Our world is at the crossroads. We have a choice, right and wrong. - LL Cool J
The last 5 years have seen the Jazz and Suns end their seasons with a trip to the lottery. But this year national writers are picking the Jazz to make the jump to the playoffs, while the Suns will likely be visiting the lottery again. So what is the difference between the path the Jazz have taken versus the Suns?
First, has it really only been 8 month since Hornacek was fired last February? When Ryan McDonough hired Jeff Hornacek it seemed like the Suns would have a parallel season with the Jazz and would allow their team to lose a lot of games for a heralded draft class. Surprisingly, the Suns found great chemistry with guards Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, the Morris twins became strong contributors and Hornacek led the suns to a 48 win season, narrowly missing the playoffs. In Utah, Ty Corbin led the Jazz to, well, we lost a lot of games as planned.
It seemed like the Suns were ahead of schedule and would be a perennial league pass darling and playoff team for years to come. That next offseason the Suns were active, and signed Isiah Thomas. With Hornacek free flowing offense and willingness to have multiple point guard rotations, it seemed like it could possibly work.
But, it didn’t work out that way. During the season there was serious conflict between the Morris twins and Jeff Hornacek, remember this?
The Thomas trade seemed like an obvious upgrade in a vacuum, but ended up causing serious problems to their chemistry. With the logjam at point guard, Goran Dragic eventually demanded a trade and the Morris twins forced their way out.
Meanwhile, the Jazz stuck with their plan. They made minimal signings, like Trevor Booker, that allowed their young core duo of Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors to develop. They drafted Dante Exum and Rodney Hood and hired Quin Snyder as their new coach. When issues came up with Enes Kanter wanting out, they traded him to Oklahoma City.
Reminder about my second favorite Jazz win ever...
Trevor Booker on Enes Kanter: He did what he always does. He got his stats. He didn't defend. He took an L (a loss)— Tony Jones (@Tjonessltrib) March 29, 2015
After the Kanter trade, Rudy Gobert became a defensive revelation leading the Jazz to one of the best defensive rankings in the NBA post all star break. The season ended with a trip to the Lottery where the Jazz drafted Trey Lyles, passing on sharpshooter, Devin Booker who went to the Suns. The Jazz had an identity and bright future.
Last year the team had the pieces to make the playoffs, but with injuries and inexperience leading to losses in crunch time for much of the season, the Jazz narrowly missed the playoffs. The Suns fired Hornacek and tapped Earl Watson as interim head coach. They ended the season with 23 wins, but did see the emergence of Devin Booker as being a possible star with his scoring and passing ability.
This Offseason, Dennis Lindsey upgraded the point guard position by trading the Jazz’ #12 lottery pick for George Hill, traded for Boris Diaw and signed Joe Johnson to a solid two year contract. He filled needs for the Jazz while not messing with the young core of improving talent. It’s a time frame eerily similar to the Suns in 2014 who narrowly missed the playoffs. The Jazz made their jump and have brought on pieces to get over the hump much like the suns did. Those signings led to derailing their team. Will that happen with the Jazz?
The Suns have hit the reset button again by drafting multiple promising young talents including Dragan Bender (best name in the NBA) and Marquese Chriss. The question for the Suns now is, will they have the patience that Lindsey has shown with the Jazz to allow their strong young talent to develop, or will they grow impatient again and mess with their chemistry and core? The past shows that Lindsey’s style of patience and discipline has payed off and the Jazz will make the playoffs. The Suns should take a page from Lindsey’s book and to let their core grow without interruption.