Since the Warriors downed the Cavs to take the 2017 NBA title back on June 12, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the long summer offseason.
NBA.com's Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise -- from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2016-17 to the team with the best regular-season record -- as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
Today's team: Utah Jazz
2016-17 Record: 51-31
Who’s new: Donovan Mitchell (Draft), Ricky Rubio (trade), Jonas Jerebko (free agency), Thabo Sefolosha (free agency), Ekpe Udoh (free agency)
Who’s gone: Gordon Hayward, Boris Diaw, George Hill, Shelvin Mack, Trey Lyles, Jeff Withey
The lowdown: It was the sucker punch the Jazz saw coming before it landed in their gut and knocked the wind out of them. Gordon Hayward leaving for the Celtics via free agency was arguably the most deflating loss that any team felt in the summer of 2017, even more than the Indiana Pacers losing Paul George and Chris Paul leaving the LA Clippers.
That’s because the Pacers were already going downhill with George and the Clippers had maxed out with Paul. Meanwhile, the Jazz were just starting to puff their chest with Hayward and a developing nucleus that began to gain traction in the very difficult Western Conference.
What’s really disturbing to Utah is how the Jazz did everything right in this situation. They drafted Hayward in 2010 and groomed him to the point where he became and All-Star and top-15 or so player. They gave him the perfect platform to develop, with great fan support, a fine coach in Quin Snyder and a first class organization led by GM Dennis Lindsey.
Plus, they drafted and surrounded Hayward with a decent supporting cast, led by a monster in the making in Rudy Gobert, who was given a $100 million extension two summers ago.
They knew that Hayward hitting unrestricted free agency would be a steep challenge because plenty of other teams wanted him. And the Celtics would be tough to fend off, since Boston had his old college coach and a ready-to-win team and a deep tradition.
You could nit-pick and say the Jazz should’ve signed Hayward to the max three years ago instead of allowing him to get an offer sheet from the Charlotte Hornets in restricted free agency, but really, they accommodated their star, only to see him bolt.
That’s tough to swallow, and it left the Jazz to wonder: Will they always lose home-groomed stars to the great teams no matter what they do? Suddenly, all of the old stigmas about Salt Lake City not being a destination place for NBA players were being floated around, and to an extent, being a small market does come with perils. The majestic beauty of the Wasatch Range and the benefit of being a player on a one-pro-team town isn’t enough for some.
Hayward was the centerpiece of the Jazz and over time became a go-to player in the clutch. He’s not a franchise player in the mold of Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry and others, but he would be a good enough lead singer on many teams.
When he signed with the Celtics, Utah immediately began the painful process of remaking itself. The Jazz passed on bringing back George Hill after trading for Ricky Rubio before free agency opened, and Hill took a bigger payday in Sacramento. Back in March this would’ve been an unrealistic outcome as Hayward raved about Hill and the two had great harmony.
In Rubio, the Jazz have their first pass-first point guard since the John Stockton days. They didn’t need such a player with Hayward around, since he was very good at finding teammates and very often the offense ran through him. But Rubio should instantly help create scoring opportunities for teammates, who before had to create their own shots. In other words, expect a lot of Rubio lobs to Gobert this season.
Rubio’s outside shot remains his biggest shortcoming, and unless that improves, his impact will only go so far. Also, trading for Rubio hinted the Jazz are still uncertain about Dante Exum. Once again, the former lottery pick looked mild at best, shooting only 29 percent from deep and failing to show the playmaking skills needed at the position.
After a promising rookie season, Exum was sidelined in 2015-16 with a torn ACL. He returned last season, but was behind Hill on the depth chart all season (and, at times, Shelvin Mack, too). Exum is only 22, but eventually, the “age excuse” will expire. Utah must make a financial decision on him by next summer.
The Jazz gave up on Lyles after a disappointing sophomore season (when he couldn’t beat out old man Boris Diaw in the rotation) and signed Jonas Jerebko, a stretch four. Also, their No. 1 pick, Donovan Mitchell, was very impressive in the Las Vegas Summer League.
Mitchell is exactly the type of player Utah would love to invest in long-term should he fulfill expectations. Of course, that was the case with Hayward. They had the upper hand when it came to giving Hayward his first extension, not so much his second.
Will that haunt them again when it’s time for Gobert’s second extension?