This is not meant to be a Jazz doomsday post, or a depressing goodbye to this current Jazz roster. Rather, this is a realistic look at the Jazz, where they have come, where they are now, and where they are headed - both in the next few weeks, and beyond.
Approaching their sixth straight NBA Playoffs appearance, the Jazz are slated to battle against the Dallas Mavericks starting on Saturday morning. After a finishing with the NBA’s best regular season last year, the Jazz struggled this year, especially in the fourth quarter. Their late-game struggles are a big reason why they ended up in the 5 seed, and will not have home-court advantage in this first round matchup. Just like every team in the playoffs, right now the Jazz are only 4 losses away from elimination. An elimination to this year’s squad is probably going to hit a bit different than past year’s. After a pretty mortifying end to their season last year in Los Angeles, the Jazz decided to run it back with pretty much the same roster. They “upgraded” a few positions, bringing in veterans Rudy Gay and Hassan Whiteside, and then added Danuel House and Juancho Hernangomez in-season. The overall core of the Jazz remained intact, revolving around Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and Mike Conley. This core of these three players is what mostly defines this era of “Championship Contending” Utah Jazz basketball. In the summer of 2019, the Jazz had arguably the craziest offseason in franchise history. They parted ways with their “good vibes” players like Ricky Rubio, Jae Crowder, and Derrick Favors, and replaced them with guys that were more built to chase a championship in Utah. They brought in Mike Conley via trade, signed Bojan Bogdanovic, and then traded for Jordan Clarkson later on in the season. The Jazz made moves that year, and many, including myself thought the window to the championship was more open and attainable than ever. Flash forward three seasons later, and it’s been a crazy ride. The 2019-20 season was hijacked by Covid-19 and some unforgettable drama between Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. They were able to move past it, at least for that moment, and this era’s first playoff games came inside the bubble. The Jazz blew a 3-1 lead against the Nuggets in the first round, after Donovan Mitchell put together one of the most inspiring individual playoff performances that we had ever seen, like ever. That series ended with a crazy sequence in game seven, where Mike Conley’s game-winning three somehow popped out of the basket after it was already half way down.
That blown 3-1 lead, and they way that game ended was heartbreaking. Little did Jazz fans know, that pain would only be a portion of what they would feel in the next year’s playoffs. The Jazz came back stronger after that defeat, and destroyed NBA teams in the following regular season. But once again, when the playoffs came, the heartbreak returned. After going up 2-0, and Kawhi Leonard getting injured for the remainder of the season, the Jazz lost four straight, in incredible fashion, to be eliminated again.
Another playoff series, another heartbreak. That year hit particularly hard, because the championship window was wide open, screaming to be claimed by a team like the Jazz. But it just didn’t happen.
Many thought the Jazz would switch things up after how last year’s season ended. But again, the Jazz re-signed Mike Conley, brought mostly everyone back, and even upgraded a little.
Now here we are, yet again approaching an NBA Playoff series with our beloved Utah Jazz. This era of Utah Jazz basketball hangs in the balance. The last three years with this team has had it’s highs and lows. The All-Star appearances, the DPOYs, the regular season records and fun moments. But it’s lows have been incredibly damning. It’s not just the fact that the still haven’t made it past the second round, but it’s how they’ve absolutely crumbled in the defining moments and collapsed when it mattered. For myself personally, I am watching this coming playoff series as if it were the last time watching this team play together. It’s really hard to imagine that if things go south in the playoffs like they have the past couple seasons, that things wont get really blown up. This Jazz team has an opportunity to salvage some of their legacy, and put together a run that might be more memorable than anything we’ve ever seen as Jazz fans. The talent is there. The opportunity is there. Will they seize it? We will find out, and for that reason this coming games are going to be incredible entertaining to watch unfold.