Little by little, the Utah Jazz are falling further out of the race for the one-seed. Thanks in part to injuries to Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, the Jazz have dropped nine of their last 11 and sit nine games out of the top seed in the Western Conference.
However, it’s not about where you finish at the end of the regular season, but rather where your playoff journey ends. That is especially important for a Jazz franchise in search of their first conference finals appearance since 2007. But the pressure is now rapidly increasing due to Mitchell’s reported happiness, or lack thereof, with the franchise.
Donovan Mitchell might be unhappy in Utah
Many would look at Utah’s current roster situation with envy. The Jazz have both Mitchell and Gobert signed through 2026 and a group of solid role players flanking them. And clearly, the team is closer to capturing a title than not after five consecutive postseason berths.
However, the Jazz could be facing a major crisis in the form of an unhappy Mitchell. According to Ric Bucher of Fox Sports, a lengthy playoff stint may be vital in keeping the All-Star happy in Utah.
“If the Jazz appear to be feeling pressure to redeem themselves for last year’s second-round playoff exit after posting the league’s best record, NBA executives say it’s in part because the future of star guard Donovan Mitchell in Utah depends on it,” wrote Bucher. The longtime reporter then went on to explain how Mitchell might eventually seek a trade out of Utah, with one particular team at the top of his wish list.
“The incessant buzz around the league is that there are those in Mitchell’s circle who believe he is too big of a star for Salt Lake City. Further, some say it’s only a matter of time before he joins former Creative Artists Agency agent and current New York Knicks president Leon Rose.
‘They’re a first-round exit from Donovan being in New York,’ an Eastern Conference scout said.”Ric Bucher
Would Mitchell demand a trade to the Knicks if Utah fails to make a playoff run? The 25-year-old, who’s in the first year of his five-year, $163 million extension, was born in New York and grew up in the tri-state area before attending Louisville.
The Utah Jazz need to go all in for a championship push
With two legitimate All-Stars in Mitchell and Gobert and a deep roster behind them, Utah is on the cusp of contending in a loaded Western Conference. But through almost 50 games, the 30-19 Jazz are starting to realize they’re still a step or two behind the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors as title favorites.
Between losing nine of 11 games and Bucher’s report, it’s time for general manager Justin Zanik to explore every avenue possible for improving the club.
Even with Mitchell missing a handful of games as of late, Utah maintains its standing as the best offensive team in the league. Entering Thursday, the Jazz’s 116.1 offensive rating tops the NBA. Though their 109.4 defensive rating, while better than average, is ranked 11th.
There are a couple of players Utah can look at to help its defense, which ranks last in the league in turnovers forced per game. Portland Trail Blazers forward Robert Covington is still averaging over a block and steal per game, a consistent trend for the nine-year veteran. Another name is Oklahoma City Thunder guard Kenrich Williams, an elite defender with an underrated 3-point shot to boot.
Adding someone like Covington or Williams could require Utah to part with a future first-round pick. But it might be worth it if it means adding an additional piece to the championship puzzle.
A poor record against other contenders is a major concern for the Jazz
In recent weeks, injuries to Mitchell and Gobert have hurt the Jazz’s overall record. But it also doesn’t help that Utah is in the midst of facing both of its greatest opponents.
Beginning on Sunday, an incredibly shorthanded Jazz squad had to face the Warriors on the road. Next, they saddled up for back-to-back games against the Suns. And on Friday, they’ll have to head to Memphis to take on the surprising Grizzlies.
Utah is a combined 0-5 against those three teams this season. It’s also 1-4 versus the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, and Cleveland Cavaliers, the top three teams in the Eastern Conference by record.
What does it say about the Jazz as contenders when they’re a dismal 1-9 against the top-three seeds in each conference? For some of those, like the two games against Phoenix, injuries are at play. But it’s less-than-inspiring to see the Jazz struggling throughout the year to beat elite opponents.
This should be an interesting few days for the Jazz leading up to the NBA trade deadline. Fans of the club, as well as Mitchell, will be watching rather closely.