Alex is a passionate Utah Jazz fan & community content contributor to The Five By 5.
The Utah Jazz: End of Season Record: 48-24 (5th Seed) Lost in the 2nd Round of the Playoffs to the Houston Rockets
The Offseason: So the date was July 4th and while most of America was celebrating Independence day, Jazz Nation hauled around their phones watching Twitter and other social media outlets to get the latest news on the final decision of their prized player Gordon Hayward. Personally, I thought Utah was sitting pretty good with it all, and I figured we had a good shot of getting him back. We had a good team, we had just gone to the second round of the playoffs a few months prior, and he was the star on the team. He just about had everything he ever wanted (or apparently, didn’t want) in Utah.
Suddenly, rumors were flying that he was going to sign with Boston. I was pretty upset about it and was just about to cry, when the word came out that the rumor wasn’t true, and I felt a little bit better. For about half the day, Jazz Nation and the NBA fans in general were confused as to what was going on because it took about half the day to get out the real story of where Gordon was really going to sign. Sadly, the rumor turned out to be true and he really was going to sign with Boston.
Jazz Nation was hurt that day. Instead of hanging out with family, enjoying fireworks, and having a good day, Jazz Nation was too busying trying to figure whether Hayward was going to #stayward. I was a part of the craziness that day, and it was hard for me to really do anything. If Gordon would have just told everyone the truth about the rumor at the beginning, that would have been ok (maybe). But instead, he had to lie about it so he could do it the way he wanted to; but the media couldn’t hold it in and it came out earlier than he had planned. So on that day, Jazz Nation either cried (which I was about to do) or were filled with anger (as I was). At the end of that fateful day, I didn’t know what this year was going become. I was bracing myself for a tough year to watch and cheer for. But thank goodness for Donovan Mitchell. Our savior and our Rookie of the Year.
The Drafting of Donovan Mitchell: Donovan Mitchell was drafted by the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the NBA draft at number 13, but was then traded to the Utah Jazz for Trey Lyles (best trade ever). To be honest I didn’t know Mitchell at all, but was still ok with the trade because Trey Lyles played himself out of the lineup last year.
I then watched Donovan live at the Jazz summer league and was like, “Man this guy is going to be really good for us.” That day at summer league, I bought myself a Pride edition Mitchell jersey, and jumped on the Mitchell bandwagon early before it got to full. He really showed us Jazz fans that there was going to be something to cheer for this year and that we would remember his name for a long time. The Early Days (Oct- Dec): The year did start off pretty good for the Jazz. We won our first game (I was at that game). They lost a few games but that was ok cause it was the start of the year and it takes a little time to get into the swing of things. The good part about the early days (before our brutal losing) the Jazz did win 7 straight games.
The Streak: As of January 22nd The Jazz were 19-28 and had just lost to the worst team in the league, the Atlanta Hawks. That was the turning point of the year for the Jazz. Suddenly, they kicked it on and Utah went on an 11 game winning streak to close out the first half of the season. I was a little confused when they started winning, because I thought we were “trying to lose” to get a good draft pick, so at first, I didn’t know if I should cheer or be upset. But it is hard to complain when your team is winning, so I started to cheer and to get back into really following them.
But really though, the Jazz winning streak was legit. They weren’t just beating the bad teams, but they were also beating the best teams in the league. It all started on the road against the Detroit Pistons. That was a good game. The Jazz won in OT 98-95. They then went on to beat the Raptors, followed by a fully healthy Warriors team by 30. Mitchell scored 40 points in a blow out game against the Suns.Then the Jazz beat the Spurs twice and the Blazers once.
This Jazz team went from being out of the playoff picture to jumping up to 10 in the standings and looking at being in the playoffs. It only got better from there. They would go on to end the season going 29-6 and entered the playoffs on a hot streak, despite losing their final game of the year. The Jazz ended up as the 5th seed and played the Thunder in the first round of the playoffs. That was the best turn around in my life time and might be the best turn around in league history. It was that awesome and entertaining.
