Gordon Monson: The Utah Jazz fly now into the final frontier, taking baby steps toward boldly going where no Jazz team has gone before

Here are the 7 things I think the Jazz should prioritize for the rest of the season.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen (23) tries to muscle the ball past Golden State Warriors forward Trayce Jackson-Davis (32) during an NBA basketball game Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Salt Lake City.

Seven things. Just seven things for the Jazz necessary in their present for a promising future.

Speaking of the future, don’t mean to go all max-nerd, live-long-and-prosper, I’m-a-doctor-Jim-not-an-auto-mechanic, Star Trek-ish here, but wasn’t there an episode late in the original series where a character used a life-energy transfer thingamabob to forcibly switch bodies with Captain Kirk?

Pretty sure it happened.

It got me to thinking, what if you or I could use such a life-energy transfer to pull a switcheroo with Will Hardy? If we could, and suddenly you or I were in control of the Jazz over the season’s final 20-something games, what would we do, what priorities would we have, what would be our motivation, what decisions would we make?

After all, it was Spock who said, “One man cannot summon the future,” and it was Kirk who said, “But one man can change the present.” And it was I who said, “One man can change the present to change the future.”

I know … profound. Here’s what I came up with. See if you agree.

1. Don’t worry about wins, other than a means to a distant end, and by end, we’re not talking about this year’s play-in games. It’s like this — if the Jazz were a boat, they’d be in dry dock, undergoing repairs; if they were an Indy car, they wouldn’t really be out on the track racing, they’d be in the shop, up on a lift, undergoing exploratory retrofitting; if they were the Starship Enterprise, they’d be having their matter-antimatter propulsion system … uh, OK, we took it too far. Point is, at this juncture, from a numerical standpoint, an exact victory total doesn’t matter or antimatter. Make the playoffs, don’t make the playoffs, it’s a wash. Not a major concern.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Keyonte George (3) shows his disappointment in losing to the Golden State Warriors 140-137 during their NBA basketball game Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Salt Lake City.

2. Play the youngsters. For a team like the Jazz, this priority is on the highest shelf. There might be purpose in showing off more veteran players to pump up trade value, but a most significant aspect to the end-of-season games is this: see what you’ve got in Keyonte George, Taylor Hendricks, Brice Sensabaugh. Put them in varying situations, beginning of games, middle of games, end of games. If they get their shorts kicked in, see how they handle that. If they are effective enough to be competitive in games’ closing minutes, see how they handle those. Is there progress or regression? The Jazz need to know, and being in an unusual situation where the results, one way or the other, are not dump-trucking the team’s competitive intentions, now is the time.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz center Walker Kessler (24) blocks Golden State Warriors forward Kevon Looney (5) during an NBA basketball game Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Salt Lake City.

3. Develop players. This is related to the previous priority, but includes some of the players who have been around a bit, but who still mystify. Walker Kessler, for instance, is a walking 7-foot question. Can he be a full-time contributor in the starting rotation or is he simply a situational guy? Measure with more certainty the benefits of having him on the floor at both ends and how he can be used — at the start of games and at the end of them.

You already know who Jordan Clarkson is, who Talen Horton-Tucker is, who John Collins is. But what about guys like Collin Sexton? Has anybody completely put that puzzle together? Will they ever? Make it a mission to find the truth. What about Kris Dunn? You know he can play defense. Does his prowess there, along with his determination, make him worth the costly price of admission at the other end? If he is, dial in on the other guards. Either way, get him nailed down, for or against.

4. Determine with specificity who on the team will be of use in coming seasons and in what roles. Again, related to No. 2 and No. 3. If the team is struggling in the third quarter and needs a boost, who off the bench can provide that? If efficient scoring is in short supply over an important stretch, who can be counted on for that? If the team is in the middle of a road slump, who has the mental fortitude to give the others a charge? It’s pretty clear that none of these vets — other than Lauri Markkanen — are or will be stars, but can they or how can they be of use in filling other roles as better players are added to the mix?

5. As mentioned, do not allow concerns about winning and losing to get in the way, except for in this single regard: Find evidence for who, if anyone, can be trusted in clutch situations, who can deliver in a tight game in the final minutes and who can’t. Similarly, discover who is leathery-tough enough to see straight through the inevitable losses today to climb toward tomorrow’s wins.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz head coach Will Hardy has a chat with Utah center Walker Kessler (24), guard Jordan Clarkson (00) forward Lauri Markkanen (23), in NBA between the Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Delta Center, on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024.

6. Ascertain once and for all key considerations about Markkanen. Sure, he scores 24 points and grabs 8.5 rebounds per game, but, is he … 1) your closer, like his nickname, is he your “Finnisher” (Hardy said just a couple of weeks ago he remains unclear on this issue); 2) at 26 (hurtling toward another birthday in May), worth hanging onto through a transition period that leans young; 3) of more value to the team as a prized commodity to be traded or as a contributor to be kept over the long haul; 4) has enough alpha-dog in him to lead the team. It’s likely that Markkanen will never be seen by other teams as more valuable than he will be at the end of this season.

7. Take all of the above hard-earned information — the cruelly honest highs and lows — into meetings with Danny Ainge and Justin Zanik regarding where the holes are, what can be fixed in the back shop and what can’t, what needs to be acquired and at what cost and when. That’s what the rest of this season is good for.

The encouraging part for the Jazz is that no life-energy transfer thingamabob is necessary. A coach as smart as Hardy knows all of this, although a coach as competitive as he is might, at times, be tempted to undermine the seven things in pursuit of what at this point does not matter or antimatter: yeah, wins.

Beam the Jazz up, Scotty.