A touch over eight years ago, the Utah Jazz hired a young, under-the-radar head coach from Mercer Island, Washington. At the time, this coach, with stops in Atlanta, Moscow, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Austin, Texas, had yet to experience an NBA-level head coaching gig. He entered a new role, in a new situation, with a Utah Jazz team hoping to blaze a new path towards title contention.
Today, that once under-the-radar coach, Quin Snyder, leaves the organization as one of the most highly respected and regarded head coaches in the NBA. In his eight years, he helped restructure and rebuild a crumbling team identity and culture in Utah, and led one of the most successful five year stretches of basketball in Jazz history. Although no banners were raised during his tenure, Snyder leaves this organization having led some of the best basketball teams Utah has seen since the late 90’s.
And with his departure, the Jazz find themselves in a situation much less dissimilar to their last head coaching search than you’d think. Like the 2013-14 season, the Jazz are now looking for a new sense of direction: they need a new voice to help guide a roster struggling to find its own culture and identity. They need a new voice to help blaze a new path towards championship contention once again.
But unlike the hiring process from eight years ago, today’s path towards NBA immortality looks much more hazy. They’re missing draft picks, young players with untapped potential, and possibly the most important of all, time. Since their round one loss to the Dallas Mavericks (and maybe as far back as their playoff loss to the LA Clippers), a timer has started ticking down on Donovan Mitchell’s tenure with the Utah Jazz. After CAA represented writer Adrian Wojnarowski from ESPN reported that that the CAA represented Mitchell currently feels “unnerved” and “unsettled” with the current situation in Utah, it’s clear that the young star and his agency have already begun posturing for more control within the organization. And given how the Jazz have played to Mitchell’s needs thus far, can you blame them?
Since breaking onto the scene, much of the organization has run according to Mitchell’s needs, both on and off the court. Mitchell’s ball dominant and iso-centric play style often dominates Utah’s offence, especially late game. Utah’s medical and training staff come from Mitchell’s camp. Utah’s player development staff includes Mitchell’s personal team. Utah’s training camps have been moved to different cities, per Mitchell’s request. Roster changes, such as trading for Eric Paschall, have been made with Mitchell’s requests in mind. So what’s bending to Mitchell’s requests again and hiring the head coach he wants?
As described by Tony Jones of The Athletic on a recent podcast with Jake Fischer, this could have it’s benefits. CAA represented Johnnie Bryant, presumably the coach Mitchell wants, “can tell Donovan Mitchell no. That right there is something that right now, that might be the number one thing this organization needs at this point, to tell you the truth.” But it also may be a risky move. Should Mitchell bolt after next season, the Jazz are left having hired a coach who has little-to-no significant head coaching experience, college or NBA. While it goes without saying that Bryant is a fantastic coach and deserves the opportunity to lead a team at some point in his career, it’s also fair to question weather or not he’s ready for the position right now.
But if Utah’s goals aren’t solely focused on pleasing Mitchell, their options significantly expand. If they are looking for a proven win-now coach, options like Terry Stotts and Frank Vogel, two highly successful and respected coaches, could fit the bill. Stotts, known best for his time with the Portland Trailblazers, has created highly-potent offenses around small guards before. Vogel, on the other hand, has built a strong reputation for crafting some of the best defensive teams in the NBA, a large reason why he won a championship with the Lakers in the bubble.
If, instead, Utah is looking at hiring another under-the-radar candidate, akin to their hiring of Snyder, options like Chris Quinn from the Miami Heat, Sean Sweeney from the Dallas Mavericks, Charles Lee from the Milwaukee Bucks, and Joe Mazzulla from the Boston Celtics could work. All of these coaches, in their own rights, have built up reputations as incredible assistant coaches and offer the potential for continued development, something Stotts and Vogel might not have.
This may come off as obvious, but I personally believe that the Jazz should hire whoever they feel like is the strongest candidate. Getting lost in attempting to please one party or another in the organization could lead to further division and leave the Jazz with a coach that might not be right for their future. While it’s important to listen to the input from players like Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, allowing them to guide the decision making process could be dangerous. The significance of this offseason and hiring can not be overstated, and the Jazz have done a good job thus far in leading a thorough search. Thankfully, Danny Ainge has gone two-for-two on head coach hiring's in his career. Let’s see if he can do it for a third time.