Disappointment Focus Of Jazz Locker Room Cleanout
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz season ended on Friday night against the Los Angeles Clippers, and most players headed back to the team locker room after the loss to collect their belongings before heading out for the offseason.
The general mood of the team was disappointment as the season ended abruptly, losing four consecutive games after jumping out to a 2-0 lead.
With the team disbanding for the summer, this is what each player had to say upon their exit.
Mike Conley will have the most closely watched offseason by both the franchise and the rest of the NBA as the guard will be one of the league’s best available unrestricted free agents.
Conley was a crucial piece for the Jazz roster, especially this last season as the guard was an ideal counterpart to Donovan Mitchell, being able to initiate the offense for others while creating for himself when the team needed it.
“Free agency is free agency, and that’s the business we live in,” Conley said. “It’s something I have to sit back and consider with my family and when that time comes I have to make the decision that is best for us.”
If Conley walks, the Jazz will lose an All-Star piece with no compensation in return but will save money on their luxury tax bill. If they re-sign him, they’ll undoubtedly be above the luxury tax but could have a valuable player for the roster, or as a tradable piece down the line to rebuild their depleted asset bank.
“Number one I want to win a championship,” Conley said of his priorities in the twilight of his career. “That’s number one, and will always be number one.”
Rudy Gobert will have to carry a big weight into the offseason, as after winning the Defensive Player of the Year award for the third time in four years, the Clippers abused his rim protection by spacing the floor with five smaller players, making choose between defending the rim, or moving out towards the three-point line.
The Jazz failure defensively does not fall on Gobert’s shoulders as the team was asking him to be in too many places at one time, but responsible for slowing down the red-hot Terance Mann, while also covering for his teammates’ defensive lapses.
When asked about what he needs to do better against smaller lineups, Gobert was unusually terse in his response.
“I mean I don’t know,” Gobert said. “I don’t know what do you think we should do when a team plays small?”
Gobert is keen not to throw his teammates under the bus, though it was clear in game six that their inability to stay in front of their man, because of injury or otherwise, overwhelmed the DPOY’s defensive responsibilities.
“It’s basketball, it takes a team effort,” Gobert said acknowledging his own need to improve. “It takes five guys to defend to play for a championship.”
Still, it is clear the star was frustrated by the team’s early loss as he heads into the summer before joining the French National Team at the Olympics.
“I’m going to have to clear my mind,” Gobert said, “because there’s a lot of things that bother me. I’m just going to ask myself the right questions and keep working and keep getting better.”
Joe Ingles will have one of the busier offseasons of any player on the Jazz roster. While Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell will be rehabbing their injuries, Ingles will turn his attention to the Tokyo Olympics where he will represent the Australian National Team.
“I will be so focused on the goal of trying to win a gold medal for Australia which we’ve never done,” Ingles said of his summer. ” We’re trying to win a medal full stop which we’ve never done.”
If Conley does leave the Jazz this summer, Ingles would likely become the default starting point guard, a role he has excelled in for the team during the regular season. Despite the shortened summer, Ingles said he expects to come back better.
“No doubt in my mind that I’ll come back better,” Ingles said. “It’s what I’ve done every year since I’ve been over here.”
Bojan Bogdanovic has now been on both ends of the injury spectrum, having missed the entire postseason last year after undergoing wrist surgery, and then having to pick up the slack throughout the playoffs this year also both Conley and Mitchell missed games.
“Mike was out for a whole series against Clippers and that really hurt us,” Bogdanovic said. “He was the primary ballhandler for us. Donovan took responsibility for making the plays for the others and for himself so we missed Mike big time.”
The sharpshooter settled back into his usual career role as the third or fourth option in an offense alongside Mitchell and Conley, with the ability to step up when one of the leading scorers was out.
However, at this point in his career, it’s safe to recognize he won’t be the leading difference-maker in a playoff series.
Royce O’Neale is unquestionably the Jazz best perimeter defensive player, which might say more about the Jazz roster than it does O’Neale. The forward routinely drew the toughest perimeter matchup throughout the season, whether he was capable of truly slowing them down or not.
That difficultly wasn’t lost on O’Neale who said he thinks the Jazz need more perimeter help in the offseason.
“At times our defense, it’s a team effort,” O’Neale said of the Jazz struggles. “I think having another guy to help us all out besides myself, Joe, Mike, Don, Rudy, probably another wing guy.”
Georges Niang enters the summer as the Jazz’s second-most highly sought-after free agent behind Conley, though the gap is large. Niang had the best season of his young career, but struggled in the team’s series against the Clippers, a fact he acknowledged during locker room cleanout.
“There’s a huge difference between the regular season and the playoffs,” Niang said. “Obviously, I wanted to contribute a little more, but you learn and I think it’s a growth process for us.”
Niang’s shooting will likely garner some interest from teams around the league who want a floor spacer in the frontcourt, even if he struggled in the playoffs.
“I’ve never been a free agent, so I’m new to all this stuff,” Niang acknowledged. “Obviously, my heart is in Utah. I love Utah, they gave me an opportunity to grow and mature as a man and a player.”
Derrick Favors had an up an down postseason with the Jazz, looking terrific against the Memphis Grizzlies, then struggling against the Clippers smaller lineups.
The reserve center offered the most credit to the Clippers for their series victory, rather than pinning the shortcomings on the Jazz.
“The Clippers just made plays,” Favors said. “Paul George, he’s a tough cover one on one for anybody. And when have the role players on the team hitting shots and making plays they become tough to guard. They just had a good game plan and play the good series.”
The reserve big man did recognize the team’s shortcomings on the defensive end and pointed to Jazz’s overreliance on help defense to fix the issues.
“We could have been a little bit more committed in guard and one on one on the defensive end,” Favors said. “On the offensive end, we could have been a little bit more aggressive, executing and doing the little things a little bit better.”
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