At the beginning of an offseason that will bring personnel action of varying kinds for the Jazz, as well as for much of the NBA, the players outwardly seem to understand the business that will unfold.
It is business.
The business of winning.
Ultimately, it is the purest kind of business.
The Jazz, in particular, like to build and hold onto a family atmosphere in and around their club, a kind of spirit of togetherness, of all for one and one for all. That’s why Donovan Mitchell talks about hanging out with his teammates, how much he enjoys doing that and how much the other guys enjoy it, too. That whole deal is real. You hear that sort of talk from a lot of players on a lot of teams, but the truth is, it’s somewhat rare.
It isn’t with the Jazz.
“That bond we have is very special,” says Mitchell.
That’s not to say they don’t have disagreements and are, at times, at odds with one another. That’s bound to happen among a bunch of aggressive hunters who are used to forcing their wills on and through whoever stands between them and their prey on the basketball court. That’s been a six-lane freeway for each of them to their success.
But Quin Snyder has emphasized unselfishness and these Jazz players have appeared to be of the disposition to be compliant — more so than most NBA outfits. Rudy Gobert couldn’t have been thrilled — and he wasn’t — with his limited usage over stretches against the Rockets in the playoffs, but he led no rebellion, even though a player as proud as he struggled to completely understand why he wasn’t on the floor more.
The Jazz’s togetherness — in Snyder’s terms, their connectivity — is bigger than just a cultivation of congeniality off the court on account of the fact that it’s more fun over that grueling schedule that way.
It’s a representation of how they play, how they have to play, given their current makeup of talent. As was seen in the playoffs, the Jazz don’t have many players, maybe none, who can consistently take their individual defenders off the dribble, beating them in isolation. Mitchell can do so, but the numbers show his efficiency in that regard is not much of an advantage.
Better for the Jazz to set their screens, to execute their pick and rolls, to move the ball, to communicate on defense, all for the greater good.
That’s what they did to win 50 games this past season.
So now, as the offseason comes, so much of the talk about camaraderie and esprit de corps shifts into a different kind of required unselfishness. The kind that might, just might, move on down the road without certain players who were brought in close to the bosom, who were thought to play key roles, who sacrificed some of their individual concerns for the betterment of the team. Now, some of those players might be sacrificed — shipped off to another place, left for some other team to sign, in the name of that betterment.
“We’ll dissect everything,” Dennis Lindsey says.
Business demands it.
Opportunity demands it.
Winning demands it.
The Jazz could stay the way they are, moving forward. They could go on winning 50 games every year, and probably fill their arena. Snyder is a smart and crafty enough coach to get the best out of what they’ve got. And the congenial feel of the current team would continue, as is.
But as owner Gail Miller once said, channeling Herm Edwards, “You play to win the game. You play to win a championship.”
It’s quite clear the Jazz cannot achieve that as presently constituted, no matter how well they get along, regardless of how friendly they are, how community-based they are, how much the fans like them.
To achieve their goals, the Jazz have to break this thing up, or at least crack off a few pieces. The fans know it, the players know it, and management knows it, too.
“We’re going to keep getting better,” Gobert says. “… We’re not that far [off].”
There’s no sure telling which players will be traded or left unsigned, and certainly no celebrating in their departure. On a personal level, nobody could find real joy in having Ricky Rubio pack up and leave or in moving, say, a man with the likability of Derrick Favors. But somebody has to go, because somebody has to come.
The Jazz created enough open shots to beat the Houston Rockets. They just could not hit them. Their defense was good enough, but the talent at the other end wasn’t where it had to be.
That talent must be found elsewhere, among a couple of outsiders.
The Jazz will have to take some risks to get their reward. Perhaps trading for a player, or signing a free agent, with a few injuries or a bad fit in his past will be required. It’s tricky because the worst thing that can happen to a team isn’t being what Lindsey says the Jazz are now: “A good team … not a great one,” a team with financial flexibility.
The worst thing is being a team that has spent its money, that is financially hamstrung, but that is neither talented enough to contend for a title, nor bad enough to land top draft picks.
So, the Jazz have to win the offseason. They have to get this right. Fair or not, they must be smarter than other teams — because Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant aren’t signing here. They must use up their flexibility and nail that usage.
And then, they can get back to building their congeniality and their friendships. The business of winning won’t guarantee that, but it will turn the throttle in the right direction. Imagine the team togetherness, picture the happiness all over Donovan Mitchell’s face, the day he lifts Larry O’Brien’s trophy into the air over his head.
That would be pure.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.