The Utah Jazz have to win this year. It’s as simple as that. The Western Conference is as wide open as it’s ever been, with the focus being on team basketball instead of star power for the first time in a while.
Along with the Jazz, the Phoenix Suns, the Golden State Warriors, the Memphis Grizzlies, and Denver Nuggets are the top teams and though each team has a star, they all play team basketball and don’t rely on their stars nearly as much as teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks do.
With that being said, no team has looked like the clear head-and-shoulders above the rest, “best” team in the Western Conference, though each team has had stretches when they’ve looked great. Golden State has looked very good, but they are far from unbeatable. With untested players like Jordan Poole, Gary Payton II, and the notoriously unreliable Andrew Wiggins as three of their key rotation guys, they are one cold-shooting stretch from Stephen Curry away from losing in the playoffs.
Because of this, now is the best time for the Utah Jazz to take over.
They’ve had good enough team chemistry to contend, as they have kept the same core for a few years now, with key additions that have fit in nicely with them. They have a bench (Jordan Clarkson), they have veterans (Rudy Gay, Hassan Whiteside), consistent scoring (Bojan Bogdanović), a great duo of two-way players in their backcourt, Paul George’s nemesis in Joe Ingles, and the best defensive anchor in basketball in Rudy Gobert.
Quinn Snyder is also a great coach, but I’ve had my doubts ever since they got ousted in the playoffs last season to a Kawhi-less Clippers team after he got injured in Game 4. Utah had no business losing that series after Leonard went down. Though they will inevitably deal with injuries since Mike Conley is on the team, this needs to be the year that the Utah Jazz finally get to the NBA Finals.
It seems strange for a small market like Utah to get this far, but it’s definitely possible with this current roster. The only real challengers that they have are the Suns and Warriors but on paper, they have the talent to beat them and at the very least, take them to a full 7 game series. At this point, there is no excuse. If it doesn’t come together this year, and they don’t make the Western Conference Finals at the minimum, there needs to be a serious reconstruction of this team, whether it be with the roster or coaching staff.
If they fail once again, it’ll prove that they can’t win with their current makeup. It’s a shame too because for basketball fans, the Jazz have been a lot of fun to watch but overpaying for their same role players without any results to show, while the rest of the West is as open as it is, is not where this team should be four years into Donovan Mitchell’s blast into superstardom.
The question is, can Mitchell continue to live up to the expectations that he created for himself? Some say, he can’t improve much more, hitting that plateaued-skill level that Jayson Tatum has seem to hit recently. However, Stephen A. Smith has recently been quoted as saying he’s more talented than Karl Malone and John Stockton. Can Mitchell prove him right? These past few playoff disappointments have made many lose faith in him.
He has “superstar” talent, but he seems to be a tier below the big-time stars of the game like Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and others. He has the physical tools, despite being undersized for his position, but he just can’t seem to reach that next level. On that note, Rudy Gobert isn’t going to get any better than what he is now.
This Jazz team is leaning dangerously close to the Chris Paul/Blake Griffin-led Clippers teams of years past that seemed to be in the title conversation every year, and had the best chemistry, but could never seem to pull it off in the playoffs. Fan favorite Joe Ingles is getting up there in age, and Rudy Gay is a year older than him. This team only has a year or two before it all starts falling apart.
A lot of us like the Utah Jazz. We like to finally see them do good after so many years of disappointing seasons. Though Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell will still be with the team for awhile, this team has to realize that everyone else is on borrowed time. It will be awhile before they are taken seriously as contenders again if they can’t win now. This is the year. This is is their shot.
Otherwise, this franchise is going to go right back to being a consistent playoff contender but with no shot at winning a title. If you need an example of “NBA playoff purgatory”, take a look at the Damian Lillard/CJ McCollum-led Portland Trail Blazers. They can tell you exactly how it feels.
Featured Image Credit: Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports). Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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