If there was one word for me that represents Dante Exum’s time in Utah it would be hope.
Before the Jazz drafted Dante Exum they were mired in a slow downturn of mediocrity that would eventually lead them to the 5th pick. If you’re like me those Ty Corbin years could be described in a lot of ways but not a lot of those descriptions would be positive.
Utah found ways to not just lose games, but also avoid development of young promising players at the same time. We watched Derrick Favors be squandered on the bench behind unassailable minutes for Al Jefferson. We saw Gordon Hayward get benched to provide minutes for a washed up Josh Howard to play. What a great decision that turned out to be!
It was rough. Do you know what it’s like to write a recap of the 74th game of the season at 1:00 AM talking about the benefits of playing Jamaal Tinsley more? It’s not great.
But after that bottom 5 finish the Jazz made moves that would make improvements on the team First they hired Quin Snyder and then drafted Dante Exum and Rodney Hood in what was applauded as a great draft.
For the first time in years I had hope again.
Exum came on the floor in summer league and immediately showed the physical tools that earned him that #5 selection.
It's just summer league, but just saw an amazing steal followed by a baseline two-hand dunk by Jazz rookie Dante Exum.— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpearsESPN) July 13, 2014
I've watched Dante Exum play like six minutes of summer league and I've already decided he's going to be amazing.— Royce Young (@royceyoung) July 13, 2014
It was exciting. Exum started the season behind Trey Burke and would eventually overtake him in the starting spot. He played passively for the rest of the season deferring to players like Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors which earned a lot of criticism.
The offseason that followed he tore his ACL playing for the Australian National Team and that began a string of bad luck injuries that continued for his entire time in Utah.
But that wasn’t the only deterrent for him to get minutes. Each time Exum worked his way back from injury, Quin Snyder found other players he constantly preferred over the Jazz’s #5 pick.
Whether it was Shelvin Mack, Emmanuel Mudiay or Jeff Green, there was always a reason Exum shouldn’t get play time. And media inside and out of the Jazz (sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference) would put out all the excuses of why someone as ineffective as Shelvin Mack would get minutes over Dante. “We have to make Gordon happy.” “Dante can’t dribble with his left hand.” “Dante’s turnovers are worse than other player’s turnovers.” “Mack has a great floater.”
The reality was there was something more going on that kept Dante off the floor despite Jazz media messaging.
What that was? Not sure. Perhaps it was Exum not going to the G-League or not wanting to go to summer league year after year after year that frustrated Quin Snyder. Whatever it was, it was enough to give him the shortest leash I’ve ever seen.
Nevertheless, I always felt hope at the beginning of each season that the next year would be the year we see him take that next step. And each year whether it was injury, or the coach, it ended with disappointment.
But there’s still hope. Dante Exum gets a fresh start in Cleveland. Exum is still only 24 years old and has a chance to play alongside a young core and get the minutes he should have always had while on the Jazz. His physical tools are all there, waiting to be cultivated. I for one will be watching him any chance I get.
I hope Dante gets the minutes he should have gotten in Utah. I hope Dante’s body doesn’t fail him, he’s put in so much rehab work it’s about time he have some luck for a change. I hope Dante gets a coach that believes in him too.
I don’t know how many of you left Exum Island, but I know that I’ll still be here enjoying this next period of Exum’s career and something tells me the island will have new visitors very soon.