When the 2010-11 season began on October 27th, many fans had Wednesday's Nuggets versus Jazz game penciled in as a potential big one for both teams. Boy were we wrong, and for completely unforeseen reasons.
***NOTE THE EARLY START TIME: 6PM MDT***
The Utah Jazz were supposed to contend for the Northwest Division title.
And conversely, the Nuggets somehow made out like bandits after trading their superstar and are being talked about as a potential championship contender.
In a bizarre twist to all of this, the Jazz - not wanting to endure a Melodrama of their own with Williams next season - took the deal in exchange for their lone superstar that the Nuggets seriously contemplated and almost pulled the trigger on for theirs. That trade, of course, would be New Jersey's offer of point guard Devin Harris, third overall pick Derrick Favors and two first round picks for the right to gamble on Williams re-signing with the Nets a year from now.
But while it's easy to throw rocks at Utah's deal-making now, the jury is still out on Favors and those picks. What is indisputable, however, is that the departure of Sloan and then Williams ruined the Jazz's 2010-11 season and ended their streak of consecutive post-season appearances at four. And without getting too much into the central thesis of my 2011 STIFFY Awards again, I firmly believe that the Jazz losing Williams - just like Cleveland losing LeBron James, Toronto losing Chris Bosh, Utah losing Carlos Boozer and Denver losing Melo, all to popular Leastern Conference markets - doesn't bode well for the future of small market NBA franchises. And Salt Lake City is the NBA's smallest market.
Like their rocky mountain region rivals in Denver, the Jazz are playing for a post-new CBA era with salary cap flexibility and young players. Unlike Denver, they don't have the talent now to make a substantive playoff run. But unlike Utah, the Nuggets don't have the additional draft picks Utah does. It will be interesting to see whose strategy plays out better in the long run, but I certainly wouldn't want to trade rosters and picks with the Jazz right now.
None of this really matters for Wednesday night's match up in Salt Lake City. Our Nuggets have absolutely nothing to play for and need to rest their injured players like Nene, Arron Afflalo, Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari. And the Jazz have absolutely nothing to play for as they wait to draft BYU star Jimmer Fredette in the 2011 NBA Draft. You just know it's going to happen. Fredette is currently projected to be a top-15 pick, and with the Jazz holding two picks in the top 15, they won't be able to resist.
So what could have been another thrilling chapter in the Nuggets versus Jazz division rivalry will instead be a snoozer as the Nuggets get ready to open the playoffs on the road this weekend and the Jazz start their summer vacation early.
SCOUTING THE JAZZ...
-Al Jefferson: The real "Big Al" turned in a fine season and really stepped up his game even after Williams departed. The Jazz acquired Jefferson in exchange for now-Nugget Kosta Koufos and two overly protected, future first round picks and Jefferson should anchor the center spot in Utah for years to come.
-Paul Millsap: You can accuse Millsap of being overpaid, but he's a workhorse who just delivered his finest NBA season ever in the absence of Carlos Boozer. Millsap averaged 17.4 ppg and 7.6 ppg, and most impressively went off for 46 points in an early season victory at Miami.
-Devin Harris: Upon being traded to Utah, Harris lived up to his reputation for not being able to stay healthy by missing seven games, all of which resulted in Jazz losses.
-Andrei Kirilenko: AK47 belongs here for sporting his current hairdo.
I always had a love/hate relationship with the Jazz. I've hated them for years for being in the Nuggets way. But I always loved the way Sloan, Williams and Boozer played the game (and, of course, Sloan, Karl Malone and John Stockton before that).
Sadly, those days are long gone and until the NBA reworks its revenue sharing structure to make things fair to small market teams, those days aren't coming back anytime soon.
Opposition's Take: SLC Dunk