The Utah Jazz - A lesson in regression?
Just two years ago, you could easily have called the Utah Jazz an NBA title contender. They were a team on the rise and looked like nothing could stop them. They vastly overachieved in 2007, making it to the Conference Finals. Though they fell to the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs 4-1, the team were feeling good and with good reason. The next year, the team seemed to get even stronger, winning a record-tying 19 straight home games. In the second round of the playoffs, they unfortunately ran into another brilliant team, the Los Angeles Lakers, who were on their way to a Finals berth. This past year, injuries struck the Jazz. Both Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams missed considerable amounts of time and the team suffered. They wound up only just getting into the playoffs as the 8th seed in a loaded Western
Conference. Again they faced the Lakers, and only narrowly avoided being swept as L.A went on to win the Championship.
Notice the pattern?
Every year since 2007, the Jazz have taken a step back in the playoffs...if the trend continues...does that mean the Utah Jazz will miss the playoffs entirely?
Though to be fair to them, they have ran into the Conference champions each of those seasons and the overall champions twice.
If we think about it, it is an actual possibility...lets look into several factors that could determine how the Jazz's season plays out next year.
The Jazz have been one of the most talked about teams this summer. They have been involved in as many or more trade rumors as any other team in the league. And yet, so far, the only player on the roster that wasn’t there last season is First Round Draft Pick Eric Maynor.
Maynor, a stand out at VCU, will be a nice back up at the point guard position who will be able to learn a lot from the players around him and Coach Jerry Sloan. He averaged 22 points and 6 assists a game as a senior in college.
The Jazz have made a major move though. They decided to match the offer set by the Portland Trailblazers to Power Forward Paul Milsap. With this move the Jazz have shown their commitment to Milsap, who impressed many last season.
When Carlos Boozer was out with injury, Millsap stepped his game in a big way. He saved the Jazz in many games and was able to put up big numbers (much to the delight of my own fantasy team).
Now he will be the starting Power Forward, so will Millsap be able to regenerate that production with starters minutes, over the whole 82 games, with teams knowing to expect him now? When Boozer came back, Millsap did slow slightly, and had some small injuries, so will those resurface?
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This of course, directly relates to the trade rumors centering around Carlos Boozer. The Jazz have confirmed they are openly trying to deal Boozer, and several possible scenarios have apparently come close to going through.
One would have sent Boozer to Chicago with the Jazz receiving Tyrus Thomas...another would have seen him in Miami, with Dorell Wright and Udonis Haslem going the other way. (You'll notice both of those trade scenarios involve the Jazz getting a power forward to back up Millsap.) No doubt several other trade possibilities will come up in the next few days, but right now it is impossible to foresee who will be joining the Jazz's roster, but we know that Boozer has left it for certain.
The Jazz are, without a doubt, a strong team, with strong players. But last year injuries took a toll on several of these key players. This always has an effect on team chemistry, and is the main reason why the Jazz faltered last year.
So will these injuries be what fells the Jazz again?
Center Mehmet Okur (who has signed a 2-year extension with the team) missed ten games last year, which may not seem like alot, but it was reported that these injuries still bothered him even though they did not keep him out of the games. As mentioned previously, Millsap suffered several small injuries, as did Small Forward Anderi Kirilenko, who missed 15 games.
Deron Williams, the key to this team and easily one of the best players in the league, played in 68 games last year, missing the beginning of the year, and making him take time to get back into his groove. Williams appears healthy now, but that will need to continue if they are to have any chance of making the postseason next year. This guy is the man, they need him on the court, doing what he does best-willing his team to victories.
Its no secret that the Western Conference race is always as tight as you can imagine, and next season will be no different.
Many more teams are up and coming and pushing to make the playoffs, and many veteran teams have upgraded to keep themselves at the top (see Spurs, San Antonio). The Houston Rockets have now lost Yao Ming, Ron Artest, and for all intended purposes, Tracy McGrady. It is also easy to imagine them ending up in the lottery, but remember, they are a scrappy team who are still very talented and don’t have many weaknesses, they will be clawing for the 8th or 7th seed. Phoenix is also easy to count out, and I personally don't think they'll even contend for a berth, but could the return of Amare Stoudamire give them the spark they need? Which teams from last years lottery will make the push?
With Al Jefferson returning, could the Wolves step up their game? How far could Blake Griffin take the Clippers? Can the Warriors translate their Summer League success into the regular season?
So is it possible that the Jazz miss the playoffs? Absolutely, in my personal opinion they won't...but it’s definitely a possibility.
The Jazz are a very good team. They have one of the best NBA coaches of all-time. They have a Point Guard who is in the top 2 of his position. They still have two former All-Stars, and have a player who could have easily been named as Most Improved last season. Now they simply need it all to click together.
They want to break this curse, want to return to progression, and show the promise that they did two years ago.
By Joe Buckley
Pro-Basketball Fans staff-writer
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