Are the Utah Jazz the NBA’s most interesting team ahead of the 2023 draft?
The Utah Jazz have piqued the interest of the rest of the NBA.
That’s per ESPN’s Zach Lowe, on a recent edition of the “Lowe Post” podcast.
According to Lowe, there is no more interesting team in the league ahead of the 2023 NBA draft than the Jazz, largely because no one knows exactly what they are going to do this offseason.
“Everyone wants to know what Utah is going to do,” Lowe said. “Everyone. Utah has a bonanza of cap room, depending on a couple of decisions, all the Minnesota picks, all the Cleveland picks, a Philly pick and another pick I’m forgetting.
“... Everyone is wondering, are they going to try to speed this (rebuild) up more than anticipated, based on exceeding expectations last year?”
Entering last season, Utah was expected to be one of the worst teams in the NBA, after tearing down a team that included Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Bojan Bogdanovic.
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Instead, the Jazz overachieved and won 37 games, unearthed an All-Star and fringe All-NBA player in Lauri Markkanen, had one of the best rookies in the NBA in center Walker Kessler and, well, the list goes on.
With three first-round picks in the upcoming draft (No. 9, No. 16 and No. 28), the Jazz could try to parlay some of their assets into a win-now player, or they could stay put, select prospects and continue with a slow rebuild.
ESPN’s NBA draft analyst Jonathan Givony believes the Jazz will go the latter route and use their picks this summer to add developmental prospects.
“I think that they are going to build slowly,” he told Lowe. “They have these three first-round picks and I anticipate them using them, maybe take some swings on talent and try to hit a home run.
“... I think they were surprised a little bit by how good they were. I don’t think that necessarily was the plan there. They aren’t going to be any worse next year. When you play that hard you are going to win games in the NBA.
“They have really good players, with Lauri Markannen especially, but they also have some real holes in the backcourt that they need to fill. ... They have the stability there to not have to make a win-now move. They are in one of the best situations of any team in the NBA right now.”
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The latest draft projections have the Jazz selecting a variety of players with the No. 9 pick, including Cason Wallace, G, Kentucky; Taylor Hendricks, F, UCF; Gradey Dick, G/F, Kansas; Cam Whitmore, F, Villanova; Anthony Black, G, Arkansas; and Jarace Walker, F, Houston.
Lowe, meanwhile, believes Utah may entertain the idea of improving quickly by trading assets for a player that fits better with Markkanen right now.
“It is not like they are going to trade for Bradley Beal or somebody that just didn’t fit their timeline,” he said. “Who the guy is is going to be tricky for them, but I bet they’ll look around at some names.
“... They are Utah so if they trade for someone it is going to be someone who is under contract for a good number of years.”
Adding to the intrigue is the fact that the Jazz have multiple key players who have player options this offseason, including guards Jordan Clarkson and Talen Horton-Tucker, as well as forward Rudy Gay.
Center Kelly Olynyk’s contract is also only partially guaranteed.
Lowe believes Clarkson won’t exercise his option and instead will become a free agent, while Gay is almost certain to exercise his option.
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As for Horton-Tucker, Lowe said, “THT, who went bananas in the last month of the season, player option for $11 million ... that’s interesting.”
“They have a great coach in Will Hardy, Kessler, Markannen, the whole thing,” Lowe said. “I don’t know what they are going to do. ... I couldn’t get a read. I was in the lottery room with Ryan Smith. I tried to get a read. I couldn’t get a read.
“I think they would be happy to try and win more games next year and hit the accelerator a little bit but not floor it, but the question they’ll have to ask themselves is, who is going to be the guy?”