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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz were the youngest team in the NBA to finish the 2014-15 basketball season, 23.5 years old to be exact, and more than three years younger than the league average.
Looking at the Jazz roster to finish the season, none of the team’s five leaders in total games started was within two years of the NBA’s average age. Dante Exum, the team’s starting point guard in the second half of the season, was the league’s fifth youngest player, starting in more games (41) than the league’s four younger players combined (8).
Gordon Hayward, who led the Jazz in points and minutes per game, is only 24 years old, and he finished 17th among the NBA’s leading scorers, just shy of 20 points per game. Hayward is the sixth-youngest player among the NBA’s top 20 scorers.
The Jazz' four oldest players to finish the season on the roster were 27 years old, and of those four, Joe Ingles and Elijah Millsap were rookies, while Jeremy Evans and Trevor Booker combined to make only five starts.
The average career length of the Jazz roster at season’s end was two and a half years. The average length of an NBA career is just under five years.
Again, the Jazz was a young team.
Now gazing across the NBA’s playoff landscape, the Jazz may have been young at the right time, and more importantly, they may be leaving that youth behind at in the perfect moment.
While it's unlikely the Jazz will be in the running for any of these big-name free agents, it's not starting-level talent the Jazz is lacking, rather needing to fill out the back end of the roster with more experienced NBA veterans.
The Jazz are entering a summer in which they may have as much as $20 million to spend in free agency. There were seven rookies on this team last year, of which only two are guaranteed roster spots next season. Dante Exum, the team’s youngest player, will turn 20 in July, and the Jazz are unlikely to add a player younger than the first-year guard in the upcoming draft.
One of the common questions when looking forward to a future playoff run for the Jazz is, which current post-season participant could the Jazz replace in the playoff landscape? Upon review, there appear to be several potential options.
Among Western Conference teams already eliminated from the postseason, several teams’ stars appear to be on the wrong side of their primes going into next season. The San Antonio Spurs' Tim Duncan, 39, and Manu Ginobili, 37, are both free agents this off season and will mull over retirement before July’s free-agent period opens. The Dallas Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki will be 37 going into the 2015-16 season. The Spurs and Mavericks have combined to miss the playoffs only once in the last 15 years, with this season being the first time both teams have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in the same year. A further slippage in play should surprise nobody at these stars' current age.
Free agency may also play a role in clearing a playoff spot for the Jazz. The Portland Trailblazers are entering a crucial summer for their future, with All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge entering free agency. Marc Gasol, possibly the NBA’s best all-around center, is free to leave the Memphis Grizzlies in July, while the Los Angeles Clippers' DeAndre Jordan will likely have his choice of top-dollar contracts across the league.
While it’s unlikely the Jazz will be in the running for any of these big-name free agents, it’s not starting-level talent the Jazz is lacking, rather needing to fill out the back end of the roster with more experienced NBA veterans.
There are other teams likely to challenge the Jazz as current playoff outsiders looking to claw their way in, as the Los Angeles Lakers will always be a threat to add upper-echelon talent to rebuild a roster seemingly overnight. The Oklahoma City Thunder missed the playoffs this season, mostly due to injury, and should make a strong push back to postseason play once Kevin Durant returns to health, even if both he and Russell Westbrook only last one more season together as teammates.
As important as it is to know when to rebuild a roster, as the Utah Jazz have over the past several seasons, it is equally as important to know when to attack potential openings in the NBA’s postseason. Among an aging and uncertain Western Conference landscape, the Jazz opportunity to return to playoff glory might finally be on the horizon.