The Playoffs: This years playoffs were so fun as a Jazz fan to watch. Utah lost Game 1 which did not seem to affect them much as a team. Utah would go on to win three of the next five games. Game two was exciting as the media had OKC winning the series and did not see Utah stealing home court and taking control of the series. OKC vs Utah was really the classic tale of David (Utah) and Goliath (OKC). OKC had the better talent in players with the likes of the reigning MVP Russell Westbrook, All Stars Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, and one of the best big men in the league Steven Adams.
From the onset, this was a hard round for the Jazz as they were being lead by a Rookie, a guy with a man bun, a math teacher, and a tall French guy. Utah went on to show the league that they could beat the best and handle themselves well even after blowing a 25 point lead in Game 5. They came back in Game 6 and won in high fashion. Donovan Mitchell had himself a ROY type of a game. In the second half, he scored 22 points despite the boxing match it was between him and Westbrook. After losing Ricky Rubio to a hamstring injury in the first quarter things, didn’t look all too good for them. But again, they proved that they could fight through hard things and prove they wouldn’t go down without a fight.
In round two, Utah ended up losing to the Houston Rockets, 4 games to 1. Not the ending Jazz fans hoped for, but after a year that started out with most fans thinking we weren’t going to have a winning season, I think we are all ok with it. Making it to the second round was almost like winning the championship for the Jazz because no one thought that it could happen this year.
The Offseason: Now this off season, Utah faces some hard choices. To keep or not to keep Favors, keep Exum, let go of Alec, etc.. Personally, if I was the GM, I would go after Paul George who is a free agent this year. Paul George would help the Jazz out a lot. He can shoot the ball (which Utah really needs), he can space the floor, he is a great defender and he can create his own shot if needed as well. Now if Utah signed him, that would mean letting Favors go, because we can’t have both. I would have George start at the four. This is because, one the league is playing more small ball, and two it would work in Utah’s favor. Utah would have a great starting five with Rubio, Mitchell, Joe, Paul and then Rudy Gobert. Now that might be a hard lineup defensively, but I think it would work really well on both sides. George would come at a really big price but I think it would be worth it.
My next player choice is Kawhi Leonard from the San Antonio Spurs. He is like a Paul George but very quick and better at the defensive side of the ball. Could you image having two of the top defensive players in the league on one team? Utah would have to make a trade to get him and I’m not sure of who that would have to be, but it would be worth it for the right asking price. I think Leonard would be happy in Utah because for one the media isn’t here, and it’s a great state to live in.Utah could really use his help and his scoring. Mitchell is good of course, but he can’t do it all by himself every game; and if he’s having a bad game, he is going to need help. Paul or Leonard could really supply that help.
Now my last big focus would be to sign Favors back. I like Derrick Favors. I think the fans like him. I think he likes it here in Utah and he said he would love to come back and play. He had a very good year this year, as he was healthy for the most part, and he played pretty good in the playoffs. Favors and the Jazz are the last team to run two big men at the same time. Most teams don’t do that anymore when the league is going away from that and heading into the 3 point shooting, Favors isn’t at the point yet where he can space the floor like that. But again, he is good and I would love to have him back. He was a key part this years chemistry and a key player in the playoffs.
Next, if I were the GM, I would try to build through the draft. I don’t know of anyone Utah should really go after but Utah needs a player like Mitchell, but taller. Utah needs a stretch 4 that can shoot really well, can make 3’s and can play good defense. That’s pretty much it really as far as the draft goes. I think Utah will do some good things this offseason and I trust them with the plans they have in mind. Utah is in good hands for years to come.
Well in closing, this was a great year for the Jazz. I was there at the game when Mitchell scored 41 on the Pelicans. I was there for Game 3 of the first round of the playoffs against the Thunder. I was there watching game 6 of the first round against the Thunder cheering and so excited when they won and moved one to round 2 that it was like we won a championship that night. I was there through the ups and the downs of this season and I’m going to be there when they win a NBA championship.
Photo Credit: The Utah Jazz Squad - thejnotes.com We do not claim ownership of any of the photo's. All photo's have been used under the "fair use" guidelines