Utah Jazz New Year’s Resolution
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – New Year’s Eve is finally here. It probably couldn’t come any sooner for the Utah Jazz who had as bad of a 2020 calendar year as any professional sports franchise could (as long as you’re not named the New York Knicks, or the Houston Rockets, or the Washington Football Team, or pretty much any franchise with horrible ownership, okay so there’s lots of teams the Jazz had a better year than — forget the last sentence.)
Regardless, the Jazz had a pretty terrible 2020.
The team was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs after blowing a 3-1 series lead to the rival Denver Nuggets. The loss was made more painful by the fact that Mike Conley’s desperation three was mere inches away from sending the Jazz to the second round to face the Los Angeles Clippers.
Worse yet, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Jazz wouldn’t have advanced had Bojan Bogdanovic, one of the league’s true iron men, not missed the close to the season after undergoing wrist surgery in May.
First-time All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert became the first two players in the league to test positive for COVID-19 which suspended the NBA season. And during the hiatus, Hall of Fame coach and Jazz legend Jerry Sloan passed away due to complications from Parkinson’s Disease and Lewy body dementia at just 78 years old.
All told, it was a regrettable year for Jazz fans, but not one they’ll soon forget.
With that in mind, here are a few goals the Jazz can set to make 2021 a brighter year for the franchise and its fans.
Utah Jazz New Year’s Resolution
Atop the Jazz list, have a quick start to the new year. And this can apply in multiple areas.
The team is off to a 2-1 start, but with back to back home games against the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers to bookend the New Year’s celebration before heading out on a season-long seven-game road trip, the Jazz could set themselves up for a big 2021 by emerging with a winning record over the next nine games.
Only four of the next nine games are against teams projected to make the playoffs, but Cleveland, New York, and Washington (I know they are winless) are no pushovers. The Jazz were a surprisingly good road team last season winning 21 of 37 games away from home, finding that same success in January would be a huge boost to their future playoff seeding.
To accomplish this goal, the Jazz must also set a goal to start games more quickly.
The team hasn’t had good starts in either of their last two games, and it’s nearly handed them a losing record.
Against the Minnesota Timberwolves, a 17-point deficit after a slow proved too large for the Jazz to overcome. Then against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team found themselves down nine in the fourth quarter before a furious rally from Mitchell tipped the game in the Jazz’s favor.
Though they’re good enough to erase other teams big leads, starting fast and finishing games in the first half, as they did against the Portland Trail Blazers would give the roster much needed rest throughout what will surely be a hectic and tiresome year.
New Point Guard Depth For Next Year’s Roster
The Jazz are getting a full taste of what made Mike Conley a star player in Memphis and one of the highest-paid players in the NBA. The veteran guard is the team’s second-leading scorer, is tied with Mitchell as the team leader in assists, and has continued to see his efficiency climb from last year’s perplexing drop.
That’s the good news.
The bad news? Conley is going to hit the suddenly depleted unrestricted free-agent market in the summer of 2021 and is due for a big payday the Jazz likely can’t afford.
Mitchell and Gobert got their big extensions done this offseason, essentially binding the Jazz hands from any future big free-agent signings. Though the team owns Conley’s Bird rights, the tax penalty they’d incur to retain him likely means he’ll be suiting up elsewhere next season.
That means the Jazz should have their eyes on developing point guard depth over the remainder of the season, even as they rely on Conley to play big minutes.
Mitchell may be that point guard of the future, but Joe Ingles has left his athletic prime and may be forced to move his game closer to the rim defensively rather than continue to float around the perimeter.
Shaq Harrison signed with the Jazz late in the offseason but has yet to fully move into the team’s rotation. Veteran guard Yogi Ferrell also signed an Exhibit-10 contract with the Jazz and will likely spend time with the Salt Lake City Stars during the G League mini-season as an audition for a future role with the main roster.
Otherwise, undrafted rookie Trent Forrest is the only other guard in the pipeline that could assume Conley’s minutes next season.
While the team can wait to find Conley’s replacement this offseason, checking that goal off their New Year’s resolution list before reaching free agency would be a terrific achievement for the Jazz to begin 2021.
No More First Round Exits
Some goals you can control, like working to find point guard depth or focusing on executing better to start games.
Winning in the playoffs is a different animal as it’s the same goal for every team in the postseason and thus somewhat uncontrollable. But hey, who hasn’t made an outlandish goal to start the new year, whether it’s to find the perfect partner or win the lottery?
Like fighting for a treadmill at the gym on January 1, the Western Conference playoff picture is going to be a packed house, and getting home-court advantage in the first round will be tough.
But after starting each of their last six playoff series on the road, it’s time the Jazz find themselves with more advantageous seeding to advance out of the first round.
After giving Mitchell and Gobert nearly $400 million this offseason, and with this being the last year with Conley under contract, this may very well be the most talented roster the Jazz field this decade.
Another first-round loss would be catastrophic for a team that doesn’t have much wiggle room to improve its roster for the next several seasons, so proving it can win together is paramount.
Good luck on your New Year’s resolutions everybody, and goodbye to 2020. We will not miss it.