Jazz Left Singing The Blues

Posted by By at 4 April, at 01 : 29 AM Print

On Friday the Jazz lost to the Lakers 96-85, which eliminated them from playoff contention. With the loss, the Jazz are now the answer to a trivia question: Who is the only team in NBA history to start 15-5 and 27-13 and not make the playoffs. What went wrong after the great start? Let’s take a look at few things and see if we can figure it out.

The Jazz started out the season so hot that conventional wisdom had to tell you it wasn’t going to last. Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson were looking like the best front-court tandem in the league. Andrei Kirilenko was playing (that in itself it worth noting) at an all-star level and looked to be back to his old AK-47 self. And in the first 20 games Deron Williams had 11 double-digit assist games. Jefferson & Williams are probably the only ones out of those four that you could realistically expect to keep up the pace they started out with.

From a team statistical view, the Jazz are just too middle of the pack in most categories. The ones they aren’t middle of the pack in, they’re bad in. With Jefferson and Millsap, and even Williams who is a good rebounder for a guard, you would think the Jazz would be a good rebounding team. That wasn’t enough as they’re 27th in the league with a little over 39 boards per night. On the other side, they give up about 41  a game. Getting out rebounded on a nightly basis generally won’t add up to a winning formula. They’re the second worst team in the league in terms of opponents 3-pt percentage allowed, allowing teams to shoot 38% against them. They give up the most free-throw attempts in the league at 28 per game. Along with that stat would be that they foul the most with 23 a night.

Next, you’ve got the Deron Williams situation. Whether or not he believes he did anything wrong or not, the impact of a supposed “feud” with head coach Jerry Sloan can’t have a positive effect in the locker room. Jerry Sloan had been in Utah alot longer than Williams and had built up the credibility and respect of the fans, media, and players on the team that Williams hadn’t been there long enough to establish yet. The case of any player thinking he’s “bigger than the team” is never a good thing, even more so when it’s the guy running the offense and the coach on the floor.

On February 10th Jerry Sloan announced that, effective immediately, he would be resigning from his position as head coach. He’s the only coach the Jazz have known since 1988. An era was coming to an end and that was sure to bring an adjustment period. Assistant coach Tyrone Corbin was named as interim. Utah clearly hasn’t been the same team since, going 1-6 the remainder of February, 4-10 in March, and 0-2 so far in April.

On February 23rd the Jazz traded Deron Williams to the Nets for Devin Harris and Derrick Favors. The combination of a new head coach, with a new system, and a new point guard who plays a different style than the team’s previous one leads to more adjustments. The relationship between head coach and point guard is one of, if not the most, important on a basketball team. Watching Doc Rivers and Rajon Rondo’s seemingly telepathic relationship is evidence of that. Corbin had to learn a new point guard. Harris had to learn a new coach, teammates, and system.

It’s been pretty well documented that Tyrone Corbin and Al Jefferson have not seen eye-to-eye since he’s taken over as head coach. Corbin benched Jefferson for the entire fourth quarter and overtime of a game against the Wizards a few weeks ago. That led to him leaving the arena without speaking with the media, something he had already done in games prior to this one. I’m sure Jefferson had to feel like this was his big chance at being on a winner. After being traded from Boston to the Timberwolves as part of the Kevin Garnett trade he had to endure three losing seasons in Minnesota. Signing with a Jazz team that’s a perennial playoff contender had to feel like a step up for him. It is a step up record-wise, but unfortunately like his seasons in Minnesota ended, this one will too with no playoff appearance.

The names on the Jazz roster suggest that they should be better than their 36-40 record, both before and after the trade of Williams. They have had their share of injuries this year as they were without Mehmet Okur essentially all season after off-season surgery. Kirilenko missed 12 games, although that’s pretty good for him. Devin Harris has missed the last 6 games with a hamstring injury. Those aside there’s still enough talent there to keep their heads above water, which after the hot start they haven’t been able to do.

A starting lineup of Devin Harris, Raja Bell, Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur, and Al Jefferson should be enough to win 50 games next year. That would give you a bench of Paul Millsap, CJ Miles, Earl Watson, Derrick Favors, and Gordon Hayward. One problem Corbin, or the new head coach if he’s not retained after the season, will have to figure out is what to do at a log jammed power forward spot. Jefferson has been playing center this year with Okur out, which has allowed both he and Millsap to be on the floor together. Next year with Okur healthy (presumably) and back at center that leaves Jefferson, Millsap, and Favors all vying for minutes. One of them is bound to be unhappy, and if Jefferson’s recent actions are any indication, it appears it will be him if his minutes dip below 30 a night. Having that much front court talent is a good problem to have, but definitely one that will need to be handled carefully. Hopefully this was a season that will soon be forgotten in Salt Lake City and Utah can regain their usual playoff spot next year. This has clearly been a year unlike any in recent memory for the Jazz.

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  1. Clint Peterson, 9 years ago Reply

    Nice write-up. However, I’d like to clarify one paragraph. There’s no “well-documented” about Al Jefferson and Ty Corbin. That’s one beat writer who lashed out after being snubbed for an interview –something not uncommon among NBA players; they blow off media all the time. The overblown story was picked up by national media, just as the beat writer had hoped it would. It’s simply a sad case of petty payback.

  2. matt, 9 years ago Reply

    “A starting lineup of Devin Harris, Raja Bell, Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur, and Al Jefferson should be enough to win 50 games next year.”

    Dude. AK will be gone. Mehmet may never be the same. Raja is not an NBA-caliber starter. Winning 50 would be a miracle, even with that lineup.

    “One problem Corbin, or the new head coach if he’s not retained after the season …”

    Dude! They already extended Corbin! He’s going to be the coach next year as long as he’s alive and not in jail.

    You makes some good points but I think you may be expecting too much next year. 40-45 wins would be something to shoot for. Then 45+ the season after that.

  3. Jake, 9 years ago Reply

    The Jazz stunk it out this year. I wouldnt have such high expectations on the Jazz next year, but a return to the playoffs is possible with a good draft and a couple FA pickups

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