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Utah Jazz sure of destination, unsure how they'll get there

Published April 20, 2014 4:18 pm

Franchise wants to be a bona fide winner, but it's still working on the road map.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Utah Jazz said their goodbyes and parted ways for the summer this past week. They'll spread out in every direction, leaving Salt Lake City for the likes of California and France, Texas and Turkey.

As for the franchise itself, the direction it will take this summer is somewhat less certain.

After the team's locker room at EnergySolutions Arena had been emptied Thursday, Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey, the man entrusted with remaking this community's most beloved franchise, spent the better part of an hour discussing his plans for setting aside one of the worst seasons in the team's history. A full season after pressing reboot on the roster, letting veteran free agents walk to make way for a youth movement he believes could one day turn the team into a title contender, Lindsey described a hopeful, albeit fluid, course going forward.

"It's tough to sit here today with the record we have," Lindsey said. "But the plan we enacted, I think we're really on some stable ground. And if we can get the right things to happen, we can move toward an exciting territory that could really rally our group and community for something greater."

In a one-backward-for-two-forward plan, the Jazz seemingly mastered the first step this season. The team won 25 games, the second fewest since moving to Utah in 1979. But from Lindsey down, those around the organization believe this was rock bottom and better days lie ahead.

Though Lindsey won't promise how long it might take to create a bona fide winner.

"I really don't think, 'Hey, I've got a year or two to show some improvement,' " Lindsey said. "We have a real opportunity here to get it right for the Utah Jazz. If we were to set it up and the next management group was to reap the benefits of a lot of seeds sown, then so be it.

"We'll just continue to try to do the right thing."

Coaching

There are, however, timelines for plenty of things in a summer marked by several key decisions.

First things first: What to do with Ty Corbin?

Corbin, in his fourth season since taking over for Jerry Sloan, is out of a contract come July. But Lindsey said management, ownership and the coach will deal with the issue "in short order" now that the season is over.

Corbin is a former player and is thought well of by players and members of the Jazz organization. But he's amassed a record of 112-143 and saw his team's play drop sharply during the last 25 games of the season.

What happens with the coaching situation will no doubt impact things down the line.

Promising pick

Losses piled up all season long for the Jazz, though it hardly bothered some fans. Each defeat simply meant the team was one step closer toward a high draft pick in a year when the talent pool is said to be as good and deep as any in recent memory. After winning a tiebreaker Friday with the Boston Celtics, the Jazz have a 33.7 percent shot at top-three pick and a 10.4-percent chance of landing No. 1 overall. The are guaranteed no worse than the seventh choice.

The team also owns Golden State's first-round pick, which comes in at No. 23, thanks to a deal made last offseason to take on Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins and Brandon Rush. And if the draft is truly as good as advertised, the team's early second round pick could also yield fruit.

The June 20 draft should be key in the franchise's turnaround.

"Do we take all three of the very good draft picks in a very good draft and get our vet and speed up the timeline? Or do we add another really good young piece to an already young base and slow-growth it? We'll add up those value questions and see what's best for our program going forward," Lindsey said.

Corbin was quick to point out shooting when asked for specific areas the team needed to address in the offseason. The Jazz were bottom 10 in both field goal percentage and 3-point shooting this season, and prone to prolonged droughts.

But whether the Jazz address that entirely through the draft or not remains to be seen.

Defense, an emphasis all year long, was also an issue.

"We ranked 30th [defensively] and we all have to own that," Lindsey said.

The Jazz wouldn't have to go far to find proof that drastic turnarounds in that department can occur. Charlotte jumped from 30th last year to sixth this season, with the hire of Steve Clifford.

Free agency

The Jazz will no longer be saddled with the bloated contracts of Richard Jefferson ($11 million) or Andris Biedrins ($9 million). Free agent Brandon Rush ($4 million) is likely gone, after falling completely out of the rotation this season. And even if Marvin Williams returns, he's in line for a pay cut from the $7.5 million he made this year.

Utah could give extensions to Enes Kanter and Alec Burks as they head into their fourth years.

Meanwhile, Derrick Favors already has a big raise coming. And Hayward stands to see one too. The swingman is a restricted free agent, but barring something drastic, it appears the team's leading scorer will be back next season.

Said Lindsey: "The Miller family is fully committed to funding the team all the way up to the luxury tax. We have the ability to offer Gordon a significant contract and still have a maximum contract. And if the right guy wants to say yes to us, we'll speed this thing up. If it's slow growth and we add vets in support of the young guys … we're clearly preparing for that alternative as well."

Lindsey said it is not his preference to use this offseason to collect more draft picks, but did not rule out the possibility that the offseason could turn into one of "aggressive asset accumulation."

Foundation

Despite a frustrating season, the Jazz maintain that their plan's foundation already exists. But internal growth will be key.

"We need to have all the young players, but at least a couple, outperform expectations relative to their current career arc," Lindsey said. The GM pointed at Favors as a player who could make another step next season by improving his conditioning.

"I think there are a couple more steps that he can take," Lindsey said. "So that could be our franchise piece if there's internal growth."

Hayward, Burks, Kanter and Favors all logged career highs in minutes this season. Point guard Trey Burke averaged 32 minutes a game, the second most among rookies. That those five players didn't start together until the 79th game of the season, prompting Kanter to question his coach's decision this week, doesn't mean no progress was made.

"Everybody will be better for this experience," Corbin said. "Whatever happens happens. But I think this group of guys will be better because they went through this."

afalk@sltrib.com — Jazz player contract status

Under contract

• Derrick Favors

• Trey Burke

• Rudy Gobert

• Jeremy Evans

• Erik Murphy

Eligible for extensions

• Enes Kanter

• Alec Burks

Nonguaranteed contracts

• Malcolm Thomas

• Ian Clark

• Diante Garrett

• John Lucas III

Unrestricted free agents

• Richard Jefferson

• Marvin Williams

• Brandon Rush

• Andris Biedrins

Restricted free agent

• Gordon Hayward Utah Jazz 2013-14 season

Record • 25-57

Offensive ranking • 25th

Defensive ranking • 30th

Scoring leader •Â Gordon Hayward (right), 16.2 ppg

Assists leader • Trey Burke (far left), 5.7 apg

Rebounding leader • Derrick Favors (left), 8.7 rpg