Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — The first key date of the offseason came and went on Tuesday, with little hoopla around Salt Lake City. After all, the Utah Jazz have been to six straight postseasons; they've long been over the draft lottery.
The biggest effect the annual ping pong balls had on Utah was that Oklahoma City could potentially bring the No. 2 pick to the Salt Lake City Summer League — so none. (If the New York Knicks, however, would have jumped up to a high pick, the Donovan Mitchell trade rumors would have really kicked in.)
As it was, Tuesday was just a regular day in Utah, but it did officially usher in an offseason that could see significant change.
Here are some of the options the Jazz have moving forward:
- Stand pat. Bring their two All-Star players back, along with a familiar supporting cast, and hope the 2020-21 team is more indicative of what this roster can do.
- Keep Rudy Gobert and Mitchell, and try to improve with deals involving Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jordan Clarkson, etc.
- Trade either Gobert or Mitchell, and try to re-tool around one of them.
- Blow it up. Trade both of the perennial All-Stars and then the lottery will be a much more important day.
And before any of those decisions can be made this question must be answered: Has this roster peaked?
Here's how Utah's biggest stars answered that question:
Mitchell: "Honestly, I don't know. It's nothing against the group, I think we've just come up short. I'd like to think we can find a way; but in the same token, that's not up to me."
Gobert: "We have a lot of talent. This year, we faced a bit more adversity in the season; but, no, I feel like we can be so much better than we've been, and that's what has been really frustrating."
Mitchell gave a shrug. Gobert thinks — or at least hopes — there are better days ahead.
As for coach Quin Snyder, who's status for next season is still a bit uncertain, he thinks the team was a "spark" away from doing something special in the postseason.
"I thought our record didn't reflect what we could do in the playoffs," Snyder said. "I felt like we were this close to having a spark and kicking it in and finding that unity or whatever it was, that extra secret sauce and taking off."
Obviously, he was quick to add, that didn't happen, and now the Jazz face a lot of questions.
There's a lot of good numbers over the last half decade. The Jazz have been to six straight postseasons, they've won the third most games over the last five years, and have had teams that have led the league in offense and in defense.
The Jazz have a foundation with Mitchell and Gobert that will win a lots, put up a lot of gaudy stats and will look like one of the best teams in the league for the 82-game regular season. In the playoffs? Well, that's another story.
Utah has now strung together three straight disappointing postseasons. You can't lose a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets, lose four straight games to the Los Angeles Clippers (two of which were without Kawhi Leonard), and fall down 2-1 to a Luka Doncic-less Dallas Mavericks team without there being some major misgivings over the team's playoff potential.
(And no, Dallas' run to the Western Conference Finals doesn't change that outlook. Utah very well may have been swept if Doncic was fully healthy all series).
To Snyder, the Jazz might have been a spark away from making a run, but it's a spark that has been consistently absent in the postseason.
"We're a team built on unity and playing for each other and, at times, we lost that," Conley said. "When we lose that identity, we kind of fight ourselves and who we want to be and what we're trying to do out there on a nightly basis. So it's a lot of things that we'll look back and try to figure out; but, ultimately, it's just a really disappointing feeling."
No one could really pinpoint why things were off this season. There was obvious friction from snipes in the media, to joyless basketball, to Snyder's 19-minute diatribe that attempted to cool things off. Those are all products of issues that no one knew or at least weren't revealed.
"You try to ask yourself why we can't just be consistent and play the same way with the same identity every night," Gobert said. "And obviously some nights you're not going to play well but keep that identity. I think this year, over the last few years, is maybe the first time we've, at times, lost our identity. And it was the same in the playoffs."
That identity has changed through Snyder's tenure. Utah used to be the league's top defensive team, and it transformed into a pass-happy, elite 3-point shooting club. It looks like change may be needed again. The problem? Utah doesn't have a lot of avenues to get better.
They don't currently have a draft pick in this year's draft, and are well over the cap so they'll only have the mid-level exception to use to sign free agents. They also don't hold the bird rights for Danuel House Jr, so they might not even be able to bring him back.
With owner Ryan Smith reportedly reluctant to trade away Utah's All-Stars with the midseason showcase coming to Salt Lake City next season, the Jazz might ultimately look similar next year.
And just hope they can find that spark.