The Utah Jazz did pretty much everything right over the past four years in building a playoff contender. They drafted well, developed young players into stars and contributors alike, and made smart veteran additions to earn the fifth-seed in the Western Conference in 2017. And yet, when their top star came up as an unrestricted free agent for the first time this summer, Gordon Hayward selected Boston over Utah for the next four years.
That decision was a significant blow to the Jazz who, while not a contender to win the West, had reached a level of success they hadn’t seen in a decade and were a young team capable of sustaining a playoff run for years to come. The question for Utah is, after finally having that building process pay off last year and seeing a star leave, what comes next.
In a conference where so many teams improved this season, the Jazz will have a very difficult time remaining the middle of the playoff seeding, but should remain a contender for a playoff spot in the West. Rudy Gobert remains in place and Utah is very confident that they can continue building presently around their Defensive Player of the Year contender.
General manager Dennis Lindsey spoke with Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune recently about the direction of the team and noted that there won’t be any tearing down or rebuilding going on, and that Gobert will become the centerpiece of their squad.
“We feel like we can build defensively around Rudy Gobert,” Lindsey told The Tribune. “We look at him, and he’s a top 10 player and unique defender. So we wanted to build a team around his talents.”
In an age where we see teams loading up on offensive talent in an effort to compete with the firepower of the Warriors, the Jazz will seemingly take the opposite approach and look to form a defensive juggernaut around their extraordinary shot-blocker in the middle. Adding Ricky Rubio this offseason in place of George Hill fits into that plan, as Rubio is a talented defensive point guard and passer, with limited shooting and scoring abilities.
With young talent already in place, Lindsey noted that there was no reason to go in the tear down direction. Instead, they will try to remain a contender moving forward.
“We just felt like we had too much talent to tear it down to the foundation,” Lindsey said. “The main thing with Quin and Rudy is what do we stand for? We feel like we have a great player in Rudy, and we want to showcase his ability.”
The Jazz still have an intriguing team, but the question will be whether they can fill in the offensive hole left behind Hayward’s departure. A healthy Derrick Favors would be a good start there, as he averaged 16 points per game the two seasons before last year when he battled injury issues and could only put up 9.5 points per game. Rodney Hood will likely become the offense’s focal point on the perimeter, while veteran Joe Johnson will also likely see an increase in his usage during the regular season.
Utah might be able to find a market inefficiency in being a defense-first team in an era of high-powered offenses. The Grizzlies made their own small-market success story out of doing exactly that during the Grit-n-Grind era that has come to an end with the departure of Zach Randolph and Tony Allen (still a free agent). The Jazz can look to that group as the blueprint for being a strong playoff contender for a long period of time, and with a defensive talent like Gobert, they already have the key building block for going in that direction.
(h/t CBS Sports)