SAN FRANCISCO — In the past week I’ve written two articles about the Utah Jazz that have, frankly, been real bummers. I wrote about how apathetic and disappointed the fans were at the Jazz’s last home game and I wrote about the Jazz looking at their playoff-bound foes with jealousy while their season draws to a close.

So, I’ve clearly been thinking a lot lately about the negative implications of this 31-51 Jazz season. And with all of that in mind, I’ve been struck by the joy that Jazz head coach Will Hardy and many of the players on this roster have still had over the past few days.

It led to me to question: Where is this joy coming from? Why aren’t the players more upset? How are they going to move forward from a second-straight season in which the front office has manipulated the roster into one that is not able to win?

On Sunday, after the Jazz’s final game of the 2023-24 season — a 123-116 loss to the Golden State Warriors — the Jazz locker room was jovial as guys were figuring out who was going back to Utah and who was departing directly from San Francisco to their first off-season destination.

As things quieted, rookie Keyonte George called out to the room.

“Make sure you boys are watching the playoffs,” he said. “Some of y’all have homework, myself included.”

Though the 2023-24 season has ended for the Jazz, the work for many on this team has only just begun. There is a hunger and competitive nature that has been fueled by jealousy and missing out and a desire for future success. All of it has kept this group from giving into the heaviness of losing.

There is going to be a short period of decompression for this team. The players will go their separate ways and take a few days away from the game to clear their minds. That’s the right thing to do.

But in short order, they will all be back in the gym, and they’ll be watching the playoffs and taking notes and analyzing what works and what doesn’t.

They’ll be watching the greats play in the biggest games of the year and they’ll be seeing the next era of greatness begin to ascend. In the back of their minds, they’ll be thinking about every step, every patient moment that it takes to get to that level and to be ready to fight under the brightest lights.

The simple truth is that this team isn’t ready for that yet.

“If we’re where we want to be, however you feel right now — physically, mentally, emotionally — we would like to be preparing to go play our best basketball of the season, right now,” Hardy said. “It’s go time. So you have to prepare your body in a way that you can endure not only an 82-game season, but endure 82 games and then be ready to play in the playoffs.”

Jazz 116, Warriors 123: Inside the numbers

Prior to the Utah Jazz’s final game of the season, Hardy had a simple message for his team.

“Dominate,” he said. “Let’s end it on a winning streak. Why not? These guys, they all love to play basketball. It’s the last game of the year, let’s end it on a good note.”

The deck was going to be stacked against the Jazz no matter what. Lauri Markkanen, John Collins, Jordan Clarkson, Collin Sexton, Walker Kessler and Kris Dunn were all in street clothes, watching from the bench.

The Warriors are headed to the Play-In Tournament and, despite being without Stephen Curry and Draymond Green on Sunday, if they wanted to, they could field a more experienced and talented roster.

The Jazz know what this season is and has been. They’ve posted just five wins since the trade deadline. Their best players have been relegated to nursing minor injuries and their young players have been thrown into the deep end of the pool and told to either sink or swim.

Even so, the Jazz went into the day on a two-game win streak and neither Hardy nor the players had lost their competitive mojo and the final game of the season gave Hardy a chance to teach one more lesson.

“That’s a group of hyper competitors in there,” Hardy said. “So especially when you’ve lost a ton in a row, getting that feeling again of winning, it keeps the spark alive. I think it’s really important that we continue to train ourselves that every time we take the floor we’re trying to win. That is the most important thing and that feeling that you have after a win is the feeling that you’re chasing. Not necessarily the feeling you have after you had a good game, but that collective spirit ... that collective feeling that we all have when we win is what we’re hunting.”

The recent taste of winning — two consecutive wins leading into the regular season finale — was a salve for the Jazz following a 13-game losing streak and they wanted one last savory morsel.

Sunday did not end up going the way the Jazz players wanted it to but the fact that they were fighting and invested and motivated throughout the day and even afterward is a great sign.

The big question then becomes: How long can that hunger be fueled in this environment if things don’t change?

The Jazz could be headed into a third-straight season where losses are counted more often than wins and future assets are prioritized over raising the current talent level of the roster.

If that’s the case, Hardy and all the players that remain in Utah will have to dig deep to be able to stay joyful and invested.