This was supposed to be the Utah Jazz’s year.

The players felt it, the coaching staff felt it, the fans felt it. The Jazz felt like they had every weapon they needed.

A historically good shooting season, three All-Stars, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, career-high performances, the biggest win streaks of the season, the most wins of any team, diligent and vigilant adherence to the league’s COVID-19 protocols, extra care and caution taken with injuries, and they fought to keep the No. 1 seed heading into the playoffs to guarantee home-court advantage in the postseason.

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Mike Conley had the best season of his 14-year career, at 33 years old Joe Ingles had the most efficient season of his career, Rudy Gobert accepted a lesser role in the offense and still made a dominant impact, Jordan Clarkson was hitting shots at a career-best rate en route be being named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year, Bojan Bogdanovic made a valiant recovery from wrist surgery and proved that he was more than just a shooter, Georges Niang was growing on the defensive end, young guys stepped up when the team needed them and Donovan Mitchell reached a new level of stardom with the game slowing down even more for him. This Jazz team was incredible through the regular season.

They’d done everything they were supposed to do.

But in the end, we never got to see the heights this team could reach.

“We had a great year, we felt like we had all the weapons to have a shot at a title,” Gobert said. “So it’s painful. But everything is a learning experience and hopefully we’ll learn from it and we all come back better and ready to play.”

The Jazz dominated right up until the playoffs began. The delicate house of cards the Jazz had built, was one slight breeze away from toppling over. Instead, they ran into a windstorm.

The late-season injuries to Conley and Mitchell created a domino effect that was too much to overcome. 

The Jazz made it through the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round with ease, but a heftier opponent was waiting for them in the Western Conference semifinals. By the time the Jazz met the Los Angeles Clippers, it was only a matter of time before they lost momentum, lacking the depth to overcome everything else.

Healthy, there’s no way of knowing what this Jazz team might have been capable of. Maybe the small-ball lineups the Clippers threw out wouldn’t have been such an issue if Conley was on the floor and Mitchell was able to move without pain. Maybe the rotations aren’t as difficult for Gobert if Ingles didn’t go into the playoffs fatigued by orchestrating the offense through the closing weeks of the season with Conley and Mitchell sidelined. Maybe there’s less reliance on Clarkson if Conley and Mitchell are at 100%.

The Jazz team that was top-five in offense and defense through the regular season never got a chance to play in the playoffs, and might not ever have the chance.

“I would tell the guys all season to cherish these moments as teammates, being around our coaches, the ride that we’re on. You don’t get to experience that every year and we may never be together as a unit ever again, that same team. So we tried to live by that and tried to stay in the moment throughout the year.” — Mike Conley

“I would tell the guys all season to cherish these moments as teammates, being around our coaches, the ride that we’re on,” Conley said. “You don’t get to experience that every year and we may never be together as a unit ever again, that same team. So we tried to live by that and tried to stay in the moment throughout the year.”

What was made clear through the Clippers series is that having depth and options is paramount in the postseason. When Kawhi Leonard went out with a knee injury, the Clippers had another player ready to step in. When the Clippers wanted to have more dynamic playmakers on the floor, they had players that could step in. If they wanted to play big they could, and if they wanted to punish the Jazz with small ball they could.

The Jazz didn’t have those options.

They were relegated to a single style of basketball, and though that style might have worked if everyone was healthy, fatigue and injuries to their best players spelled a disastrous end with the Jazz blowing a 25-point, second-half lead to the Clippers in Game 6.

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“When you finish on a game like this it’s hard to reflect on what I think was an outstanding year with some high level performances,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “I’m proud of this group and appreciate the opportunity to coach them. Obviously we would have hoped for a different result tonight. And it’s hard, particularly when you have the kind of lead we did going into the second half to see the game finish that way and the season finish that way.”

While the pain of blowing a 3-1 lead in the first round of the 2020 playoffs stung, the Jazz were dealt an even deeper blow this year because of how great the regular season had been. Because they’d been able to feel and see and experience what this team was like when it was whole and firing on all cylinders.

“This hurts more than last year. This is going to eat at me for a long time watching the Clippers and the Suns play in the conference finals and even watching the Finals. We had an incredible regular season and made so many pushes and we continued to try and ... this is going to eat at me.” — Donovan Mitchell

“This hurts more than last year,” Mitchell said. “This is going to eat at me for a long time watching the Clippers and the Suns play in the conference finals and even watching the Finals. We had an incredible regular season and made so many pushes and we continued to try and ... this is going to eat at me. Like even when I go to the grocery store, I’m gonna be thinking about this.”

It’s what could have been, and might never be.

If the Jazz are going to want to fix the issues they faced, if they want to become more versatile, deeper, more well-rounded, there are going to be changes to this team. Conley was right. This team, as constructed, probably won’t ever play together again.

Conley and Niang are facing free agency, the Jazz are facing a hefty luxury tax bill, and there are issues on the roster that need to be addressed.

“It is definitely tough considering what we were able to accomplish all year, how we have been playing as a unit,” Conley said. “All the teams are going through injuries and different things but the timing of ours and the way that ours hit really changed a lot of things. We had such high hopes going forward and in a year that is wide open. Anybody can win it this year, and it’s just frustrating that we don’t get that opportunity.”

The Jazz might not have been able to make it to the Finals even if they were healthy. The limitations that this team had could have caused them to topple and fall against the Clippers even if Mitchell, Conley and Gobert — injured during that final Game 6 — were playing at their absolute best.

This Jazz team also might have been able to contend for a title if it just had a little bit of luck heading into the postseason. But we’ll never know what it was truly capable of.