding long-term deals for two productive, yet flawed, big men has already netted the Jazz two first-round picks from Golden State and the ability to sign the promising Derrick Favors to a contract extension while maintaining a clean cap sheet as they move forward with their youth movement.
Andy Larsen, Salt City Hoops: B+. The franchise that's seemingly been confused about its direction since the Deron Williams trade finally chose a clear path. The moves they made reflect that, but sometimes value was sacrificed. Getting just two late first-round picks from Golden State in exchange for taking on $24 million of salary or letting Millsap go for less than $10 million per year are examples.
Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider: B. The most important outcome was finally choosing a direction after a couple of years stuck in between rebuilding with youth and relying on a core of veterans. Over time, I've grown fonder of the upside of getting two unprotected first-round picks from Golden State -- though I'll always suspect Utah could have held out for a third first-rounder.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, ESPN.com: A. Well, they traded fewer immediate wins for a long-term plan. Much as I believe Paul Millsap to be an underrated talent, letting him leave was in concert with Utah's current strategy of building through youth. The Jazz know they can't woo major free agents, so they're stockpiling draft picks and growing from within. I respect their realism and their vision.
2. What's the biggest question facing the Jazz in 2013-14?
Arnovitz: Whether Favors and Gordon Hayward (if he scores the extension being reported) can emerge as a big-wing combo that can usher in a new era in Salt Lake. Game-changing free agents are a tough fetch for the Jazz, which means the homegrown products have to blossom. Favors has defensive chops and Hayward is a multi-purpose wing. They probably can't deliver a playoff berth this season, but will we begin to see a sketch of what can become a winning unit?
Koremenos: Who is Gordon Hayward? I'm not talking about him in an existential sense, more what he represents in terms of basketball value. As of now, the 23-year-old wing has flashed the ability to do a little bit of everything well (at times) but hasn't really put it all together in a standout season. This year, without the presence of Jefferson, Hayward will shoulder a lot of responsibility so it will be interesting to see how he fares.
Larsen: What does this team have beyond Hayward, Favors and Kanter? Those three all put up above-average PERs last season, but the rest of the roster is somewhere between mostly and completely unknown. Is Jeremy Evans a rotation player? What about Alec Burks? Can Brandon Rush and Marvin Williams get healthy? How good is Trey Burke?
Pelton: Who takes on the extra offensive load? Utah lost three of last season's four leaders in usage rate and will have to fill those lost touches from within. Gordon Hayward is the obvious candidate to take over as go-to scorer, but the more help he gets from Trey Burke, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, the better.
Strauss: Is Utah the new, less high-powered version of Thunder University (a.k.a. Thunder Tech)? As in, are the Jazz comprised of budding young stars, or are Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks all mere role players?
3. Who's the Jazz's most intriguing player?
Arnovitz: Enes Kanter. What's more tantalizing than a big man with strength, skills and silkiness? Kanter quietly upped his PER from below league average in 2011-12 to a very-nice-thank-you 17.65 last season. The guy has some touch from midrange, was sixth in the NBA in offensive rebounding rate and while he's not the headiest system defender, he knows how to use his body in close quarters. A Favors-Kanter frontcourt could be formidable if things pop.
Koremenos: Hayward, obviously. At this point, he's probably their best offensive (and all-around) player and it will be interesting to see just how well an NBA offense functions with Hayward as a primary wing creator. If the baby-faced forward excels this season, the Jazz could already have a contending core on their hands. If he doesn't, they'll need to rely on some lottery luck to take the next step.
Larsen: Enes Kanter. The No. 3 pick in the 2011 NBA draft has averaged just 13 and 15 minutes per game in his first two NBA seasons, but has impressed while doing so, displaying a bullying post-up game and a surprisingly smooth midrange jumper. Kanter's just 21 years old. Can he sustain or even continue his development against NBA starters? We'll find out.
Pelton: Favors. It's hard to think of a recent example of a player whose pedigree and per-minute performance contrasted so sharply with his playing time early in his career. Lottery picks who don't go bust usually have started by their fourth season -- even the busts usually have -- yet it's taken this long for Favors' opportunity to arrive.
Strauss: Favors, who's undefeated at making me go, "Wow, he's that young?" every time I look at his stats page. The 22-year-old could have a breakout defensive season not unlike the one Larry Sanders just unleashed. Favors also dunks hard enough to generate hurricane-force winds.
4. What's one bold prediction about the Jazz?
Arnovitz: Tyrone Corbin won't last the season. Scanning the list of head coaches on the Seat of Heat his season and Corbin's name jumps out as a potential casualty. Folks around the league feel that Alex Jensen will be manning the sidelines within a couple of seasons. Jerry Sloan is oft-mentioned to return for a last hurrah and Corbin, while solid in the player development department, has endured a rocky ride during his tenure.
Koremenos: They'll make the playoffs. It may seem crazy to think, but the Kanter-Favors frontcourt pairing may end up being a massive upgrade over the Millsap-Jefferson duo just because they can actually defend. If Trey Burke puts together a solid rookie campaign, a run for the eighth seed isn't out of the question.
Larsen: Many are predicting Ty Corbin to be the first NBA coach to be fired, but I think he stays the whole season. Utah hasn't fired a coach in more than 30 years, and GM Dennis Lindsey asserts that the team isn't going to be judged on its win-loss total. There could be much losing, but it won't mean Corbin's cut.
Pelton: Given the near certainty several young players improve their per-game production with increased minutes, the NBA's Most Improved Player will come from Utah. I just don't know whether it will be Favors, Kanter or even Hayward.
Strauss: Gordon Hayward will play starter minutes. After Utah negotiates his contract, it'll finally play its best player minutes befitting that status. Ty Corbin's use of Hayward (and other young Jazz players) has been baffling at times. And by "at times," I mean "all the time."
5. Prediction time: How far will the Jazz go this season?
Arnovitz: Delta Air Lines services a daily nonstop from Salt Lake City to Newark's Liberty Airport. Tickets tend to be cheaper the earlier out you book. The Jazz brass can save a few shekels now by making those reservations. In other words, get ready for the lottery, Jazz fans.
Koremenos: No. 12 in the West. More than likely, this season will be a step back for a Utah team that's been hanging around the edges of the playoff race in recent years. Given the direction of the franchise, however, that's more than fine. The goal for the Jazz this season should be just to sit back and let their young core develop.
Larsen: To the depths of the lottery! While Hayward, Favors and Kanter may surprise with their performances in starter minutes, this team isn't set up to deal effectively with any kind of injury chaos; the roster is extremely shallow. Nothing brings chaos like an 82-game NBA season.
Pelton: To the lottery -- but as an also-ran rather than one of the favorites to land the No. 1 pick. Utah will be too competitive, especially late in the season, for that.
Strauss: My crystal ball says "12th seed." That is, unless I predicted a 12th seed already for some other Western Conference team. If so, bump the Jazz up to 11th purely because I believe Andris Biedrins will have a decent season now that he's finally away from Golden State.