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2010-11 Utah Jazz Preview: They Reloaded, But Can They Keep Up In The West?

The Utah Jazz made big changes to their roster for the first time in years. Now reloaded, can they keep up in an ever-improving Western Conference?

We think of the Utah Jazz as one of the last "traditional" NBA team, one where the head coach holds all the power and roster moves are infrequent as a means of maintaining proper roster chemistry. The Jazz were consistent almost to a fault, with Jerry Sloan being the longest-tenured coach and the team's core changing little in the past half decade. They were always good enough to win 50-plus games and be a "dark horse" contender, but their limitations were always exposed in the playoffs by better teams (or, more accurately, the Lakers).

That's why it was pretty shocking to see the Jazz make some major moves this offseason. No, they didn't get any of the big-name free agents, but they still made significant changes to their roster. This was partly by necessity, because longtime power forward Carlos Boozer left to sign a big-money contract with the Chicago Bulls, but the remodeling didn't stop there. The Jazz ended up reloading from that loss immediately, turning a trade exception gained from losing Boozer into top post player Al Jefferson. The Jazz also lost wing players Wesley Matthews and Kyle Korver, replacing them with Raja Bell and first-round draft pick Gordon Hayward. When it's all said and done, the Jazz could have as many as three new starters next season. 

Indeed, as SB Nation's Jazz blog SLC Dunk writes, it's a new experience for Jazz fans used to continuity.

This off-season just isn't one that Jazz fans are accustomed to.  For one of the most consistent teams in the league, from the owners to the coach to the play calls to the fans, this many new faces just isn't heard of in Utah.    

That means it might take time for everyone to adjust to Sloan's system. That said, compared to most teams, the Jazz still have a lot of continuity, and that'll mean something once Jefferson figures things out.

It might take a few months, but the Jazz offense will become their biggest strength.  We should see a more distributed work load with scoring.  Jefferson was brought in in part to replace Boozer's production.  While he'll get the majority of Boozer's points, look for CJ Miles and Paul Millsap to receive some trickle down.

You also have to remember that a large portion of this group's core, Deron Williams, Paul Millsap, C.J. Miles, Andrei Kirilenko, and Mehmet Okur have been playing together now for at least four years, some five.  Bell has been with the team before and should remember how to ride that bike.  Really, it's going to come down to how fast Jefferson can pick things up.    

Those five (Williams, Miles, Kirilenko, Okur and Millsap), are still the core of the team, and the Jazz won't be bad as long as they have them.

That said, can Jefferson actually figure things out? I think it's a much bigger question than most realize. Jefferson had a pretty poor year last year, though that can partially be explained by his recovery from knee surgery. Even before he was hurt, Jefferson got most of his points as a classic post-up player that called for the ball on the left block and did his thing. In Utah, however, Jefferson will have to learn how to score on the move and in pick and roll situations, which will be new for him. While that transition happens, SLC Dunk writes that fans could become restless.

Right now there's just too much unknown about this team.  Can Jefferson learn the offense?  Can they become a better defensive team in the middle?  Fans have a realistic expectation about how this new team will do but at the same time, it's going to be a disappointment if they're not challenging for  the two-seed.

If they get out to a slow start, some of those losses could come back to haunt them when it comes to playoff positioning.    

That's one reason why I think the Jazz may struggle more than people think next year. Jefferson provides a different dimension than Okur (who is injured until December), giving the Jazz two choices. They could play Jefferson and Okur together once Okur comes back, or they could promote Paul Millsap and use Okur as a bench player. The former sounds more palatable, but it can't happen until December, and it also requires Jefferson to adjust his game. 

SLC Dunk agrees, but thinks the Jazz will find a groove and finish 53-29. I'm a little less pessimistic, so I'll say 48-34 and the sixth seed in the West.