Will new-look Jazz get franchise where it wants to be — eventually?
The Jazz are pretty much starting from scratch, but they have a bevy of future draft assets, a new head coach and a shrewd front office
The Jazz introduced their team this week as training camp gets underway. Twenty players showed up for media day — Walker Kessler, Talen Horton-Tucker, Simone Fontecchio, etc. …. Never heard of ’em? Right, this is going to take some getting used to. All of it. Fourteen new players. A new coach. New uniforms.
As everyone knows by now, Danny Ainge blew up their roster this summer. Pretty much anyone with an All-Star designation was jettisoned. Donovan Mitchell, gone. Bojan Bogdanovic, gone. Royce O’Neal, gone. Rudy Gobert, gone. Joe Ingles, long gone.
Mike Conley, the Jazz’s starting guard, and Jordan Clarkson, the team’s steady sixth man, have also been mentioned in potential trades. Nothing has been confirmed, but it’s the same kind of talk that preceded the trades of all of the above.
The housecleaning might not be finished.
Where have you gone, John and Karl, Jazz Nation turns its lonely eyes to you. The Jazz had basically the same roster for much of the Stockton-Malone glory years, but ever since then the Jazz are like everyone else in the league, throwing out the old and bringing in the new every few years. “The Rebuild,” they call it. Only six players remain from last spring’s playoff roster.
The Jazz had the second-oldest roster in the league a year ago at 28.4 (trailing only the elderly Lakers, at 31.8). The average age of the current Jazz training camp roster is 25, and if you don’t count 36-year-old Rudy Gay and the 34-year-old Conley, it’s 24. They have only three players over the age of 30.
And that was the point, of course; get younger and collect draft picks — seven first-rounders and three first-round pick swaps spread out over seven years, to be exact. In recent years they began the season with talk of 50 wins, division titles, playoffs and so forth.
How does 25-30 wins sound?
No team made more changes in the offseason than the Jazz, and it will show. Fans, this is going to be painful at times.
The Jazz have begun “The Rebuild.” The new team will entertain the home crowd (stall for time) until help arrives from those draft picks. The Jazz had no draft picks in 2022 and only one in 2021, so there’s no help there.
The Jazz are gambling that Ainge’s fire sale and all those future draft picks will turn into a winning hand, but that can happen only if Ainge drafts well. He’s nothing if not bold. It’s also not the first time he has attempted this.
He did the same thing during his time as president of basketball operations for the Boston Celtics, which began in 2003. The Celtics won the NBA championship five years later and made another appearance in the NBA Finals two years after that (they also advanced to the NBA Finals last year, a year after Ainge resigned).
Let’s see, if history repeats itself, the Jazz will be in the Finals in 2027. Dig in, Jazz fans; this is going to take a while. The Jazz want fans to treat the team like a growth stock — buy while the team is undervalued and it will pay in the long run.
Among the returnees is the veteran Conley, as well as Jared Butler, who played about nine minutes per game last season as a rookie, and Clarkson, who played 27 minutes per game last season off the bench.
Ainge managed to bring in several promising players along with the draft picks to help the team compete now until future draft picks arrive. Collin Sexton, a 6-foot-1 shooting guard who missed most of last season with an injury, is a career 20-point scorer who averaged 24 points in 2020 for the Cavaliers and 20.8 in 2019.
At 23, he was the No. 8 overall pick in the 2018 draft. Malik Beasley, a seven-year vet, has averaged 20 minutes a game, having played for the Timberwolves and Nuggets. Ochai Agbaji was the 14th overall pick in the last draft.
One thing is certain, the Jazz, who have had only five losing seasons the previous four decades, are about to embark on a strange new venture that is dramatically different than anything they have experienced.