Gordon Monson: Buckle up, Utah Jazz fans, it’s going to be a bumpy ride

The franchise’s obligation is to the integrity of the future, the Tribune columnist writes, even if losses pile up in the present.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Ochai Agbaji (30), Utah Jazz forward Simone Fontecchio (16), Utah Jazz center Walker Kessler (24), Utah Jazz forward Kelly Olynyk (41), Utah Jazz guard Talen Horton-Tucker (0) as the Utah Jazz host the San Antonio Spurs, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023.

The Utah Jazz should pack it in.

There, I said it. You’ve probably said it, too.

And saying it doesn’t feel particularly good. There’s no real joy or satisfaction in losing — unless it leads to winning.

Existent competitive integrity, in the meantime, should sit down and take a blow.

The off-the-court actions of the Jazz have already revealed both their intentions and their preferences. Trying to win right now isn’t a priority, it’s a detriment. Will Hardy will do the best with what he’s got, his players will compete to win, but the deck they’ve been dealt has been stacked intentionally.

I don’t really care if they win or lose, whatever. But fans care. Some care deeply. That’s one thing that has been proved through the years, at least since the early 1980s, when the Jazz in Salt Lake City rose up to be a team worth rooting for.

They still are, but not in an on-the-edge-of-your-seat kind of way. That’s a waste of time, a waste of emotion and energy. The Jazz have exceeded expectations to this point, found an All-Star in Lauri Markkanen, and now can turn their attention to the future. And after trading away Mike Conley at the deadline, the Jazz presently are a team built to lose games — to its ultimate advantage.

It’s a painful road to travel in an environment that pretends that forceful rectitude in the chase for victory is supposed to exist in the here and now. For the Jazz — and a fistful of other teams — it does not.

You know it. I know it. We all know it. Anybody who doesn’t know it hasn’t paid attention — clear back to the days when the San Antonio Spurs did everything they could to lose games in order to get their mitts in the draft on Tim Duncan. How did that work out for the Spurs? Let’s count the championship rings on their fingers. It took more than just that, but that’s what everyone remembers.

There’s been so much talk about what the Jazz are doing this season, what they should be doing, how they should be doing it, and to what end. It started before the season, when the Jazz offloaded two All-Stars and continued through the dumping of another All-Star in Conley, not to mention a bunch of other players who right now are far better than what the Jazz got in return.

So what is the obligation Jazz management has not just to the franchise, but to the community of fans that so fervently supports it?

Are they supposed to buy into an antiquated view of giving everything they have on any and every given night to earn triumph’s embrace? Give the paying customer what he or she deserves for dropping cash on the barrel to enjoy a win worthy of the investment? Nod their heads to the honor of a full effort on any and every occasion?

Jerry Sloan would have said yes to all three of those inquiries.

The new Jazz, though, have said no.

Their actions have said no.

They want better draft positioning. They’ve gained financial flexibility to build for a better day. Today is not that day.

Their obligation is to the integrity of the future. Integrity now can take a flying leap.

Whether a majority agrees — some give approval, some do not — with that course, a one-lane road carved out of a steep cliff, doesn’t matter because it’s too late to turn back now, there’s no room to maneuver.

There’s only room to lose.

And if not enough losing is done, then the wins will get in the way of the plan of getting worse before they get better, of getting worse as a means of getting better.

The Jazz, then, are favoring one integrity over the other, and pleading for patience. They owe it to their fans to make one of the two work, the one that requires laying down now to rise up later.

It’s dangerous. Other teams have tried this at some level in the past and failed, stumbling and bumbling around in mediocrity for long periods. Some have succeeded.

The Jazz have made the climb up the mountain in three previous primary attempts — with Stockton and Malone, with Williams and Boozer, with Mitchell and Gobert. They were good, never quite good enough.

Is the reach for greatness worth it?

It depends on how it turns out, what emerging stars will be available to the Jazz when they use their collection of draft picks, how accurate they are in evaluating the talent at hand, how effective they are in not only picking the right guys, but developing them, how they utilize whatever assets they have, be they actual players or picks, in making subsequent deals, how lucky they are.

But the way has been chosen. More losing is on the horizon, and that’s just the way the Jazz front office wants it, sacrificing the expectation of winning for a culture of survival — until a new, better culture of winning can be established.

There are a hundred miles of bad road ahead, tightly tucked alongside that steep drop-off, leading, the Jazz hope, to a place of winning, a destination beyond anything the team has experienced before. As an old friend of mine would say it, “Buckle up.” As an old Hollywood actress once said it, “It’s going to be a bumpy [ride].”