Posted by: Mark Welling
It is once again time for the new Jazz season. For some reason this year sneaked up on me. I don't know if it is because of football season or changes in my personal life(moving up to Midvale and starting school at the U of U). Yet, this Wednesday the Jazz start the 2007-2008 campaign. So it is time to catch up on what happened over the summer for the Jazz.
Rafael Araujo - He works his butt off to make his team better. To bad that team will be in Russia.
Dee Brown - Great Defense, Great Hustle, and knows the offense. To bad he couldn't make a shot to save his basketball life.
Derek Fisher- His playoff performance was only exceeded by his fathering skills. He wants to be in L.A. more power to him, and I wish him well.
Morris Almond - Great college scorer that looks like he could turn into a much more athletic Jeff Hornacek. If he continues his play from the Rocky Mountain Review, Jazz fans will smile every time that he comes off the high screen in the offense.
Kyrylo Fesenko - Traded for in the draft, and looked to be a project player the Jazz would leave over seas to develop. He came to the Rocky Mountain Review and turned some heads. Now he is trying to learn the Jazz system and become accustomed to the United States. I am interested to see the Kobe vs. Shaq take two as he and C.J. Miles fight over the ball on the Utah Flash.
Jason Hart - He went from being a key part of the Kings offense to being buried on the bench, in the dog house of Eric Musselman. He finished last year by almost leading the Clippers into the playoffs. Already Sloan is talking about liking his work ethic. It will be interesting to see if he will be able to fill in as back up point guard to Williams.
Ronnie Price - The Kings decide not to keep him and the Jazz snatched him up. It was an odd move just weeks after signing Hart who plays the same position as Price. It will be interesting to see how he works his way into the line up. It will be nice to not have to worry about Price posterizing Boozer this year.
Off Season Success
At the end of last season there was one HUGE hole in the Jazz team, a shooting guard. What did they have? They had a streaky Gordan Giricek, a inexperience Ronnie Brewer, a point guard Derek Fisher, and the face of the Flash--C.J. Miles. None of these solutions worked for the Jazz last year, and unless a major change happens in one of these players games' this year, the same will continue this year (which is not good news for Jazz fans that don't want to see the Jazz be lit up by every two guard the Jazz face). The problem is: this problem in the Jazz game was NOT addressed in the off season.
They let Fisher out of his contract for obvious reasons, and in the long run that will probably help the Jazz. Hart and Price were brought in as the solution, with Almond being drafted as the solution down the road. Problem is Hart and Price are both combo guards like Fisher last year. One of them, probably Hart from reports coming out of Jazz camp, will focus mainly on being the back up to Deron Williams at the point. While the other will try to pick up minutes as a third string point. (Sloan always carries three. It is like the rule your parents tell you about always keeping a twenty in the wallet. It is very inconvenient to always keep it and never spend it, but in an emergency you are glad you have it. Much like a third point guard in this offense.) Neither of them look to provide anything that Fisher didn't last year, solid play from an undersized player who will give up big nights to opponents. Plus, unless Almond is taking his Millsap vitamins, I don't except him to have huge minutes as a ROOKIE in Jerry Sloans system.
The other problem with last season was AK. Andrei Kirilenko did not look like the player of two to three years ago last year. There have been many reasons given for his decline in play: from moving from the four to the three, playing to long on the perimeter chasing two guards that were lighting the Jazz up, not getting positive encouragement from Jerry Sloan (.....DUH! of course J. Slo isn't going to give him a kiss on the cheek and tuck him in at night.....he is J. Slo. That is what Jazz fans love about him. He isn't afraid to tell these over paid soft babies exactly what it is they need to hear, in words that most Jazz fans would like to say to the players faces. It kills me when I hear people saying that we need a younger coach that can relate to the players more. What young coach that relates to the players have won championships in the last ten years? Phil Jackson? Even he wouldn't put up with crap from his players. Look how he dealt with Rodman, he gave him some leverage while he was out partying, but on the court he was all business. J. Slo is the master of the verbiage during NBA games, but I wouldn't want to sit behind Phil Jackson any time soon. Which also brings up the Cream of Weber Honorary Coach give away; what parent in their right mind wants their kid to sit behind Jerry Sloan's bench for an entire game? Worst promo ever! It does makes me laugh at every Jazz home game.), not touching the ball enough, and problems off the court.
Yet, Jazz fans were salivating over the results of the European tournament. AK had not only lead Russia to its first European title in seventeen years, but he was named the tournament MVP. The AK of old with all the love of the game and confidence was heading back into town. Then out of no where, although admittedly I think all Jazz fans thought this would happen but were shocked it happened so late in the off season, he started talking not only trade but leaving the NBA to play in Russia. Walking away from basically sixty million dollars. He wanted out!
