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Jazz enter offseason of great possibility

By Jeremiah Jensen | Posted - Apr 19th, 2013 @ 2:54pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Gordon Hayward summed it up best while he and his teammates were cleaning out their lockers on Thursday.

"It's disappointing we didn't make the playoffs," he said. "Obviously that was the goal."

That has always been the goal for the Utah Jazz. This is a proud franchise with a long history of winning basketball, which is why the past three years have been so disappointing.

This is only the fifth time in the last 30 years that the Jazz have missed the playoffs. It also happens to be the fifth time in the last 10 years.

That is a troubling fact that doesn't sit well with anyone involved with the Utah Jazz, the organization or the fans.

It's an uncomfortable feeling.

The Utah Jazz made the playoffs for 20 consecutive seasons from 1983-84 to 2002-03. Frank Layden turned the Jazz into a winner in that 1983-84 season with a roster that featured All-Stars Adrian Dantley and Rickey Green, along with Darrell Griffith, Thurl Bailey and Mark Eaton.

The Stockton-Malone era would soon follow and playoff appearances became an annual tradition. The Jazz had an identity and stability with Jerry Sloan leading the way.

Then, after missing the playoffs for three years, the Jazz returned with a team led by Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur. They won four playoff series, including a run to the Western Conference Finals in 2007. Injuries, free agency, trades and the resignation of Jerry Sloan brought an end to that era.

Since then the franchise has found itself mired in mediocrity. The Jazz have missed the playoffs twice in the last three seasons and the one playoff appearance ended in a sweep as an eight seed in a lockout-shortened season.

A fan base spoiled by years of success has grown frustrated with the current state of the franchise. There were plenty of empty green seats at EnergySolutions Arena during the final stretch of the season when the Jazz were fighting for a playoff spot. From the team on the floor to the archaic jumbotron that hangs from the rafters, fans demand a better product.

"I expect the fans to be very disappointed and let us know and hold us accountable and make us all work a little bit harder," Jazz General Manager Dennis Lindsey told the media on Thursday.

The fans who want change will get their wish this summer.

Lindsey will have a chance to put his stamp on the franchise.

There are just five players currently under contract for next season: Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks and Jeremy Evans. Marvin Williams has a player option for next season, which he is sure to exercise after the worst statistical season of his eight year NBA career. Expect him to be back next year.

That would leave the Jazz with nine unrestricted free agents, nine open roster spots for Lindsey to work with.

The Jazz will have an estimated $27 million in guaranteed contracts for the 2013-14 season. Based on the current salary cap of $58 million (That number is sure to change next year) that would give the Jazz an estimated $30 million in cap space. Only the Atlanta Hawks will have more cap space than the Utah Jazz on July 1.

Lindsey will have plenty of options. The Jazz could be a big player in free agency. They could do sign-and-trade deals with their own free agents, like Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. They have the roster flexibility to take on a big money player in a trade. They could also re-sign some of their own free agents. They also have two first-round draft picks — likely the 14th and 21st picks in the June draft.

The problem is, this flexibility may come at a bad time. Unless they can convince Chris Paul to come to Utah, this free agent class leaves a lot to be desired. There may not be any All-Star players on the trade block and this draft is considered by most experts to be the worst in years.

Moving the Jazz out of mediocrity won't be an easy task, but Lindsey seems ready for the challenge.

Decisions also need to be made about Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors. They can receive contract extensions this summer. How much will the Jazz offer and will they commit to both players as the cornerstones of the team moving forward?

They may re-sign some of their own free agents, but it looks unlikely that Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap return next season. The young players will get the opportunity next season many fans have been clamoring for. Hayward is expected to step up as a vocal leader. Favors will be forced to be more assertive offensively. Kanter and Burks will have a chance to earn more consistent minutes. The truth is, fans may need to be prepared for a tough season next year as the "Core 4" take on a bigger role.

One change the Jazz won't be making is their head coaching position. Lindsey stressed Thursday that Ty Corbin has the full support of the Miller family.

Corbin will have to deal with another offseason of roster turnover, something that has made his job difficult in his first three seasons. There will be a lot of pressure on Corbin to prove he is the right guy for the job moving forward. It will be the final year of his contract.

Stability was never an issue with this franchise until Jerry Sloan resigned abruptly 54 games into the 2010-11 season. Since then the Jazz have experienced plenty of roster turnovers and lacked an identity. Since the Deron Williams trade they have lacked a star player. The Jazz must find a star and establish an identity moving forward in order to return to their former glory.

This offseason provides Lindsey and the Jazz front office a chance to build the foundation that will return the franchise to elite status in the NBA.

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