One of the greatest movie scenes of all time is in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. After making it through all the trials of the ancient temple, Indy stands on the edge of a never ending cliff face. Across from him is the entryway to the Holy Grail.
Right now the Utah Jazz are standing on that same cliff face, the Holy Grail nearly within reach, with only a few more trials to go.
But this story started years ago when Dennis Lindsey began leading the team...
Dennis Lindsey came to the Jazz with a plan, a lot like the diary in The Last Crusade. During the movie, Indy uses the Diary as a map, leading him to the grail. Without it he is lost with no way of knowing where to go.
There are so many teams in the NBA walking around without a map, falling into mediocrity and bad decisions with seemingly no hope. Teams like the Lakers or the Knicks are on constant, fruitless journeys that will never lead them close to a championship. If only they had a diary like the Jazz now have.
The first part of the Lindsey’s plan when he joined the team was demanding elite level defensive play.
But it took time, and some painful decisions.
Multiple players, and coaches, were not up to the task and let go. But when Quin Snyder became the coach, things slowly began to change. Snyder preached all the habits that would make the Jazz an elite defense and it slowly began to work. But it was clear that Quin eventually found one of the biggest clues in the Dennis Lindsey “diary” when he began starting Rudy Gobert.
From that point on everything for the Jazz changed. Their defense went from one of the worst in the league to one of the best and the wins followed.
The season they traded Enes Kanter to make room for Gobert they went on a winning streak that nearly got them into a surprise playoff spot. From that point on, the Jazz were on the right path.
The Jazz’s formula became a Rudy Gobert-led defense and Gordon Hayward’s offense. Under Snyder’s tutelage, after years of work and patience, Hayward became a legitimate all-star level player. Surrounding Hayward with solid role players like Joe Ingles and Joe Johnson lead the Jazz to a playoff berth and a first round victory.
But after that season, Hayward thought the path to the Grail would be easier somewhere else and betrayed Utah. After leading the Jazz on until July 4th, and to the point where they couldn’t make any significant free agent signings, Hayward decided to join Boston.
This scene is a perfect representation of Hayward’s betrayal. Utah believed to the very end of that free agency period that Hayward would make the right choice only to see him join the enemy. Because of that, the Jazz faced a path more difficult than they imagined it would be. If felt like everything they had built was burning down around them.
But the Jazz had an unknown trick up their sleeve that helped them escape the fire, Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell had a slow start but became an absolute revelation his rookie season. During that season, Mitchell would earn the player’s choice for Rookie of the Year and lead the Jazz to the second round of the playoffs as he out-dueled Russell Westbrook.
Everything during Mitchell’s rookie season felt magical and new. This season, there were expectations. After a slow start caused by a ridiculous first half schedule, and Donovan Mitchell still bothered by his playoff ending injury, it looked like the Jazz may have plateaued. Some began to doubt and lose the faith.
But, like he always does, Mitchell eventually came through.
After this tweet, everything changed for Mitchell.
New year, new me.— Donovan Mitchell (@spidadmitchell) January 1, 2019
He looked himself again, pulling his averages up and, more importantly, guiding the Jazz to wins.
Now, they’re standing on the edge of that cliff.
These playoffs should be fun. The ceiling is probably the second round of the playoffs again, but with Mitchell playing like this, there’s no telling what will happen.
After this season is over, and if they don’t win it all, the Jazz will have some decisions to make with the team. Those decision have to be done with faith in Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. They are the map that will lead them to the grail.
When deciding on free agents, or trades, the moves they make should only be done with the goal of enhancing the abilities of Mitchell and Gobert, not detract from them. Picking up players that take the ball out of Mitchell’s hands, or keep Rudy Gobert from rolling to the rim, could keep the Jazz from the ultimate prize.
Personally, I feel like the ball needs to be in Donovan Mitchell’s hands as much as possible. He is the future and the one the Jazz have to believe in. When selecting free agents, it’s much like selecting the correct grail in the final trial.
The Jazz “must choose, but choose wisely, for as the true grail will bring you life, the false grail will take it from you...”
Hayward chose the easy route, the route with a glittering cup. He chose ... poorly.
The Jazz have so far made all the right choices that have lead them to the edge. From here, they must select those players that will compliment and not detract. A player like Malcolm Brogdon, or Tobias Harris, who won’t take the ball from Mitchell, but will make his paths to the rim easier are the types of players they should go for.
But can they get those players?
Time will tell. But if they can, when they take that leap of faith, they will hit solid ground and maybe, just maybe, gain that Grail they’ve been searching so long for.