Falling to the Houston Rockets in five games in the first round this postseason left the Jazz with mixed feelings about this latest campaign — one that included unexpected emotional touchstones such as Joe and Renae Ingles’ public announcement of their son’s autism diagnosis, the fallout from a fan’s racist interaction with an opposing player, and veteran forward Kyle Korver’s impassioned defense of second-year guard Donovan Mitchell.
On the one hand, there was pride about winning 50 games, about again being one of the league’s elite defensive units. On the other, there’s no denying that being eliminated from the playoffs in the first round has cast a bit of a funk over any sense of accomplishment.
And so, at Wednesday’s season-ending media availability at the Zions Bank Basketball Campus practice facility, general manager Dennis Lindsey and a one-by-one parade of 17 players who spent time with the team all tried to make sense of how to reconcile those two extremes, to say nothing of trying to find a way to move forward.
“It tastes sour to be on vacation earlier than we’ve been the last two or three years,” said center Rudy Gobert.
Lindsey was even more blunt.
“You get eliminated, you get embarrassed the first two games — nobody was pleased,” he said. “So, you suffer, you take an honest look.”
It will be a comprehensive one, too.
“I know sometimes we wanna move to simple narratives,” Lindsey added, “but we’ll dissect every policy, every process, ourselves in management, certainly the coaches, going down to the players.”
Those players, of course, brought a wide range of emotions and perspectives to the proceedings.
On the one hand, nearly every one of them cited the camaraderie of the group as being truly unique and worthy of running back yet again.
“We’re going to watch the Avengers tonight! The season’s over and we’re still hanging out,” Mitchell announced as an example of the group’s continuing rapport. “… It’s a business, and you can treat it that way, or you can treat it like we treat it— guys love being around each other.”
Ingles, meanwhile, said maintaining the same primary core while making a few peripheral tweaks could produce incredible results, and that he’d do his part to keep the band together.
“Our team genuinely enjoys being around each other. … If they need me to FaceTime [Derrick Favors] again, like I did last summer, I’ll do it,” he said with a laugh. “… There’s always changes. But I still believe what we’ve got, with maybe adding a piece or two, can be a special group that does special things.”
For his part, Favors expressed being fully on board with a return to the team: “I would prefer to come back here. I have a team option; I need that option picked up!”
Others, meanwhile, were less definitive about remaining with the team. Free agent-to-be point guard Ricky Rubio seemed resigned to the idea that he’d be on another roster next season. Forward Thabo Sefolosha was similarly noncommittal about a return. Center Ekpe Udoh praised the organization, but also lamented, “I didn’t get the opportunities I wanted.”
Forward Kyle Korver, meanwhile, who recently turned 38 and battled a bone bruise in his knee that limited his availability and effectiveness down the stretch, conceded that, even with a year left on his contract, he’ll be contemplating his basketball mortality this summer.
“There’s a real cost as you get older. There’s a family cost. That’s probably where I’m at — weighing that cost,” he said. “I’ll sit down with my wife and we’ll make that decision."
While the players’ affinity for one another was apparent, there was also a clear recognition that the potential for significant change is looming over the franchise.
It’s almost inevitable.
“We all love each other — it’s not every year I can say that,” Gobert said. “But at the same time, every team that wants to win has to make tough decisions. We’re all kind of prepared for that.”
As for what those moves will entail, that remains to be determined. Forward Jae Crowder argued, “You can’t have too many playmakers.” Lindsey acknowledged, after the team’s woeful shooting performance vs. the Rockets, that “adding a sniper at any position is something that we’re going to have to strongly evaluate.”
As for whether they can get anyone of consequence to fill those roles, well, no one was lacking for confidence there.
Lindsey claimed the team has recently been in position to sign free agents of consequence and renown, but that the fit wasn’t right: “We’ve had quite a few opportunities to say yes.” He added that he won’t make change for change’s sake, because, “Change doesn’t automatically mean better.”
Nevertheless, Favors said he frequently talks up the organization’s virtues to his friends around the league, and Crowder vowed to be in players’ ears as free agency approaches.
“My sales pitch? ‘Do you wanna win?’” he said “‘… This locker room is special — no one’s worried about touches, no one’s worried about shots.’”
Still, Lindsey reiterated, nothing is imminent. One day removed from the end of the season, he argued for a bit more patience before committing to a particular course of action.
“It’s gonna take a little while to remove the emotion of getting eliminated,” he said. “There’s those postmortems — not to equate a season ending with death, but it certainly feels that way, so you’ve got to move away a little bit.”