SALT LAKE CITY — As the opening of training camp nears, the 2018 NBA offseason was certainly one to remember.
First off, there was LeBron James to Los Angeles.
Paul George returning to Oklahoma City.
How about DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for Kawhi Leonard to Toronto.
And, oh, how dare we forget about DeMarcus Cousins’ shocking move to join the back-to-back champion Golden State Warriors. Wasn’t that crazy?
But quietly the Utah Jazz were also making chess moves. Nothing crazy, but just enough.
General manager Dennis Lindsey & Co. may not have delivered on the hottest targets, but they brought back the logical pieces for the franchise.
After a second-round playoff run, front office executives drafted Duke guard Grayson Allen with the 21st overall pick. Any lingering animosity from the college battles between Allen and Jazz rising star Donovan Mitchell was quickly erased as Mitchell welcomed him with open arms after the pick was announced at Barclays Center in New York on June 22.
“We’re friends, we obviously competed against each other when he was at Louisville and had some great battles,” Allen said. “So the mutual respect for each other’s game has been there and when I was working out for the draft in California, he came out there so we got to spend some time together so I’m really excited to be joining a team with him.”
Then, it was the hard part: free agency.
Lindsey promised fans he would push to keep free agents Derrick Favors, Dante Exum and Raul Neto once the period opened on July 1 and that’s exactly what he did.
Instead of bringing in outsiders, no team chemistry was ruined as Favors (two-year, $36 million), Exum (three year, $33 million), and Neto (two-year, $4.4 million) all reached deals within 24 hours apart.
Contracts were also guaranteed for Thabo Sefolosha and Ekpe Udoh, ensuring locker room leadership and strong defensive energy from both guys. The only tough decision that was made was to waive Jonas Jerebko before his contract became guaranteed and he ultimately signed with the Warriors.
Other than that, most everything was kept intact as Jazz players continue to develop camaraderie while constantly showcasing a genuine love for each other.
That continuity was on display when Mitchell, Neto, Exum, Royce O’Neale, Jae Crowder, Alec Burks and Rudy Gobert all sat courtside for the Jazz-Knicks NBA Summer League game in Las Vegas on Sunday, July 8, 2018, in Cox Pavilion.
Moments like those are rare, especially in this day and age, but this squad seems to have the potential to emerge as a legitimate Western Conference contender in the near future.
“This is the first time I’ve ever been in Vegas or anywhere in the offseason with this many of my teammates,” Crowder told the Deseret News. “This is the first time in my career, and it speaks volume of my teammates and what we’re about.”
ESPN's Power Rankings currently list the Jazz as the seventh-best team in the league and project them to finish fourth in the West. There’s certainly reason to believe that the Jazz will take off after last year’s historic finish, where they finished the regular season on a 29-6 run as the fifth seed with a healthy lineup.
According to NBA Advanced Stats, that turnaround was one of the best in NBA history, as the Jazz became one of five teams to dip nine games below and then rise above .500 in the same season. Utah’s 48-34 finish also marked the best win percentage (58.5) among that rare group.
After holding the second-best defensive rating in the league (101.6) and ending fifth in deflections per game (14.9), the Jazz look to prove they are much more than just The Donovan Mitchell Show. Sure, Mitchell is the Michael Jackson of the bunch, in terms of star appeal, but this defensive-minded gang will be a legitimate threat.5 comments on this story
Gobert returns as the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Quin Snyder finished runner-up as Coach of the Year and Mitchell earned unanimous All-Rookie first-team honors after averaging 20.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists.
With 17 nationally televised games set for the 2018-19 season, Jazz fans no longer can say they get no love. The league is clearly pushing them to the forefront.
The team will hold its annual media day event Monday, followed by the opening of training camp the next day, then there are five preseason games before the opener on the road against Sacramento on Wednesday, Oct. 17.