***Part two: In part one we explored the rich history and high times of the Utah Jazz. Let’s now explore just how far they’ve fallen and the reasons why.***
Recent years have been a far cry from that historic team. The Jazz have since been in a steady rebuilding mode, save a short attempt to resurrect Stockton to Malone in the form of Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer. D-Will and Booze would lead the Jazz to a Western Conference Finals once, but aside from that provide little of what the Jazz front office expected. When D-Will and Booze realized title contention was not viable in Utah, they both left for better fits; Booze to the Bulls, and D-Will not so quietly traded to the Nets. When they left a new standard of Jazz basketball was taking form.
This new standard for Utah Jazz basketball is far from impressive. A look into the rafters at Energy Solutions Arena and you will start to grasp just how far the franchise has fallen. The names of Maravich, Stockton, and Malone, a line of retired greats beloved by nearly all Jazz fans, now replaced on the court with the likes of Favors, Hayward, and Burke. Eight divisional title banners and two Western Conference Champion banners wave over a team whose hometown paper optimistically dubs them “an artwork in progress.”
Every team goes through periods of rebuilding. That’s how dynasties work. They are built to conquer and succeed only to fall and dissemble over time, leaving pieces for the next in line to assemble. In Utah, the pieces of the late 90s teams still litter the floor. Team GM Dennis Lindsey and VP of Basketball Operations Kevin O’Connor have been unable to really build anything. They’ve proven to be nothing more than a front office that can’t seem to recognize its team’s needs. Their mishandling of Jerry Sloan and the D-Will situation is still a sour spot for Jazz fans as they tried to persuade D-Will to stay, despite the fact he had already checked out of Salt Lake City months before; and at first a puzzling dilemma that has now become an expectation, the botching of draft after draft.
Despite the low expectations of this and future seasons, it’s not all doom and gloom in Salt Lake City. For the Utah Jazz have built a cult following. The Jazz possess one of the most die-hard and loyal fan bases in professional sports. Though they’ll be scrapping for a 30 win season, Energy Solutions Arena will still roar with support. And it’s that undying support that fuels the mediocrity.
The Utah Jazz fan base has become its own double-edged sword. After years of great basketball, a vital role in the city’s economy, and a pronounced face in the community, Jazz fans, like many other fans, consider their Jazz family. Every October brings anticipation for a new season. But the front office knows their fans aren’t going anywhere. Which means letting a hall of fame coach walk away or continuing to whiff in the draft will not avert ticket sales. But the poor basketball Jazz fans will be seeing this year is the consequences of front office failures of years past. And sadly, this season will be a sample of Utah Jazz basketball for the next few years.
What many Jazz fans fail to realize is that Salt Lake City in all its beauty, nestled in the shadows of the Wasatch Mountains is not a market for big name superstars. And as recent history has shown, the most successful teams in the NBA are ones who house two and three big name superstars (See Miami, Chicago, Brooklyn, Boston, San Antonio, etc). The odds are stacked against the Jazz. Lacking the market to attract superstars, the front office needs to run near perfect to put a title contending team on the floor. And the front office is far from perfect.
Until the front office takes off their hope-filled glasses, seriously evaluates their team, and starts to make big boy decisions, the Utah Jazz will continue to lack the pieces to be successful in a Western Conference that as a whole continues to raise the competitive bar. Despite the rocky road this “artwork in progress” faces, the Utah Jazz have one thing they can value for years and years to come. A fan base that proudly backs their team, win or lose, rain or shine. Unfortunately for Jazz fans, the sun won’t be out for years.