The Jazz looked dead after a dispiriting road loss to Dallas two Sundays ago, and it’s tempting to write them off again after their defense no-showed (or, alternatively, showed up in its usual form) last night against a very enthusiastic Denver team missing its best player. But it’s too early to declare the Jazz dead. The most sophisticated playoff odds predictors have them somewhere between a 50/50 shot and 35/65 underdog to overtake the Lakers for the no. 8 spot.
Much like their Northwest Division rival Denver Nuggets, the Utah Jazz are a collection of talented youngsters and productive veterans void of a superstar. Without a clear central figure, the pressure has been on head coach Ty Corbin to identify the best rotation of players that are, almost to a man, multi-talented but somewhat limited in some facet of the game.
The lineup data shows that the Jazz boast some downright awful five-man units, but they also have a few very productive ones. Injuries have forced the team into some tough spots this year, but among its roster, Utah may have the right combinations to seriously compete with the West’s elite rather than settling for a one-and-done stay in the playoffs. The main problem with that option is that it’s boring as hell.
Utah has multiple picks in next year’s first round, and and a few of those productive veterans — most notably Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap — are on expiring contracts. This makes the Jazz an ideal candidate for a big deadline move. By dealing one of their surplus big men to upgrade a backcourt in dire need of help (and making a few other small tweaks), the Jazz could become Denver 2.0 — a team that no one takes seriously as a Finals contender but that everyone wants to avoid in the postseason. To figure out how they might get there, I visited the trade machine and descended further into madness to whip up yet another ridiculous multi-team deal:
The Jazz look to be settling in as a solid bottom-four playoff seed in the Western Conference, though with Golden State off to a surprising 17-8 start, making the playoffs at all is no guarantee for the incumbent No. 8 seed. Utah is 14-12 after an exciting road win last night in Brooklyn. Before the game, head coach Tyrone Corbin huddled up for an extended one-on-one with Grantland about Utah’s rotation, its two big impending free agents, his computer-science degree, and lots of other stuff. Below, an edited transcript of our chat.
I love the big lineup, with Paul Millsap at small forward, if only because it’s different from what most teams do. We haven’t seen it since [Derrick] Favors’s foot issues started popping up. Are you going to bring it back?
Yeah, we’ll have it in the bag when the time presents itself. We’ve gotta make sure the matchups are correct. At some point, though, we’d like to use it to force our will on other teams.