‘Still not over’ loss to Nuggets, Utah Jazz say their chemistry can carry them higher this season

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) l-r Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45), Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00), Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) and Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale (23) try to get some momentum in the second half. The Utah Jazz lost to the Houston Rockets 110-120 at Vivint Arena, Feb. 22, 2020.

According to Jazz executive vice president Dennis Lindsey, sixth man Jordan Clarkson had some “big-market, glamor-market options” when free agency opened back on the afternoon of Nov. 20.

According to Clarkson himself, though, the only offer that mattered was the one that came from Utah’s front office.

“I definitely didn’t want to leave these guys — it’s crazy how fast I connected with these guys and this group,” Clarkson told the media in a Wednesday afternoon Zoom call. “It’s been great for me, and I just didn’t want to lose that.”

Lindsey praised Clarkson and his agent “for working with us” on the parameters of the deal — a reported four years and $52 million — that will keep around the guy who rescued Utah’s struggling second unit a season ago following a pre-Christmas trade.

In Clarkson’s mind, there wasn’t much to the negotiations, though, which is why a deal came together in all of an hour and a half after the window opened.

“They wanted me to be here and I wanted to be here, as well,” he said. “That’s probably why it happened so fast.”

The Missouri product cited his relationship with teammates and coach Quin Snyder, and the people of Salt Lake City embracing him as reasons to return. Knowing that everyone has “the same goal of winning and growing together” gave him some “peace of mind.”

Royce O’Neale, on the other hand, has not found much of that in the aftermath of the Jazz’s postseason loss to the Denver Nuggets.

Despite playing the entire series without injured forward Bojan Bogdanovic, and the first two games without point guard Mike Conley, Utah built a 3-1 lead against Denver, only to lose the next three games and the best-of-seven series. The Nuggets eventually reached the conference finals, while the Jazz dealt with the fallout from another premature elimination.

The sting of what could have lingered with him during the truncated offseason and fueled his work.

“To be honest, I’m still not over it. I still think about it every day. Every workout that I had this offseason, I thought about it. I still watch the last game all the time,” O’Neale told the media in his own Zoom interview following Clarkson’s. “We don’t want that feeling to happen again.”

To that end, he’s been working on becoming a more consistent outside shooter, honing his playmaking skills, and taking ownership of the team’s defensive performance alongside All-NBA center Rudy Gobert.

Clarkson said he’s been studious in breaking down his shot distribution and looking to become more efficient in taking either layups or 3s; he’s been working on getting better at locating teammates to pass to out of isolation sets; and, like just about everyone else on the Jazz, he added that he’s finding ways to improve defensively.

Both players, meanwhile, said the Jazz’s close-knit vibe will be an underrated asset this coming season.

They both allowed that Bogdanovic was missed in the postseason. They both praised the signing of Favors and his impact not only on the court, but inside the locker room. Clarkson said it was imperative for teammates to hold one another accountable. Then again, given that aforementioned bond, that shouldn’t be too much of a challenge.

This group has an ineffable chemistry — as displayed by O’Neale’s reaction to BFF Donovan Mitchell’s recent big-bucks contract extension.

“I ain’t paying for no more dinners!” O’Neale said. “After next year, he’s got all the dinners!”

The hope, of course, is that such camaraderie translates into more wins.

Clarkson, who said that winning mattered to him in deciding his situation, is convinced it’s about to happen.

“With this team full strength,” he concluded, “I think we can really make some noise.”