“This Is The Place Sports” founders Dirk and Austin Facer‚ father and son, provide a weekly opinion-based conversation on a sports topic.
This week, the Facer Boys discuss what went wrong for the Utah Jazz in their dismissal from the playoffs by the Los Angeles Clippers and what the team needs to do going forward.
There goes the argument. After months of debate, the Los Angeles Clippers answered the question. They did so without Kawhi Leonard or Serge Ibaka. The 2020-21 Utah Jazz are not the best team in franchise history. Not even close. Despite finishing with the NBA’s best record, the Jazz were bounced from the playoffs in the Western Conference semifinals — losing four straight games after winning the first two in the series.
The ouster keeps them from reaching at least the conference finals for the fourth time. Utah went on to play for the NBA title against Chicago in both 1997 and 1998. The Jazz made the Western Conference finale in 2007, but lost to San Antonio in five games.
That, in itself, puts this team behind the others in terms of advancement. I’ll also put the 1971 ABA champion Utah Stars in the mix and declare the current Jazz team the fifth best in the state’s professional basketball pecking order.
How ’bout them Jazz?
The collapse is hard to digest on many fronts. The table seemed set with injuries keeping Brooklyn and the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers out of the mix. The same can be said of the Clippers without Kawhi.
In the end, though, none of it mattered. No excuses. Isn’t that what they say?
You say no excuses, but in true Jazz-apologist form, I’ll create some rationale for what happened in the playoffs against the Clippers. I think a couple of things happened.
For one, I believe Utah was way more injured and tired than they were letting on to the media. While Donovan Mitchell was fantastic, it was clear in the way he was hobbling up and down the court as well as in the difference in his shot selection that he was not feeling like himself. This has been proven to be true; he recently turned down an invitation to play in the Olympics this summer in favor of taking time to recover and prepare for next year.
I also suspect that several other players including Derrick Favors and Joe Ingles were also hurting or had some other issues during the series loss that weren’t as well-publicized. And we all know that Conley was dealing with continued hammy troubles.
The other thing that contributed greatly to the Jazz’s bounce from the postseason was the matchup. When Utah went up 2-0 on the Clips, I figured it had to do a lot with the fact that Quin Snyder was out-coaching Ty Lue. As the tables turned and the dominoes ultimately fell in L.A.’s direction, I realized that I was dead wrong. Lue completely figured out the Jazz and created a strategy that effectively took the most impactful defensive player on Utah’s end, Rudy Gobert, completely out of the series. By switching to a small-ball lineup, and forcing Gobert to play out on the perimeter, instead of in the paint, the series was completely different after the first two games. To make excuses for Snyder, he didn’t have the personnel to adjust to Lue’s gameplan, but in the end, it didn’t matter where the blame lay.
It made absolutely perfect sense why the Clippers were able to move on. It’s a real shame.
Yes, Mitchell wasn’t himself because of the ankle. He was still pretty dang good, though. Also Gobert did take quite a spill in Game 6. So who knows what shape the Jazz would be in for a winner-takes-all settlement. However, the Clippers were arguably more banged up. And, as said earlier, it didn’t seem to matter much.
Perhaps the difference was in the supporting cast. A lot of local pundits speak highly of the season Mike Conley had. Some called it the best of his career. That’s hardly a bold statement considering his health woes. He missed 21 games in the regular season (29.1 percent) and five of 12 in the playoffs (33.3 percent). Conley averaged 29.4 minutes in the games he played, the third-fewest in his 14-year career. He turns 34 in October. Is the window closing? The unrestricted free agent made a whopping $34,502,132 last season.
Big deals for Mitchell and Gobert have also altered the landscape for Utah. Things are much different than the glory days of Karl Malone, John Stockton and Jeff Hornacek. Heck, they’re also far removed from the peak of Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams.
What does it all mean?
Well, fifth in franchise history may be the ceiling. Especially, it seems, if other teams in the West improve.
It’s going to be really, really hard to improve now. I’ll give you credit for that take, you’re totally right. Mitchell and Gobert’s deals are really going to handcuff what the Jazz can do in the offseason to create a more versatile lineup.
Unfortunately for Jazz fans, Justin Zanik and Dennis Lindsey are going to have to decide what’s more important; keeping guys that are beloved by both the team and the fan base or trying to build a real winner with fresh faces that are better fits alongside their superstars.
I foresee a couple of key shakeups. For one, nothing would shock me more than to see Mike Conley back with the Jazz next year. He is going into the offseason as an unrestricted free agent. At his age, and coming off a bounceback year, this may be his last chance to cash in on a big payday before retirement. With the opportunity to make more money than the Jazz could – or should – be able to offer him, I have no earthly reason to believe he’ll be back in Utah next season.
It’s really a shame, this was the Jazz’s window to really make some noise and have a deep run. That window is rapidly closing.