Around this time three months ago, we were starting to hear rumblings of Deron Williams being the best point guard in the NBA. It was perfect timing — Chris Paul was hurt and nowhere to be seen, Derrick Rose was out of the playoffs, and Rajon Rondo and Steve Nash were just beginning to pick up their postseason steam. The world was D-Will's stage, and he made the most of it. He's already led his team to the second round of the West playoffs, and now he's looking for more. But can he get it?
2009-10 Record: 53-29 (second in Northwest Division, fifth in Western Conference, lost to Lakers in Western Conference semifinals)
Celtics' record vs. Jazz: 45-36 all time, 1-1 last season
Familiar faces: Al Jefferson (played three seasons in Boston, later traded to Minnesota for Kevin Garnett)
Key additions: Jefferson (traded from Minnesota), Raja Bell (free agent), Gordon Hayward (draft), Jeremy Evans (draft)
Key losses: Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver (both signed with Bulls), Kosta Koufos (traded to Minnesota for Jefferson), Wesley Matthews (signed with Blazers)
Burning question: Will Al Jefferson be the next Carlos Boozer?
With Williams firmly entrenched as a franchise player and a perennial All-Star, the Jazz have their point guard of the future. No question there. But who's the greatest weapon in his arsenal?
Ever since D-Will came into the league five years ago, Boozer has been his go-to scorer. And now that Boozer's in the Windy City, the Jazz have to find a new plan of attack.
For 22 years, the Jerry Sloan era in Utah has been defined by two things: an elite point guard and an elite scoring power forward in front of him. With John Stockton and Karl Malone, they went to the Finals twice. With D-Will and Boozer, they were again a serious contender. The onus is now on Big Al to be the next big thing.
When healthy, Jefferson is a guaranteed 20 and 10 guy every season. And he demands a double-team on the low post every night, which opens things up for the rest of the offense. He's got the tools to be one of the best big men in the league, and at 25, now's his time to prove it.
Boozer left big shoes to fill, but Jefferson is more than capable of filling them.
2010-11 outlook: The Jazz were a mid-seed in the Western Conference playoffs last season, and they likely will be again. Jefferson is a solid addition, and the Jazz still have Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur beefing up the defense and spreading the floor. But it'll be tough for this team to get over the hump and take down the Lakers in the West. If they want to do some series damage in the spring, the Jazz will need a Herculean effort out of Williams.
Did you know? The Jazz and Celtics have never met in a postseason series, but the two teams went head to head in a fictional NBA Finals in 1996. The film Celtic Pride, starring Damon Wayans as an arrogant, trash-talking Jazz guard, centers around a Utah-Boston Finals. (The series goes seven. I won't spoil the ending.)