The funny thing about great expectations is some people think they’re favorable, that they are an advantage, that they are useful and good, that they are important for success. Others consider them the enemy, that they are disadvantageous, that they are a burden and bad, that they lead to disappointment.
The Jazz now get to figure out what they will be for them.
Friend or foe.
Good is no longer good enough.
For the first time in a long, long time, those expectations are ascending to a crest of title contention for Utah’s NBA team. People who cover the the league for a living, not just here but from other parts of the country, are praising the Jazz and considering them a legitimate threat, even in the most difficult West. Even in Vegas, odds for the Jazz to win an NBA championship have moved in a positive direction.
Over the past two seasons, the Jazz have been a nice story, a gritty collection of players who were connected and unselfish and defensive-minded and woefully short on offensive firepower. They did the most with what they had, despite having lost their best player to free agency and building around a promising youngster who needed seasoning and … help.
Well. In the best offseason in club history, that reinforcement has arrived, coming not just in the form of additional talent, but in the form of talent that bolsters the exact weak spots the team was vulnerable to/suffering from in postseasons past. Namely, shooting, playmaking, and rocksteady toughness and explosiveness at point guard. And most of what they gave up to get that bolstering — Derrick Favors, most notably — they covered with additional savvy moves.
By Jazz standards, they went berserk.
We’re talking about an outfit that last offseason did … nothing. They traded for nobody. They signed nobody. Their plan was to grow from within and preserve their financial flexibility.
Not anymore. It’s as though somebody, something awakened the Jazz, stirred them from their slumber. They realized that in a modern NBA in which great players — of which Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell are included — have the power, and the best way to keep those stars wanting to stick around is to give them the support they need.
The timing was also right on account of Gobert’s and Mitchell’s contracts emaining somewhat under control compared to what they will swell to in a couple of seasons. Money could be responsibly spent in the present and … it was.
The Jazz now have blown past solid at both ends.
Under the direction of Quin Snyder, an offense that had been known for creating open looks but not consistently taking advantage of them — think the Rockets playoff series — can do exactly that. Picture what Conley will do when he is left open the way Ricky Rubio was. Imagine Bogdanovic left the way Jae Crowder and Favors were. See Bogdanovic on one side and Joe Ingles on the other, splashing away.
And if defenses emphasize guarding those guys, beam up on the big screen in your brain what that will conjure and enable — open lanes for Mitchell to drive to the basket and more opportunities for Gobert to roll for a dunk. An attack that once could be jammed by switching defenses, forcing the Jazz — Mitchell, in particular — to go one-on-two or one-on-three with the shot clock running short now has reliable options for greater effectiveness and efficiency.
All with Davis and Green, alongside Royce O’Neale, coming off the bench.
It could be expected that Mitchell, with his health fully intact this offseason, unlike his situation a year ago, can go throttle up with the physical aspects of his game, adding better court awareness, more bang-on reading and recognition. Lining up with Conley and Bogdanovic and Ingles and Gobert, there’s a wide berth for him to have the best season of his burgeoning career. He, more than any other Jazz player, will benefit from the roster changes.
At the defensive end, Davis will make up for the loss of Favors, Conley, even at 31, is a better defender than Rubio was, more likely to stay between his man and the basket, easing the burden on Gobert to cover his own man and an opponent getting loose on penetration from the perimeter. And it wasn’t that long ago that Bogdanovic was doing at least a decent job taking a crack at the impossible — covering James during old playoff matchups.
Yeah. Expectations are great.
On the other hand, with the Lakers pairing Anthony Davis with LeBron James, the Clippers hauling in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Rockets trading Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook, putting Westbrook with James Harden, the Nuggets adding Jerami Grant … um, the Jazz could cause a whole lot of problems, but also face them, as well.
Don’t sleep on the fact that Golden State, even without Kevin Durant, still will have four All-Stars on its roster, once Klay Thompson properly rehabs his knee, which is likely to happen a month or two before the playoffs start.
And we haven’t even mentioned Dame and his Blazers.
Those lofty expectations, then, can go either way for the Jazz.
That’s the thing about having the best offseason in team history. It sets the Jazz up for one of two possibilities during the regular season: It will either launch them toward and through a monumental campaign, or it will slice them down, being on the business end of a swinging cutlass, leaving them distressed and disheartened by what might, what should have been.
There’s little room for anything in-between.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.