, Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — There is a popular notion in the basketball world that the Utah Jazz are — gasp! — purposely loading/unloading the roster for losses this season.
The idea is that the Jazz want to possess a big bucket full of pingpong balls for a lottery of an NBA draft next June that is supposed to be deep, beginning with superstar-on-deck Andrew Wiggins.
Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey refutes that charge.
And of course he does.
Utah didn’t re-sign any of its seven veteran free agents — including leading scorers Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap — and is clearly entering something that might even be too young to be called a youth movement. But Lindsey isn’t about to admit that his organization is preparing to lose on purpose. He's said that building a defensive foundation trumps win-loss totals this season, but good luck getting him to say the Jazz are in tank mode.
The team executive wouldn’t admit it even if it were true, which, of course, he says it’s not.
"The Utah Jazz, as you know the history, we're never going to cede anything," Lindsey said. "We're going to compete to the best of our ability."
Skeptics are pouncing on what the Jazz's best ability will be.
If you want to see a nice guy become somewhat irritated, try suggesting to Jazz “veteran” Gordon Hayward that his team is going to try to drop games to increase its chances at a top pick next June.
“I’m certainly not going to tank at all. You know me well enough. I hate losses,” Hayward said at last week’s Team USA minicamp. “I’m going to be playing as hard as I can. We’re going to be competing as hard as we can. There’s not going to be any tanking for us.”
Even if they try hard not to tank, it’s quite possible — probable, many believe — that the Jazz simply don’t have the combination of talent and experience to win more than 25-30 games.
“This is called ‘being bad on purpose,’” Grantland.com’s Zach Lowe wrote last week. “(If) Gordon Hayward is your No. 1 option on offense, you're on track for a bottom-five ranking in points per possession and a ton of losses in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.”
Fair or not, it’s the perception.
Whether or not that perception is reality will play out beginning in October when this version of the Jazz gets together for training camp.
Here’s a closer look at how the 2013-14 Jazz roster is shaping up:
POINT GUARD: For the fourth-straight year, the Jazz will have a different starting point guard to begin the season. Move over former All-Stars Deron Williams, Devin Harris and Mo Williams, this is now Trey Burke’s team. The 2013 national player of the year struggled at summer league, but his new team believes he has the talent, competitiveness and leadership to be a standout playmaker in an offense that will rely on more pick-and-rolls than it has in recent seasons. That's why Utah traded the 14th and 21st picks for the floor general Minnesota selected ninth overall.
Burke, considered this draft class' top point guard, will have his work cut out for him — and not just to improve his 24 percent shooting in Orlando. Leading Michigan to the NCAA championship is one thing; having success on a nightly basis against Western Conference point guards Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Steve Nash, Damian Lillard, Mike Conley, Ricky Rubio, Ty Lawson and Goran Dragic is a whole 'nother thing.
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