Jazz coach Quin Snyder did not quite picture jerseys in the rafters or statues on the plaza when he considered the franchise’s future with Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. Yet he could imagine how people might talk about their partnership in the coming years.
“The relationship, the respect, the trust — those things are there between those two guys,” Snyder said during the Jazz’s exit interviews. Without directly referencing John Stockton and Karl Malone, Snyder suggested the current twosome can develop a rapport that leads observers to package them as “Mitchell and Gobert.”
That would project another NBA Finals appearance for the Jazz in 2029, considering how Stockton and Malone reached that level in their 12th season together. This much is certain: If that ever happens for Mitchell and Gobert, it will have come much earlier in their careers.
That’s the only way the math works. They’re contracted to stay together long enough to have a good gauge of where the franchise is going early in the next decade, and who knows what happens after that? I’ll be very surprised if they’re not in the Western Conference finals much sooner than their seventh season together, as in the case of Stockton and Malone.
The Jazz are at a similar checkpoint to 1988, when they took the Los Angeles Lakers to seven games in the West semis, and to 2008, when they lasted six games with the Lakers at that stage. The Stockton/Malone Jazz needed four more years to advance beyond that point; the Deron Williams/Carlos Boozer Jazz never won another game in the second round. In that sense, the Mitchell/Gobert Jazz might be further away than anyone would like to believe.
After winning a playoff series in their third season together (1988), the Jazz’s John Stockton and Karl Malone needed four years to reach the Western Conference finals and nine years to reach the NBA Finals. Here’s how far they got in each subsequent year.
1989 • First round
1990 • First round
1991 • West semifinals
1992 • West finals
1993 • First round
1994 • West finals
1995 • First round
1996 • West finals
Even if competing with Golden State and Houston remains daunting in the short term, the Jazz have many reasons to be encouraged about their future. Here are of five of them:
He’s a star in the profession, fulfilling my forecast of four years ago. The work that Snyder and his staff have done in player development has been remarkable to witness, the only asterisk being that he’s losing Igor Kokoskov to Phoenix as the Suns’ coach. The possibility exists for Kokoskov to take one or more current Jazz assistants with him.
That’s a concern, but Snyder should be able to attract adequate replacements based on the way he empowers his assistants by assigning them to specific players.
General manager Dennis Lindsey
My belief in Lindsey took much longer to develop than in the case of Snyder, but he has won me over. I struggled with the teardown strategy of 2013-14 and wondered how he ever would rebuild the team, but he has succeeded.
Trading up to draft Gobert and Mitchell would be enough to make anyone endorse his judgment, but then Lindsey discovered Royce O’Neale and traded for Jae Crowder, who blended in nicely — never mind his 3-of-22 shooting in the last two playoff games vs. Houston. Lindsey’s next big issue is power forward staffing, whether that’s retaining or replacing free agent Derrick Favors.
The upgrades to the Jazz’s practice facility and arena in the past year are impressive, and the franchise has more of a big-time look and feel than ever.
The vibe of the Jazz is one that emphasizes individual improvement in a college-style team environment, and it’s working. If all Joe Ingles does for the remaining three years of his contract is keep Mitchell humble, he will have justified his salary.
Ricky Rubio’s return
The Jazz have a dependable point guard seven years after trading Williams. Rubio’s improvement in the second half of the season impressed me; so did the way it bothered him to miss the Houston series. He’s on track to become the first Jazz point guard since D-Will in 2010 to start consecutive opening nights, and I expect him to play at his level of the OKC series.
Absence of complacency
People will be saying nice things about the Jazz entering the 2018-19 season, but I’m confident about Gobert’s ability to find perceived slights and stay motivated.
Mitchell worries me slightly in wanting to become a brand name in the pro sports business, but he’s grounded enough to know that his own improvement and the team’s success will drive all of that stuff. That’s healthy. Everybody around here should be eager to see what this guy becomes and where he takes this franchise.