So, the end for the Jazz has come. To their playoff games and to obscure column references assigned to and attendant with them.
And in the end, the winning you take is equal to the winning you make.
That’s what noted basketball minds Lennon and McCartney said, anyhoo. Fittingly enough, that slightly abridged Beatles song was the last one collectively recorded by all members of the Fab Four.
After that, it was adios.
Was Thursday night’s Game 6 the last one in Utah for … um, You-Know-Who or You-Know-Who and so many of the other You-Know-Whos? More on that in a minute.
It’s up to the observer — and to the Jazz themselves — to decide whether this final loss — 98-96 — to the Mavs at Vivint Arena was more a painful punch to the nether regions or a misery-extinguishing extension of mercy.
Dragging the Jazz’s demise into a Game 7 in Dallas — and if they’d somehow grabbed a miracle to win that, a subsequent series with the Suns — might have been a torture chamber too far.
Defeat as an eliminating conclusion to this season was always in the cards, unlike a season ago, when a league-best record jacked expectations, in spite of injuries, to levels never to be realized.
What everyone saw in this sixth game against the Mavs was, in fact, what was real, an imperfect season coming to an imperfect close.
“There were things throughout the game that you want to do a little better,” Quin Snyder said, afterward. “… I was proud of the way we competed. You’re playing against a guy who is a top [player]. … I thought we were fearless. … No shame in the way we played. We got beat. That’s a tough one.”
He added, with emotion, that he loves his players: “I told the team we’re lucky when you have something to do in life that you’re passionate about … it’s a privilege.”
It is. Somehow, sometimes, losing doesn’t feel like it.
In the closing seconds, the Jazz had their chance at victory, and they missed. Down two, Bojan Bogdanovic had as wide open a game-winning 3 in front of him as he had ever had. It was a shot Snyder approved of. Yeah, true to the theme, the attempt missed — badly, and the building went silent, everyone on hand processing not only what just happened, but what might happen next.
The fact that the top player Snyder mentioned, the Man of Many Irritating Faces, Luka Doncic, danced on those imperfections may have kicked sharp-toed boots and dug unpleasant heels into Utah’s flaws and wounds all the more, but the realization that the Jazz’s postseason road would be short was no big surprise.
The Jazz thought, after a rocky regular season, that they might be able to turn their fortunes around in the playoffs. But that would have been like turning the un-turnable, like turning an aircraft carrier around. They needed to, but they couldn’t.
It was reminiscent of the familiar story — urban legend — detailing the communication between two supposed ships approaching each other, their lights shining into the night. One, a U.S. aircraft carrier, radios the other, informing it to veer away onto a different path, what with the big war ship plowing through. When the answer returns, “No, you veer away,” the aircraft carrier responds, essentially, with, “Don’t you know who you’re messing with here? I’m the captain of a U.S. aircraft carrier.” The scratchy response comes back, “I’m a lighthouse. Your call.”
The Mavs were that lighthouse.
The difference here was the same as it ever was in this series: Dallas made its important deep shots (17 of them), the Jazz could not do the same (nine). The overall count was close, but the cigars went to the visitors. We’ll skip so many details here. They’d just depress Jazz fans all the more.
The whole of the series reached a stage of sad hilarity, really. Not only were the Jazz blown away in the fifth game, a game in which their most meaningful player — Donovan Mitchell — tweaked his quad, in the run-up to this last game, an assistant coach had been charged with fraud, Rudy Gobert was stung on his face by a bee, the Mavs were laughing at the Jazz’s ineptitude the last time out, the Jazz could be taking the floor for the final time as presently constituted.
It was a lot for the home team to absorb and, ultimately, withstand.
And it did not, could not, not that last part.
The Jazz tried real hard, but …
They lost in the same way they had lost multiple times before, allowing Dallas to beat them at their own game — from downtown. They missed assignments. They missed an opportunity, even in their inferiority, to push the Mavs to the limit. They missed far too many hard-earned shots.
The Mavs did their share of missing, too — through the first half. In the second, they fired up laser after laser after laser. Splash. Splash. Splash.
With that, a lid was slammed on a pot of frogs in boiling water. Hold it. A slight aside and another obscure reference here. The old story that if you put frogs in boiling water, they will jump right out, but if you put them in room-temperature water and heat them to a boil, they will just sit there as the deadly sauna cooks them alive is … BS. It’s simply not true. Not that I’ve ever tried it, but that’s what I’m told.
The story’s untruth is unfortunate, really, because it would apply to the Jazz’s situation pretty much straight to their last ribbit.
