When the Utah Jazz traded Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Royce O’Neale this offseason for a collection of mostly young players and a haul of future draft picks, it was presumed the team would be pretty bad this season.
Some fans were fine with that, viewing the strategy of maximizing draft position as a means of potentially landing a future superstar as a pragmatic and even prudent approach. Others, however, perceived such a tactic as an affront to those who spend their money on tickets, expecting to see a quality product.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the tankathon …
The Utah Jazz have not only not been one of the worst teams in the NBA, they’ve actually been … well, good. Even after Wednesday’s 103-100 loss to the Mavericks in Dallas, they’re now 6-3 this season. They already have victories over multiple 2022 playoff teams, including the Grizzlies (twice), Nuggets, and Wolves, plus one over the much-hyped Pelicans.
All of which invites some pertinent questions: How do Jazz fans feel about the hot start? Is it sustainable? Is it advisable? Is this team legitimately good?
A random sampling of fans were asked about the team, its tumultuous offseason, and its surprisingly hot start to this season ahead of Monday night‘s victory over Memphis. This is what they had to say.
What were your preseason expectations of the team?
While the players on the team have been very clear all along that they’ve been overlooked and prematurely counted out this season, the informal, small-sample-size poll of fans revealed that, at least initially, they did not share the optimism.
Michaela Medico, of Taylorsville, who was attending the game with her grandma, Annette Ferguson, was blunt about what she expected.
“Losing. L’s all around,” she said. “We lost our best players — well, some of our best players.”
Lehi’s Noah Lewis was prepared to mentally check out and not pay much attention this season: “I’m not gonna lie, I kinda gave up on them,” he said.
Some people found themselves feeling angry about all the trades coming after they’d already shelled out big money for tickets.
Mardi and James Munn, of Stockton, were among them.
“We have season tickets and we were thinking we had just lost a lot of money for watching a high school team,” said Mardi Munn. “We were a little sad.”
Harrisville’s Jason and Brenda Mager took it a step further and actually looked into canceling their purchase.
“We bought season tickets — this is our first year, we split them four ways — and we bought them because of Rudy and Donovan; we thought we had a good team going,” said Jason Mager. “And then we actually tried to get out of our season tickets, but they were going to [keep] 20% of what we paid, so we were like, ‘Eh, we’ll just keep ‘em.’”
Has the fast start changed your mind about the quality of the team?
Everyone queried was excited by the way the team has played to this point — but many of them weren’t yet thoroughly convinced that it’s for real, or that it will last.
Count Ogden’s Patrece and John Degiorgio among the dubious.
“They’re doing really well. I’m just afraid that they’re such a new team that they’re gonna start losing bad,” said Patrece Degiorgio. “No, I just think they’re gonna wear out fast.”
And Jason Mager remains highly skeptical.
“I’m still a Jazz fan, and [feel like] they did what they had to do. But I don’t expect to enjoy the games. I don’t expect too much this year,” he said. “… We’re seven games [at the time] into an 82-game season. I’m not thoroughly convinced on anything.”
Others, however, say they have seen enough from the new players and the new style of play to seize upon the possibility of this team being legit.
“Now, we’re optimistic. Very optimistic,” said James Munn. “It looks like we’ve got a good team to build on, and we can’t wait.”
“This team’s great! We’re excited,” agreed Mardi Munn, crossing her fingers in the hope it carries on. “I love the hustle. So much potential.”
Lewis, meanwhile, was so pleased with the good record that he perhaps got a bit over-exuberant and went all-in.
“[They’ll] keep being good,” he said. “If they make it to at least the conference finals, people will give Danny Ainge less of a hard time than they have since the trades.”
OK, then. Conference finals? Really?
Moments seconds later, he’d retreated — of his own accord — back to at least some uncertainty, and some perhaps more realistic aspirations.
“I don’t know — it’s early in the season to tell,” Lewis said. “… [But] at this rate, they could potentially make the playoffs and surprise some people in the first round.”
So who and what do you like about this team?
It apparently is a good thing that the front office kept a few familiar faces from the rotation around this season. It’s no accident that veteran guards Jordan Clarkson and Mike Conley get the biggest ovations when the starting lineups are announced at Vivint Arena.
“Well, I’m excited to see Conley and Clarkson back,” said Brenda Mager.
“We already loved J.C.,” said Mardi Munn.
“Yeah, she would leave me for J.C.,” James Munn added.
And she did not disagree.
