Opinion: The NBA’s final four teams proved how far the Jazz are from being a contender
One thing seems clear: Jazz are more than just a few tweaks away from contending for a title
Sometime between now and June 19, a new NBA champion will be crowned and it will either be the Golden State Warriors or the Boston Celtics.
As I watched the Western Conference finals between the Warriors and Dallas Mavericks and the Eastern Conference finals between the Celtics and Miami Heat, I tried to think about all of the unfolding events through a Utah Jazz lens. In the end, I couldn’t help but think that the Jazz are even further away from being a great team than anybody has been willing to admit.
In head coach Quin Snyder’s season-ending comments a few weeks ago, he said he believed that the Jazz were better than their record or performance reflected and that the team was just a slight tweak away from hitting a stride that could have taken them on a deep playoff run.
I do not agree.
In the broadest sense, I do not think that the Jazz would have been able to take the Phoenix Suns to a Game 7 showdown and come away victorious as the Mavericks did. The Warriors turned around and made pretty quick work of the Mavericks in the West finals, winning the series 4-1, and I don’t think the Jazz would have done any better against Stephen Curry and Co.
But even if I paint with more narrow and nuanced strokes, it’s hard for me to believe that the Jazz stack up well against any of the conference finals teams.
The Dallas Mavericks
The Jazz were unable to capitalize on games in which Luka Doncic watched from the sidelines as he nursed an injury. It’s the second consecutive year that the Jazz have faced a playoff team missing its biggest and most talented star and it didn’t end up mattering.
If the Mavericks played through Jalen Brunson, the Jazz couldn’t stop him. When the Mavericks played five-out, the Jazz weren’t quick enough. In moments that the Jazz put their best foot forward, the Mavericks looked to already be 10 steps ahead.
Consistent and key contributions from across the roster — Dorian Finney-Smith, Reggie Bullock, Maxi Kleber, Dwight Powell, Brunson, Doncic — left me reflecting on how poorly the Jazz’s roster was bolstered in preparation for this past season. While the Mavericks added Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans to the ranks this season, the Jazz got Rudy Gay, who was a no-show in the playoffs, and they were honestly lucky to have hit on something good with Juancho Hernangomez.
The Mavericks proved to be the better team and as they look toward next season they will be welcoming back Tim Hardaway Jr., who was injured this postseason, and are likely to get a deal done to retain Brunson and there’s huge upside with Josh Green.
The Jazz on the other hand are tied up in an expensive roster with few avenues for improving and a ton of uncertainty on the horizon.
The Miami Heat
If I were going to compare the talent level of individual players from the Jazz to one of the final four NBA playoff teams, it seems to me that the Heat are narratively as similar as I can get.
The Heat have one of the best defensive players in the league in Bam Adebayo, one of the most dynamic players in Jimmy Butler, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year in Tyler Herro, a small veteran point guard in Kyle Lowry and a sniper in Duncan Robinson. That doesn’t all sound too dissimilar from Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, Jordan Clarkson, Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic.
The differences are in the details though.
Adebayo is defensively effective but also offensively versatile, Butler is more seasoned and more proven at this point in his ability to put a team on his back as well as taking on a much larger heap of defensive responsibility than Mitchell is, and Lowry is an NBA champion with experience beyond Conley. Then there’s Victor Oladipo, who the Heat were paying just $2.3 million this season as they waited for his eventual return to the court, and Max Strus, and Gabe Vincent and P.J. Tucker.
It just feels like the Heat are the team the Jazz wanted to be, but that they came up short and didn’t have the same caliber of supporting cast.
The Golden State Warriors
This one is pretty easy. Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are not done and there are few teams that can field a roster that compares to that pedigree of talent and experience. The Jazz are certainly not there.
Andrew Wiggins has had a career resurgence with the Warriors, Kevon Looney is as reliable as they come and fits into their system seamlessly, Jordan Poole has proven to be a diamond in the rough, Juan Toscano-Anderson is Swiss Army knife, the future is bright for Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, and there’s Gary Payton II and Nemanja Bjelica and Otto Porter Jr. and Damion Lee, and, and, and …
During the 2020-21 season, comparisons were drawn between the Jazz and the Warriors and that now feels hasty and ill-informed. When I look at the Jazz roster and their performances over the last few years, they feel light-years away from any iteration of the dynasty Warriors.
The Boston Celtics
The Celtics went through periods of turmoil and roster unrest over the years and while they had some of the most sound defensive players and rising stars in the league it felt like they lacked identity and resolve. They had roster turnover, front office changes and even some aging stars. But they’ve come out on the other side of all the adversity as a unified and cohesive unit.
Jayson Tatum has made the leap to superstar, Al Horford is defying Father Time, Jaylen Brown can seemingly do everything, Marcus Smart is the Defensive Player of the Year and across the roster, every single player seems bought into their role.
Gobert mentioned in the latter half of the regular season that the Boston Celtics were a team that could have folded under the scrutiny and spiraled when it looked like they were still a lost team. Instead, Gobert was impressed that the Celtics faced their problems head on and found joy in proving everyone wrong.
The Celtics did what the Jazz could not.
In each of the four teams that made it the farthest in this year’s NBA playoffs, I see what the Jazz are lacking. In both of the teams that are headed to the NBA Finals, I see how far the Jazz are from serious title contention.
There are leagues and miles and mountains between who the Jazz want to be and who they actually are.
Sarah Todd is the Utah Jazz beat writer for the Deseret News.