49-33. This is what I predict will be the Utah Jazz's record this season. We will beat Denver by one game to win the division. Then we will lose in the first round, probably to the Rockets.
This prediction may sound pessimistic, but a quick evaluation of the Jazz and of the rest of the league makes this prediction understandable. First, the Jazz lost Derek Fisher, losing leadership, wisdom, professionalism, outside shooting, and our starting shooting guard and backup point guard in the process. Fisher brought all of these factors to the table. No matter what replacements Jason Hart and Ronnie Price do, it is unlikely that they can replace all of these attributes.
Signing Hart and Price is all we did in the offseason, along with drafting Morris Almond and Kyrylo Fesenko. Meanwhile, what did the rest of the league do? Well, Boston obviously took large strides forward with acquiring Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. How about in the West? Houston made their weak position a strength by acquiring Steve Francis (again) and Mike James from Minnesota, only getting rid of Juwan Howard, whose career is nearing its end. This basically pushes shaky point guard and '06-'07 Rafer Alston to the third string, if not the fourth, if former Oregon guard Aaron Brooks keeps playing the way he did in the Vegas Summer League. Meanwhile, Denver has Melo and A.I. together for a whole season, while Kenyon Martin and Nene will be completely healthy to make a strong front line when teamed with Marcus Camby.
For these reasons, I'm afraid that the Jazz will be slightly worse. We lost the intagibles that Fisher brought to the table, while Houston and Denver, the teams directly above and below us in the playoff seeding last season, made huge steps toward improvement. In addition, super sub Matt Harpring's effectiveness may be limited for a while with recovering from his surgeries. So our depth has taken a huge hit as well.
I love our team, and they still have a lot of core pieces that will carry the team, but the question is how far can they take them when everybody else around them in the West is so tough still, and improving?