Things should be looking up for the Jazz. They made an inspired run to the Western Conference Finals last season. They've got one of the best inside-out duos in the league with Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams, who are just 25 and 23-years old respectively. They've got two more starters who have been All-Stars in Mehmet Okur and Andrei Kirilenko, and some promising youngsters as well.
But after winning the MVP and leading him Russian team to gold at Eurobasket 2007, Kirilenko complained about his role with the Jazz, insinuating that he'd like to play elsewhere. It was the type of statement that could hang a dark cloud over what should be a sunny outlook for the 2007-08 season.
But if you can look past Kirilenko's despondency, you have to like what you see in Salt Lake City. Boozer had a breakout year last season, averaging 20.9 points and 11.7 boards while shooting .561 from the floor and earning his first All-Star trip along the way. Okur also made his first All-Star appearance while hitting a career-high 129 threes.
But the brightest star in Utah has to be Williams, who has become the best young point guard in the league. He made huge strides in his sophomore campaign, continuing to get better as the playoffs went on. And spending a few weeks with one the best point guards of all-time over the summer should only help him develop even more.
The one weak spot in the Utah starting lineup may be at the two. Derek Fisher started 61 games last season, but he's now a Laker. Ronnie Brewer saw limited action as a rookie, and may be competing with this year's first rounder, Morris Almond for playing time. Almond may be the best shooter of the rookie class and Brewer has the potential to be a lock-down defender.
If neither shows they are ready for a big role, Jerry Sloan could always call on Gordon Giricek, who has been a starter in the past. Meanwhile, six-year vet Jason Hart was brought in to back up Williams and the strong and steady Matt Harpring is back to sub at the wing.
Boozer, Okur and Kirilenko make up one the best starting frontcourts in the NBA, and it's not like they don't have anyone ready to step in when they're not on the floor.
Rookie Paul Millsap, the No. 47 pick of the 2006 Draft, was a pleasant surprise, averaging 6.8 points and 5.2 boards off the bench last season. Millsap has a nose for the ball and is exactly what you want out of your first big off the bench. Savvy vet Jarron Collins is the other big man on the second unit.
-- John Schuhmann
Witness the 2007-08 Utah Jazz squad take on the NBA's best. Purchase your tickets for the hottest match-ups.
If Andrei Kirilenko changes his tune and reconciles with his coach and teammates, then they could be one of the best teams in the NBA. While Boozer's and Okur's games aren't exactly versatile, AK-47's is exactly that. He can fill the boxscore in any category he chooses.
But if Kirilenko continues to be unhappy and it affects his (as well as that of his teammates) play, then the Jazz just might be fighting for a playoff spot in the oh-so deep Western Conference. Keep a close eye on this situation, because a Kirilenko trade could change the landscape of the league.
-- John Schuhmann
||The Jazz led the NBA in 2006-07 with 17 wins where they came back from 10 or more points down.
23rd season, 20th with Jazz
17 times, 87-88 (.497)
"Coach Sloan does the same thing he did 19 years ago," Deron Williams said this summer when asked whether or not his coach makes adjustments from year to year.
Indeed, Jerry Sloan has a system, and he sticks with it. There's a reason for that.
"They're the best system team in the NBA," Nets coach Lawrence Frank said early last season. "They execute as well, if not better, than every other team in the league."
Execution is the key. The Jazz don't let you take any possessions off defensively. They run their offense persistently and they play hard every night.
That tells you that they're well-coached.
-- John Schuhmann
KNOW YOUR JAZZ
Deron Williams' mother, Denise Smith, and aunt, Judy Ward, played basketball and volleyball at West Liberty State.
Obviously with this Kirilenko trade stuff they have to be concerned a little bit. But taking that out of the equation they got a nice team.
Deron Williams has developed into one of the better point guards in the NBA. Boozer is a great scoring power forward. Center wise they don't have that true center. They have Collins off the bench. I like this team. I think they have guys that fit well in their system.
Mehmet can play. He can score. If they can get Kirilenko back on the same page as everybody and have the kind of year he should have, they are going to be tough. He played great in Eurobasket in which he got MVP.
I wouldn't pick them to get that far, but you never know.
-- NBA Scout