The Utah Jazz still have the worst record in the Western Conference. The tank train is still on track. However, Utah has been playing close to .500 basketball over its last 27 games. This past week was no different as Utah split their games. The Jazz have seen drastic improvement with a squad that has been mostly healthy. This is encouraging news for Jazz fans, as the future looks bright. On the other hand, such rapid improvement has led to some concern that the Jazz will play themselves right out of a top draft pick in a year that some of the most promising stars-of-tomorrow will be drafted.
Finishing the rest of the season at a .500 clip might be expecting too much from this Jazz team, but if it happened, Utah would finish with around 34 wins. While still not a great record, it probably isn’t exactly in the cellar either, putting the Jazz right back into the middle ground no-man’s-land that prompted the team to dive head first into “rebuild mode.”
The Jazz have three roads in front of them for the second half of the season. First, Utah could just let things go as is, enjoy the ride, and see what happens. In this scenario, the Jazz may improve as they develop chemistry over the rest of the season. Or, it’s also reasonable to expect that potential injuries to key players could have a negative impact on the win total.
The next option the Jazz have is to “blow it up” and trade away pieces that have been helping the Jazz, but aren’t necessarily part of the long-term plan. Topping the list is Richard Jefferson, who is both producing well for Utah in the starting lineup, and is in the last year of his contract. Richard has publicly stated he is going “ring hunting” in the twilight of his career. Marvin Williams could also garner some trade value and has been an important piece of the Jazz as a stretch four. Marvin though, could be viewed as a potential long-term piece for the Jazz as he is still only 27 years old.
Last, and probably least likely, is that Utah decides they have what they are looking for from some of their young players and decide to go all in and trade for an all-star caliber player. In this case the Jazz would be trying to skip the rebuilding step (think the Boston Celtics when they traded for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen), parting with promising youngsters and/or draft picks. This option represents a fair amount of risk for the Jazz though. Let’s use Kevin Love as an example. If the Minnesota Timberwolves can’t improve, they may be tempted to get what they can for Love while they have him, as the last year of his contract is next season. Similarly, most stars that teams would be willing to trade away would likely not have many years left on their contract. As Utah is not exactly the top free agent destination, the Jazz would be taking a risk that their acquired star(s) would leave shortly thereafter. If the past is any indication, the Jazz realize the difficulty they will always have in free agency and will be unwilling to take this type of risk. After all, Deron Williams was traded away to avoid this type of fiasco.
Though with another .500 week in the books for the Jazz (and a promising moral victory in a loss to the Spurs), Utah may want to be considering the latter two options more seriously. With arguably Utah’s most important player, Gordon Hayward, out all week, it was very promising to watch players like Alec Burks, Trey Burke, and Enes Kanter really take over games as each of them had at least two games scoring 18 points or more. More improvement could be on its way.