2016-17 is make-or-break for the Utah Jazz

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While all of the attention around the NBA is fixed on narratives like Kevin Durant's move to the Golden State Warriors or LeBron James' quest to retain the Larry O'Brien trophy, some humbler franchises are making tracks of their own in the shadows.

Teams like the Indiana Pacers and the Minnesota Timberwolves have made some interesting strides over the summer with some astute acquisitions, and franchises like the Milwaukee Bucks and the Utah Jazz have some budding young stars that are beginning to assert themselves on the league.

It's the latter organisation, however, who is staring at a make-or-break season in the big, bad world of the NBA.

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At least, the NBA can feel like that when a host of your top stars have free agency in their sights.

Franchise player, Gordon Hayward, has the option to opt-out of his contract next summer and decline $16.7 million. In the current climate of the NBA, and given what an effective two-way player he really is, he'd be mad not to.

That means the Jazz have to stump up a max-contract if they have any hope of keeping the sure-to-be in-demand swingman. However, his departure could easily prompt a domino effect exodus, too.

Stars like Rudy Gobert (restricted) and the newly-acquired George Hill (unrestricted) are also due for free agency in 2017, while Rodney Hood (restricted), Derrick Favors (unrestricted), and Dante Exum (restricted) will all become free agents the summer after that.

Gobert, a 24-year-old French center, has become a much sought-after shot-blocking and rebounding machine. In his third season last term, he produced a career-high 9.1 points a game and he looks destined to become not only a constant double-double threat, but an elite defender, too.

Favors is an underrated power forward who at just 25-years-old is entering his seventh season in the league. He recorded career-highs with 16.4 points a game in addition to 1.5 assists and 1.2 steals last year. Considering he tallied an average of 1.5 blocks a game too, he is also proving to be a valuable defensive commodity.

Hayward is the crown jewel, though. Playing at the two or the three, the 26-year-old produced an average of 19.7 points a night last term as he shot just over 43 percent from the field.

He gets involved with assists and rebounds too and has one steal a game over the course of his young career.

These guys aren't Karl Malone or John Stockton, but they are a nice blend of the right traits that thrive in the NBA today. Floor spacing, jump shooting and athletic defenders that could and would be serious pieces for any contending franchise.

But, can the small market of Utah really keep ahold of blossoming talents like these?

The Mailman and Stockton spent 18 and 19 years respectively with the Jazz and had no NBA rings to show for their greatness. Were they a long and painful lesson to today's generation in small market loyalty?

Hayward's actions next summer will set a definitive tone.

Western Conference
Derrick Favors
Utah Jazz
Northwest Division
Gordon Hayward
Rudy Gobert

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