facebook-pixel

Gordon Monson: Did Jazz players not believe in each other or did the Jazz FO not believe in them?

CEO Danny Ainge delivered an indictment of last year’s team as he explained the decision to reboot and rebuild the roster.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz CEO Danny Ainge is asked about plans to replace outgoing Jazz coach Quin Snyder during a press conference in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 6, 2022.

A few things became clear and semi-clear and clouded in what Danny Ainge and Justin Zanik combined to say about the Utah Jazz, past and present, during a news conference on Monday.

The loudest shout was that Ainge did not like last year’s Jazz team. It was expensive and it wasn’t good enough and there was even worse news.

Ainge said — and this is quite an indictment — that the Jazz players “didn’t really believe in each other.”

He said he waited during the regular season to see if that would change in the playoffs. It didn’t.

So, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell were swapped away for a fistful of players, most of them younger, and a mountain of draft picks, all of them yet unknown and obviously unproven.

But, ultimately, whose job is it to instill belief?

Zanik praised the leftovers, guys like Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson, calling them “high-character leaders.”

And this is where the message got either crystal clear or completely muddied, depending on how you look at it.

If the players didn’t believe in each other, but Conley, Bogdanovic and Clarkson are high-character guys, something’s a little off here.

One of three things is going on, or maybe all three of them.

Ainge and Zanik are justifying their moves of getting rid of two NBA All-Stars, players who took the Jazz to the playoffs every postseason, even if they didn’t get far in those playoffs, basically for a whole lot of potential for and hope in the seasons ahead.

Some would give great credit to the Jazz execs for making such moves, shooting for the stars like that. Somebody once said, “It’s better to shoot for the stars and land in the trees than to shoot for the trees and land in the mud.”

All right, then.

But in justifying their moves, Ainge and Zanik gave hearers and readers and fans of all kinds options regarding how to receive those justifications.

They were … 1) propping up their trades, the reasons for them, the patience needed in the meantime, or 2) pointing the finger at Gobert and Mitchell, essentially saying those were the guys who didn’t believe in their teammates, while the remaining guys did, or 3) attempting to jack up the trade value of Conley, Bogdanovic and Clarkson, who they want to get rid of, but haven’t found the right deal yet.

Maybe it’s all of those things. It’s always, in part, that last thing.

But whose job is it to ensure that players believe in each other? Is it only theirs?

Mitchell did try to take over games, at times, doing too much himself. He played like a prima donna, now and again. Granted.

But if the Jazz didn’t believe in each other, how did they roll up the best record in the league, season before last? They had three All-Stars. They looked like they believed in each other over that extended stretch. And then, in the playoffs, certain players got injured and things fell apart.

Last season was a mess, but in the preceding offseason, the Jazz didn’t exactly make proper moves to address their problems, to bolster the team’s chances for more success, to improve belief.

Players believing in each other is a by-product of organizational strength. The loss of it isn’t just players flying off the rails. It can be what they are feeling from the top of the club on down.

Which raises questions.

Was some of this unbelief caused by the fact that the team in place wasn’t Ainge’s team, something the players were well aware of, and the new team leader wanted to make it his? Was that destabilizing? Did it erode belief? Could the Jazz have traded some of the guys around their All-Stars and built with those? Or is it better when the new sheriff rides into town to blow the thing up and start again?

Did the players know well in advance that the thing was going to be blown up?

Regardless of what was said publicly, did the coaches feel the same thing?

This is where things become less clear.

The haul — especially the boatload of draft picks — the Jazz have received for their stars might make all of what they’re doing completely justified, genius even. Maybe Ainge and Zanik deserve a lot of praise for not being satisfied with being good with what they had, wanting instead to swing for the fences in attempting to be great.

But when they said players didn’t believe in each other, that’s a hammer to the gut of those players, and even if it’s partially true, could something less drastic have been done to restore or pump up that belief?

Was it the players who didn’t believe in each other or was it management — Ainge — who didn’t believe in those players?

Or was it the players — and maybe the coaches, too — who didn’t feel comfortable with or believe in what management was bound to do?

It’s a funny thing, belief, as well as unbelief. Both flow in every direction, but in an endeavor and environment as competitive as the NBA, they especially flow from the top down, and then all around.