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All In: Why the Utah Jazz felt now was the time to shake things up — and how they went about it

SHARE All In: Why the Utah Jazz felt now was the time to shake things up — and how they went about it

Utah Jazz guards Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell pose for photos during media day at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, Sept. 30, 2019.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — After a couple of years of standing pat with a lineup that won nearly the same number of games and finished in the same place in the standings, the Utah Jazz decided this was the year to go all in, to put the chips in the middle of the table.

And they did it in a big way.

The Jazz traded a popular nine-year veteran forward, a two-year starting point guard, their top reserve off the bench along with a promising rookie to get a top-notch point guard. Then they ventured into the free-agent market to pick up a quartet of veteran players and added a couple of draft picks. 

When the dust had settled, the Jazz had assembled a team that has only seven returning players on their 15-man roster and will have eight new players with perhaps as many as three new starters.

The new guys include point guard Mike Conley, a 12-year veteran who spent his entire career with Memphis and is known by many as the best active player never to have made an all-star team; Jeff Green, a journeyman forward who has played for seven teams in his 14-year NBA career; Bojan Bogdanovic, a 30-year-old sharpshooting wing not to be confused with third-year pro Bogdan Bogdanovic of the Sacramento Kings; Ed Davis, a tough, rebounding big man who has played for five teams in his 10 years in the NBA; and Emmanuel Mudiay, a former lottery pick who is looking to revive his NBA career after stops in Denver and New York.

Also joining the Jazz and likely to make the final 15-man roster are point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, a second-round pick from 2018 and Miye Oni, a second-round pick from 2019 out of Yale.

They’re joining a core group led by two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, who captained the U.S. World Cup team this past summer. Also back are Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, Dante Exum, Georges Niang and Tony Bradley.

So far, it’s been a getting-to-know process as the new group has struggled a bit in the preseason, but the Jazz are confident that this is a team built to win and should challenge for a Western Conference title.

How the Jazz got here

The Jazz basically started over after the 2012-13 season when they let Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson leave for free agency without any compensation, beginning a rebuild around rising star Gordon Hayward. The following year they got even younger, letting starters Marvin Williams and Richard Jefferson move on.


In the 2012-13 season the Jazz let Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson leave for free agency without any compensation, beginning a rebuild around rising star Gordon Hayward.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The Jazz won just 25 games in that 2013-14 season, which turned out to be Ty Corbin’s last as head coach. Under new coach Quin Snyder, the Jazz had one of the youngest teams in the league for a couple of years, with no players over 30 and only a couple over 25, but improved with 38- and 40-win seasons.

Then for the 2016-17 season, the Jazz brought in some experienced players in 35-year-old Joe Johnson, 34-year-old Boris Diaw and 30-year-old George Hill. That’s when the Jazz jumped from 40 to 51 wins and made the playoffs for the first time in five years, defeating the L.A. Clippers in a memorable seven-game first-round series.

After their success that year, the Jazz brought back most of their top players, at least tried to, as Hayward and Hill both left for free agency. Otherwise, all of the mainline players returned, including Gobert, Ingles, Johnson, Exum, Derrick Favors, Rodney Hood, Alec Burks, and Raul Neto. They also added a dynamic rookie in Mitchell, who after being an undistinguished 13th overall pick, became the team’s leading scorer and finished second in the rookie of the year voting.

Following a successful 2017-18 season when they knocked off Oklahoma CIty before losing to Houston in the Western Conference semifinals, the Jazz came back with the most intact roster in the NBA. The Jazz brought back 14 of 15 their players who finished the previous season with the only change being rookie Grayson Allen replacing Jonas Jerebko, who wasn’t re-signed.

But when the team didn’t show signs of improvement, the Jazz decided it was time to start making changes. Following a slow 10-12 start, the Jazz dealt one of their longtime players, Burks, to Cleveland for former Jazzman Kyle Korver. That gave the Jazz a 3-point shooter they were missing and brought back a popular player from a decade earlier. The Jazz began to play better and improved to 32-25 by the All-Star break, 

At the trading deadline there were all kinds of rumors flying that the Jazz were going to trade Favors or try to acquire Conley from Memphis. But the deadline came and went with the Jazz standing pat — again.

