Isn’t it crazy to think that the Utah Jazz could be officially eliminated from the playoffs with 7 games remaining in the regular season? Not only did the Jazz come into the 2010-11 season with legitimate hopes of winning the Western Conference, but they were actually putting it together on the floor for nearly half the season. 40 games into the season the Jazz were 27-13, and they were jockeying for position amongst the elite teams in the Western Conference. At the time if I told you the Jazz were going to start skidding, you would have never believed that they would have skid out of playoff contention at any point in the season. At worst the Jazz would be the 7th or 8th seed in the West, right? In order for the Jazz to fall out of the playoff picture completely, they would have needed to have an unprecedented meltdown. Unfortunately for the Jazz, that is exactly what happened.
When things were clicking for Utah at mid-season, nobody could have foreseen the departure of Jerry Sloan, let alone the departure of Deron Williams, the team’s leader and soul. But those two incidents did indeed happen, and the Jazz subsequently paid the price for them. It is nothing that the organization wanted, yet it was something that they had to deal with, so they did it the best way they could.
Insert Tyrone Corbin, Devin Harris, and Derrick Favors into the mix for the Jazz. They couldn’t do that much worse than the team that started the season with the Jazz, could they? They might not be great, but they can get by and sneak into the bottom half of the Western Conference playoffs, right?
Apparently the shuffling of the team’s hierarchy had an impact that was worse than anybody could have ever imagined. Game after game the Jazz struggled to put it together with their new faces, and before you knew it, the Jazz were fighting just to look like a respectable NBA franchise. Questionable coaching decisions, lack of defense, and balls always seeming to bounce in the opposition’s favor were hard for fans to watch and digest. The team that they have always loved for their ability to remain consistent (positively), suddenly became the exact opposite. They were, in a word, awful.
This feeling of unfamiliarity is something that many people have a hard time embracing, and in the case of the Jazz, it is something that Jazz fans will never embrace happily if things remain this way for an extended period of time. If you look into the recent history of the Jazz, the near future may be looking a little bit like the 2003-06 seasons where the Jazz struggled mightily and missed the playoffs in all 3 seasons. Losing their centerpieces of Stockton and Malone caused that down period to occur for the Jazz between 03-06. This possible down period will unquestionably be marked by the losses of Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams. But the overarching difference between then and now is the fact that the current Jazz team possesses enough talent to seriously compete heading into the future.
In my opinion the 2010-11 campaign went sour because the Jazz did not have enough time to regroup from the bomb that totally dismantled the identity of their team. Had the Jazz started this season with the team they have now, I’m not so sure that they would have struggled as much as they did down the stretch. There would have definitely been an adjustment period, but once they hit their stride, they would have been a very respectable team and a feared opponent by multiple NBA teams.
The way that this season ended – or will end – (with so many questions left unanswered) is going to be the reason why this upcoming offseason will be even more interesting than the past offseason was for the Jazz. If you remember, last offseason the Jazz gave away some key players to the Bulls, Mehmet Okur was coming off of a huge injury, and Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap had not yet played a game together. Raja Bell was supposed to be an important addition as a lock-down perimeter defender, and there was the lottery pick, Gordon Hayward who had yet to play a game in the NBA.
Despite all of those intriguing headlines, last offseason followed another ho-hum season for the Jazz who made the playoffs and lost to the Lakers (as usual). In other words, the Jazz went into the offseason in familiar fashion. This upcoming offseason, on the other hand, is going to be following the biggest collapse in the franchise’s history. A seemingly talented team has not proven the ability to string together a formidable product on the court, and their head coach has not had the opportunity to prove what he is even capable of through an entire 82-game season. In addition, the Jazz will have 2 lottery picks that people will be talking about until they are blue in the face, and the Jazz faithful will continue to talk about Gordon Hayward and try to predict how he will contribute in year 2 of his maturation process. And finally, the main question on everybody’s mind will be: “What direction is this franchise headed in?”
All in all, this offseason is set up to be very interesting for the Utah Jazz as many questions will begin to be asked. Once this throw-away of a season finally ends, the fun can officially begin.
There are still 7 games left? Ugh, the suspense is killing me!