From best record to complete rebuild: How the Jazz got to this point
In 2020-21 the Jazz were riding high, finishing the season with the best record in the NBA. Now they’re starting over
It was over a year ago that the Utah Jazz had the best record in the NBA and were the No. 1 seed heading into the playoffs. Now the Jazz have demolished the proverbial foundation of which their team was built and have begun the process of starting over from scratch.
What happened? How did it all go wrong so quickly?
Well, it actually wasn’t that quick and the writing was partially on the wall for a while.
The Jazz had made three consecutive playoff appearances, and although exciting, and proof that they had high-level talent capable of competing in the postseason, it was clear that it wasn’t enough.
Before Mitchell and Gobert became extension eligible, the Jazz were going to have to do everything in their power to pack the roster and surround them with the best team possible. So they went all in on getting Conley and Bogdanovic and in December of that year, they made the trade for Jordan Clarkson, to give them an extra boost off the bench.
It seemed like it was going to work and the Jazz were clicking. It really came together in the Orlando bubble and looked like the Jazz could be in for a deep playoff run before they blew a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets in the opening round of the 2020 playoffs.
The front office surveyed the landscape and didn’t overreact. It was the first season that this iteration of the Jazz had been together, they were missing Bogdanovic in the playoffs after he had surgery to repair a ligament in his wrist and it was all during the infamous pandemic season — nothing about it was normal.
There was something there though, so the Jazz ran it back. They re-signed Clarkson, gave max extensions to Gobert and Mitchell, brought Derrick Favors back into the fold and went after it all again.
And this time, it looked like it was going to work. But, it had to work because the Jazz were now in luxury tax territory and they didn’t have assets to get anything else worth high value.
The Jazz tore through the 2020-21 regular season en route to the best record in the league. They were firing on all cylinders and looked like a well-oiled machine. They had three All-Stars, the Defensive Player of the Year, the Sixth Man of the Year and a Coach of the Year candidate. The stars were aligning.
But misfortune struck when injuries to Conley and Mitchell hampered the team in the postseason and the Los Angeles Clippers exposed the Jazz’s weaknesses.
Heading into that 2021 postseason it felt like that was the best chance the Jazz were going to get at a title run. After the Jazz’s unceremonious exit at the hands of the Clippers, it felt even more so as if that had been the Jazz’s best chance and now the window was closed.
Not only was the spirit of the players heavily damaged by that loss, but it seemed that head coach Quin Snyder didn’t take the loss very well either.
The 2021-22 season, was entered with tempered hope. The Jazz still wanted to contend, but the core of Mitchell and Gobert had continually got the Jazz to the playoffs only for them to eventually lose steam and get bounced in one of the first two rounds. There wasn’t enough that was different, there wasn’t enough that was improved and the Jazz’s options were limited.
Along the way there were tensions in the locker room and there were reports of interest from the New York Knicks and others in the Jazz’s top stars. But none of that mattered as much as the future trajectory of the team and what they were truly capable of.
The Jazz quickly flamed out in the first round of the playoffs, taken down by the Dallas Mavericks. Without the assets to retool in a meaningful way and without a way to improve the team, it was clear that the Jazz were going to have to start over.
A complete teardown of the roster was the surest way to give the Jazz enough assets to have a real shot at putting together a new team sooner, rather than later. So the front office took the shot while the value was high and the offers were enticing.
While it feels like it was just yesterday the Jazz were riding a high at the top of the league, it also feels like it’s been ages since they had a real shot of contending for a title. The hope is that the next shot is not too far down the road and that the journey ends with a better result.