The Three Possible Outcomes of this Jazz Season

20 games into the NBA season, the Jazz have already provided a lot of entertaining ups, downs and ill-advised three-pointers.  While part of me was devastated by the Clippers loss last night, part of me was also really proud of the Jazz.  A month ago, I really doubted if they had the gumption to fight tooth and nail with one of the top teams in the NBA all the way down the stretch. So even though it came out as a loss, it’s hard for me to be too upset.  Now I think it’s time to wildly speculate about the course of the rest of the season.  I think that there are basically 3 roads that the Jazz can now go down.

1. The first- and probably most likely- is that the Jazz follow the 2003-2004/2005-2006 blueprint. In terms of record, this Jazz team most closely resembles that 2003-2004 team, who were unexpectedly 11-9 twenty games into the season. That team never got more than 4 games above .500 and cruised at that pace all season long until they reached 42-38 with two games to go.  They lost the last two games and coughed up the final playoff spot to Denver.  The current Jazz team is much better than that team, but they also have a tougher schedule.  The most likely scenario is that the Jazz struggle through February but pull out a handful of surprising wins, get down in the playoff chase because of all of the road games, and then make a late surge in the second half of March and into April.  They sneak into the 8th seed of the playoffs because Houston falls apart again and everyone on Portland’s team gets seriously injured in a tandem-biking accident.  In the playoffs, they give Oklahoma City a tough run and squeeze out two wins before falling in six, getting credit from the media for being ‘a team of the future’ along the way.

2. Disaster strikes: Al Jefferson’s ankle starts taking him out of games for short spurts throughout the season, Earl Watson gets knocked out for the rest of the year because he plays just a little too scrappy, and another of our bigs gets hurt for awhile.  We drop a few in a row on the road and the wheels start coming off.  Ty Corbin starts coaching scared because he knows he isn’t getting the good press he was before, Alec Burks is never freed, Josh Howard never learns to dribble, Jazz Nation gives up all hope on Devin Harris, and C.J. Miles reverts to his old ways and breaks the franchise record for 3-point field goal attempts that he set last year (and can you believe that? Can you believe that of all the shooters the Jazz have ever employed, Calvin Andre Miles Jr. is the one who has taken the most 3s in a season? That’s probably why Jerry Sloan really retired).  We finish with about 25 wins and get two top-ten picks in the draft.

3. Now that you’re thoroughly depressed, here’s the best option: the Jazz beat the Lakers on Saturday to get that monkey off of their back, split their first eastern road trip, beat Oklahoma City at the ESA, and keep it rolling from there.  They turn into a gritty road team that learns how to get up by ten points early and hang on the rest of the way.  Kevin O’Connor, sensing that the Jazz are actually ready to contend now, takes advantage of Indiana’s desire to clear up cap room for Eric Gordon this summer by packaging the end of C.J.’s contract with the trade exception the Jazz got from the Memo deal to reel in Danny Granger at the trade deadline, who starts playing better and better.  With a dangerous scorer on the wing to pair with a deep frontcourt, the Jazz can permanently move Hayward to SG and bring a solid veteran backcourt in Earl and Raja to match with Favors and Kanter off of the bench.  Kanter keeps progressing his offensive game and Alec Burks realizes that the role he needs to play off the bench this season is as a sharpshooter and defensive stopper and steps up to it.  The Jazz win 43 games- good for 2nd place in the conference- and roll a worn-out and beat-up Lakers team in the first round for sweet revenge from the past few years.  In the semi-finals, they run into their old playoff foes, the Denver Nuggets.  The Jazz prevail in six games with Paul Millsap averaging 30 points in the series, sending them to their first conference finals appearance in 5 years.  They take Oklahoma City to seven games before bowing out, setting themselves up for an even deeper run in years to come.  Tyrone Corbin wins Coach of the Year and Golden State hands us the 8th pick in the draft.  Likelihood? Not great. But is it possible? Oh yes.

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