For all the good things the franchise has achieved-the excellent way it handled racism issues- since losing its crown jewel Gordon Hayward, it still has a lot to do to move from dark horse contender to a serious contender.
Utah has been paired against Houston Rockets in the playoffs and the first game in the series ended badly for the Jazz. A 90-122 loss to the Rockets signals the gap that exists between a team primed for the title and one that is a couple of steps off winning it all.
It is strange the 32 point loss had Utah record very impressive takeaways including limiting James Harden to 29 points. The NBA’s regular season leading scorer who scored a lot of points from the free throw line was limited to just three attempts in the game.
He buried all three and keeping The Beard under 30 points is a plus for every team in the league. Despite all the good work on stifling Rockets scoring machine, Utah still lost by 32 points. That’s because Houston has a lot of weapons to use when its main man gets special attention.
Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers and Chris Paul keep the offense humming and Clint Capela, Kenneth Faried and PJ Tucker mainly get things done on defense.
For Utah, a lot of guys on the roster are very good on defense but offensively there is a lot to be desired outside Donovan Mitchell.
The Jazz has a strong cast of finishers in Joe Ingles, Kyle Korver and Jae Crowder but Utah lacks in shot creation. Take out Mitchell and the Guard depth of Ricky Rubio, Royce O’Neale, Grayson Allen and Raul Neto can’t create separations from defenders.
In what is likely to be a very short series possibly a big sweep for Rockets, Utah Jazz early exit should give the front office enough time to weigh its options in the offseason. Answers are hard to come by with this year’s Draft even for a team that has had success getting Mitchell and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Award winner Rudy Gobert on the lower end of the draft. This year’s class is top heavy with a few NBA ready type talent and a whole lot of players in need of serious development.
That means the best route to finding a shot creator is in a trade. No disrespect to Utah but no free agent is signing with them this offseason and may be forever mainly due to its location so a trade is the plausible route. Trading for Mike Conley is a perfect situation for Utah because the veteran Point Guard is an upgrade at the position, a shot creator and has played his entire NBA career in a small city.
The Memphis Grizzlies are in a very good position to trade to get the remainder of Conley’s $30 million average salary for the next two seasons off their books. After several years of consistent success, the Grizzlies are in rebuild mode and having a soon to be 31 year old on a team that is several years away from being a contender isn’t a right fit.
On the other hand, Utah Jazz is in win mode now with a group in its prime but one that needs a player who takes ball handling and scoring duties off a second year player. Conley averaged a career best 21 points and 5.7 rebounds per game this season despite turning 30 and coming off an injury riddled 2018 season. His scoring average for the just ended regular season would place him only behind Mitchell’s 23.8 points likewise steals as Conley registered 1.3 strips per game while Donovan hit 1.4 steals.
Conley is very skilled at his position and will age gracefully which should dissuade any fear of trading for Marc Gasol’s former running mate by a club that clearly needs his services. Thanks to the brilliant play of Mitchell and relative young age of Gobert, Utah Jazz has the foundation to build on once Ingles, Crowder, Korver, Thabo Sefolosha and Ekpe Udoh’s contracts run out and moved on from the team.
With Golden State Warriors likely to lose Draymond Green and Kevin Durant in upcoming free agency and Chris Paul’s injury still in a perilous position, adding Conley could be the key to unlock Utah Jazz’ path to the NBA Finals and maybe an NBA title.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter