2011-12 Season Summary:
After a one year absence from the postseason, the Utah Jazz were able to mesh a combination of veterans and promising, young players to earn the eighth playoff spot in the West. It was a quick trip to the playoffs though as the team was swept in the first round by the Spurs.
Most teams would be envious of Utah's frontcourt. The starting duo of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap combined to average about 36 points and 18 rebounds per game. The future is bright behind them with former lottery picks Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter providing a ton of size, skill, and potential to perhaps eventually replace Jefferson and Millsap. Favors showed steady improvement in his second season while Kanter was somewhat underwhelming. The Jazz may have also found a diamond in the rough in former first-round castoff DeMarre Carroll, who brought solid energy off the bench.
The issue for Utah came in the backcourt where Devin Harris digressed in his first full season with the Jazz, failing to come even close to contributing at the high level that Deron Williams brought to the floor. Making matters even worse, the backup point guards (Earl Watson and Jamaal Tinsley) did not provide head coach Tyrone Corbin with much help off the bench.
The play on the wing wasn't much better as Utah lacked a true go-to perimeter scorer who could make things happen on his own. Starting shooting guard Raja Bell ended up in the doghouse, not playing a single minute in the postseason and declaring Corbin unprofessional. He went on to claim their damaged relationship was irreparable. With Bell glued to the bench, that meant expanded roles for rookie Alec Burks, C.J. Miles, and Josh Howard who as a trio, were average at best. Gordon Hayward was a bright spot and improved relative to his rookie season.
2012-13 Projected Depth Chart:
C: Al Jefferson/Enes Kanter
PF: Paul Millsap/Derrick Favors
SF: Gordon Hayward/DeMarre Carroll/*Jeremy Evans
SG: Alec Burks/Raja Bell
PG: Devin Harris/Earl Watson/#Jamaal Tinsley
NBA Free Agents:
SF-Josh Howard (UFA)
G/F-C.J. Miles (UFA)
PG-Blake Ahearn (UFA)
#PG-Jamaal Tinsley (TO)
*F-Jeremy Evans (RFA)
2012-13 Team Salary: Approximately $53.7 million
NBA Offseason Needs:
1. Wing Depth:
With Raja Bell almost certain to not return and C.J. Miles and Josh Howard free agents, Utah enters the offseason with only former lottery picks Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks as perimeter players under contract. Hayward has proven to be a capable starter at the NBA level, and Burks still has plenty of room to develop.
However, the Jazz needs a couple of veterans who can step in right away and play quality minutes. Ideally, finding a shooter and someone who can get to the basket would be the ideal situation, but that won't be easy to accomplish since the team doesn't have a lot of money to spend in free agency.
2. Point Guard:
To put it bluntly: Devin Harris is NOT the point guard of the future for the Jazz unless he has a major bounce back year in 2012-13. Utah had unfortunate luck and ended up with zero first-round draft picks, so finding a replacement may not come until next summer. Unless the team is willing to spend all its cap space on a suitable upgrade, which would be a mistake since given its limited cap space, the Jazz should focus on adding a better backup.
3. Trade Exception:
Here's a bright spot to Utah's lack of cap space: it still owns a $10.9 million trade exception from the deal prior to this season that sent Mehmet Okur to the Nets that doesn't expire until December. Finding a trade partner with for the exception won't be an easy task unless some team is willing to dump salary or the Jazz are open to trading one of its future first-rounders.
Utah's roster features four lottery picks from the past two seasons. Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward continue to develop and should be valuable pieces for the future, while Enes Kanter and Alec Burks will look to build off so-so rookie campaigns. With that type of young talent, the future is bright, though it may take another couple of years before that quartet is ready to take over major roles.