The Utah Jazz Must Make a Run to the NBA Finals or Face the Consequences

The Utah Jazz are going on year six of trying to navigate their way through the Western Conference. This time around, there’s a desperate sense of urgency for them to come out on top.

Utah finished the 2021-22 NBA regular season 49-33, which is good for the fifth seed in the West. They’ll face off with the Dallas Mavericks, who could potentially lack Luka Doncic due to a calf strain, in the first round of the playoffs. If the Mavericks indeed don’t have Doncic, the Jazz have no excuse to lose the series. 

One way or another, though, Utah must find a way to break through and win the West. If they don’t, a daunting offseason awaits.

Prominent Utah Jazz players, like Donovan Mitchell, could be elsewhere next season

“Uncertainty” is the best way to describe the state of the Jazz. That uncertainty starts with the franchise player. 

Donovan Mitchell’s future with the Jazz has been front and center all season. Rumors have percolated that the team has dealt with issues behind the scenes and that Mitchell may request a trade if the Jazz are eliminated early in the playoffs. One figures that center Rudy Gobert would be attainable via a trade if Mitchell was moved. 

Long-time head coach Quin Snyder has been mentioned as a successor to Gregg Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs and a candidate for the Los Angeles Lakers’ open head-coaching position.

There has never been this much smoke with the Jazz under Snyder. Something has to give. Does that mean Mitchell, Gobert, and Snyder will all be elsewhere next season? Not necessarily, but Utah has to pull the plug or try something different if the team keeps coming up short in the playoffs. 

The outlook of the teams around them furthers the notion that the 2022 postseason is a breaking point for the Jazz.

The Utah Jazz have maintained the same program for five seasons

Mike Conley of the Utah Jazz is hugged by teammates Bojan Bogdanovic and Donovan Mitchell during a game
Utah Jazz teammates Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, and Bojan Bogdanovic | Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

The Jazz are a well-rounded, fundamentally sound team. Mitchell is one of the best all-around players in the NBA. Gobert is a defensive backbone. Bojan Bogdanovic is a reliable shooting scorer. Mike Conley is an efficient ball-handler. 

Jordan Clarkson is an effective, jolt scorer. Royce O’Neale is a high-level shooter. Rudy Gay and Hassan Whiteside are starting-caliber players. Snyder has built a team that can always compete. The problem? Nothing has changed with this team in five years.

The Jazz were a raw bunch in Mitchell’s rookie season, 2017-18, when they pulled off an impressive first-round series win over a star-studded Oklahoma City Thunder team. They then lost to a better Houston Rockets team the ensuing season. In 2019-20, the Jazz blew a 3-1 first-round series lead to the Denver Nuggets. Last season, they blew a 2-0 second-round series lead and a 25-point Game 6 lead to the Clippers. To boot, Kawhi Leonard didn’t play in Games 5 and 6 for the Clippers.

The Jazz’s only season that featured a shade of variety was the 2020-21 campaign, as they finished with the best record in the West. They were an amplified version of themselves and had teams playing at their pace but also held the same playoff fate. 

Every expensive transaction the Jazz have made since 2017 (e.g. acquiring Conley and signing Bogdanovic) has merely reinforced their offense, which is a halfcourt operation reliant on defensive dominance. There has never been a transcendent pickup for this program. They have a star isolation scorer in Mitchell who’s accompanied by a roster that’s supposed to complement him. 

Fellow Western Conference contenders have more upside than the Utah Jazz

If the Jazz lose in round one or two and keep everyone, are they going to suffer or not make the playoffs? Of course not. At the same time, a lot of the teams the Jazz are competing with have more upside than them past this season. 

The top three seeds in the West — the Phoenix Suns, Memphis Grizzlies, and Golden State Warriors — aren’t going anywhere in terms of contending for the West. Phoenix’s roster is a well-oiled machine on both ends of the floor with a youthful roster. Memphis has continually progressed with several players who generate offense on their own. Golden State has a handful of proven commodities in their prime accompanied by a bevy of compelling, young players.

Dallas has become an elite defensive team with multiple players capable of scoring in isolation. The Denver Nuggets won 48 games this season with Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. playing a combined nine games. Meanwhile, the Clippers presumably get Leonard back next season. 

All of the aforementioned teams have lethal offenses. The Jazz don’t have that. They’re effective in what they do, but it only gets them so far. When they run into a more dynamic team and/or one with two star scorers in the playoffs, they lose steam.

Everything that happened in the regular season is irrelevant from Utah’s perspective. They avoided the Play-in Tournament and had to beat at least two great teams to win the West no matter their seed. Now they need to find a way to generate more offense and finish off teams. Another playoff flop leads to an ominous and heartbreaking offseason.

Follow us on Twitter at @Sportscasting19