Brad Rock: With unclear future, Jazz must still open checkbook
Chris Carlson, AP
ANAHEIM — The Jazz wrapped up their exhibition season on Friday at the Honda Center with a 111-106 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, which qualified as the non-story of the week.
The real scoop was the same as it has been for the Jazz since lilacs bloomed last summer: Building the future, one unlined young face at a time. Although the Jazz were reportedly considering adding hoary Jamaal Tinsley to shore up the guard line, that hadn’t happened by game time. Either way, the re-commitment to Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward remained at the forefront. Stay tuned.
Favors is already on board, having agreed to a 4-year extension. That bodes well for the addition of Hayward, an attractive commodity league-wide. Expectation is that he will command more than the $48 million Favors received, thanks to his savvy and versatility. If his contract isn’t extended by Oct. 31, he becomes a restricted free agent next summer.
Meanwhile, the other two of the “Core Four” — Enes Kanter and Alec Burks — are a year away from such drama.
As for the Jazz’s immediate future, that’s coming fast. Friday’s loss made it seven consecutive preseason defeats, following an opening-night win. After manhandling Golden State, 101-78 on Oct. 8, they went on to lose like priests at a craps table. Portland, the Clippers and Lakers each beat them twice and Oklahoma City beat them once.
Does that mean anything?
“Not necessarily,” said coach Tyron Corbin, adding that in the preseason “you want to get a feeling for who you are, but it’s not really indication of what kind a season you’ll have, good or bad.”
Corbin is right. Preseason results make for spotty forecasting. There have been years when the Jazz reeked in the preseason, yet went on to great seasons. Other times they were nearly flawless in October but ineffectual the rest of the year.
The Jazz went 1-7 in 1990 but ended up winning 54 games and reaching the conference semifinals. In 2003 they were 7-1 in exhibition, only to miss the playoffs. In the Jazz’s two greatest seasons, 1996-97 and 1997-98, they only went 4-4 and 5-3.
Moral to the story: Preseason is like a sore throat — it could be a big deal or it might not.
There have been moments of inspiration for several players, including all the usual suspects: Burks, Kanter, Hayward and Favors, as well as Rudy Gobert. They were easily Friday’s biggest early contributors. Gobert also started dunking late in the game and continued showing the Jazz’s foresight in drafting him in June. But nothing said a lot, considering the Lakers were missing Kobe Bryant and Chris Kaman, out with injuries.
Clearly this season could be a grind, though not a death march. The extension of Hayward’s deal would give Utah a solid foundation for several years. But will that make them an elite team? One indication they are still a few tomatoes short of a salad is that they’ve pinned big hopes on injured rookie Trey Burke. He’s talented, but the next Deron Williams?
Right now he’s not even the next Mo Williams.
Friday did mark a final tune-up for both the Lakers and Jazz, and revealed more than any other game in October. What the Jazz are right now is a lot of uncertainty. There’s some talent, but not enough to contend.
Kanter would disagree.
“I mean, this room has enough talent to beat every team on every court,” Kanter said as he sat at his locker at the Honda Center. “I’m talking about Jeremy (Evans), Alec (Burks), Gordon (Hayward), Derrick (Favors), Trey Burke This is my third year and we have enough talent to beat every team.”
Is signing Favors and Hayward to extensions a wise move? Andrei Kirilenko’s big contract was a problem near the end of his Utah sojourn. But in this case, the Jazz don’t have much choice; they can’t build around their mascot. Surely other teams would prosper with them if the Jazz didn’t. Hayward looked like he was worth a bundle in the first half, filling up the box score the way, well, Kirilenko once did. But he’s far more adept offensively than AK-47 ever was.
Meanwhile, what can the Jazz take from the preseason?
Bits and pieces, odds and ends.
Even so, their dismal preseason record doesn’t seem to overly concern Jazz fans or the media. Few have complained because the team let Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson leave as free agents. Now the team must spend big dollars to keep the new generation intact. The totals for Favors and Hayward alone will pass $100 million.
Fair enough. Bring it on.
There’s an adage that says you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. The Jazz have done that. It’s true that things are still looking a bit scrambled. But there’s another adage the Jazz learned long ago, thanks to a number of high-priced players: You can’t build a franchise without breaking out the checkbook.
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