Donovan Mitchell has said it. Rudy Gobert has said it. Mike Conley has said it. Dennis Lindsey has said it. Gail Miller has said it. Darn near everyone around the team has said it. Has anyone not said it?
The Jazz aim to contend for and win an NBA title.
Hold on, stop the belly laughs. Just because it’s never been done — the winning part, anyway — doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
Take a look at what’s happening in the postseason right now. There are encouraging signs that extend beyond what the Jazz are doing as they target their goal.
Granted, it does seem like a far-distanced, far-off, far-out intention.
Winning a championship, even challenging for one, in the NBA is about as exclusive as it is in any league. There are wider variances in the pursuit of a title in other sports.
In Major League Baseball, champions over the past 15 years have come from Washington, Boston (three times), Houston, the Chicago Cubs, Kansas City, San Francisco (three), St. Louis (two), New York, Philadelphia and the Chicago White Sox.
In the NFL, the hoisters of Vince Lombardi’s trophy have been Kansas City, New England (three), Philadelphia, Denver, Seattle, Baltimore, the New York Giants (two), Green Bay, New Orleans, Pittsburgh (two) and Indianapolis.
In the NHL, champions have been from St. Louis, Washington, Pittsburgh (three), Chicago (three), Los Angeles (two), Boston, Detroit, Anaheim, Carolina, Tampa Bay.
In the NBA, it’s been Toronto, Golden State (three), Cleveland, San Antonio (three), Miami (three), Dallas, Los Angeles (two) and Boston. Going back further, the league is even more exclusive.
The question at the ionospheric level then becomes, can Utah find a way to wedge itself into that exclusive group?
The answer at ground level is … maybe. Which is a whole lot better than … hell, no.
The most recent encouragement comes from two teams that are in the conference finals — the Heat and the Nuggets.
Miami has had its share of success in past seasons, but this Heat team is different. There’s no Dwyane Wade in his prime here, no LeBron James. There were few predictions that this group would pretty much waltz its way to a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals. Jimmy Butler is a great player, but at this stage would anyone trade Mitchell for him?
Look at the rest of that Heat roster: A few talented young dudes and a bunch of solid role players. It’s nearly spread out enough to stir memories of the Pistons' 2004 title team.
It’s not as though Miami has a couple of insurmountable megastars that will stomp on your heart and steal all hope away. They play unselfishly, moving the ball, sharing it, finding the open look and benefiting from it. Sound familiar? It should.
Denver, we know all about. Two stars in Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray and a bunch of good supporting players who compete hard and don’t give up when facing adversity. While those role players have an edge on what the Jazz currently have, how expansive is that gap, really? And is it that inconceivable that the Jazz could develop that same mental toughness which has propelled the Nuggets from two previous 3-1 playoff deficits to what and where they are now?
Nobody around here needs reminding that the Jazz were one point away from sweeping Denver in the first round, having lost the initial game in overtime and then winning three straight. All of that without their second-best offensive player — the injured Bojan Bogdanovic. The Nuggets, too, were vexed by a bit of injury, but … there’s not much that separates the two teams.
Maybe Boston will come back to beat the Heat. Maybe the Lakers will close out the Nuggets. Neither will be easy. And that’s the point here.
The Jazz aren’t that far removed from their goal.
Mitchell and Gobert, as the team’s stars, need to continue to improve. Considering Mitchell just turned 24 and Gobert is 28, they have many stellar years ahead. Everyone saw Mitchell’s advanced play in the bubble. Now, in addition, those top guys need help, a boost which Bogdanovic, at least in part, can give. As Lindsey recently noted, the Jazz seek more perimeter defense, resistance that won’t blow a hole in their spacing at the offensive end.
Again, compare the Heat and the Nuggets to the Jazz.
They have some of what the Jazz do not. But Utah has some advantages, as well. Bottom line is this — the disparity is anything but vast. The Jazz are moving forward. The chance to narrow the gap is there.
The hope for what they’ve stated as their intention is on display, unfolding, buoyed directly in front of them in these playoffs.
What the Heat and Nuggets have done and are doing might ultimately fall short. But … man, it’s close, and that evidence should stir new strength for what comes next in motivating the Jazz to make up the difference.
That lofty goal is no longer a pipe dream. It’s within reach. It’s up to them to make it real, to use their acumen and their resources to make the deals necessary to make it real, to make what they say they want theirs.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone, which is owned by the parent company that owns the Utah Jazz.