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Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell lays injured against the Los Angeles Clippers (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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Conley, Mitchell Injuries Already Part Of Great Jazz What-Ifs

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell lays injured against the Los Angeles Clippers (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, UtahΒ – The Utah Jazz, like every NBA team has a list of great what-ifs, a collection of past trades, injuries, or missed draft picks that they can reflect upon and grieve over what could have been in an alternate universe.

The Charlotte Hornets never should have traded Kobe Bryant for Vlade Divac. The Portland Trail Blazers shouldn’t have drafted Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan or repeated that mistake when they drafted Greg Oden over Kevin Durant.

The Jazz have a relatively short, but painful what-if list that has radically changed the history of the franchise.

In 1979, the Jazz signed former All-Star Gail Goodrich away from the Los Angeles Lakers. In those days, to dissuade teams from poaching other teams’ stars, they demanded teams return compensation when signing away a free agent.

In return for Goodrich, the Jazz eventually agreed to send multiple draft picks to the Lakers to complete the deal. Unfortunately for the then New Orleans Jazz, they wound up with the worst record in the NBA in 1979, the same year Magic Johnson left Michigan State and declared for the NBA Draft.

Johnson went on to become one of the greatest players in league history and led the Lakers to five NBA titles. Goodrich played three seasons with the Jazz and retired before Johnson ever suited up in purple and gold.

The Jazz suffered a similar fate with future Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins. In 1982, the team ended up with one of the worst records in the league and drafted Wilkins with the third overall pick.

However, having played at the University of Georgia, Wilkins preferred to stay near his alma mater.Β  The Jazz, strapped for cash and needing an influx of money to stay afloat, traded Wilkins to the Hawks for John Drew, Freeman Williams, and financial compensation.

Though Wilkins never won a title in Atlanta, he was a nine-time All-Star, a seven-time member of the All-NBA team, and would have helped make the Jazz a superpower in the 80s alongside Karl Malone and John Stockton.

The third great what-if in Jazz history occurred in 1998 when after losing to the Chicago Bulls in the 1997 Finals, the team orchestrated a trade for center Rony Seikaly. The Jazz were notoriously thin in the frontcourt next to Malone and made a deal sending Greg Foster, Chris Morris, and a first-round pick to the Magic for Seikaly.

Seikaly was averaging 15 points and 7.6 rebounds at the time of the trade while Jazz starter Adam Keefe was averaging an unspectacular 7.8 points and 5.5 rebounds.

However, despite the opportunity to compete for a championship in Utah, Seikaly refused to report to the Jazz after the trade, and the transaction was voided. The Jazz went on to lose to the Bulls again in 1998, the last time the team made the Finals.

Now, it’s time to ink another painful what-if into the history of the Jazz franchise.

After finishing with the best record in the NBA for the first time in team history, the Jazz appeared to a real shot at making a run to the Finals for the first time in more than two decades.

Despite losing Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley late in the regular season to ankle and hamstring injures, the Jazz still finished with home-court advantage throughout the playoffs and avoided the much-feared Lakers in the opening round.

However, Mitchell’s ankle injury proved to be worse than expected, plaguing the guard throughout the playoffs despite several terrific performances. Mitchell averaged 32.2 points, 5.5 assists, and 4.2 rebounds in the playoffs, but was clearly laboring as the Jazz playoff run extended.

Conley was brilliant in his return to the lineup in the first four games in the opening round against the Memphis Grizzlies. The first-time All-Star averaged 20 points, 10.3 assists, and 4.8 rebounds before re-aggravating the hamstring injury in game five.

Conley would play just 25 minutes in the team’s second-round series against the Clippers where they were eliminated in six games.

Now, the conference finals are set and feature four teams that haven’t won a championship since the league merger in 1976. Rather than the traditional collection of superstars that usually graces the conference finals, sans Kawhi Leonard, this year’s title will be won by a team with a group of players that haven’t previously reached the NBA mountain top.

While Mitchell, Conley, and Rudy Gobert would have fit nicely in that grouping, late-season injuries have robbed them of a chance to do so. As the team’s championship drought continues, Mitchell’s ankle and Conley’s hamstring have earned their spots on the list of great Jazz what-ifs.