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Five Reasons Utah Jazz Fans Should Be Optimistic

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | It was a difficult season for the Utah Jazz.

Their starting point guard missed 32 games due to a thumb injury, their up-and-coming center underwent shoulder surgery and the Los Angeles Lakers, who on Jan. 23 were 17-25, passed them for the eighth and final playoff spot.

But there are reasons to be optimistic about next year. Here are five.

Flexibility

Two-thirds of the Jazz have expiring contracts, including Al Jefferson, Mo Williams, Paul Millsap, Randy Foye, Earl Watson, Jamaal Tinsley and DeMarre Carroll. This means team officials could have as little as $17.4 million on the books (last year's payroll was $65.6 million) as they enter the free agent market.

Draft Picks

At this moment, Utah can make three picks on June 27: No. 14, No. 21 and No. 44. None of these are very high, but the Jazz have a history of discovering talent late in the draft. In the second round alone they've hit on guys like Bryon Russell (No. 45), Shandon Anderson (No. 54), C.J. Miles (No. 34) and Paul Millsap (No. 47).

Gordon Hayward

Hayward has shown steady improvement in each of his first three seasons. On offense, for example, he increased his scoring output from 5.4 points per game as a rookie to 11.8 his sophomore year to 14.1 this season. That number, as well as his other statistics, should be even higher in 2013-2014, especially after general manager Dennis Lindsey challenged Hayward to be more of a team leader during the Jazz's end-of-the-year locker cleanout.

Derrick Favors

Although he's just 21 years old, Favors is already in the upper echelon of NBA defenders. This was evident on April 7, when the 6-foot-10 forward swatted Draymond Green's layup attempt with 42.7 seconds remaining to preserve Utah's 93-90 advantage. Favors finished the year 12th in the league in blocks (130) and 14th in blocks per game (1.7). He also averaged 11 rebounds per 36 minutes. With more playing time, the former No. 3 pick could morph into a Tyson Chandler/Kevin Garnett-type of defender and start coordinating the Jazz's entire half-court defense.

Enes Kanter

Last summer the Big Turkey shed 51 pounds and it totally paid off, particularly when he saw more minutes in March. During that time, he averaged 11.5 points per game on nearly 60 percent shooting. On March 1, when he started against the Charlotte Bobcats, Kanter scored 23 points on 10-of-12 shooting and grabbed 22 rebounds. Like Hayward and Favors, Kanter should flourish as he gets more experience.

Jared Bray, a graduate of Brigham Young University's broadcast journalism program, has followed the Utah Jazz since 2008, when he covered the team as a sports correspondent for KBYU-TV's Daily News at Noon.

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