It’s now been a year and a half since Gordon Hayward left for Boston in a decision that put the Utah Jazz in a tailspin. The organization was reeling and had to make quick moves to fill the gaps left by the all-purpose small forward.
Those moves were a scab over what seemed like a deep, deep wound.
What the Jazz didn’t realize at the time was that Donovan Mitchell was MUCH better than they expected. The wound turned out to be not as deep as the Jazz first thought as Mitchell proved to be a franchise-changing talent.
An example of one of those initial moves (post-Hayward) was for Thabo Sefolosha, a defensive specialist who could spread the floor. The Jazz signed a two-year contract with the second year as a team option. This season the Jazz decided to keep Sefolosha, but can now use him as a trade chip because of his expiring contract. Sefolosha has been a solid contributor on the floor and a good locker room presence that could be a fantastic option for a team looking to shed salary while keeping a good team culture.
The move the Jazz made that was more of a preventative medicine was a trade for Ricky Rubio who, a completely trustworthy and honest, Gordon Hayward indicated he would like to play with after the exit of George Hill. What we thought was a flu shot turned out to be placebo as Hayward left despite the Jazz giving up a first round pick for Rubio.
That move turned out to be a solid move for the Jazz despite Hayward leaving. Rubio brought an incredible leadership and locker room presence that helped mentor Donovan Mitchell and healed a Jazz fanbase in shock.
But not only was Rubio a healing presence, he also played well for the Jazz, especially the second half of the season. With the return of a healthy Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell playing at a rookie-of-the-year level, Rubio helped lead the Jazz to the playoffs and a 1st round victory.
The Jazz are now fully healed but they’re left with a healed scab and leftover medicine in the bottle.
As hard as it is, it’s time to pull off the the scabs and properly discard of the unused medication. That’s the tough part of being a contender.
For a long time, Jazz fans have felt the need to collect assets, preserve cap space and not make the move to “win now.” But that’s because the Jazz have only made one win-now move in the last 5-6 years when they traded a first round pick to Atlanta (which became Taurean Prince) for George Hill. That move was a double-edged sword.
Hill had the best year of his career with the Jazz and helped lead them to the playoffs showing Hayward the Jazz were a winning organization going in the right direction. In the playoffs the Jazz won their first round matchup, but Hill quit on the team in the second round choosing not to play against the Warriors to avoid injury before his pending free agency.
And so the fruit of that win-now move? A Hayward exit.
But things are different now.
Donovan Mitchell has truly healed the Jazz franchise in every aspect. There’s a bright hope for the team’s future as well as a new image that a player can play in Utah and be a national star.
Mitchell has put up gaudy numbers while winning dunk competitions and earning a signature shoe. If ever there was evidence of Karma for doing things the right way, it’s Donovan Mitchell.
Paired with Rudy Gobert, the Jazz have one of the most promising core duos for years to come. It’s the ancillary pieces that need to be figured out.
Dennis Lindsey has filled the team with high level role players and one goat in Joe Ingles.
With the talk of trading Ricky Rubio for Mike Conley, it’s clear that Dennis Lindsey is in win-now mode. Although we should have already realized that when he traded for Kyle Korver earlier in the season.
As much as Jazz fans love Rubio for what he’s done for this team, the Jazz are at a point where they’ve outgrown his contributions. Teams dare Rubio to beat them while backing off Derrick Favors to overload the paint and keep Mitchell at bay. A high level, playmaking guard next to Mitchell is the perfect piece to help the Jazz break through that glass ceiling.
But pieces like that don’t come easy and sometimes you have to make difficult moves to get where you need to go. If the Jazz trade for Conley, it won’t be the only move the Jazz make.
That’s the downside of being a contender, you have to make moves that take you from good to great and sometimes that’s painful.