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Commentary: Jazz are a bad vibes team. It’s up to them to change the narrative

The Jazz have been saying all season long that they need to do better and be better — and time is up

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Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert, left, and Donovan Mitchell have a discussion during game against the Charlotte Hornets.

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, left, and Donovan Mitchell have a discussion during game against the Charlotte Hornets, Friday, March 25, 2022, in Charlotte, N.C. The Jazz have dropped four of five games on current road trip, which wraps up Tuesday against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Matt Kelley, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — A couple of days ago, I was watching the NCAA Tournament. During halftime of one of the games, the studio crew did an interview with Miami men’s basketball coach Jim Larranaga. He was asked how he was able to turn things around this season after a rough start, how did the team flip the script?

He said that after a particularly bad game, when things looked really awful, his team held a players-only meeting. The Miami players watched film, aired their concerns and committed to turning things around and playing for one another. It was about will and determination and wanting to find greatness despite any disagreements or past transgressions or mistakes that couldn’t be undone or losses that could not be reversed.

I couldn’t help but think, this is what the Utah Jazz need.

I’ve given the Jazz the benefit of the doubt just about all season long. I’ve looked at things through a glass half-full lens and tried to be reasonable, rather than reactionary. But things have reached a point at which not even I can ignore that this team has more bad vibes than good ones.

The side of me that wants to still have some faith wants to point out that the Jazz are once again playing without major pieces of their roster and that this remains, for the most part, the same team that was the No. 1 regular-season team last season and looked to be an injury away from getting past the second round of the playoffs.

I want to avoid reading too much into postgame interviews and comments that could be taken as veiled shots from one teammate to another.

I like watching basketball players succeed. I want to believe that this Jazz team is at a pivotal point that a players-only meeting could bring them together in a way that gives them the resolve needed to make some real noise in the playoffs. Wouldn’t that be a great story?

But, there is also a part of me that feels like I might be ignoring all of the red flags, trying to paint them green with water-based paint just before a rainstorm.

With just seven games left in the regular season this team is still talking about the need to ramp it up. The Jazz want to be playing their best basketball when the playoffs are upon us, well here we are.

They are still talking about needing to get used to switching on defense. They are still lacking consistency. They are still talking about integrating players and guys getting acclimated. They’re still signing guys to 10-day contracts. They are failing every big test.

Since the first few weeks of the season the Jazz have been asked by reporters, myself included, what needs to happen for this team to focus and play consistently at a high level? Why can’t they string together multiple games that feel highly competitive? What is missing?

And all season long when those questions have been asked, we have heard players say they just need to do it. It’s not about talent or skill or coaching. But here we are, less than two weeks away from the end of the regular season and we’re still wondering why this team seems dialed in one night, and completely disconnected the next night.

Jazz fans, I know that you’ve heard it all and that you’re getting tired of it. I see your comments and read your messages and emails and I know you are exhausted by hearing the same thing over and over and not seeing it result in anything concrete. So am I.

This isn’t just about what’s happening on the court, either.

It’s getting harder and harder to brush off reports of tension among Jazz players when it seems like after every loss the players are questioning whether they have what it takes to be the team they said they were going to be.

They say that they have confidence in each other, but the body language is just awful.

Then there are comments that feel charged in a way that aren’t related to the on-court product. There are exasperated sighs of frustration and players that seem like they’re on the verge of throwing their hands in the air — at a loss for another way to say, “We just have to get it done.”

If things were actually good and the Jazz were just going through a rough patch here and there, reporters wouldn’t have to sit in writing rooms after games discussing whether a postgame comment was a criticism of another player or just a turn of phrase. If things were really going great and everyone was on the same page, players wouldn’t be pointing out the salaries of other players as a way to measure their importance to the team.

Sometimes I feel like I understand why things feel so out of whack for the Jazz. I’ve seen it before and understand that when you have a group of ultra-competitive people and things aren’t going the way they want, it can turn into a situation that fractures and feels disjointed.

At the same time, this is basketball and these are professional athletes. If there are bad feelings or disagreements, are they seriously incapable of overcoming those things? It feels like mature adults should be able to come together for the greater good of a team, but maybe that’s hoping for too much.

On the court things are just as confusing as they are off the court.

It often feels like when the Jazz’s best players are sidelined that we see more grit and fight and that’s not how it should be.

They play well-oiled, blender ball-moving, team offense and defense for a few minutes and then they completely stall out and play your-turn, my-turn offense and fall asleep on defense.

This Jazz team was supposed to address the issues that ailed them last season. But it still feels like the Jazz need another wing defender and though I would argue that the Jazz’s bench has better players than it did over the past couple of seasons, they still seem to just not have enough when one of their starters is injured. Again, it feels like the Jazz are just one injury away from being a first-round exit.

So when Donovan Mitchell twists his ankle against the Dallas Mavericks, seven games before the end of the season, everyone is left wondering, are we just going to see a repeat of last year where the Jazz limp into the postseason and then they have to rely on an injured All-Star to pull them through.

If this team could actually get its act together it’s not like they don’t have a nice path to follow. Injuries to other contending teams have left some doors open and the Jazz could actually jump up into third in the West and avoid having to play the Phoenix Suns until the Western Conference Finals.

But I’d be absolutely lying if I said that I have faith in this team to make it that far.

The good vibes that used to float around this team are gone and they’ve all been replaced with bad vibes.

I’d say that they need a wake-up call, that they need that pivotal moment that slaps them in the face so they can all see that they need to right the ship, but I really think that the moment has passed.

They probably won’t be happy about this article. They will probably think that it’s just another reporter that is doubting them and wants to feed into a negative narrative. But I’ve been on their side through a lot of this and I’ve defended them and hoped that they would prove the doubters wrong. But it’s not my job to pretend that everything is puppies and rainbows when it isn’t.

I’m with you Jazz fans. I’ve given them every pass I can and I’ve heard them say that they can be better. At this point, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Sarah Todd is the Utah Jazz beat writer for the Deseret News.