Gordon Monson: What in the world has gotten into the Utah Jazz? And will it last?

Whatever comes next, the Tribune columnist writes, team’s hot start has been a joy to watch.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Malik Beasley (5) celebrates a three-pointer to put the Jazz up by four with 22.5 seconds remaining, as the Utah Jazz host the Memphis Grizzlies, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022.

A whole lot of people are waiting.

Waiting … waiting … waiting … to see if what they are witnessing out of the Utah Jazz so far is real.

Lawdy, lawdy, how could it be? How can it be? Why would it be? What will it be?

Complicating matters even more, those who care the most about the Jazz’s welfare — their fans — aren’t even sure they approve of the early winning. It might go further than just that. Hook Danny Ainge up to a lie detector and see what he, in the deepest, darkest reaches of his soul, thinks about what’s happening here. It’s a guarantee, for the time being, he’s idling in neutral, too.

Reasons for the hang time in punted hope and belief are here, there, everywhere.

You don’t just lean a ladder up against the marquee of a team and dismantle it, trading your three best players, two of them All-Stars who were at the center of everything for years, three players who have gone on to other teams to demonstrate more of what they can do at soaringly high levels, and win games at the same rate as before.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) eyes the net as the Utah Jazz take on the Memphis Grizzlies at Viviint Arena, Oct. 31, 2022.

Especially when you’re replacing them with whims and intentions for the future, with financial flexibility, with young players hauling heavy collars of unfulfilled potential around their necks, with throwaways, bits and pieces from scattered corners around the league.

That’s not how you immediately win in the NBA.

That’s how you reap high first-round draft selections, maybe even, with any good fortune, the top first-round draft pick, which in the coming offseason offers … well, everyone knows what it will offer … a wem and a ban and a yama unlike anything pro basketball has ever seen.

And we haven’t even mentioned the inability to hold onto a now former head coach who was and is respected league-wide as one of the brightest basketball minds on the planet, who authored in varying seasons the NBA’s No. 1 rated offense and its top-ranked defense. And the subsequent hiring of a completely unproven 34-year-old replacement, a fresh-faced dude who looked as though he’d just fallen out of a Proactiv ad.

And … what’s this, they have won, at this writing, three times as many games as they’ve lost?

Even as Vegas had tagged them as a billion-to-one bet to win an NBA title?

What are they doing in such lofty and temperate climes a few weeks into the season, beating teams such as the Nuggets, the Timberwolves, the Grizzlies, playoff teams all?

Apparently, somebody forgot to tell Lauri Markkanen, Malik Beasley, Collin Sexton, Kelly Olynyk, and a bunch of guys whose names nobody in Utah yet knows, mixed with holdovers Jordan Clarkson, Mike Conley and Rudy Gay, that they are supposed to be the Washington Generals, not just losing games, but having a bucket of confetti chucked in their faces en route.

Suckage was supposed to be their middle names.

And with every mention from Justin Zanik that these were exciting new times for the Jazz, a bold venture into the great unknown, came a landslide of snickers and guffaws, like hahahaha, watch as the club is temporarily burned to the ground so it can find dominance in the 2027 season.

And then … tip-off after tip-off came, resulting in shock and awe, in postgame celebrations.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Collin Sexton (2), Utah Jazz forward Kelly Olynyk (41), as the Utah Jazz host the Memphis Grizzlies, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022.

Markkanen showing remarkkanen-able versatility, playing the 5, the 4, the 3, scoring at all levels, rebounding, defending, blocking shots, looking like a star. Whew.

Clarkson making plays that aren’t just his own, creating for not just himself, but for his teammates. What?

Sexton learning from Conley, seeing what the possibilities might be for him when he gains greater awareness regarding where his teammates are, where they like the ball. Wow.

Beasley hitting 3s, but determined to round out his game to the benefit of the team. Who’d a thunk it?

Olynyk making game-winning shots, taking on the role of a dependable, seasoned pro. Whoo-wee.

And then, there are guys with hyphens in their games and in their names, Alexander-Walker and Horton-Tucker, contributing, playing like steady plow horses, and still others, such as Jarred Vanderbilt and Walker Kessler, throwing bodies around, giving the Jazz a presence at the basket. Wonder of wonders.

What the Jazz have done to this point is most rare in the modern NBA game — they’ve shared the ball, seemingly unconcerned as to who takes the shot, who gets the credit, and they’ve depended on each other at both ends of the floor, without established stars, without egos, without complications that come by way of a pecking order.

It’s been a gas to watch, a group of guys taking advantage of opponents who see them as a night off, until the game is on, and an L is hung around their necks.

Can it last?

That is the question of the hour, the day, the week, the month.

Formula for NBA success in the past screams a big ol’ … “No.”

This will not last. It can’t.

Stars win in this league. Egos win. Egos that know they will win win. The more you have of them, the more you have of it, the better the chances of sustained success — in the regular season, in the playoffs.

Team ball — a different hero every night — is sweet and quaint and important, but when the authentic pressure comes, somebody has to take the last shot.

The fact that this discussion is even being had as it pertains to the Jazz is amazing enough.

If it all blows apart, as it was scripted to do from the beginning, everyone will nod, and look to the 2023 draft, and 10 more drafts to come.

If it remains intact, then fans will fill the building, screaming their guts out, having a blast; players will shake their heads, pouring the effort on all the more as they enjoy the ride, as new reputations and new sobriquets are attached to them; Ainge will be seen as a Machiavellian mastermind, gaining victories and draft picks, even if he’s shocked, too; and announcers will mimic Al Michaels, echoing the broadcaster’s infamous do-you-believe-in-miracles call from 40-plus years back.

For the time being, waiting is the wise course. Waiting … waiting … waiting.

Whatever’s real, winning or losing, will come. So will the draft picks.

Interesting, though — isn’t it? — that the exact thing that doomed the Jazz last season is what’s stirring so much wonder now.


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