AUSTIN: I'm excited for a river of sh**, my feelings as the Utah Jazz's season approaches.
OK, try to wrap your heads around this one, Jazz fans.
I’m going to make two statements that may not seem compatible on the surface, but I believe reflect how real Utah fans – or at least the smart ones – may feel.
No. 1: I fully expect the Utah Jazz to be very bad this season. In fact, not only do I anticipate it, I’ll be actively rooting for it. I hope they finish the year with the worst record in the NBA.
No. 2: I’m way more excited for this season than I would have been if they had run it back once again with the same ol’ crew.
I know that putting those two adjacent thoughts into the universe may seem glaringly paradoxical but hear me out. I’ll try to flesh this out. I also get that it may seem crazy to say that on the heels of an off-season in which the Jazz traded away three of their best players (Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and Bojan Bogdanovic) – and Royce O’Neale, who I’m courageously going to label as “Not one of Utah’s best players.” Not to mention, this summer also saw Quin Snyder, who I’ve considered to be one of the smartest sports figures ever to perform his craft in the state. And as a miserable cherry on top, the Jazz also unveiled one of the worst uniform and logo rebrand/refreshes in the history of sports.
So it was a crazy summer.
But in the end, with the start of the 2022-23 season rapidly approaching, I’m fired up.
I’m excited to see what this year’s team is made of, mostly because I’m optimistic about what it means for the future.
It’s going to be one of those “one step backward, two steps forward” kind of deals.
In trading Mitchell, Gobert, Bogdanovic - and sure, I’ll mention him too, O’Neale – and with a couple more moves on the horizon, the Jazz have fully embraced a mantra that I think holds a lot of water:
“If you want to go somewhere you’ve never been, you have to do things you’ve never done before.”
That place the Jazz want to go: the top of the NBA ladder, to bring an elusive title to Salt Lake City. The things they must do to get there: tear down a once-good but failing system in hopes of building something even better.
Make no mistake about it, the Jazz have made it very clear what their goals are for this season. They hope to be as bad as possible. But they do so by taking a very calculated risk, by hosting a firesale of their star players, gathering as much draft capital as possible, and putting themselves in the running for top lottery odds in what should be very, very good drafts in the next few years.
It's exciting because it’s bold, a bit scary, and also unprecedented for a franchise that has long prided itself on continuity.
But the days of “Let’s run it back and hope things will be different this time!” are over.
The days of waiting on John Stockton and Karl Malone to take the Jazz to the cusp of glory near the twilight of their careers are done. Their legacies were anomalies and it’s insane to think that such a run as the Finals Jazz teams enjoyed would be possible again.
If Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert couldn’t take the team past the second round of the playoffs in their early to mid-20s, is there any reason they could do so as their age and implied and assumed resentment towards each other continued to grow? Come on now.
This will be a Jazz season like fans haven’t seen in a while. The most recent ones I can think of might have been Quin Snyder’s first year in 2015 when the team wildly overachieved, and the 2004-05 campaign. After that miserable season, the Jazz traded up to select Deron Williams in the NBA Draft. Two years later, they were in the conference finals.
I think the Jazz can have another meteoric rise back to the top, I really do. The cupboards, so to speak, are filled with great assets and even a couple of promising young players. I like Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, and Jarred Vanderbilt a lot. I think more trades – such as ones involving Jordan Clarkson and Mike Conley – can also add to Utah’s huge rebuilding successes so far.
To get to the top, the Jazz are going to have to drag themselves through a miserable season first. It’s going to be rough to look at the win total this year. I expect the Jazz to be WAY out of the playoff race. To be honest, I kinda hope they lose as much as possible this year.
But here’s the thing, I see this descent to the bottom of the standings the same way I see the escape scene from The Shawshank Redemption. The Jazz will be the figurative Andy Dufresne character, crawling through “500 yards of sh**-smelling foulness I can’t even imagine,” as Morgan Freeman would say.
But remember this, they’re going into the river of human waste hoping to find glory and redemption on the other side, A.K.A. an NBA championship.
It’s a beautiful metaphor when you think about it.
So bring on the crap, it’s time to leave the past behind.