Jazz, Thunder open season heading in opposite directions

The Utah Jazz had the best record in the NBA last season, while the Oklahoma City Thunder had one of the worst.

Judging by their offseason moves, the two teams both appear to be pursuing similar results in 2021-22.

Utah, which hosts Oklahoma City for the teams’ season opener Wednesday, retained its competitive core of All-Star guards Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley, Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, Sixth Man of the Year Jordan Clarkson, sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanovic and utility wing Joe Ingles. In addition, the Jazz’s front office picked up veterans Rudy Gay and Hassan Whiteside while snagging a potential second-round steal in rookie Jared Butler.

After being eliminated in the second round yet again this past summer, the Jazz are intent on having as much success in the postseason as they often do in the regular season. Utah, which went 52-20, was one of just two teams to reach the 50-win mark in the shortened 72-game 2020-21 season.

«We came in with a plan and I think we largely executed that,» Jazz general manager Justin Zanik said during a team-sponsored podcast. «We have a very talented team that cares about each other, a great coach and great ownership that has a chance to advance.»

The Jazz also added one of Mitchell’s best friends in Golden State power forward Eric Paschall. He could be available for the first game along with Ingles, who didn’t play in the preseason after a jam-packed summer of the NBA playoffs and Summer Olympics, but Gay will be sidelined to open the year after undergoing heel surgery.

When healthy, this could be one of the deepest teams in Utah hoops history, which is saying something considering their storied past that includes teams featuring John Stockton and Karl Malone as headliners.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Thunder didn’t do enough to persuade onlookers that they’re going to challenge for anything but a high lottery draft pick once again this season. OKC finished 2020-21 by going 2-23 in the final two months, and things don’t look much brighter after a lackluster offseason.

Sure, the Thunder did lock up star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who averaged nearly 24 points before being sidelined with a foot injury, by giving him a max contract. Now healthy, he’s OKC’s best shot at an All-Star and a nice piece as a cornerstone for the future.

And while Australian rookie Josh Giddey will be a solid addition to their depleted roster, the Thunder’s only other noteworthy pick-up this offseason was a trade for former Jazz big man Derrick Favors.

One prognosticator, FiveThirtyEight, only sees the Thunder winning 19 games all season. OKC won 22, tied for fourth-fewest in the NBA, in the 72-game season last season.

That’s seemingly fine with the Thunder, who don’t have a player born before 1990 on their roster. This season is a bridge to the future, according to Thunder general manager Sam Presti.

«This year for us,» he told the team’s website, «is as much about getting a baseline of where we’re at now that we have a grouping of young players that will compete to figure out who will be here for the long term and who can help us cultivate the next era of Thunder basketball.»

–Field Level Media

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