The Jazz went on to finish fifth in the Western Conference for the third straight year, but this time they were matched up against a tough Houston team that had fallen to the fourth seed at the end of the season and the Rockets proved too tough for the Jazz to handle in a five-game series victory.

After loyally sticking with many of their longtime players for a couple of years, Jazz management decided to make some serious moves. 

Making moves

The big move came the day before the NBA draft. The Jazz were slotted to draft 23rd, but they traded that pick away to Memphis to get Conley, but had to give up Jae Crowder,  Korver, Allen, and a future first-round pick.

That meant Ricky Rubio, a talented, but mediocre-shooting starting point guard for two years, was suddenly expendable and he was soon on his way to Phoenix as a free agent.  

The Jazz targeted several free agents, a prime one being Nikola Mirotic, but those plans fell through when he decided to go back to play in Europe.


Utah Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic poses for photos during media day at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, Sept. 30, 2019.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The floodgates opened on July 15, when Utah signed Bogdanovic, outbidding Indiana, and followed with three more signings five days later as Green, Davis and Mudiay all inked contracts with the Jazz. 

Justin Zanik had taken over as general manager in May and deserves a lot of credit for the Jazz moves, but Dennis Lindsey, who had been general manager for five years and moved up to executive vice president of basketball operations, was heavily involved in the moves.

So now what was once one of the youngest teams in the league, is a veteran group filled with a bunch of 30-somethings. Green is 33, Conley and Ingles are 32, Davis and Bogdanovic are both 30.

How long with it take?

The question yet to be answered is how the new group will mesh.

The Jazz took it slow in the preseason, trying not to wear guys out too early, especially because so many key players competed in the World Cup in the summer, including Gobert, Mitchell and Ingles. 


Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) tries to dunk over Sacramento Kings forward Marvin Bagley III (35) during the Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings NBA preseason basketball game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, Oct. 14, 2019.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Perhaps that’s why they’ve had little success on the winning ledger in preseason games with four straight losses after an opening win over a team from Australia.

Mitchell looks better than ever, attacking the basket, defending better and shooting well from outside as he showed in a 27-point performance in the final preseason game when he went 4 of 5 from 3-point range.

Gobert started a little slow after his busy summer, but looked solid in scoring 13 points with 15 rebounds against Portland last week

Ingles has been asked to come off the bench so far this year and is adjusting to his new role and will still be playing 25 minutes per night.

O’Neale and Green have both started at forward in the preseason and won’t have the rebounding skills Favors had, but may help spread the floor more because of their outside shooting ability.


Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) talks with Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) during a foul shot as the Utah Jazz and the Portland Trail Blazers play at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019. Portland won 126-118.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Exum, who has been out with injuries more than he’s been on the court during his career with the Jazz, is being brought along very slowly after he missed the second half of the season except for a handful of games in March before he was hurt again and has been out all preseason while he rehabs a knee injury.

This could be a make-or-break year for Exum, who has shown flashes during his five years in a Jazz uniform, but has never been able to put together a full uninjured season since his rookie season. 


Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder talks with Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) and Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (10) as the Utah Jazz and the Portland Trail Blazers play at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

For a change the Jazz don’t have a killer early schedule. Instead of an early gauntlet of road games against tough teams, this year’s schedule is much more balanced with games spread out with a lot of single-game road trips  and just 11 back-to-backs, tied for lowest in the league. That should help as the new players get acquainted with the veteran Jazz players. 

While frustrated about the team’s shaky defense so far and the lack of chemistry with all the new players, Snyder is confident the Jazz will come around. 

“The key thing is as a coach is to know every team is different,” he said. “Our identity doesn’t change — we are still a team that baseline wants to be an elite defensive team and that’s what we want to work towards. Offensively we’ve been a team that’s been unselfish. The meshing part hasn’t happened yet, but from an identity standpoint we like who we are.”

Conley, the key offseason acquisition, is also confident the Jazz will get it together before long.

“You try not to get too far ahead of yourself because we’re just a team taking it day by day and trying to get better game by game,” Conley said. “Right now we’re focused on each day and we’ll see where we’re at the end of the year. But we know we have a team that’s capable of doing a lot of great things.”