Utah Jazz Swing for the Fences by Signing Free-Agent Josh Howard


I went to great lengths last night to extol the potential virtues of undrafted rookie Paul Carter, and how he could potentially help the Jazz at Small Forward, a position at which the Jazz lacked depth. Part of my argument was that free-agent Josh Howard was not part of the solution to the Jazz needs due the multiple injuries that have plagued him the last 4 seasons, and some unusual off-court behavior.

Well you can throw all of that out the window as the Jazz agreed to a deal with Howard today on a 1 year contract. Per team policy terms of the deal were not disclosed, and Howard must still pass a physical, but once he does that the Jazz will have accomplished something that rarely happens for this franchise. They signed a free-agent who is a former all-star, and who chose the Jazz over 2010 playoff teams Chicago, Portland, Denver, and San Antonio.

The potential to step in and contribute right away to a deep and talented mix of veterans and youngsters while demonstrating to the rest of the league that he is fully recovered from his injury woes, would seem to be what led Howard to sign with the Jazz, over 4 teams who all enter the season as a much better bet to make the playoffs than the Jazz.

That and perhaps we’ll find out the Jazz offered Howard twice what the other teams were offering. However, if the money is close, then landing a former all-star free-agent against some stiff competition is definitely a step in the right direction for a franchise who frankly has struggled to attract and retain top flight talent via the free-agent market. Just ask Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams about their desire to end their careers with the Jazz.

The acquisition is definitely not a sure fire slam dunk as Howard must do something he hasn’t done since the 2007-2008 season, and that is stay healthy enough to appear in a majority of his teams games. Jazz message boards were up in arms that the signing of Howard means youngsters like Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks will significantly see their playing time diminish.

The man who pulled off the deal, Jazz VP of Basketball Operations Kevin O’Connor however does not share that same sentiment. Compliments of Brian T. Smith at the Salt lake Tribune, O’Connor had this to say about the deal:

"“From our point of view…the risk is limited but the potential for reward is enormous. Let’s say that we didn’t carry a third point guard; that’s [Alec] Burks can maybe play at the point, all right? Well you still have to pay a 13th guy, OK? So, at most, our exposure is very, very limited.”"

Uh okay, does that mean that Burks will have the potential to get some extra minutes as the Jazz 3rd point guard, which more importantly means Jamal Tinsley, who has basically been out of the NBA for the past 3 seasons, won’t be a part of the final roster. O’Connor also offered up these juicy nuggets of information regarding the deal: (again courtesy of the Tribune)

"He rebounds his position just about as well as any small forward…he’s played on teams that have won consistently and been to the Finals and averaged double-figures in the Finals. There are some things in his background that he regrets and we talked about those things, too, and what he learned from them. We touched on everything. We touched on the fact that he’s had a year off; he’s going to have to get the rust off a little bit and all of those things. But all in all, you’re getting a guy that’s a quality NBA player that’s had an ACL and now let’s see how he responds to it. Al [Jefferson’s] had an ACL. Let’s see how he comes back. What it does is it gives us an opportunity to get a mid-range shooter and a slasher that maybe we haven’t had in the past."

Make that 2 mid-range shooters and slashers that they haven’t had in the past, because all reports out of camp regarding rookie Alec Burks have been glowing. He’s earned praise from the veterans and coaches for his ability to score in multiple ways, he’s also been widely praised for making his teammates better. He’s a better ball handler than most people thought and his passing skills have wowed the coaches and his teammates. It’s these abilities that I believe helped facilitate the move to bring in Howard, and hopefully helps send Jamal Tinsley back to the D-League.

The addition of Howard, again if he’s healthy, gives the Jazz a legitimate 13 deep roster that’s a solid mix of veterans and younger players. Right now Jeremy Evans is the 13th man, and that’s not bad considering the athleticism, defense, energy and rebounding he provides as a spark off the bench.

