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SALT LAKE CITY — As the Jazz announced their new offseason additions, general manager Justin Zanik was asked if the upcoming season felt more important that normal.
"Every year is an important year," Zanik said, not quite flippantly, but close to it.
While that is true, there are a couple things that make this year seem a bit more urgent than previous seasons.
The Jazz pushed all their chips to the center of the table this offseason, electing to bring the bulk of last year's already expensive (albeit very good) team and then adding some salary on top of that.
Utah will enter the season with the fourth most expensive roster in the league. The Jazz are currently in line to spend about $39 million in luxury tax payments after signing Mike Conley to a new multi-year deal. If one thing was clear this offseason, it was that Ryan Smith is willing to spend to field a championship-contending team.
Frankly, in the offseason Jazz fans saw the type of financial commitment that typically only fans in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York enjoy. For perspective, Utah's tax bill is currently about $6 million more than the Lakers'. It really is a new era in Jazz basketball.
And with the Jazz choosing to waive Jarrell Brantley last week, they'll have an open roster spot to presumably use in the buyout market — adding further salary to the team's book.
Utah was shrewd with their money, though, opting to trade away Derrick Favors and then use his $9.7 million salary to bring in Rudy Gay, Eric Paschall and Hassan Whiteside to try and bolster the squad.
Zanik said this type of financial commitment wasn't a "one-year thing," but that's a little hard to accept at face value. Sure, Smith will probably be always willing to spend a lot to field a team he believes can compete, but what happens when the Jazz hit some setbacks?
If this year's squad disappoints, how eager will Smith be to take on those big tax bills?
The Jazz are starting to age.
Conley and Joe Ingles will both be 34 when the season begins, Bojan Bogdanovic is 32, and Gay, Utah's key offseason addition, is 35. Those are four players that will need to play big roles if the Jazz hope to contend.
The question: How many more effective seasons do those guys have left? While some NBA players age gracefully — and to be fair, Ingles and Conley's games may just do that — there are times when the legs just suddenly leave.
The Jazz saw that first hand with Joe Johnson. One year he was hitting game winners in the playoffs and shouldering some heavy offensive responsibility, the next season he proved to be unplayable. He was 36 when that happened.
The good news: Utah's other All-Stars are either right at their prime or still have years before they peak. Donovan Mitchell is 25 and Rudy Gobert is 29, giving the Jazz at least some years to try and win a title around those two.
According to a USA Today study from 2018, the average age of an All-NBA player is 27.7 years old — also believed the time a player hits their "peak." But here's the thing, recent seasons have started to buck that trend. Chris Paul and LeBron James both made an all-NBA squad at the age of 36, and Steph Curry was 33.
So if Utah is in danger of aging out of its championship contender window, so are many other teams. The Phoenix Suns need Paul to be his All-NBA self; the LA Lakers will lean on LeBron to be, well, LeBron; and the Brooklyn Nets will be led by James Harden and Kevin Durant, who are both into their 30s.
The Jazz are just like the other contenders: counting on veterans to compete for a title. In the end, that might prove to be a key part to the title race.