Editor’s Note: “This Is The Place Sports” founders Dirk and Austin Facer‚ father and son, provide a weekly opinion-based conversation on a sports topic.
DIRK: At the risk of not knowing any better, I’m going to ride the fence and predict a finish of fourth place for the Jazz — enough for at least one round of home-court advantage in the playoffs.
Not sure if a healthy Bojan Bogdanovic and the return of Derrick Favors will be enough to lift the Jazz to a higher finish than the Lakers or Clippers. The No. 3 seed will likely involve a battle with the Nuggets, Trail Blazers or Mavericks — although the Jazz should be in the mix. Then there’s the Pelicans, Suns, Warriors and Grizzlies. The Western Conference, thus, could and should be very competitive.
As for the Jazz, it’ll likely come down to staying healthy (as with most teams) and the continued development of all-stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. The duo need to set the tone when it comes to winning on a championship level, much like a couple of guys named Malone and Stockton from back in the day.
AUSTIN: You know, I was pretty down on the Jazz’s chances in the Western Conference until about three weeks ago. I really thought they were going to have a hard time even making the playoffs in the 2020-21 season. It seemed pretty likely that several teams that had finished below Utah last season showed signs of making big strides and had the potential to leap the Jazz in the playoff picture.
Then several things transpired in the Western Conference that leave me feeling more optimistic about where the Jazz stand. The turmoil in Houston, the fire sale in Oklahoma City and the season-ending Achilles injury to Golden State’s Klay Thompson are all outside factors that will significantly make things easier for Utah this season.
However, while I see the Jazz making the postseason, I think they’ll be making Game 1 of their opening round series on the road,probably as the sixth or seventh seed. I see teams with budding superstars like Zion’s Pelicans, Ja Morant’s Grizzlies, D-Book’s Suns and especially Luka Doncic’s Mavericks, having terrific seasons. The balance of power in the NBA is definitely shifting to a new generation and don’t know if the Jazz have enough young firepower to keep up.
DIRK: I believe the Jazz do have the firepower to compete in the Western Conference. From good coaching to talent, there seems to be more than enough weapons to get the job done. Consistency, though, may be a different story. The scoreboard says it all.
Before blowing a 3-1 series lead to Denver in the postseason, Utah was tagged with regular-season losses to non-playoffs teams Sacramento, Minnesota, San Antonio (three times), Phoenix and New Orleans. The inconsistency led — whether it be purposeful or not — to a sixth-place finish. What would Jerry Sloan have said about that?
Question marks abound. It’s put up or shut up time for the Jazz in terms of being a title contender. Finishing in the middle of the pack simply won’t get it done. At the same time, though, it’s a safe projection considering the team’s recent history.
That’s not to say, however, that there’s not the potential for an upper echelon finish. But it’ll take winning as an all-the-time habit to get it done. Establishing such an attitude is obviously easier said than done.
In the meantime, bag those 1980s Houston Astros uniforms. They look like a setting sun, if you know what I mean.
AUSTIN: I actually think the new black iteration of the City Edition jerseys are super cool and a huge improvement from the previous version, but that’s neither here nor there.
Old man, you’re absolutely right about your assessment of the Jazz’s title hopes. They need to show serious contention and they need to do it sooner rather than later. I think they’re going to really struggle in future years if reports regarding Rudy Gobert’s extension are to be believed. With he and Donovan Mitchell eating up so much cap space in years to come, they’re going to have a hard time building the most complete roster possible and will probably be doomed to the middle of the pack for an eternity. They need to win while those guys are relatively cheap or they never will.
It’s time for the Jazz to embrace a killer’s mindset and build that winning-all-the-time habit you were referring to. It was evident to me by the way Utah tried to jockey into a more favorable first-round matchup last season – which they lost anyway – that there are some teams they aren’t confident playing against. That’s not the sign of a contender in my mind. They’d be better off embracing the mantra that BYU QB Zach Wilson emblazoned on his headband, “Any team, any place, any time,” or something like that.