Utah Jazz – lowpost.net

October 20, 2006

Last Season: 41-41
Preview prediction: 43-39
Oddsmakers: 40-42

Blog: lowpost.net/blog
Author: Gurd (special to lowpost.net)

Last Season: 41-41
Key Departures: none
Inconsequential Departures: Kris Humphries, Robert Whaley, Devin Brown, Keith McLeod, Andre Owens, Milt Palacio, Greg Ostertag
Key Additions: Ronnie Brewer, Paul Millsap, Derek Fisher, Dee Brown
Immaterial Additions: Rafael Araujo

1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?

Shortly after the season ended, Greg Ostertag officially announced his retirement. In the words of Fred Flintstone, whose image is tattooed on Greg’s leg, “Yaba-daba-doo!” Many fans believe Greg actually retired five years ago and forgot to tell anyone.

Next the Jazz proceeded to trade away Kris Humphries, the eighth 1st-round draft pick the Jazz have given up on since 1999 (see also Kirk Snyder, Curtis Borchardt, Raul Lopez, DeShawn Stevenson, Quincy Lewis, Scott Padgett, and Sasha Pavlovic). In a blockbuster move that sent shockwaves throughout the league, the Jazz packaged Humphries and Robert Whaley for … drumroll please … Rafael Araujo! The Jazz had originally planned to draft Araujo two years ago and were bummed at the time that Toronto had beaten them to the punch. Not content to watch Araujo’s less-than-stunning performance from afar (he’s averaged 2.9 points and 3.0 rebounds per game in his brief career), the Jazz have now traded for the big man to fill the void left by Ostertag: Token Big Stiff at the Jazz 5 Spot. After I saw the former juicer and Okur fighter play in the Rocky Mountain Revue, I bet my buddy a milkshake that Rafael would play fewer career games with the Jazz than John Amaechi (104). More than anything, it could be wishful thinking on my part (and I was actually a fan of Araujo when he played his college ball at nearby BYU).

Then Chris Mullin called up Jazz GM Kevin O’Connor and begged him to take one of the Warriors’ above-market contracts off their hands. Thankfully, O’Connor passed on Adonal Foyle [and Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy — ed.] and decided instead to take Derek Fisher. At least the Jazz didn’t give up anything of any real worth to get him: Just Devin Brown, Keith McLeod, Andre Owens, a Sloan-autographed John Deere hat, and Ostertag’s personal barber (Mullin was insistent on that final term). Hopefully Fish will add some much-needed leadership and three-point shooting, but he’ll be a defensive liability playing the 2 (which is where he’ll have to get most of his minutes).

In the draft, though, the Jazz finally got some difference makers. First, they landed high-flyer Ronnie Brewer. At first I thought Brewer was the reincarnation of Kirk Snyder, but after watching him in person he’s got a much better game and a much better work ethic. In the second round, they picked up Deron Williams’ buddy Dee Brown (a future back-up point guard), along with Paul Millsap. Millsap is a power forward from Louisiana Tech (sound familiar?), and he’s a monster on the glass, having led the NCAA in rebounding for the last three years. Millsap may not get too many minutes this season, but he’ll be a player in this league for years to come.

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?

The Jazz are unquestionably tops in the league in the following categories:

  • Rebounding: The Jazz had the highest rebound rate in the league last year.
  • Blocks: Led by Andrei Kirilenko, the Jazz had the highest rate of blocked shots in the league last year.
  • Loyalty to organization personnel: Jerry is the longest-tenured coach in professional sports, and the Jazz even brought back Scott Layden last year, a favorite of Knicks fans everywhere.
  • Hustle: See Matt Harpring, et al.
  • Percentage of players with their jerseys always tucked in (Sloan’s a stickler about that).
  • Tears shed publicly by the owner.

Deron Williams will be the best sophomore point guard in the league this year whose name doesn’t rhyme with “Swiss Doll.” He came to camp in great shape and can now almost fit into John Stockton’s old shorts. Kirilenko, the human pogo stick, is a core piece of the puzzle, but he’s not a go-to scorer. Offensively, Boozer can be a force on the block, but I think Steve Nash could be a better interior defender.

3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?

The Jazz are unquestionably worst in the league in the following categories:

  • Quickness: Utah is the anti-Phoenix. The Better Business Bureau is reportedly considering filing a truth-in-advertising lawsuit against the Jazz organization for its “Pure Adrenaline Rush” marketing slogan last season.
  • Lack of creativity: How many pick-and-rolls (or is it picks-and-roll?) can you run consecutively before the other team figures out how to shut them down in the fourth quarter?
  • Giving minutes to guys who would have no shot at minutes on any other team in the league. See the list of players we traded away this offseason, along with two guys we kept: Gordan Giricek and Jarron Collins. Each year, fringe professional hoopsters face the difficult decision of having to decide whether to sign on to play in Slovenia, Beirut, or Utah.
  • Three-point shooting. Utah has ranked among the NBA’s five worst three-point shooting teams in each of the past three seasons. Deron’s coming along as a perimeter shooter, and Fisher might be able to help a little bit. Mehmet Okur is actually the best three-point shooter on the team, but I don’t know many teams that like their center to hang out on the perimeter all night.
  • Distracting opposing teams with a wild city night life the evening before the game.

