At some point in every NBA season, every team is going to be tasked with overcoming some sort of adversity.

There are injuries, shooting slumps, tough stretches of the schedule, rough patches when a team isn’t playing up to its own standards or plays down to the competition. There are players that leave in trades and new ones that come in, chemistry issues that need to be ironed out, changes in schemes and plays and coverages.

Often, the teams that are left standing at the end of an NBA season are the teams that are able to adapt and respond to whatever adversity they face by not crumbling, but rather coming out on the other side stronger. And it’s not just an ability to adapt that’s necessary, it’s the willingness to do so even when you aren’t sure how to or what the outcome might be.

This season, like the two that preceded it, is unique in that COVID-19 has been added to the list of things that can impact a team adversely and every single team has had to deal with it.

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“I think the ability to adapt tactically, but also for your players to be able to adapt to the situation,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said, musing on what would be important through the harshest moments of the season. “Maybe there’s opportunities to work on things that you may not have in another situation.” 

When Snyder said this, in an interview with the Deseret News on Jan. 5, the team had just learned that Joe Ingles returned a positive COVID-19 test and became the first Jazz player of the 2021-22 season to enter the league’s health and safety protocol.

“Frankly it was a matter of time,” Snyder said. “It’s something you take in stride.”

What Snyder didn’t know was how much the Jazz would be facing over the next couple of weeks and that the Jazz would be heading into one of the harshest stretches the team has had in years.

Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder instructs guard Donovan Mitchell during game against Portland in Salt Lake City, Nov. 29, 2021.
Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder, left, instructs guard Donovan Mitchell during game against Portland Trail Blazers at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. | Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

January has seen the Jazz lose more games in a single calendar month than the team has since 2018 and there are still tough games to be played this month. 

The Jazz have had players in and out of the health and safety protocol, two players have suffered concussions and missed multiple games and twice the Jazz have been without the entirety of their starting five.

So far, in 2022, because of injuries, health problems or personal issues, the Jazz have yet to play a game with a fully healthy roster of players available.

Questions of identity, consistency, effort and ability have all loomed over the Jazz during January like a black cloud just waiting to drench the team in despair. The ability to adapt could be what keeps the Jazz from truly entering the storm.

It’s important to note that adapting to what this season throws at the Jazz could mean something different from one day to the next, or mean something completely different for the coaching staff than what it means for the players.

The obvious definition is that the players and coaches have to stay on their toes and be ready for any and all possibilities when it comes to injury or illness. Since COVID-19 makes things a little more unpredictable than in seasons sans a global pandemic, Snyder, his staff and the front office have had to have more conversations playing with hypothetical scenarios.

If X-player can’t play, then who steps up? If X-player tests positive for COVID-19, then based on contact, who are the players most likely to follow him into the health and safety protocol? If we need to bring in a player on a hardship contract, who makes sense? Who is available?

Those are all scenarios that have been discussed and stretched and twisted any which way the Jazz can imagine so they can be as prepared as possible for anything.

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But, as Snyder made sure to point out, those extra conversations don’t necessarily involve the players on the team or disrupt their normal routines. What is disruptive, though, is when the players are injured, when they are sick, when they are away from the team.

Adapting to those situations is something that’s important in real time, but there’s also a larger framework that needs to be looked at.

Take the Jazz’s current situation as a perfect example. Things are not great, to put it plainly. Frustrations are high, new injuries seem to be lurking around every corner, and the looming Feb. 10 trade deadline seems like it has a very high chance of bringing even more change to a locker room that can’t seem to find its footing.

If you take a narrow view, it could seem as if the Jazz are not adapting well to the adversity. The losses keep mounting and there’s no real continuity to anything.

The view from farther away requires time. Time to see how the team responds and adapts between now and the playoffs.

Do the Jazz come away from a horrific month as a broken team that seems beyond repair? Or, do they slowly emerge from the rubble, dusting themselves off, ready for battle?

Obviously the Jazz are hoping that they’ll prove to be the latter, and in order to make that a reality, Snyder is taking the challenges of this season with a silver lining at every step.

“Your ability and your willingness to adapt is not just more important, but more necessary.” — Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder

So, key players are missing from the lineup? There’s no concrete timetable on when they’ll be back? That’s an opportunity.

“You have lineups together that haven’t run a certain play or haven’t defended a certain way,” Snyder said. “Those adjustments sometimes will take place on the fly, and to a certain degree, that can be what happens in a game.”

It’s hard for a coach to find the time to tinker with lineups and try out combinations and test different coverages even at the best of times. But being forced into trying them is a chance for the Jazz to become even more adaptable.

Maybe the most important component of all of this is that players, coaches, staff and entire organizations might have to adopt a different way of responding to and working through problems.

“Are you going to let it beat you up and bring you down? Or are you going to continue to fight through it?” Mike Conley said. “I think those teams that have that kind of mental toughness, that kind of depth and next-man-up mentality during these stages of the season, normally are the teams that create a little bit of distance from the rest of the pack.”

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That’s the team the Jazz want to be.

“Your ability and your willingness to adapt is not just more important, but more necessary,” Snyder said.

They know that it’s not going to be easy and that some days are going to be darker than others and that learning new ways of adapting on the court and off the court is going to take time, and the Jazz are willing to let things run their course and to put in the time that’s needed.

That willingness to adapt, according to the Jazz’s head coach, could be the key to unlocking everything.

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