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Saturday, October 25, 2014

SDH's 2014/2015 NBA Worst to First Previews and Predictions: 27. Utah Jazz

Overall Win/Loss Record :  25-57,  fifth place Northwest Division

2014/2015 Projection: 25-57, fourth place Northwest Division, fourteenth place Western Conference

Projected 2014/2015 Finish

Last season’s Team Statistics and League Rank

  • Points Scored: 95.0 (29th)
  • Points Allowed: 102.2 (18th)
  • Team FG%: .444 (24th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .473 (30th)
  • Team FT%: .747 (22nd)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .344 (25th)
  • Rebounds per game: 41.2 (23rd)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 42.5 (14th)
  • Turnovers per game: 14.0 (13th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 12.2 (29th)

Returning Individual Statistical Leaders

  • Scoring (ppg): Gordon Hayward (16.7)
  • Rebounds per game:  Derrick Favors (8.7)
  • Minutes per game: Gordon Hayward (36.4)
  • Assists per game:  Trey Burke (5.7)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Jeremy Evans (.527)
  • Free Throw Percentage: Trey Burke (.900)
  • Three Point FG Percentage: Ian Clark (.355)
  • Steals per game: Gordon Hayward (1.4)
  • Blocked Shots per game:  Derrick Favors (1.5)

Projected Opening Day Starters Based on Past Performance and Potential Impact:

  • Trey Burke (PG)
  • Alec Burks (SG)
  • Gordon Hayward (SF)
  • Derrick Favors (PF)
  • Enes Kanter (C)

Key Reserves Rank Based on Past Performance and Potential Impact:

  1. Jeremy Evans (F)
  2. Dante Exum (G)
  3. Trevor Booker (F)
  4. Rudy Gobert (C)
  5. Steve Novak (F)

This is not so much of a preview than more of a eulogy as it literally marks an era for not only the Utah Jazz and its fans, but the +NBA and literally the sports world in general.  From 1984 to now, Utah could be considered as one of the most winning-est teams in NBA history to have never won a Championship as the team reached the almost playoffs almost every season for the past 30 years. Always being able to reach so close yet so far away, the Jazz had two chances to claim that elusive NBA Title in 1997 and 1998, but were thwarted both times by a four man band otherwise known as "Jackson, Jordan, Pippen and Rodman."   Nonetheless, save for a few aberrations three year hiatus from the post season from 2004 to 2006, and three misses in  2011, 2013 and this past season, Utah has been an almost clockwork like consistency of not only being one of the top teams in the regular season, but also remained as a regular tenant among the NBA's elite.

This is a team who all but never found itself in the lottery, nor had the luxury of being able to attract and acquire big name free agents, yet still managed to maintain a strong winning tradition for the past three decades.  All of its all time greatest players, save for the lone exception of +Deron Williams, who was picked third overall in the 2005 NBA Draft, were not even in the top in their respective draft classes.  John Stockton (1984), who finished his career as the league's all time leader in both assists and steals, was selected rather low at 16, while his Hall of fame partner Karl Malone, who finished second all time in points scored and sixth in rebounds, was selected 13th overall the following year.  Most recently, the two most recent Jazz members other than Williams to earn All Star selections--+Andrei Kirilenko (2004), was selected 24th overall in 1999 NBA Draft while +Carlos Boozer (twice in 2007 and 2008) was not even picked in the first round of his draft class.

Such an accomplishment is almost unheard of in today's NBA where teams purposely lose in order to attain high draft picks and pay off huge buyouts in order to get enough cap space to attract a marquee name free agent.  In fact, the Jazz through the last thirty years have been at a major disadvantage when it came to attracting free agents period and were never bad enough, until very recently, to qualify for the NBA Draft Lottery.  In terms of location, Utah is as isolated as a state can get in the Continental United States--literally in the middle of "Middle America," virtually cut off from mainstream America as one can get; nonetheless, the Jazz were not only able to build a consistently winning team while fostering a strong winning culture, but also able to garner not only national, but worldwide attention.  During most of the 1990s going into the 21st century, the Utah Jazz probably got as much attention and exposure from national networks such as +NBC, and +TNT, as major market teams such as the +Los Angeles Lakers+Chicago Bulls, and +New York Knicks.  For the past thirty years, the Utah Jazz were not just an exception to the rule when it came to building a winning and prosperous franchise without top five picks or strong media exposure, but it virtually took the rule book, tore out the pages, and wiped its proverbial backside with it.

Now all of that one time proud legacy has now been reduced to ash as both the Jazz and its loyal fans find themselves on the outside looking in and at the bottom of the NBA food chain.  All of the remnants of past glory are now gone and have been replaced by an organization with no real identity and no sense of direction.  Sure, the team is stacked with so much bright young talent loaded with the size and athleticism that would be  considered as the envy of the league; however, with little or no capability fully utilize their strengths, Utah finds itself not deaf, but dumb and blind as well.  The Jazz spent much of the season fumbling around deciding whether to commit to signing team leader Gordon Hayward to a max contract extension, but had their hands forced by the +Charlotte Hornets to an offer sheet, and had to either match the offer or lose him for nothing.  Now Utah has Hayward at very huge price tag of about 16$ million per year, but has little or no idea what to do or where to go with him as he returns to a talented roster of young guns who are looking to be the alpha male of the organization.

With the one time strong and proud foundation this team once had lost in the annals of history, what once looked like a promising young team that was charged with carrying the torch now looks like a recipe for disaster.  Everything that the Jazz once stood for has been swept away and flushed down the toilet as it went about a rebuilding strategy that goes against everything it once stood for.  This one time organization that prided itself with its commitment to excellence has had to resort to playing the "tanking game,"--purposely throwing seasons in order to qualify to attain a top three or five draft pick. A short time ago, this practice would have been considered not only shameful, but blasphemous as well; however, this is the direction that the front office of this "new Utah Jazz" has chosen and thus has resulted in not only its own demise, but the loss of its own soul. So, its is with heavy heart that I say a sincere and heartfelt goodbye to the team once known as the Utah Jazz--a franchise that thumbed its nose to the rules only to fall prey and victim to them.