A little over half a day after the Utah Jazz’s latest season came to its latest ignominious conclusion, general manager Justin Zanik met with the local media Friday morning at Zions Bank Basketball to provide a postmortem on the campaign — albeit one a bit light on specifics.
Asked at the outset to identify some areas where the team fell short in its quest for a championship, he instead replied, “We’re 12 hours from the end of our season here,” but promised a methodical and collaborative internal review to come.
Among the first questions posed to him was about head coach Quin Snyder’s future with the organization, and the status of the reportedly unsigned contract extension he was offered.
And the GM offered a glowing if not particularly illuminating response.
“Quin Snyder is one of the best coaches in the NBA,” Zanik said. “There is no other partner I would rather have as a coach and as a leader of our players and as a partner in our front office than Quin Snyder.”
While he extolled the franchise’s sound footing as a result of having “foundational” pieces in Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, his response to a question about whether he maintains the belief that they are talented enough centerpieces for a title-contending team, he said that it’s not just about the stars, but also all the pieces around them.
“I think Donovan and Rudy, along with some of our other players, are hugely important to the success of this organization,” Zanik said. “When you’re talking about building a … championship house, right, it doesn’t exist just on a foundation, it exists on everything else as well. Those two are two-time All-Star players, consecutive All-Stars, Defensive Player of the Year, All-NBA candidates. And any time that we can add to that, complement that, strengthen that — because this competition is a team game, and they’ve been huge contributors for us. And some of our other guys have given us great contributions, too.
“It wasn’t enough this year,” he added. “So our job is to go out there and make it be enough over a period of time.”
He praised both stars’ high character, their work ethic, their natural curiosity. He mentioned that they invest their own resources in their continued improvement. And he lauded them both as “winners” who “hate to lose.”
Still, given all the drama that permeated the roster this season, and the omnipresent rumors that Mitchell could ask out, given the team’s annual postseason failings, his apparently strained relationship with Gobert, and the player option he holds at the end of his existing contract, there remain significant questions about whether one or both of those foundational pieces will be around when the next season tips off.
The GM pushed back the suggestion that anything regarding the players’ interpersonal dynamics is amiss.
“They’ve given themselves to each other. And all the outside narratives is just a bunch of noise,” Zanik claimed. “Internally, I see it every day. These guys care about each other.”
He later doubled down on the idea of everything being absolutely fine aside from the results: “There wasn’t internal adversity. It was a struggle for us to find some continuity this year in terms of inconsistency in the way we played.”
Zanik outright bristled at a question about balancing Mitchell’s growing influence within the franchise vs. maintaining “organizational control,” asserting that ”every player that’s here and part of the Utah Jazz has influence over us.
“The question that you’ve asked is for a binary answer, and I totally disagree that that is anything,” Zanik said. “… To engage with them about what’s best for them, for them to compete at the highest level and win, has nothing to do with ‘organizational control.’
“… I’m around these players every day, but it’s an additional opportunity to engage with them about their thoughts on the season, whether that’s on the court, off the court, what we can do better,” he added. “I think [owner Ryan Smith] has created and continued to take through with the Millers legacy, of this is a place that players will want to play at. And when they come here, their experience is great. From the business side, from the fans, front office, the coaching staff, they have a chance to get better. They have a chance to compete for titles. And so constantly engaging in that feedback is natural. So I don’t appreciate, frankly, the outside narrative of that being a binary choice.”
Still, there is truth to the idea that the team’s fate hinges on more than the respective exploits of its two centerpieces.
The role players have a substantive impact on the team’s fate, which is why he was queried about the disappointing season of this past summer’s marquee free agent addition, Rudy Gay, who was a DNP-CD for the entirety of the series against the Mavericks, and had been supplanted in the rotation by trade deadline salary throw-in Juancho Hernangomez.
“I think Rudy Gay had done a lot here as far as preparing and getting ready to play after injury. Frankly, matchups and those things are coach’s purview and I’m completely supportive of it,” Zanik said. “I think that had we continued to play and gone through it, there would have been matchups that would have made sense with Rudy Gay.”
Alas, there are no more matchups coming this season to test that theory.
There is now just a potentially turbulent offseason ahead.
Still, as Zanik noted, it will be the NBA’s first proper offseason of the past three years, and so, it will offer plenty of opportunity to take a step back from what has been an admittedly difficult season, and to assess what is the best way to move forward.
“There’s also so many times in the past ... with COVID, with interrupted breaks, small breaks, where it just made everything a lot harder. Even though we had good guys and guys that care about each other and the coaching staff is great, there was just a lot more of a grind,” Zanik said. “... Everybody goes through it. We’re not special that way. But being able to take a collective deep breath with this offseason coming, I think will be good for everyone.”