It’s time for the Jazz to decide what it is they want to be.
We’ve seen enough to guess, at least within a couple of 9-rons, what they can be, what they’re talented enough to be.
What we don’t know is what it is they hunger to be.
What they showed on Wednesday night against the Nuggets, in a loss that was about as bad as they come, blowing a number of leads, turning the ball over four times in the final minutes, treating it as though it were a nest of hornets, flying oh-so casual over a span of urgency, blew past bad straight to pathetic.
Seeing that this latest defeat was the team’s fifth consecutive loss, seeing that the Nuggets had seven available players, seeing that those Nugs were on the backend of a back-to-back, playing on the Jazz’s home floor, that showing was … ridiculous as much as it was remarkable.
We’ve heard what the Jazz have said, foremost among them their on-floor leaders — Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. In the past, they’ve made it known their goal is an NBA championship. Of late, though, after the Jazz have played with sub-optimal grit over the past couple of weeks, they’ve confessed now that the team as a whole has to put forth more effort, more focus, more energy, more commitment, more communication, more determination. After the loss, Gobert said the Jazz are lacking toughness.
All of this crashing down in the wake of their winning 19 of 21 games.
It’s one thing to look at the schedule and think, well, that winning came mostly against inferior competition. But the way the Jazz are playing now, they would be losing no matter who they were facing. They’ve lost to two sub-.500 teams in this latest skid.
For Gobert to have to admit that the Jazz — at this juncture, before it has proved anything — aren’t tough enough shows a shocking degree of collective team immaturity. The fact that Mitchell went out onto the court long after the game had ended and the crowd dispersed on Wednesday night, following his 8-of-24 shooting night, which included 2-of-9 from deep, indicated the kind of extra push the Jazz must require of themselves to bounce out of their current funk.
It will take that from all of them. Considering Gobert himself got worked by Nikola Jokic in the loss, yielding to the Denver big man 30 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists, it identifies not just the Jazz peripheral players as the problem, rather their star players, the guys who are being toasted as All-Stars as the team they aim to lead is stumbling, bumbling and, if the trend continues, crumbling.
Even within that stumbling and bumbling, there have been stretches inside of losses when the Jazz have reminded everyone how good they can be. They’ve moved the ball, worked for clean looks, been unselfish, tried to play defense. The difficulty has come in sustaining those stretches.
In this latest defeat, the Jazz had only 14 turnovers, but the timing of those mistakes killed them. They suffered six in the final seven minutes. Through one part of the critical close of the game, they had more turnovers than shot attempts.
They were both outshot and out-rebounded by a tired, worn-thin Nuggets team that had no business beating the Jazz under these conditions on this night at this time. The Jazz were coming off what amounted to three days of rest and practice, time for them to think through their goofs of the recent past, time to reset their goals, their mindsets, their jaws.
And they responded with a loss that seemed in its nature every bit as sorry as the loss to a similarly shorthanded Rockets team and that sad 40-point defeat suffered at the hands of Toronto earlier in the year. The way it happened, Wednesday’s three-point margin was even more painful.
So it is now that the Jazz players determine for themselves what they want to do, what they want to be.
They have the support of ownership and management, they have resources and facilities at their hand. They have one of the NBA’s best coaching staffs, a staff that works to give them every advantage.
Now, it’s up to them to do it, to be it.
Many years ago, I remember talking with an important Jazz player who was in a deep, deep slump, lacking focus and falling far short of coaches’ and fans’ expectations for him. He said, in that moment, it wasn’t a matter of him not caring, it was a matter of him caring too much. And because he cared too much, it was discombobulating both him and his game.
Many years later, that same player, long after he had retired, admitted to betraying himself for not meeting his potential, for not setting his mind to making that happen, not being what he could have been. He expressed regret.
If they are wise, this group of Jazz players will avoid that kind of regret. They are good enough to be good. They might even be good enough to be very good. Right now, they are neither.
It’s up to them to get themselves right. They’re the only ones who can make it happen. If that’s what they really want.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.