Stars taken to a boil.
The Jazz were built around the early development of Rudy Gobert and the addition of Mitchell, each of whom has shown general improvement over the past fistful of years, as the team added and subtracted a few pieces here and there around them. But the combination of waiting and counting on that improvement and hoping for the best with the supporting cast hasn’t led to bringing about what the Jazz craved and what the players themselves repeatedly said they aimed for — a championship.
The battering they’ve taken, the disappointment they’ve faced, so many early playoff departures, between the initial seasons and the present, tempered that bold talk, nary a word of it spoken this season.
And none of it spoken now.
The hard truth is that Gobert and Mitchell, as good as they are, haven’t been good enough, and neither has been the attendant crew. There have been bright spots, I mean, the Jazz are not dog meat. They are a solid group. Just not quite solid enough.
They are a 2-handicap golfer that, try as he might, regardless that he’s shaved 10 strokes off his routine rounds, cannot get down to scratch. That final short transition, of course, is the hardest part.
So, what should the Jazz do? What will they do?
Those are two different questions, neither of which is answered easily.
Do they ship away the world’s most dominant defender, a man who has his limitations, even as he typically soars at the one end, a man who is in the midst of a $200 million contract?
Do they unload Mitchell, the once-charmed franchise darling who came onto the scene with such youthful appreciation and enthusiasm, ebullience that has since dwindled, sometimes into periodic fits of frustration and cumulous rumors that he wants out of his current hole for a bigger, better market?
Each, both, can be blamed for the Jazz’s stalling out. Each has, both have, absorbed a huge portion of the Jazz’s allowable collective payout.
One of the worst conditions an ambitious NBA team can find itself in isn’t having a dearth of stars, a roster filled with under-talented, underpaid players. That can be remedied with proper study, with smart drafting and visionary personnel decisions. The worse situation is having identified stars and paid them bank-busting amounts, but overestimating the top end of their talent, rewarding it with franchise-paralyzing remuneration.
(Even billionaire owners are disinclined to pay huge annual salary taxes in the collection of more and more expensive talent.)
Is the former what the Jazz have done?
Or, in addition, have they failed to surround Mitchell and Gobert with the appropriate boosting parts that will support them enough to win what they have their eyes on winning?
As mentioned, both Jazz stars have their strengths, and since only one team can hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy each year, the championship standard is rarefied, indeed. Just because an outfit doesn’t win a title doesn’t mean the endeavor doesn’t have its merits.
But this iteration of the Jazz has fallen short of real contention, never making it past the playoffs’ second round. There are explanations for that which go beyond just talent. But point is, it hasn’t happened.
Gobert is great at what he does, but what he doesn’t do — especially at the offensive end — has, at times, been problematic.
Mitchell traditionally scores a lot in the postseason, but he is not gifted enough, not big or quick enough, not accurate and efficient enough, to consistently grab meaningful games against top competition by the throat and pull them in. Again, that standard is ridiculously high. How many NBA players can actually do that … four or five? Maybe?
Mitchell, on many occasions, tries to do that, taking too much upon himself.
Should the Jazz blow this team up, and by blow it up, we mean, trade one or both of their stars? The answer is … it depends.
What must be established is … 1) the authentic attitudes of these two players, individually and together. Do they want to be here? Do they want to work together to finish their business? What further additions and subtractions among the rest of the team need to happen to buttress their particular games? … and 2) what kind of market is there for Mitchell and Gobert, which is to ask, what could the Jazz get in return? That’s always the signature to any decent swap.
If that last question cannot be answered in an advantageous way, then the blow-up option is dubious. Better to switch out other players, some of them talented in their own way, but others having been depended on to do more than they ever could. Mike Conley, as affable a man as anyone would ever meet, has been overpaid and underperforming, especially in key moments. Royce O’Neale is not the defender he is purported to be, and he too often is an offensive liability. Bogdanovic? Jordan Clarkson? You decide on those.
Barring a richly-rewarding trade for either Mitchell or Gobert, or a poisonous attitude by either, the Jazz should concentrate on improving the rest of this team. They need, as much as anything, a long, strong perimeter defender. Who doesn’t, right?
Nobody said it’d be easy. Understood. It isn’t.
But Danny Ainge and Justin Zanik make good money. It’s time for them to work some wonders, to create something, to show the extraordinary acumen necessary in their expert roles to evaluate what they have and to elevate themselves and their team to a level of realized talent that matches the height to which they aim to go.
Just like the noted lads from Liverpool sang it — sort of.
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