Young hopefuls CJ Miles and Ronnie Brewer may be able to help in several of the weak areas above, but they’ll undoubtedly have some growing pains. Sloan has always had a win-now mentality, so he often doesn’t have the patience to give young guys big minutes.

4. What is the outlook for the upcoming season?

This lowpost.net graph showing Jazz wins by season looks a lot like the mountain in the background of the Jazz logo:

The team has been mired in the lottery valley for the last three years, and Larry H. is becoming increasingly impatient with his “overpaid, pompous twinks.” And unlike Golden State fans and Andrei Kirilenko’s wife, the Jazz fans aren’t willing to dish out a free pass each year. This season nobody wants to hear about youthful inexperience or pulled hamstrings or more time needed to build chemistry. It’s the playoffs or bust, baby.

Part of me wants to believe that this team is capable of a 50-win season and the second round of the playoffs, and I think this could be accomplished if the Jazz could somehow convince the Bulls to switch conferences with them. But it’s tough to build a good record when you only get to play the Hawks twice a year. This Jazz team has 8th seed written all over them, but at least that’s a step in the right direction.

Projected record: 43-39

5. What are some completely unsubstantiated rumors regarding Jazz players?

  • Andrei Kirilenko is the illegitimate son of Ivan Drago.
  • Jarron Collins is a big Clay Aiken fan.
  • Gordan Giricek smokes as many packs per day as Vlade Divac.
  • Carlos Boozer sued Prince for painting his house purple. Oh, wait a minute, that one’s true.

6. Finally, how does this year’s Jazz cast of characters compare to the Animal Kingdom?

I’m glad you asked; there are some striking similarities as you’ll see below. I’ve included my take, as well as that of Jazz TV Commentator and noted homer Ron Boone (aka The Booner). You may remember that Chris Paul received 124 of the 125 first-place votes in last year’s Rookie of the Year balloting … Well, the Booner was the one who picked Deron Williams first.

Andrei Kirilenko: Tigger

Booner: The wonderful thing about Andrei is that he’s the only one! The Jazz are lost without him, and only Olajuwon has more career 5×5’s.

Gurd: He has never-ending energy and he bounces a lot, but sometimes has difficulty understanding how he fits in.

Carlos Boozer: Pig

Booner: This brawny power forward can really bring home the bacon!

Gurd: He’s not afraid to roll around in the mud a little down on the block, but when he gets hurt he really “ham”-strings our team.

Cavs fans: Don’t ask.

Deron Williams: Chameleon

Booner: He can play the 1 or the 2. How could he not beat out Chris Paul for Rookie of the Year?

Gurd: To Jazz scouts, he did a masterful job of disguising himself as a better prospect than CP3. Plus he easily morphs into alter-ego “Torrey Ellis” when questioned by the Park City police.

Rafael Araujo: Tyrannosaurus Rex

Booner: His brute force and physical play intimidate opponents.

Gurd: This 6’11” former Raptor must have T-Rex arms to average just 0.1 blocks per game last season.

Derek Fisher: Fish

Booner: Fish’s veteran leadership will guide us to the big waters of the playoffs!

Gurd: He might feel like a fish out of water getting most of his minutes at the 2.

Mehmet Okur: Turkey

Booner: This Turk is married to a former Miss Turkey. Gobble, gobble.

Gurd: He’s got a feathery touch to his jump shot, but he played like a turkey once Boozer came back from his injury last year.

Ronnie Brewer: Rooster

Booner: Cock-a-doodle-doo! He’s going to make some noise in this league.

Gurd: His ugly (but surprisingly effective) shot looks like a flapping chicken wing. But this bird can really fly.

CJ Miles: Simba

Booner: CJ is the Simba to hero Ray Allen’s Mufasa! Oh I just can’t wait until he’s king!

Gurd: He’s got plenty of upside, but he’s still very young and unproven.

Gordan Giricek: Weasel

Booner: He’s great at weaseling his way into the lane to get open shots.

Gurd: He weasels away quality minutes from our two promising youngsters: Ronnie Brewer and CJ Miles. Plus he weasels away shots from the entire rest of the team.

Jerry Sloan and Matt Harpring (mini-Jerry): Old Workhorses

Booner: They’re tireless in grinding it out the old-school way.

Gurd: They’re still beloved in Jazz-ville like trusty old steeds, but neither one has much kick left.