Utah’s playoff defeat this year happened a little earlier than fans were anticipating or hoping (sure, getting the worst and also least likely first-round matchup didn’t help, but still). Still, even if the exit was early, the core of players that, in too many ways to count, revived the Jazz fan base, once again were exposed for its many shortcomings.
Like any GM in the NBA (or in any league for that matter), Dennis Lindsey will be tasked with making a long list of some of the most terrible yet all-too-important decisions that will shape the next five-plus years of Utah Jazz basketball.
His first official item of business will come on June 20, the day of the NBA draft where the Jazz will have the 23rd and 53rd overall picks. This will be a walk in the park relative to what comes later in the summer. Sure, there will be some pressure to not draft a non-factor rookie like Grayson Allen tended to be this year outside of a couple of late scoring outbursts. But again, there are worse challenges that await.
The most agonizing of Lindsey’s decision will regard the aforementioned core that, again, permanent changed the franchise by ushering the team into the modern era with new stars in Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell along with fan favorites like Joe Ingles, Derrick Favors and Ricky Rubio. This summer, a choice will have to be made by Lindsey on behalf of Jazz fans the world over:
Cut ties with fan favorites in pursuit of title contention or keep the most lovable Jazz team in years intact and embrace playoff mediocrity?
There’s not really an in-between here. If there is, it immediately becomes the worst option of the three because then you’re half-assing a championship run while also ticking a bunch of fans off by cutting their favorite player.
So that leaves Lindsey with one of two passable options with positives and negatives. On the one hand, the last two season have showed a clear ceiling for this current core. Yes, they’re a 50-win team when healthy, maybe even borderline 60 if they catch a bunch of breaks throughout the season with scheduling and the health of fellow Western Conference teams.
But come playoff time, this latest iteration of the Utah Jazz will always fall short to star-laden teams.
This reality leads to its logical conclusion: improve the team by letting some guys go and bringing in fresh faces and more star talent. Well, that would mean allowing Rubio, Favors and maybe even Ingles to walk out the door.
The financial realities of the NBA mean that bringing in players capable of a legitimate Finals run excludes bringing back the fan favorites alongside them. And given how easily the Jazz could dump Rubio and Favors based on their contracts (Rubio is a UFA while Favors has a team option) puts them at the front of the line for the chopping block.
So should Lindsey retain the beloved players instead? Well, if he does, there’s the reality mentioned above. The Jazz team that entered this most recent playoffs won’t make it out of the second round barring some very favorable playoff matchups and will never make it out of the West. But they’ll also make the playoffs for 3-4 years straight and win a few playoff series so there’s that to consider. If Utah moves on from these proven commodities for unknown ones, it could backfire and lead to missing the playoffs or landing in the seventh or eighth seeds, a fate worse than death for most franchises these days.
These decisions are certainly tough, but get even harder considering how they will impact the Jazz years down the road. Signings this summer will determine how the rest of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert’s contracts go and if they will want to stay in Utah at the end of them. That could stretch this summer’s impact from 3-4 years up to a decade.
The problems don’t even stop there. Even if Lindsey decides on the perfect course of action, he must rely on the whims of others. Agents, players, other general managers, all of them will play a role for better or worse.
With all that in mind, spare some pity for Dennis Lindsey. He’s got a rough summer ahead of him.