Over the summer, several NBA teams have improved drastically. They signed big named free agents and formed duos that will lead them in the future. Or, they traded for a big name to pair with an incoming free agent. In some cases, teams made trades to pair a new star with their current go-to player.
The first (free agency) duo to come together was Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Durant and Irving joined forces in Brooklyn when they signed with the Nets earlier this summer. The duo also brought center De’Andre Jordan with them. The duo (or trio) has a chance to become an elite team in the Eastern Conference and can compete with teams on the West. But, the Nets weren’t the only team to make big moves.
Other teams include the Los Angeles Clippers, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Houston Rockets. The Clippers signed Kawhi Leonard and acquired Paul George through a trade, the Lakers acquired Anthony Davis, and the Rockets acquired Russell Westbrook.
Each of these teams improved and have made the already competitive Western Conference even better. However, there is another Western Conference team that has a chance to compete with the best teams of the West. That team is the Utah Jazz.
For the past few seasons, the Jazz have been a playoff team. They reached the playoffs in 2016-17 after finishing the season with a record of 51-31. They were fifth in the West and reached the Conference Semifinals before losing to the Warriors. Last season, they finished the season with a record of 50-32. They were the fifth seed and lost to the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs.
The Jazz have a young star in Donovan Mitchell and a rim protector in Rudy Gobert. The two players play a crucial part in Utah’s success. Mitchell is approaching the third season of his career. He averaged 23.8 points, 4.2 assists and 4.1 rebounds in 2018-19. His averages improved in each category, as he averaged 20.5 points, 3.7 assists and 3.7 rebounds.
Gobert averaged a double-double with 15.9 points and 12.9 rebounds. He also averaged 2.3 blocks, which led to his second straight Defensive Player of the Year award. He and Mitchell are Utah’s core, but this summer, they added players place alongside Gobert and Mitchell. For example, the Jazz added veteran point guard Mike Conley.
Conley started his career with the Memphis Grizzlies and played with them up to this point. The Grizzlies traded him to the Jazz in exchange for Grayson Allen, Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver and draft rights to Darius Bazley (who’s rights were later traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder).
Conley averaged a career-high 21.1 points and 6.4 assists last season. He played well despite the Grizzlies finishing 12th in the Western Conference. With a rebuild looming, the Grizzlies traded center Marc Gasol (earlier in the season) and Conley to start their rebuild with pieces such as Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant. The Jazz benefit from the deal as they gain a facilitator (that can also score) to pair with Mitchell in the backcourt. So, the trade worked for both sides.
The Jazz also picked up Bojan Bogdanovic in free agency. Bogdanovic averaged 20 points and 4.1 rebounds last season. He played for the Indiana Pacers for two seasons before signing with the Jazz. Now, the Jazz have another shooter besides Joe Ingles.
The Utah Jazz are in a good position. Besides Conley and Bogdanovic, they also picked up Ed Davis, Jeff Green and Emmanuel Mudiay. The Jazz have improved this summer, and if things go right, they can be a high seed in the West.
Featured image courtesy of AFP Photo/Gene Sweeney Jr.