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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Jazz general manager Justin Zanik was light on specifics Friday as he met with the media barely a half day removed from Utah's season-ending loss.
The disappointment was still setting in. At the start of the season, he wouldn't have expected to be giving a postmortem before the calendar turned to May. Yet, there he sat in front of the media addressing the team's failures and what could a busy summer.
There's a lot of questions for the Jazz brass after another early playoff exit. Has the title window closed? Has this group hit their ceiling? How much change is coming?
Zanik didn't have a lot of answers on Friday, but he did play a lot of defense.
It's no secret it has been a tumultuous season. There were reports of discord between Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, and rumors that Quin Snyder was a candidate for other jobs (rumors, it should be noted, he didn't exactly shoot down). On the court, the team was less than connected, and Mitchell's passing numbers to Gobert were heavily examined by fans.
Snyder even went off on a 19-minute soliloquy during a pregame availability to try and end some outside narratives, urging reporters to be "responsible" with numbers (all while giving less-than-accurate ones himself).
That was the backdrop to Utah's unceremonious end. Still, Zanik disagreed with the notion that internal factors were the cause of Utah's unmet expectations.
"There wasn't internal adversity," Zanik said. "It was a struggle for us to find some continuity this year in terms of inconsistency in the way you play."
When it comes to on-court personnel, he didn't sound like the Jazz were ready to blow the whole ship up. He called Gobert and Mitchell "foundational players." When asked if the two All-Stars are talented enough to lead Utah to a championship, he said it wasn't just about them, but the supporting cast around them.
"When we talk about building a house ... a championship house, it doesn't exist on just a foundation, it exists on everything else," Zanik said. "Those two are All-Star players, consecutive All-Stars, a Defensive Player of the Year, all-NBA candidates and anytime that we can add to that, compliment that, strengthen that because this competition is a team game. They've been huge contributors for us. Among some of the other guys who made great contributions, too. It wasn't enough this year. So our job is to go out there and make it be enough."
Utah's big offseason signing was forward Rudy Gay, who Snyder left on the bench in the playoffs after midseason pick up Juancho Hernangomez took his spot on the rotation.
"I think that had we continued to play and gone through it, there would have been matchups that would have made sense with Rudy Gay," Zanik said.
But there won't be anymore and now a number of teams are reportedly waiting to see if the apparent fractured relationship between Gobert and Mitchell will lead to Mitchell asking out.
Zanik pushed back on the narrative that there remains a rift between the two stars and praised their commitment to the team and to each other.
"They've given themselves to this team. They've given themselves to each other," Zanik said. "All the outside narratives is just a bunch of noise. Internally, I see it every day — these guys care about each other. They're obviously very disappointed that they couldn't get it done and advance this year. And they'll take a look at that and each one of them will be looking at what they can do to get better."
He also took offense to a question about balancing Mitchell's growing influence in the organization and obtaining "organizational control." He said that everyone on the roster has influence, and the Jazz try to better all their experiences while with the team.
"The question that you've asked is for a binary answer, and I totally disagree that that is anything," he said. "... To engage with them bout what's best for them to compete at the highest level and win has nothing to do with as you say 'organizational control.' … I think (owner Ryan Smith) has created and continued to take through with the Millers legacy, of this is a place that players will want to play at. And when they come here, their experience is great. From the business side, from the fans, front office, the coaching staff, they have a chance to get better. They have a chance to compete for titles. And so constantly engaging in that feedback is natural. So I don't appreciate, frankly, the outside narrative of that being a binary choice."
When it comes to Snyder's future with the team, Zanik made it clear where he stands. Snyder reportedly denied a contract extension last offseason and would be a sought after candidate if he decides to move on from Utah after eight seasons.
"Quin Snyder is one of the best coaches in the NBA. There is no other partner that I would rather have as a coach, a leader of our players and a partner in the front office than Quin Snyder," Zanik said.
Will he be that partner this offseason? That's just one of many questions Zanik and the Jazz have to answer during a potentially franchise-altering offseason. Regardless of what those answers end up being, Zanik thinks just having a proper offseason will be beneficial.
"With COVID, with interrupted breaks, small breaks, it just made everything a lot harder," Zanik said. "Even though we had good guys and guys that care about each other and the coaching staff is great, there was just a lot more of a grind. … Being able to take a collective deep breath with this offseason coming, I think will be good for everyone."