It’s been more than a week since the Utah Jazz’s season came to a sudden, ignominious end, but the sting of a second consecutive first-round playoff exit hasn’t really subsided yet.
“Nobody’s satisfied. We’re all reeling from defeat and disappointment,” Dennis Lindsey, the Jazz’s executive vice president of basketball operations, said in a season wrap-up videoconference with local and national media on Wednesday morning.
And so it is that a season like none other before it will yield a familiar aftermath: assessing what worked and what didn’t, developing a plan of action to emphasize and augment the strengths while diminishing the weaknesses, and then going out and trying to execute it all within the financial framework at their disposal.
All of which is a verbose and convoluted way of saying: Where do the Jazz go from here? How do they take that next step?
“The only thing that I would emphasize is that going from good to great is really hard. And there’s a lot of other teams that are trying to do the same thing,” said general manager Justin Zanik. “We just can commit to our fans and to our groups that support us that we will stop at nothing to try and reach that goal.”
For what it’s worth, this season’s postmortem did not carry with it the same overarching vibe of significant impending change as last year’s. And probably for good reason, as those back-to-back first-round postseason defeats are perhaps not terribly comparable.
A year ago, the Jazz were pretty thoroughly dismantled by the Rockets, to the point that it was apparent that Utah’s elite-defense/manufactured-offense organizational approach had run its course and was due for an overhaul.
This time around, in spite of a fits-and-starts year that lacked extended cohesion long before COVID-19, George Floyd, and Jacob Blake entered the national lexicon, there was nevertheless the realization that with the importation of Bojan Bogdanovic and the gradual assimilation of Mike Conley, there were at least some pieces at hand to potentially produce stellar results — which seemed possible before a 3-1 series lead evaporated.
Of course, not having Conley for the first two games of the Nuggets series (as he attended to the birth of his child) and not having Bogdanovic for any of those seven games (as he recovered from season-ending wrist surgery) proved an impediment to such progress. Still, while Lindsey noted that, in particular, Bogey’s absence deprived the Jazz of “another person to help us close those close games,” he was not about to play the woe-is-me card.
“Those aren’t excuses why we lost the series. We had more than enough to compete with,” Lindsey added.
Did they, though?
While All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell took a transcendent leap into superstardom during the series, and while big man Rudy Gobert had his moments, and while Bogdanovic was every bit the secondary offensive option the front office hoped for, and while Conley eventually found his way into being a solid contributor, the depth that the organization envisioned when it brought in Ed Davis, Jeff Green, and Emmanuel Mudiay last summer never really materialized — to the point that coach Quin Snyder was effectively playing a seven-man rotation by the end of the Denver series.
So then — with big moves unlikely given the team’s likely salary commitments, what’s the plan for filling in around the edges now?
A year ago, in a nod to the Jazz’s poor performance from beyond the arc against the Rockets, Lindsey famously proclaimed the need to target “snipers at any position.” This time, again, he gave some broad hints as to the type of players he and Zanik might have in mind.
In short, while they are pleased with the offensive strides the team made this season, they also see evidence that a bit more aptitude and fortitude is necessary on the defensive side.
“We lost some defensive integrity, some activity, some deflections,” Lindsey said. “… So it’s an adjustment, and we’ll see. But anybody who has defensive integrity at their position, can be an active, athletic defender will be someone that would be of interest to us, especially if they don’t compromise the spacing.”
Given Conley’s likely decision to opt in to the final year of his contract, plus sizable extensions due Mitchell and Gobert, not to mention the cost of potentially retaining midseason acquisition and bench sparkplug Jordan Clarkson, the Jazz are probably not in position to make the same kind of big-swing, all-in moves they made a year ago.
Which means that, unless they do something unexpected and drastic, they’ll have the NBA Draft, the midlevel exception, the bi-annual exception, veteran minimum deals and internal improvement as the primary options to try and put together a more passable supporting cast for 2021.
“We’ll exhaust all of those possibilities,” Lindsey said.
“What we need to do is look everywhere,” Zanik agreed.
UTAH JAZZ ROSTER BREAKDOWN
Here are the contract statuses of the Jazz players from the 2019-20 season:
Unrestricted free agents
Restricted free agents
* Player option
** Eligible for extension
^ Non-guaranteed contract