This season promises a glimmer of hope for the Jazz

For Utah Jazz fans, last year was an unmitigated disaster. Even the wins were like a dagger to the heart. Somehow the resilient Jazz managed to disappoint fans 25 times during the season by winning games that weren’t meant to be won.

Last year’s campaign was unique for fans as it wasn’t about winning a championship — it was about winning the lottery, and all that required was losing as many games possible. For once, Jazz fans were willing to accept failure with an eye for the future, a future that hopefully would have included Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker. The expectations for this season are far different from last year’s thinly veiled attempt at tanking. This season is about growth, and while the Jazz may very well end up competing for the lottery, it will be with a team that is designed to win instead of lose.

Last year the Jazz were coached by dead man walking Tyrone Corbin, who was given the thankless task of coaching a team that was built to lose with the expectation of developing young talent. Corbin was incapable of doing either. Instead of giving younger players like Alec Burks and Enes Kanter more playing time, he insisted on starting washed-up veterans like Richard Jefferson. Instead of losing enough games to win the lottery, the Jazz won just enough to land the fifth pick of the draft and still managed to stunt the growth of their younger players. Jazz fans filled the Energy Solutions Arena with boos when the Jazz won a meaningless game and rolled their eyes when Jefferson threw up shot after shot. If last season was scraping the bottom of the barrel, the good news is that there is nothing left to scrape. As a result this season will be one Jazz fans can look forward to.

For one thing, the Jazz fired Corbin and replaced him with a young, energetic leader in Quin Snyder, who, as an assistant coach with the Atlanta Hawks last year, greatly aided in their surprise success and helped improve the skills of former Jazzmen Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll. Snyder brings excitement and defense to the court, something that was missing last year, and has a team filled with hordes of young talent that is waiting to be shaped and refined. While the Jazz missed out on drafting Wiggins or Parker, they ended up with two very skilled rookies in Dante Exum and Rodney Hood. Exum is an intriguing prospect from Australia who, at the tender age of 19, is full of talent and is regarded by some NBA analysts as the steal of the draft.

Hood became the draft pick from Duke that Jazz fans had been dreaming of all year but with a different name and set of skills. Hood may not be Jabari Parker, but he is an excellent scorer with the ability to hit three-pointers from anywhere on the floor. The Jazz trimmed the bloated fat of its overpaid, underperforming veterans and replaced them with useful specialists in Steve Novak, who is a poor man’s Kyle Korver, and Trevor Booker, whose hustle and heart will remind Jazz fans of Millsap. But the real excitement of this season won’t necessarily be the new players, but the players the Jazz kept.

Gordon Hayward turned a rather up-and-down season into a max contract that will keep him with the Jazz for the next four years and give fans a chance to see what he is really capable of doing. Trey Burke will begin his second season and looks to build on a solid rookie campaign where he showed flashes of brilliance. Alec Burks will finally get the playing time that was being given to Jefferson and will undoubtedly grow by literal leaps and bounds this season. Perhaps most importantly we should finally see just how good Derrick Favors can be and whether or not he can play alongside fellow big man Kanter.

So rejoice, loyal Jazz fans, because this season will not be about losing games to win the lottery, nor will it be spent booing wins and fuming every time Jefferson gets the ball and Kanter is sent to the bench. This season is about hope and excitement — the Jazz are built to win games this year. While that doesn’t mean the playoffs will be a reality this season or next, the Jazz are at least focused on building a foundation instead of repeating a season like last year’s when the Jazz were simply digging themselves a hole.

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