It had been 187 days since Trey Burke threw that preseason bounce pass, hitting his finger against a defender in such a way that the bone fractured. But as the rookie point guard cleared out his locker on Thursday morning, it wouldn’t bend normally.
As the Jazz gathered at EnergySolutions for one last time before parting ways, the stiffness in Burke’s finger wasn’t the only lingering memory of a 25-57 season — one of the worst in franchise history.
"I know it’s tough. Nobody likes losing, especially here with the type of tradition they have," said forward Derrick Favors, who spent last offseason working with Karl Malone, whose statute stands on the southeast corner of the arena.
But amid the boxes packed up and marked for summertime destinations, the Jazz still believe there is room for hope for the future.
"Everybody will be better for this experience," said Jazz coach Ty Corbin."Whatever happens happens, but I think this group of guys will be better because they went through it."
"I think it’s right around the corner," swingman Gordon Hayward said. "It’s one of those things where you can’t teach experience. You can’t teach chemistry with guys. We showed signs of what we’re capable of."
Whether either of those two will be a part of that brighter future are among the big questions looming for the franchise this summer.
Corbin is in the final months of his contract, and no official decision has been made about his future just yet. After watching the front office part ways last summer with a half dozen key free agents, the fourth-year head coach knew he’d be in a difficult spot this year fighting for his job.
"You want to have a fair shake and you want the best opportunity you can have to win," Corbin said. "The organization decided to go in a different direction from the guys we had the year before. I knew it would be difficult. I said right from the beginning, no way when you change the roster like we changed is it good for a coaching staff, especially in the last year of a contract. … I would have liked for things to be different, be handled differently. But they weren’t. It is what it is."
Hayward, meanwhile, will be a restricted free agent, though general manger Dennis Lindsey spoke fondly of the team’s young co-captain, saying he hoped to keep him in a Jazz uniform for years to come.
For a stretch of roughly 40 games, the Jazz played nearly .500 basketball. But eventually the season caught up with them. The schedule toughened, players tired — both physically and mentally — and the Jazz struggled. Utah went 4-21 to close out the year.
And after preaching defense coming into the year, the Jazz finished the season ranked last.
The Jazz will have more than $30 million in salaries come off their books this season and have two first-round picks and one early second-round pick in a draft experts believe is the deepest in years. How the Jazz will proceed from here, however, is not set in stone.
"Do we take all three of the very good draft picks in a very good draft and get our vet and speed up the timeline? Or do we add another really good young piece to an already young base and slow-growth it? We’ll add up those value questions and see what’s best for our program going forward," Lindsey said.
For Lindsey, the season was difficult, but not necessarily surprising.
"I viewed it a little bit different relative to win-loss expectations," Lindsey said. "Reflecting on 25 [wins], certainly that’s nothing to be proud about, especially with the program here and the consistency here. But in some ways, [former GM Kevin O’Connor] and I and ownership, we were very sober going into the season with where we positioned the program."
With a quintet of key players all under the age of 24, the Jazz reiterated often that their youth would betray them before it would prove a boon.
Burke, meanwhile, is making lofty plans of his own heading into next season.
"I want to reach the playoffs," he said. "… We’ve got a young team, but we can’t keep saying that. There’s going to be a point where that young team has to start producing."
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