Kudos to the Utah Jazz. Savvy offseason transactions by Dennis Lindsey and Co. have taken a 40-42 team, who ended their season as a footnote of Kobe Bryant’s brilliant final performance, to a roster now lined with some great veteran presence in Joe Johnson, Boris Diaw, and George Hill.
With their eyes firmly set on the playoffs next season, the Jazz have been able to introduce players who already have playoff success, to their current roster of young, but inexperienced players. A smart move, given they didn't have to give up any valuable pieces of their current core.
The Jazz picked up Johnson in free agency on a two-year deal worth $22 Million, which is a stellar contract with the cap spike. Johnson, who finished last season shooting 43% from the field for the Heat, adds a great deal of clutch shooting for the Jazz. The 15-year vet still has a knack for hitting shots in clutch situations, fills in nicely at shooting guard and can play both forward spots if needed.
It will be interesting to see the dynamic between Johnson and Rodney Hood. Hood is very reminiscent of Johnson, in the way he’s able to navigate through screens to get open and hit the 3. No doubt Joe Johnson is going to be a great mentor for 23-year-old Hood. In case you missed it, Rodney Hood posted a picture of himself at ten years old, meeting then Phoenix Suns player, Joe Johnson.
Hood has said it’s “the biggest thing to happen to him” and, clearly, it’s had an affect on his game. A big struggle for the Jazz last year was the lack of options down the stretch. Of course, Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward were the go-to guys on offense, but they struggled at times, and it was even harder as the team lacked a developed point guard that could facilitate. Johnson can not only provide a spark of 10-15 points, but he can also present as an option to close out tight games.
The July 7th three-team trade between Atlanta, Indiana, and Utah saw Jeff Teague shipped to Indiana and George Hill sent to the Jazz. As Dante Exum prepares to get back on the court and adjust to the NBA game, the addition of Hill is a great transition piece.
Hill, in the meantime, is going to provide more veteran presence, but as someone who’s career coaches have been Frank Vogel and some guy named Popovich, you can expect he’ll have a great, hard-working attitude.
Before the acquisition of George Hill, the point guard spot was looking very bleak for the Jazz. Last season, their options were Trey Burke, who has since been sent to Siberia (I mean Washington), Shelvin Mack, and Raul Neto; a fine 3 point option and passer, but not a starter by any means. Side note: If you combine Ricky Rubio and Raul Neto, you’d have one of the best passing guards in the league who can shoot, and also be probably the best-looking person of all-time. My point is that the point guard position for the Jazz last year was unreliable and perpetually revolving.
George Hill gives them stability and provides experience for the Jazz. He can create his own and facilitate the ball, definitely a solid addition to the Jazz. Coincidentally, like Johnson and Hood, George Hill shows a lot of what I expect Dante Exum to turn into. I expect he’ll be a great mentor to the young Australian. However, one of the shortfalls of Hill’s time in San Antonio was his eagerness to break out into a starting role. With Exum on the cusp of returning and Hill in a contract year, wanting to showcase his best, it’ll be interesting to see if he’s willing to take a back seat if that’s the case or if the Jazz goes all-in with him and bring Exum off the bench. Personally, I don’t feel Exum is ready for the starting role just yet, especially coming off the ACL injury, but it all remains to be seen.
The fact is, and I can’t stress this enough, Hill is not the answer for the Jazz long-term, but he’s a great transition piece. They can play the same offense with him or Exum, so hopefully they won’t miss a beat with whoever they decide to go with.
Diaw came over with his espresso maker via trade with the Spurs and this, to me, is probably the most interesting acquisitions made by the Jazz this off-season.
Diaw was a fantastic contributor to the Spurs. He’s a great stretch 4 and a serviceable small-ball 5; he rebounds and stretches the floor with his shooting ability that ranges out to 3 point line. He’s also a great veteran personality, who has had success with the Spurs and was a big part of their second unit for many seasons.
He brings a true stretch-four game to the Jazz, whereas Trey Lyles was advertised as a stretch four, but he seems to need more time to develop, and I can’t think of anyone better to help with that development than BoBo. The downside to Boris is he’s aging, he’s slowing down, and still had on and off weight issues, even with Gregg Popovich breathing down his neck about it. I’m predicting this goes one of two ways, and I’ll use metaphors that Boris can understand: He’ll either age like fine wine, or he’ll burn out like someone left the espresso brewing for too long.
Another side note for the uninitiated: Boris keeps a cappuccino maker in his locker. If that doesn’t scream “great locker room guy” at you, you’re probably a bad teammate. Or you hate coffee.
The Jazz last year were a young team who seemed stunted. The Gobert, Favors, and Hayward core wasn’t able to make the leaps necessary to get the Jazz into the playoffs and their second unit ranked toward the middle of the pack, and once Gordon Hayward hit the bench, it seemed like a free-for-all for their opponents.
These veteran additions advance the Jazz to new heights, and they appear to have a real direction and a core who can defend, shoot, and rebound. No longer a fringe team, the Utah Jazz are now poised to make a playoff run, with an exciting, young group.