The NBA offseason, which we’re doing a series on currently, has for the most part consisted of Kevin Love rumors, the internet breaking when LeBron James shocked the world when he announced he was going home, the Chicago Bulls hype train catching steam after a summer of acquiring Pau Gasol, Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic, and of course the gruesome injury to Paul George at the World Cup trials.
But lost in all the hoopla, is the Utah Jazz and their quietly outstanding summer that all began when Orlando decided they wanted Aaron Gordon instead of Dante Exum. Utah was sitting firmly at No. 5, which initially had to be the roughest position to be in, as it was just outside the top four of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, and Exum. The Jazz were looking at the second tier of guys in the draft, names such as Julius Randle, Marcus Smart, and Gordon. Little did they know that Exum landing in their lap would be just their first brush with luck that evening.
After having chosen the Australian lead guard, Utah was playing the waiting game as they sat on the 23rd pick. When their clock began, much to their surprise, and really, to everyone’s surprise, Duke forward Rodney Hood was still on the board. The 6″8′ lengthy scorer was not only the best player available at the time, he also filled a major need of Utah as they were lacking a small forward who could stretch the floor and provide them a scoring punch.
Utah even got luck a third time when Jarnell Stokes landed to them at No. 35, but they traded him to Memphis for a 2016 second-rounder, which was a bad idea for two reasons:
1. Stokes can play, and was even projected to be a first-rounder a few days prior to the draft.
2. It was the 35th pick in a deep draft. How much higher do you think you can go with Memphis’ 2016 second-rounder?
Still, two out of three on draft night isn’t bad.
In free agency, Utah was forced to overpay Gordon Hayward in order to keep him, as they matched the offer sheet of near $63 million over four years from the Charlotte Hornets. Barely a month later however, Hayward showed up in Las Vegas for his Team USA duties, and looked stronger than ever before. At 24, Hayward is about to enter his physical prime and will be looked at to lead a young Utah team into the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
Helping him with that will be new coach Quin Snyder, a first-time NBA head coach who’ve spent years jumping in and out of the NBA as an assistant, to take up head coaching duties at Missouri and the Austin Toros of the D-League, as well as going overseas for assistant coaching gigs. You name it, Snyder’s done it. That experience will carry its weight in gold when he takes over in Utah, where his core group of players, with the exception of free agent signee Trevor Booker, 26, are all under the age of 25.
Booker signed a very reasonable two-year deal worth $9.7 million, another solid under-the-radar move, and will likely be Snyder’s veteran of preference with his efficient scoring and hard-nosed rebounding. Booker understands his own limitations, which led to him draining 55.1 percent of his shots last season, including 71.1 percent at the rim. More importantly, Booker will give both Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter a challenge in practice, as neither wants to be known as the guys who allows someone at 6″8′ to get the better of them.
Booker is a tough cookie, developing through the ranks of the more physical Eastern Conference, which should give him a bit of an advantage in the West, where finesse play is just that much more frequent. Booker will likely take Jeremy Evans‘ spot, who last year broke the 1,000-minute plateau for the first time in his career. Despite having been in the league for four seasons, and soon to be 27, Evans has played in just 181 games having never played in 50+ games in a season prior to last.
Utah’s summer doesn’t match up with Cleveland’s, Chicago’s, or even Minnesota’s (don’t undersell the factor of resolution), but they came out of it with two tough rookies, one a potential star, a new head coach with literally a world of experience, a hard-nosed bruiser at the four spot on a strong contract, and a re-signed Gordon Hayward who may end up proving to all of us that he isn’t as overpaid as we might think.