NBA: Destination Utah

Almost two weeks ago, Gordon Hayward announced his intentions to move on from the Utah Jazz and sign with the Boston Celtics. A move that left the Jazz franchise scrambling to fill the void. Ultimately nothing materialized and the Jazz were left decimated while their once star player moved on to greener pastures (pun intended).

Fans in Salt Lake City were left wondering why. Why would he leave behind such a promising future, a coach who helped mold him into who he is, and a franchise that has offered him the keys to the mansion? He laid out his answer eloquently, if not a bit hollow, shallow and tad disingenuous, via The Players’ Tribune.

Hayward had been groomed and molded into a man in the NBA. Coach Snyder, Dennis Lindsey and the Utah Jazz organization dedicated time, effort and attention into giving Hayward ample opportunity to become the player he has. Fans invested their money and ultimately their emotions into a player that would likely become the next “son of Utah” only to have their hearts ripped from their rib cages and stabbed repetitively.

What now? Where does a franchise, that has built the right way, turn? How do they recover and continue the climb up the proverbial “Mount Everest” in the stacked Western Conference?

True to form, Dennis Lindsey and Quin Snyder have both indicated that the franchise must move on and will still maintain its competitiveness, while picking up the pieces and retooling once more. They’ve made moves to bring in complimentary players who can assume roles within the defensive-intense identity of the Jazz team. The one glaring “elephant in the room” is that find scoring to fill the void left by Hayward’s departure. At the moment, the answer is simple – there isn’t one. There isn’t a bandaid, a patch, or option. However, the front office and coaching staff remain stoic and positive.

The positive rhetoric doesn’t offer much to lessen the sting of Jazz fans’ broken hearts. However, let’s be honest, there’s no going back. Fans will have to accept the reality and rally around the core group that remains.

Can the Jazz be competitive? That remains to be seen. We have witnessed the ability of Snyder and staff to mold, shape and develop the existing talent into a competitive group. Look no further than players like Joe Ingles to understand what hard work and attention to detail can do for a player.

The bigger question might be, can the Jazz attract the needed talent to take the next step? Not this year, of course. But that will need to be addressed in the not-too-distant future. We’ve watched them farm and grow the talent through the draft, while adding intricate pieces in free agency. Joe Johnson being the latest NBA veteran to join the squad and provide the much needed experience to the young core. However, one can’t help wonder if Johnson is the exception to the rule. Especially after what has transpired. It’s disheartening to lose one of those homegrown pieces to the bright lights and greener pastures. Immediately doubts creep in.

Why can’t they keep one of their own?

Then, salt gets thrown into the wound. In the aftermath of the Hayward decision, a former player searches his name on Twitter and ultimately drops the inevitable hammer. With one tweet, he throws salt in the fresh wound, uttering the words that many Jazz fans have already internalized. Trey Burke, obviously still soured by his experience in Utah, responds to a tweet from TornBySports podcast Jedi & Jerms:

Props to Jody Genessy of the Deseret News for capturing the conversation and sharing it.

The exchange ultimately ignited a fire under Jazz fans, while opening frustrating dialogue from many other fans across the NBA spectrum. Some siding with Trey, others mocking his salty attitude, while others asking him to explain himself. Additionally, USA Today and Bleacher Report both reported on the situation. The exchange, and subsequent exchanges made national NBA headlines.

Just like that, Jazz fans end up center stage again and emotions boil over yet again.

Although it’s true, Trey Burke is a “disgruntled former employee” of the Utah Jazz, the question seems a palatable one. Or is it? Is there a negative stigma surrounding the state of Utah or the Utah Jazz for that matter? Do professional athletes really find it difficult to “fit in” here? Or is it backlash from a few who found themselves on the wrong side of a career battle.

Trey isn’t the first and he most certainly won’t be the last. We’ve heard it from others who’ve moved on – Raja Bell and Trey Lyles are two that come to mind. Then, of course, there’s other players who just want to find some way to get under fans’ skins. Matt Barnes is the most recent example with his “no nightlife in Utah” comments during the playoffs.

The thing to remember is that the Jazz front office, Lindsey, Steve Starks and Gail Miller, have all stated that the Utah Jazz look for character driven players just as much as they do talent. When you find a combination of both, you consider yourself ahead in the game. Sure, we thought they found it in Hayward.

Maybe they did, but he made a choice to move on.

Utah Jazz: Vivint SmartHome Arena
Courtesy KSL.com

Like Vivint SmartHome Arena and the Zion’s Bank Basketball Center, the Jazz have to renovate. It’s time for a face-lift. Unlike Vivint, the team’s hand was forced. One franchise face has moved on. It’s time for a new look and a new face.

The face – Rudy Gobert. The new look isn’t all that new. The Jazz have built an identity and foundation. Defense is their makeup. Gobert is the focal point. They’ve made moves to build around that identity, signed and drafted players who fill a roll within team’s identity. Thabo Sefolosha, Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell, Ekpe Udoh and others should fill gaps and fit roles that help enhance and boast a potential defensive juggernaut.

It will work out. “If you build it, [they] will come.” I’m convinced, as cliche as it sounds, there’s truth embedded therein. Build the winning culture (already there), build the facilities (in progress) and they will come. Players, free agents, will come. They will want to be a part of something special.

For every Trey Burke, there is a Joe Johnson. There are players who will look to Rudy Gobert and Quin Snyder to take them to the promised land.

Burke is wrong. He knows it, we know it. Utah is an attractive NBA destination. Hayward leaving is a setback, but the business model hasn’t changed. Players will desire to play alongside Rudy and in a situation – playing under Snyder – where they can achieve maximum success and efficiency.  The plan remains the same and the culture continues to evolve and blossom.

About the author

Alan "Jedi" Zaugg

Alan “Jedi” Zaugg is managing editor of TornBySports and host of the Jedi & Jerms podcast. He’s an avid NBA fan and basketball junkie and passionate sports enthusiast. He enjoys writing and illustrating. He hosts a Star Wars podcast and writes for The Cantina Cast in addition to a myriad of other projects. He also writes fantasy and science fiction in his spare time. You can follow him on Twitter: @jedizaugg

  • John Jenkins

    In the end Allan, the truth will find an out. Really good players, like Joe and Joe have figured that team matters, quality of life matters, and in the end they want to play where they matter.