Monson: Final goodbyes necessary for Utah Jazz (with video)

By Gordon Monson

Tribune columnist


First Published Apr 18 2013 02:49 pm
Last Updated Jul 07 2013 11:34 pm

Saying goodbye is nowhere near as tough as winning is important.

That notion was thick as a brick Thursday as Jazz players cleaned out their lockers at EnergySolutions Arena and packed up for an offseason that will see many of them off to other basketball destinations. Half the team never again will wear a Jazz uniform. From a human standpoint, that was kind of sad. From a competitive standpoint, it was necessary.

In the NBA, being competitive trumps being human. From the other direction, taking the best offer is human.

On account of that, this bunch of mostly likeable players is now a memory. Gordon Hayward will be back, and so will Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks and Jeremy Evans. Marvin Williams has an option to return. Any of those guys could be moved, but outside of a trade, their cleanout was temporary.

Hayward and Evans spent hours Thursday playing video games in the locker room.

The rest of the players were set free as of the last scud fired up in Wednesday’s 16-point loss to Memphis, a game that, had they won it, would have extended their time together — for another three hours, until the Lakers beat the Rockets in overtime.

Instead, the effect was double-barreled — the killing of a dead man — as the Jazz were eliminated from the playoffs at both ends, and quite literally sent home.

In the aftermath, there were plenty of nice try, good efforts, a lot of hey we kept up the fights, but ultimately the Jazz knew they had failed. An organization that prides itself on making the playoffs as much as any other over the past few decades, this team became one of the club’s unhappy exceptions.

"It was disappointing for us," Al Jefferson said. "But for the situation we were in, with four, five, six free agents, it could have been easy to fold up, to give up. We didn’t. We fought to the end. … We did our best."

And that’s the problem. This Jazz team’s best wasn’t good enough.

They did try real hard at the end, winning nine of their last 12 games. But the declarations about the overall effect came down to one unsatisfying conclusion: Not enough talent. And that’s with the targeted prize being the eighth spot in the West. True contention never was considered.

So instead of the Jazz aiming for the stars and landing in the trees, they aimed for the trees and landed in the mud. That isn’t meant as a slam. It’s meant as an accurate characterization of what really happened this season. And now they have the opportunity for change.

Al Jefferson is a free agent.

Paul Millsap is a free agent.

Mo Williams is a free agent.

Randy Foye is a free agent.

DeMarre Carroll is a free agent.

Two-thirds of the team are free agents.

Due to the disciplined approach the Jazz have taken, they’ll have the financial firepower and the spending room to try a better way from here on out. The key for them will be spending their cash on the right assets. They currently are a step ahead of teams that already have blown their money and are not winning as much as they want. The Jazz have taken that road before and found it not to their liking.

They could extend offers to any of the five free agents listed above, but they won’t sign any of them for anything that isn’t a bargain. Plainly said, the Jazz need upgrades at the point guard and wing positions, and they’re willing, at last, to give the younger players big minutes next season to see, once and for all, what they’ve got in them. If no advantageous trades can be made and no difference-making free agents signed this offseason, they even might be willing to wait a year, until the penalties on big spenders get so excessive that those spenders will be willing to let go of talented players they otherwise might have kept.

Back to Thursday’s goodbyes.

One by one the Jazz walked out.

Jefferson said his last team meeting was "a moment I’ll always remember," and he added: "I sit back and think, it could be a totally different Utah Jazz team next year. And then I think, it could be the same team next year."

He knew the truth, though.

Mo Williams said: "You get attached to teammates and to a team. One side of you, you like where you’re at. But the reality of it is, things change."

Millsap said: "It’s a tough day. We all said our goodbyes for the summer. Tough the way this thing ended. But you gotta live with it."

When he was asked if this was the end for him with the Jazz, he answered: "I don’t know. I’m not a psychic. Are you? We got to wait and see what happens."

Asked how emotional that departure would be, he said: "I don’t even want to imagine it right now. I think we all know where we stand — from their perspective and my perspective."

Millsap’s a goner, and he knows it. He even might be looking forward to it. His rejection of a Jazz offer before the season started was symbolic of Thursday’s entire scene. Taken by Utah in the second round of the 2006 draft, he had rearranged the fates to not only make the team, but go on to average 12 points and seven rebounds in his seven years here. In 2010-11, Millsap got 17 points and eight boards a game. This season, he tailed off after the trade deadline and, with so much redundancy at his position, almost certainly will land elsewhere.

After talking to management and the media, he walked from the locker room down the hall and out the door he has walked down and out of a thousand times before, always knowing he would walk that path again.

Until now.

A mix of melancholy and excitement was the mood as he left the building this time. From a human standpoint, it was kind of sad. From a competitive standpoint, it was necessary.

Saying goodbye is nowhere near as tough as winning is important.

Gordon Monson hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM, 1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.

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