The Utah Jazz are only 4-7 this season, but they have one of the most talented young teams in the NBA. They have had a pretty stacked schedule - four home games (all against good teams) and seven road ones. They just finished a five game in seven day swing through the East Coast, with 2 of the 3 losses coming on the second night of a road back-to-back. The record will come around and the future is bright in Utah.
Getting to this point, though, took a whole lot of work and patience. Let's take a look at how the Jazz built this team:
1) After losing to the LA Lakers in the playoffs for the third consecutive season, the Jazz lost Carlos Boozer to the Chicago Bulls in FA and began a re-loading process, trading Kosta Koufos and a first-round pick in 2010 and 2012 for Al Jefferson.
2) One of the reasons they made that trade was because they had the Knicks lottery pick in 2010, a pick which had changed hands numerous times over the years. It was originally conveyed to Phoenix as the final part of the Stephon Marbury trade. The Jazz used it on Gordon Hayward.
3) Half-way through the season, Utah realized they had taken a step back in the Western Conference. Rather than try to put a new elite team around Deron Williams before he hit free agency in 2012, they sold high, shipping their franchise PG to New Jersey for Derrick Favors, Devin Harris and first-round picks in 2011 and 2013.
* It's important here to realize how far into the future Utah was looking when they made this trade. This was made in Year 1 of the LeBron era in Miami. We are now in Year 1 of LeBron's return to Cleveland and we still can't totally decide on some of the pieces that the Jazz got in this deal.
1) They use the lottery pick they acquired from the Nets to draft Enes Kanter at No. 3.
2) They use their own lottery pick, No. 12 overall, to draft Alec Burks.
A veteran team lead by Jefferson, Harris and Paul Millsap sneaks into the bottom of the playoff picture in the lockout season, before eventually being swept by the Spurs. Hayward starts and Favors is the 3rd big man while Kanter and Burke play small roles off the bench in their rookie seasons.
The only year they don't have a pick, as they have to send it to Minnesota as part of the Jefferson trade. They shuffle a few veterans around and remain an above .500 team, but with the bottom of the West continuing to improve, they fall out of the playoff picture with 43 wins.
1) They bundle their first-round pick (14) and the final Nets pick from the Deron Williams trade (21) to move up to No. 9 and draft Trey Burke.
2) They buy the No. 27 pick (Rudy Gobert) from Denver for a second-round pick and cash.
With Jefferson and Millsap hitting FA at the same time, the Jazz decide it's time to turn over the team to the young core they have been developing. They definitely aren't trying to win right away - instead of using their cap space to acquire helpful veterans, they let the Warriors dump Brandon Rush and Andris Biedrins into it for the price of two future first-round picks. Burke's injury to start the season and the lack of any real veteran depth sends them plummeting to the bottom of the Western Conference.
1) The #subtletank (keeping Ty Corbin as coach, starting Richard Jefferson most of the season) pays off, as Utah winds up with the No. 5 pick in one of the most stacked drafts in recent memory and grabs Dante Exum. In essence, the Jazz got the franchise player at the end of the rebuilding process, rather than the beginning.
2) One of the picks from the Iguodala trade (No. 23) becomes Rodney Hood.
They aren't going to make the playoffs this season, but they are headed in the right direction. If the Jazz can finish above .500 at home and near .500 on the road, the season should be a success. Their first real shot at the playoffs may not be until 2015-2016, but they have spent the last five seasons diligently building to reach that point.
Here's a look at their future depth chart, their age and when they were acquired:
PG - Dante Exum (19 - 2014), Trey Burke (22 - 2013)
SG - Alec Burks (23 - 2011)
SF - Gordon Hayward (24 - 2010), Rodney Hood (22 - 2014)
PF - Enes Kanter (22 - 2011), Trevor Booker (27 - 2014)
C- Derrick Favors (24 - 2010), Rudy Gobert (22 - 2013)
The Jazz have length and athleticism at every position on the floor but PF and they have all home-grown guys - this is not a coincidence. The only one in their top 9 whom they didn't draft themselves is Trevor Booker.
What you are looking at is the Oklahoma City model in action. A small-market franchise that 1) builds through the draft by looking for key physical characteristics and 2) develops their young players in an internal culture isolated from the rest of the NBA on 3) a very long time-table without any quick fix solutions in free agency.
And when I look at this team, I see a group that can one day give the Thunder a serious run for their money in the West. They need to figure out what happens with Kanter, but my guess is they keep him around at a reasonable price since he is still only 22. What happens if he figures it out in his mid 20's and him and Favors learn to co-exist in terms of spacing and interior defense? The Jazz are going to be unstoppable.
Exum, Burks, Hayward and Favors are all two-way players. The amount of length and athleticism they can throw at you is mind-boggling - 6'6, 6'6, 6'8 and 6'11 - and all those guys are really good at offense too! And while Burke, Hood and Gobert all have holes in their game, they should still be able to develop into quality bench pieces.
This is a textbook model for how you rebuild through the draft. If you take the OKC formula, you aren't always going to wind up with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden in consecutive years, even if you are really good at drafting. However, if you stay patient and you keep drafting young guys with two-way potential who play different positions, you should end up looking pretty good.
The key is to remain patient. The decisions Utah made in 2010 aren't really going to pay off until the second part of the decade. Compare their rebuilding process with what happened in Denver in the post Carmelo Anthony era. In the NBA, slow and steady wins the race.