As for all the newbies, well, Lauri Markkanen came up quite a bit, naturally, even if fans couldn’t always remember his name — a trend that extended to several others, too.
“You know, Markkanen’s fun to watch,” said John Degiorgio. “He’s a physical ballplayer.”
His wife then tried to pick her own favorite, but had no idea what he was called: “I like that new one. What’s his name?”
After a few follow-up questions, it became apparent she was referring to Markkanen as well.
In spite of his incredible start, The Finnisher was not a unanimous choice, though.
“I expect to see the shimmy every time he makes a 3-point shot!” Brenda Mager said, imitating Malik Beasley’s now-signature celebration, without naming him.
“Who?” asked her husband, oblivious to the ritual.
“Did you not see it last night? It was the highlight!” she replied, though, when pressed, she could not come up with the sharpshooter’s name.
Lewis picked out “Lauri M…?” — turning the initial of Markkanen’s surname into a question, as he failed to remember it — before adding that “Kellan [sic] Olynyk has been making some good plays” on offense that Gobert never could.
John Degiorgio, meanwhile, joked about being surprised by Olynyk’s success on account of his nationality.
“Kelly’s a Canadian! What the hell are Canadians doing playing basketball? They’re supposed to play hockey!” he said, laughing. “Put the Italian in, man, he’s all right!”
So, count that as a vote for Simone Fontecchio, then?
As for the team’s style of play, that got universal praise from those in the seats.
“They’re all so unselfish,” said Ferguson, the Taylorsville grandma. “They’re really smart and they pass the ball a lot.”
John Degiorgio echoed those sentiments (“It’s fun basketball to watch — they move the basketball around a lot and they hustle. They do hustle quite a bit.”), though Patrece called him out, questioning his credentials to judge.
“I stay up and watch ’em! He goes to bed!” she revealed with pride.
Jason Mager then threw some praise Will Hardy’s way.
“I like how they run. I like the new coach — he’s probably bringing a lot of energy to the team,” he said.
But it was Lewis, from Lehi, who perhaps best summarized fans’ feelings on this roster, noting that he was digging the team’s on-court vibe:
“Just seeing them have fun out on the court … I think that’s cool.”
Do you think it’s a good or bad idea for them to tank?
And finally, the subject that everyone could universally agree upon.
Again, it was a small sample size of fans, and — given the unanimity of their responses — clearly not an entirely representative one, but these respondents were nothing if not definitive and unequivocal.
Intentionally trying to be bad in order to get a good draft pick is an apparently abhorrent idea.
Not one of them would accept some short-term awfulness for a shot at landing a potentially generational talent such as Victor Wembanyama.
“What’s his name? Wena … Wenbanyama? Yeah, I’ve seen him play, there’s no doubt he’s awesome, but I just don’t think it’s in the Jazz to tank,” said Jason Mager. “Utah’s just never done that. They’ve never tanked over the years — never — so I don’t see them doing it now.”
“Everybody thought we were gonna tank for that — I’m not even gonna try to pronounce his name. … I don’t know [about that],” agreed Lewis.
The Degiorgios conceded they know virtually nothing about Wembanyama. And they don’t care to.
“Win as many as you can — that’s the way it is. That’s what brings the fans,” said John Degiorgio. “Losing don’t bring the fans, whether you rank high in the draft or you don’t.”
And neither a recitation of the 7-foot-4 Frenchman’s stats, skills, and exploits nor disclosure of the consensus opinion that he’s considered the best NBA prospect since LeBron James could sway him.
“It’s a prospect,” he said, emphasizing that particular word. “Nothing’s proven yet.”
Both Brenda Mager (“Let’s just make the best of it and see what we get the next few years.”) and Mardi Munn (“I don’t want ‘em to tank. … Who can work together? Make it a team and build from here.”) advocated giving the current roster more time to see what it can accomplish, then augmenting around the keepers.
James Munn doesn’t believe this current roster is even capable of pulling a tank job off.
“It doesn’t feel like that’s what we’re trying to do. It looks like the new guys are hustling and trying to prove that they’re here for a good reason,” he said. “They’re going to make this their home, and make a championship team out of it.”
And finally, Jason Mager, who would not settle for getting only 80% of his money back for tickets after the team switched gears from a roster that had qualified for the playoffs in six consecutive seasons, said he’s sure not going to settle for the team being intentionally bad on top of everything else.
“As a fan, that’s all you want is to see them be competitive,” he said. “We’re competitive every night [right now] — that’s what matters. Go out there with some respect. … At least put in some effort.”
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