The Utah Jazz gathered for a final time, literally picking up the remaining pieces of a broken season, tossing them into boxes to be shipped home.
Thursday marked the last official step of an early ending season. Hours after eliminating themselves from playoff contention with a loss in Memphis, the Jazz were back at EnergySolutions Arena, cleaning out their lockers, meeting with coaches and management for exit interview and then, well, exiting.
It closed a season that left the Jazz out of the playoffs for the second time in three years. All that remained were players reflecting on the games that got away in a 43-39 season and the team’s general manager establishing a standard for an offseason in which as many as 10 players will be free agents.
“We’re not going to avoid our realities,” Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey said. “We’re going to have tough conversations and we’ll call a spade a spade.”
Not included in those conversations, though, will be a change in leadership on the bench. Tyrone Corbin, who has one year remaining on his contract, doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.
“Ty’s our coach and has the Miller family’s full support,” Lindsey said. “You guys know how we do it around here. It’s the blame-the-coach culture in sports. We subscribe to a little different philosophy.”
Assuming Corbin is locked into a fourth year at the front of the bench, after going 87-89 in the first three, the questions turn to who his players will be.
Lindsey addressed an offseason in which the Jazz essentially have two options: to make a splash in free agency or trades with upwards of $40 million they’ll have in cap space, or to hand over the future of the franchise to Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Gordon Hayward.
“If we’re able to do something bold,” Lindsey said, “then we’ll say, ‘Hey, we’re all in for [next year].’ If we went strategic and young, if that’s the right thing, we’ll tell the fans that. Hopefully, they can get excited around a young, hungry group that has its challenges.”
Can that group carry the Jazz back to the Western Conference’s elite if surrounded by the right players? One teammate — maybe soon to be former teammate — said yes.
“They’ve got a great group of young guys,” Jefferson said. “I really believe if they can stay together it’s going to be trouble.”
Jefferson headlines the group of Jazz free agents, which also includes Mo Williams, Paul Millsap, Randy Foye, Earl Watson and Jamaal Tinsley. Lindsey declined to talk specifically about the team’s interest in re-signing any of the players, although a scenario in which both Jefferson and Millsap return is almost unthinkable.
“They’re going to have a ton of options because there’s a lot of money on the market,” Lindsey said. “They both fully have earned the right to their unrestricted free agency. I do think they both appreciate the situation that they had here.”
Tinsley and Foye both said they wanted to return to the Jazz, while Watson said, “I don’t know,” when asked if he could see a future back with the Jazz.
The key point of Thursday was that it was April 18, the playoffs had not yet begun and the Jazz were finished.
“The standards here are that we’ve been a perennial playoff team,” Lindsey said, “and even though we’ve had a winning record, I think we fell short of one of our goals, namely being in the playoffs.”
The Jazz season was derailed by a lopsided losing road record, one devastated by the team’s inability to win consecutive games away from EnergySolutions Arena until April. The Jazz were swept in nine straight road games, including road trips of four and three in March.
“Some of those losses on the road,” Corbin said, “we didn’t perform as we wanted to. Those can be disappointing.”
Jerel McNeal, the Jazz’s least tenured player having only signed weeks earlier, was the last to meet with coaches and management and therefore the last to leave the arena.
When he was gone, all that was left were scattered shoe boxes, and on the rolling chair in front of Jefferson’s locker, a mess of playing cards featuring Jefferson in Boston, Minnesota and Utah.
The disappointment lingered.
“I expect the fans to be very disappointed,” Lindsey said, “and let us know.”
A closer look
• The Jazz left EnergySolutions Arena for the final time Thursday, cleaning their lockers to mark the end of the season.
• As many as 10 players could be free agents in the offseason.
• GM Dennis Lindsey says coach Tyrone Corbin has “full support” of the franchise.