Before we go into this season and what’s in store for Utah, we first have to tip our caps to the Dallas Mavericks. In just about every facet of basketball, the Mavericks outplayed the Jazz. From Jalen Brunson and Luka Doncic repeatedly cooking the Jazz to Maxi Kleber’s incredible shooting, Dallas played with incredible poise, connectivity, and trust; all things the Jazz lacked this season. It’s a cliche, but Dallas truly does play like a well oiled machine.
Now, the Jazz.
Let's start with unpacking the disappointment of this season. For the sake of organization, I’ll work top down, starting with Utah’s management:
As the architects of this roster, it’s easy to pin much of Utah’s failures on Justin Zanik, Danny Ainge, and former GM Dennis Lindsey. But given how limited of a free agent destination and market Utah is, I genuinely think they did a pretty good job. They built one of the most successful regular season rosters in Utah history and, should a few bounces have gone Utah’s way, probably built a team that could have contended for a championship. There isn’t much more you can ask for.
Yet looking back at some of Utah’s roster moves, it’s hard to not point out so many missed opportunities for this team to have improved around the edges. Tying up a mid-level exception and a future first round pick for one season of Derrick Favors was a disappointment. Passing on Desmond Bane, an obvious draft selection who currently stands as one of the Memphis Grizzlies’ most important rotation players this post-season for a center that has yet to play a minute of truly meaningful basketball, hurts. Coming out of last off-season with nearly zero improvements to the perimeter defense, even though that was the roster’s number one issue, seems like an oversight. Had the right decisions been made here, maybe Utah doesn’t get bounced in the first round this year.
At the end of the day, we can only speculate as fans. We don’t know what kind of options the front office had over the last three years or how close they were to making a move that would have changed our opinion on the team. Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, we’ll likely never know the answers to these questions.
Something that we saw more of, at least marginally, was the coaching performance of Quin Snyder.
I want to get something out of the way first: Quin Snyder is a good coach. There should be no debate about whether or not he’s one of the 10 best coaches in the NBA.
But with that said, I don’t think he did a great job this season. Although he crafted one of the most dominant offenses in NBA history, Snyder couldn’t figure out how to make the Jazz competitive on defense in the playoffs. Utah shreds drop-big coverage, but for the last three years, the secret has been out on how to beat Utah: switch on defense. Is that partially a roster issue that could be attributed to the front office? Absolutely. But given that Snyder has had this long to figure out how to motivate his guys to make the right switches, rotations, and plays on defense, this also falls on his shoulders.
While I believe the rhetoric that “Quin Snyder doesn’t make adjustments in the playoffs” is a little overblown, I do think he failed to make the right decisions to sit players that weren’t performing in the playoffs. For instance, against Dallas, I don’t think Royce O’Neale should have played over Danuel House. In just about every metric, House outplayed O’Neale these playoffs, yet didn’t receive more playing time. Would it have changed the result of the series? Likely not. I still would have liked to see Snyder try it though.
Again, it’s tough for us to know what options Snyder had. But, like he said in a post game interview after game six, “the results speak for themselves.”
Finally, let’s touch on the players:
Before we get to the drama and bad vibes of this group, I want to talk about the playoffs. I think it’s safe to say that, outside of Bojan Bogdanovic, every main rotation player disappointed these playoffs. Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley and Royce O’Neale, all in their own moments and respects, didn’t perform well enough. Gobert wasn’t good enough at punishing a Dallas team that didn’t have any true centers in the rotation. Mitchell played some of the most embarrassing perimeter defense in the entirety of these playoffs. Conley, who’s minutes were heavily managed all season, didn’t even average 10 points per game. O’Neale, a player whose career is based on his perimeter defense, was one of the worst defenders on the Jazz. Just disappointing performances all around.
That much, I think we all understand. Where the biggest question marks lay are on the negativity of this roster. The post-game interviews encapsulate it pretty well, so I’ll just allow you to read some of them here:
Mike Conley on Jazz’s season: “We’re a team built on unity and playing for each other. At times, we lost that.”— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) April 29, 2022
Donovan Mitchell, when asked to put to rest rumors that might ask out of Utah: "My mindset is to win. Right now, I'm not really looking at that. … I'll think about it in a week. Right now I'm not thinking about that."— Eric Walden (@tribjazz) April 29, 2022
Donovan Mitchell, on what went wrong: "There were times this season when the ball was rolled out that we didn't show that we wanted to be a team with championship aspirations."— Eric Walden (@tribjazz) April 29, 2022
None of these inspire confidence about this group. The whole season, media sessions have been filled with some not-so-obvious shots at each other, negative comments, and a general sense that the players were disconnected. It contributed to a negative player, media, and fan experience all year. Above all else, this was the aspect of the season most disappointing to me. Watching this team wasn’t fun. The blame of this falls on everyone’s shoulders; the front office could have done better, the coaches could have done better, and the players could have done better. But at this point, it’s too late to fix any of that.
So now what?
I don’t think anybody knows, but one thing is clear: this team needs a change in the worst way. Does that mean trading Gobert? Mitchell? Both of them? Does it mean firing Quin Snyder? I don’t believe that the Jazz are looking to rebuild or miss the playoffs again, especially if Mitchell stays around. Yet I’m not entirely sure how they get there. After Conley’s poor playoff performance, trading him might serve more difficult than expected. With Gobert’s albatross of a contract, a trade with him would likely mean losing in the short term. I truly don’t know where the Jazz go from here. I’d love to hear what you all think think the Jazz should do in the comments.
Nonetheless, the next few months will be fascinating to watch. With new changes come new opportunities for us to cheer and love this team. Here’s to a fun off-season!
Personal note: Thank you to everyone who read my articles this season. I’m appreciative and thankful for you and the whole SLC Dunk team. It’s truly a dream for me! <3