The Jazz of course were fielding offers for AK all summer, and Kevin O'Conner's phone was ringing off the hook from teams trying to give low ball offers for him. (The best offer on the table I heard of was AK to Phoenix, Marion to New Jersey, and Jefferson to the Jazz. This is one of those trades that look great on paper, because on paper all teams seem to get what they want. AK would be an All-star in Phoenix. Marion would be happy taking a larger role in New Jersey and would excel in the weak Eastern Conference. Jefferson would give the Jazz a player that could be a true combo player that would take care of the problems on the perimeter.) They decline taking a dime on a dollar trade, and decided to wait it out. That looks to be the right move. AK came to camp, talked things out with J. Slo. They came to a 50-50 compromise, Jerry promising to mix praise with criticism at a 50-50 ratio. ("Good job running really fast after you threw away the bleep bleep basketball, you bleep bleep bleep. Good bleepin job!" Just one of the many quotes we are sure to hear of the 50-50 accord.) AK now says he is ready to play ball in Utah.
The Jazz are lead once again by Jerry Sloan. He seems to be energized again to coach basketball. Forgotten is the time of waiting to see when Sloan retires. He looks to be enjoying himself and rumor is Larry H. Miller is trying to get him to sign another multiple year extention.
The team is lead by Deron William and Carlos Boozer. With a solid supporting cast of Okur, Harping, Kirilenko, and Millsap. They should be able to compete for another Division Title, and should have a chance to make head way in the playoffs. The problem the Jazz face is a Western Conference that is loaded with talent. The additions of the top two picks, although Oden is out for the season, muddies the water. Playoff contenders Memphis and New Orleans are looking to rebound after disappointing seasons. Denver is looking to continue the AI-Melo mojo, and have Kenyon Martin, Camby, and Nene coming back from injuries. The Spurs, Mavericks, Suns, and Rockets are all reloaded to make another run. You also can never look past the Lakers to compete in the West.
It will be a tough task for the Jazz to repeat what they did last year, let alone build on that and compete for a championship. For them to do so, each player needs to improve their game and take it to the next level.
Deron Williams - Grow into leadership role. Lay down the law that it is your team, and you want a championship. So players need to either get on board or get out of your way.
Carlos Boozer - Defense! Need to move the feet in the blocks, and rotate instead of letting people get to the rim.
Memo Okur - Shake off a poor Western Conference Finals. He was a driving force in getting us that far in the playoffs. Also playing both sides of the ball. Continue to provide perimeter shooting presence, and continue to work on interior scoring moves.
Andrei Kirilenko - Don't take any shots beyond fifteen feet. Slash to the basket if you want to score. Forgotten in last year's poor offensive play was the improvement of AK from the free throw line. He may not look pretty all the time going to the hoop, but he does get to the line. Provide the interior defense that is lacking without him. Stay confident!
Matt Harpring - Keep playing tough. Harpring is a stud! I could go without the free throw
adventure each time he goes to the foul line though.
Paul Millsap - Needs to continue to expand his game. Have a consistent jump shot from around ten feet. (By the sound of off season reports I except big things offensively from Millsap this year.) Just continue his intense play from his rookie year.
Gordan Giracek - Need to be traded. Hope he doesn't pack his bag before we ship him off.
Jason Hart - Needs to play a lot better then he did on the Kings. If he keeps working as hard as he has in training camp things look good.
Ronnie Price - Has opportunity to show what he can do in the Jazz system and take his game to the next level. Needs to show consistency, something he had trouble with in Sacramento.
C. J. Miles - The future of the Flash. I am shocked that he made it back on the team! Doesn't come to the review, and now he is behind both Almond and Brewer. He also isn't as athletic as Brewer, and doesn't have a better shot then Almond. So......I hope he starts the Flash on the right foot because I don't see him leap frogging the players in front of him.
Jarron Collins - Collins is a tough one. He is good for one charge per game, and is becoming one of the most notorious floppers in all the NBA. Yet, doesn't tough it up for key rebounds offensively. Unless he is underneath the basket I never want to see him shot the ball. He needs to keep playing and be happy to be included in a trade involving Gordan (for some reason he has street cred in the NBA as a good back up).
Kyrylo Fesenko - Needs to get accustomed to the NBA style of play. His defense and surprise offense in the Rocky Mountain Review was a huge surprise. If he is able to carry that into a good rookie campaign, the Jazz will be set in the middle.
Will the Jazz 2007-08 will they make the playoffs? YES! If they don't make the playoffs this will be a HUGE disappointment. It will be hard to make the playoffs this year in the West as it always is, but I think the Jazz will put together enough wins to do it.
Will the Jazz win the Division? I think the Jazz will repeat as Division champs, but it will come down to the last week of the season.
How many wins? 53 wins.
How many All-Stars? Two; Williams and Boozer