Enes Kanter would appear to be the 12th man, simply due to his youth (19 years old) and the fact that he hasn’t played in many games over the past 18 months. He did have a solid showing at the FIBA European Championship this summer. Despite playing just 17 minutes per game he averaged just shy of 10 points and 4 rebounds. He was 2nd in the tournament shooting nearly 60% from the floor and got to the free-throw line almost 4 times per game. Click here to see his game by game stats.  The skill is definitely there, you would expect that from the #3 pick in the draft he simply needs playing time, and the condensed 66 game schedule should provide Kanter that opportunity.

The busy regular season schedule was another factor in the signing of Howard according to O’Connor:

"The opportunity that he’ll have is to come in and play. Because, again, you play six games in eight days. So, you’re going to get deeper into benches and we’re not trying to establish ― we’re not saying, ‘OK, we’re going to play the young kids irregardless.’ They’ve got to earn it. And if they earn it, then it’s great. If they don’t, then they’re not going to play as much.Give the Miller family credit. We said, ‘Look: Here’s what we’re attempting to do. We’re attempting to develop the young kids and still win.’ And sometimes that’s a little tougher deal. But I think this season is going to dictate that that’s a necessity."

As you evaluate the Jazz top 11 players in the rotation, you’ve got to be excited about the mix of veterans and youth and the overall versatility of this team. The addition of Howard provides the Jazz with another long, athletic, versatile player who can play multiple positions and, who like the rest of the roster, appears to give the Jazz a deep, multi-talented, athletic roster, perhaps unlike any Jazz fans have ever witnessed.

The front court consists of a slimmed down Al Jefferson who dropped 20 pounds and is much more agile, Derrick Favors the athletic wunderkind who added about 20 pounds of muscle to his 20 year old athletic frame, he who could very well develop into the next Dwight Howard. A healthy Mehmet Okur who will open up the lane for the big guys and provide the Jazz much needed 3 point shooting, and Paul Millsap who has improved his all-around game every season. On paper that’s an attractive mix of defense, rebounding, length, scoring and athleticism, and that’s not even counting Kanter and Evans.

Devin Harris is healthy and has been the first member of the team in the gym everyday during camp, and Earl Watson will provide the Jazz a nice mix at point guard of speed, scoring and of course Watson’s signature alley-oops. On the wings you’ve got Gordon Hayward who provided Jazz fans a glimpse of his potential at the end of last season, and who also put on 15 pounds of muscle in the off-season.

Howard who could be a huge acquisition, Raja Bell who should benefit from not playing so many minutes but will provide the jazz defense and 3 point shooting with the 2nd unit. CJ Miles who slimmed down from last year, and is in the final year of his contract with a lot to prove. And rookie Alec Burks who has probably generated the most buzz at camp. Putting aside the first look Jazz fans had of Burks, when he scored 29 points on 14-of-15 shooting at a charity game during the lockout.

Also throw out the dominant performance Burks displayed at the Indy Summer Pro-Am, as he spent the summer working out with Hayward adding 10 pounds of muscle himself and improving his outside shot. (Click Here for a sweet video highlight of Burks at the Indy Pro-Am, caution you will only enjoy this if you like seeing lots of dunks and 3 pointers from the Jazz 12th overall pick)

All you need to know about Burks is contained in this article by Brian T.Smith of the Tribune. Needless to say, if you haven’t already read about Burks exploits, you will certainly come away looking forward to seeing him in action, and Jazz fans have the chance to do just that Saturday night at a free scrimmage at the Energy Solutions Arena.

Jazz fans have every right to be optimistic about the squad O’Connor has put together for this lockout shortened season. The Jazz have just the right mix of experience and youth and more importantly depth to perhaps make a surprise playoff run this year.

With the Chris Paul trade today, and so many good players leaving the West to join the Eastern Conference, combined with the condensed schedule, which will be detrimental to older teams and teams lacking in depth.  No one is picking the Jazz to make the playoffs and that’s fine, cause by mid-season the league will know just how talented and deep this squad is and just maybe the “Energy” will be back in Energy Solutions Arena.