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Jazz Mailbag: Jazz want to win games this season, right (wink, wink)? But how many?

Are the Jazz tanking? Who will be on the team past the trade deadline? Who will play? And more

SHARE Jazz Mailbag: Jazz want to win games this season, right (wink, wink)? But how many?
Utah Jazz general manager Justin Zanik, left, and Jazz CEO Danny Ainge answer questions during a press conference in SLC.

Utah Jazz general manager Justin Zanik, left, and Jazz CEO Danny Ainge answer questions during a press conference at the Zions Bank Basketball Campus in Salt Lake City on Monday, Sept. 12, 2022.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The Utah Jazz’s opening night roster is set, the arena has a brand new court, and on Wednesday night the 2022-23 season will be off and running.

That means it’s a perfect time to open up the mailbag and answer some last-minute preseason questions.

These first two questions are related, and they are similar to a lot of other questions that were submitted. Basically, people want to know, are the Jazz tanking?

Very simply, the answer is yes.

The biggest pieces of evidence are that the Jazz traded away the players that kept them in playoff contention over the last few years. The most important pieces the Jazz received in those trades were future assets. They wanted large hauls of draft picks and they got what they wanted.

The Jazz did not make these deals because they were trying to get better right now, because they wanted to compete for a title this season. The Jazz executed the beginnings of a rebuilding plan.

With that in mind, let’s look at what we know to answer the question above. The Los Angeles Lakers were a 33-win team last year. They missed the playoffs. The San Antonio Spurs were a 33-win team in 2021. They missed the playoffs. Even in the shortened 2020 NBA season, the Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies missed the playoffs after racking up 34 wins each.

The lesson here: A 33-win season is not good enough to make the playoffs, and it misses the mark on getting the best lottery odds.

The Jazz didn’t send a large front office contingent to Las Vegas to watch Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson play because they just like watching basketball. They want a high draft pick and those two players will be going first and second overall in the upcoming draft.

You have heard that the Jazz want to win games. That is what general manager Justin Zanik has said publicly, that is what head coach Will Hardy has said and that’s what the players have said, and all of that is understandable.

There are no NBA players who want to lose. There is not an NBA coach who is going to coach players to lose. So when they say they want to win, they are not lying. But if a front office is trying to increase their odds at a high draft pick, it’s their job to take away winning pieces from a team, disrupt the composition of the team, and make sure that the team is not set up to win.

Zanik is not going to sit in front of a microphone and say that the Jazz are purposefully going to be bad this year because they want to take away from the competitive nature of the NBA product, risk profits and push for losses for a higher percentage chance at landing Wembanyama. That would send Adam Silver into a fury, it would lead to the Jazz being fined, and if the Jazz were too brazen about tanking, that could possibly mean even heavier punishment from the league.

You will not find a front office executive who is going to admit, on the record, that the Jazz are tanking. But the evidence is clear. They want high draft picks, they want value in what they traded away their stars for, and they want the best possible chance at a brighter future.

Now, with all of that in mind, let’s look at this next question. The Jazz brought on Kelly Olynyk, who is actually only under contract through the 2023-24 season and that second year is partially guaranteed.

If I were to ask, who would win you more games: Olynyk or Bojan Bogdanovic? My answer would be Bogdanovic, which is why he’s not in a Jazz uniform anymore. Olynyk though, with only a $12 million deal, could be easily traded next year when his deal is expiring and not fully guaranteed. It’s also possible that a trade featuring Olynyk could net a future asset, or be part of a larger deal, which would then make the Bogdanovic trade look a lot better. So, we have to wait and see how that pans out.

Rudy Gay is not winning the Jazz any games.

If I were a betting woman, the player I would say is most likely to be traded by the trade deadline is Jordan Clarkson. Mike Conley will also be available, but also will probably rest a good number of games this season.

If the Jazz were not tanking, wouldn’t they have flipped some of their assets to get a star on this roster? Wouldn’t they insist on keeping their best role players?

This is a tank year.

Absolutely not.

There are certainly players who look like they could factor into a future Jazz team, and that the Jazz would be hesitant to include in a deal, but this is not a team that has untouchable players. For the right price, any deal can be made.

Do I think that the Jazz really like Lauri Markkanen and Collin Sexton and Jarred Vanderbilt and Walker Kessler? Yes. But are they untouchable? No.

Great question. Ochai Agbaji, the No. 14 overall pick in this year’s draft, acquired by the Jazz in the deal that sent Donovan Mitchell to the Cleveland Cavaliers, played exactly 23.1 minutes during the preseason, mostly during garbage time. He didn’t play at all in one of the preseason games.

Gay on the other hand, going into to his 17th year in the NBA, played 60.8 minutes across three preseason games.

The regular season could be different and there might be more opportunity for Agbaji, we can’t know for sure. But if preseason is any indication, it looks as though Agbaji is going to have to earn his time on the floor just as he would with any other team.

Maybe the rotations and minutes distributions will change after the trade deadline. Maybe there will be some more movement that we aren’t anticipating right now. But I’m also wondering why Agbaji didn’t get more runs during the preseason and what his opportunities are going to look like in the upcoming days, weeks and months.

Again, we have to look at the preseason for some context and base predictions on the evidence in front of us.

Two-way players Johnny Juzang and Micah Potter are not going to be featured heavily. Of the 15 regular roster players, it looks as if Udoka Azubuike, Leandro Bolmaro, Simone Fontecchio and Agbaji are at the tail end of the pecking order. That leaves an 11-man rotation that will probably get the lion’s share of the rotational minutes.

I still think that could change once the trade deadline passes or any other deals are made that change the roster, but for right now, it seems those are the players that could be fighting for their opportunities.

New Utah Jazz head coach Will Hardy, flanked by Jazz owner Ryan Smith, left, and Jazz CEO Danny Ainge, right.

New Utah Jazz head coach Will Hardy, flanked by Jazz owner Ryan Smith, left, and Jazz CEO Danny Ainge, right, speaks during a press conference held to introduce him at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, July 5, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News