Here’s just a friendly reminder for everyone not to get too jumpy around here.
With all the talk of breaking up the Utah Jazz’s two-star core of Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, in part on account of the team’s falling short in the playoffs, after doing decently in the regular season, it’s worth taking a look at what a couple of fellas named Stockton and Malone did in their first seasons together.
Before we get going here, there is the acknowledgment that John and Karl fit together in a way that Mitchell and Gobert don’t, or don’t seem to, and another that Stockton and Malone never, at least not publicly, let differences between them splash into the minds of teammates, management and fans.
But … results are results, always worth examining when it comes to personnel considerations.
First, Mitchell’s and Gobert’s achievements in tandem.
2017-18 — regular season, 48-34, lost in the second round of the playoffs.
2018-19 — regular season, 50-32, lost in the first round.
2019-20 — regular season, 44-28, lost in the first round.
2020-21 — regular season, 52-20, lost in the second round.
2021-22 — regular season, 49-33, lost in the first round.
Now, Stockton’s and Malone’s achievements in tandem over a little longer, but similar stretch.
1985-86 — regular season, 42-40, lost in first round.
1986-87 — regular season, 44-38, lost in first round.
1987-88 — regular season, 47-35, lost in second round.
1988-89 — regular season, 51-31, lost in first round, got swept by Warriors.
1989-90 — regular season, 55-27, lost in first round.
1990-91 — regular season, 54-28, lost in second round.
1991-92 — regular season, 55-27, lost in conference finals.
1992-93 — regular season, 47-35, lost in first round.
Those numbers and playoff struggles, with the exception of Malone and Stockton making it to the Western Conference finals in ‘92, are remarkably alike.
Maybe it’s a different game these days, and everyone’s in a hurry, sporting far less patience than back in the day. But if players and management were as anxious in Stockton’s and Malone’s earlier seasons as they seem to be now, the later successes those two Hall of Fame players enjoyed might never have happened.
Sure, they never won an NBA title, and there were subsequent disappointments, but they came oh-so-close. Only Michael Jordan stood between them and that Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Considering that, is it worth combing through the idea, one more time, that Gobert and Mitchell should be broken up in pursuit of the ultimate goal, because of past difficulties?
Not so sure about that.
It’s apparent to just about everybody that the Jazz, in order to advance, need an injection of change. And they are strapped in the luxury realm, limiting their options when it comes to bringing in a couple of supplementary difference-makers. If that necessitates losing one of their stars, who together make astronomical hundreds of millions, so be it.
But there might be other ways to twist the thing around.
Danny Ainge and Justin Zanik know this. They also know — or at least are busy finding out — what the possibilities are and aren’t for moving the other parts.
But for fans clamoring to get rid of Gobert, it’s worth reconsidering the notion that that’s an automatic solution. Even with his offensive limitations, he is a rare talent, a man without whom the Jazz last season might have been consistently destroyed on the defensive end.
On the other hand, the Jazz’s perimeter defense has been a weakness for a long time now, with a dearth of athletes on hand. When Royce O’Neale is your go-to stopper out front, you need help.
Ainge and Zanik are smart executives who get this.
But unless the Jazz can get a high-level star or stars in return for Gobert, a guy who can clearly bump them forward, the commonly held understanding that the team that trades away a top star for something else, even in multiples, usually loses in the exchange.
And if that actually happens, once-eager folks will be ruing the day the Jazz unloaded Rudy Gobert, the best rim protector, the best defender and one of the best rebounders on the planet, and a player who actually likes playing in Utah.
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