The Jazz have steadily improved from 25 to 38 to 40 wins in the last three seasons. Is this the season the Jazz earn a spot back into the playoffs?
Over this past offseason, General Manager Dennis Lindsey and his staff did a magnificent job distinguishing and addressing the glaring roster deficiencies that have led to their franchise-record four straight playoff absences. Utah's organizational infrastructure stuck with the blueprint that was crafted back in August of 2012 upon Lindsey's arrival -- mold a team around a young core of players with distinct, diverse skill sets.
Before the deficiencies were addressed, the Jazz front office faced uncharted territory -- preparing for a free agent frenzy that had never been seen before.
As the salary cap soared to historic heights -- climbing a hearty $24 million dollars, eventually elevating the salary cap to a league record $94 million dollars, the Jazz decided to keep their financial situation fluid & flexible. Even with the unusual cap spike, the Jazz continued to do business on their terms. They looked to map out a carefully calculated strategy, a plan that revolved around the idea of adding well polished, seasoned players. The veterans would either be signed at or below market value for a small number of years or traded in-house for assets that were not in the immediate fold. It only took a tad less than $26 million for the plan to take shape, as the Jazz added the veteran forward Joe Johnson in free agency to go along with George Hill & Boris Diaw via trade.
These players were brought in as stable security blankets, as the young core still tries to navigate its way through close NBA contests. These firm entities (Johnson, Hill & Diaw) will be asked to be critical contributors throughout the season, notably down the stretch of games where the Jazz have struggled thanks to the fact that they've relied heavily on younger replacement level players in the crucial end of game situations. Third-year Head Coach Quin Snyder will look to lean heavily on veterans towards the end of games as he surely hopes the new additions will have a substantial impact on the team in the closing minutes of games.
The Jazz will also have the luxury of adding top end depth talent, including their 2014 1st round pick (5th overall), Dante Exum, who will be reintroduced into the rotation-- after missing the entire 2015-2016 season with a torn ACL.
As encouraging as these roster additions look on paper, unfortunate news broke on October 7th as the Jazz will have to navigate the first month of the season without their star small forward Gordon Hayward due to a fracture of his left ring finger. As Hayward looks to miss somewhere between 10-15 games, power forward Derrick Favors status is also murky as he has missed the majority of the preseason as he nurses an apparent knee injury.
With the season only five days away from opening tip in Portland, time and continuity are at a premium. The early Jazz schedule is harder than ever with three of the first four games starting on the road against playoff-caliber opponents including the Blazers, Clippers, & Spurs. If the Jazz want to take the leap into the upper echelon of the Western Conference, the newly acquired pieces of Hill, Johnson & Diaw will have to make a solid immediate impact sooner than expected.