Utah Jazz: After uninspiring start to season, what should be the goal now?

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - DECEMBER 4: Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz looks on before the game against the Washington Wizards on December 4, 2017 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - DECEMBER 4: Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz looks on before the game against the Washington Wizards on December 4, 2017 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Utah Jazz should make it a priority to finish the year well, but also focus mostly on the future prior to making any monumental transactions leading up to the trade deadline.

It’s no understatement to say that the 2017-18 season has gone much worse than most Utah Jazz fans would have predicted. Sure, getting back to the fifth seed in the West after losing the team’s top two leading scorers this past summer was always going to be a long-shot. But still, I know I don’t stand alone when I say that I figured this Jazz team would boast a capable enough roster to challenge for one of the final two playoff spots.

And honestly, that’s still definitely in play. With just under 40 games left in the season, there’s still plenty of time for the Utah Jazz to make a second half surge and nab the seventh or eighth seed. However, sitting at a record of 17-26 means they have quite a ways to go. And I think it’s more than fair to say that Utah’s odds of making the playoffs are worse than their odds of missing out.

To be fair, a major reason for the disappointing season up to this point has been due to injuries. Dante Exum has missed the entire season. Rudy Gobert has missed most of it. Joe Johnson was out for an extended period and still looks far from the Iso Joe we saw last year. And now Thabo Sefolosha is likely done for the season.

The Jazz have also had issues getting Ricky Rubio to fit with his new squad. Rodney Hood, Joe Ingles and Derrick Favors have under-performed, especially of late, and at times the lone player that’s been encouraging at all to watch has been rookie Donovan Mitchell. That’s exciting for him and his future, but when your most reliable player is a rookie, it’s probably pretty clear that you’re going through tough times.

So with all that adding up, perhaps the most daunting questions facing the Utah Jazz are, what do they do from here? With playoffs likely out of reach, what should be their goal from this point on?

There are several Jazz fans who would adamantly call for the team to tank. They’d advocate for holding Rudy Gobert out as long as possible, for shutting down Exum for the remainder of the year regardless of his progress and perhaps for going as far as to seek to adjust rotations and playing time such that it would make the Jazz less likely to win games.

Well, I may very well be in an ever-shrinking minority, but I don’t think that’s quite the course of action the Jazz should take. Despite a discouraging start to the season and while I fully recognize that Utah’s major emphasis needs to be on gearing up for a bright and successful future, that doesn’t mean that I think the Jazz should completely toss this year aside. There’s still a lot that they can gain by remaining competitive for the remainder of the year.

Utah’s goal, first and foremost, shouldn’t be to hold Gobert and Exum out, but rather to get them both healthy and back on the floor, allowing them to show what they can do. Upcoming free agents around the league are going to understand the precarious situation Utah was in heading into this season after losing Gordon Hayward and how difficult it’s been for them to stay afloat with all the injuries.

However, if the Jazz are able to close the year out strong while showcasing the promise and potential of a team made up of Donovan Mitchell, Dante Exum and Rudy Gobert, that will be a huge victory. Sure, it may lead to more games in the win column and therefore a lower draft pick, but isn’t that worth it if it turns some heads and piques the interest of potential free agents?

The Jazz are going to have major spending power this summer and it will be awesome for them if they’ve put themselves in a position that makes them appear poised for a breakout year next season and a desirable destination for potential free agents. With that in mind, I absolutely want Quin Snyder and his team to do everything they can to push for a playoff spot this season.

If the Jazz overcome their slow start but still manage to force their way into the postseason, that will go a long way in proving that the future in Utah is indeed bright despite an otherwise down year that might have led some to think otherwise.

Now, with that being said, let me clarify something a bit. While I want Coach Snyder and whoever is on the Jazz roster both now and after the trade deadline to push for a playoff spot, that doesn’t mean that I think Dennis Lindsey should have the same goal in respect to the transactions he looks to make right now. What I mean is, while the Jazz players should look to prove their worth and potential with everything they’ve got, the Jazz front office shouldn’t mortgage the future for a likely first-round exit.

The Jazz figure to be active players at the trade deadline, but in making any moves, they shouldn’t have any knee-jerk reactions that help improve them now but hamper them in the future. Dennis Lindsey should certainly look to make the team better, but of course he’s got to be strategic about it. Any deals that are made this season should be made not with just a 2017-18 playoff push in mind, but rather with an improved chance at the playoffs for years to come.

That makes the Jazz’s rumored Nikola Mirotic interest quite intriguing. Would adding him help the Jazz make the playoffs this year? It very well could. But would adding him be worth potentially damaging the future by giving up a first-round draft pick, which is what Chicago is purportedly asking for? I don’t think so.

Maybe the Jazz figure out a way to get him without sacrificing the pick and you could argue that Mirotic helps the Jazz now and, assuming he pans out and also agrees to re-sign for future seasons, he could help long-term as well. If it works out so nicely, that would be a savvy move, exactly the type the Jazz would benefit from. But Utah absolutely cannot get desperate and sacrifice their long-term prosperity for a minor bump in success now.

Fortunately, I think that Jazz brass understands that perfectly. Even if Utah has a major surge in the latter half of the season and reaches the seventh seed, that’s far from being their ultimate goal. If Utah can ever get healthy, they presumably have a nice core in place as well as ample flexibility in coming summers, so the last thing they’d want to do is handcuff themselves by over-committing to a trade this season.

In short, the Jazz’s target for the rest of the season should be to prove just how formidable they can be by showcasing Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell and hopefully Dante Exum if he’s able to get back. By striving to be as solid as possible, the playoffs should still be the goal for the coaching staff and players.

However, Dennis Lindsey’s goal should be somewhat different. While he should want the team to prove its worth as much as possible now and have a nice close to the season, his main goal isn’t to make the moves that will get Utah to the playoffs this year, but that will instead hopefully help turn them into contenders for years to come.

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The Jazz need to start playing well to become more appealing for free agents, but their front office shouldn’t be desperate to make “quick-fix” moves, and instead should plan for the future. If the Jazz are somehow able to check both those boxes with one or two savvy moves leading up to the trade deadline, it will be an enormous win for them.

And I have the utmost confidence that one way or another, even if it’s by being conservative at this year’s trade deadline, Jazz brass will be able to do just that. Despite the frustrations that have surrounded the 2017-18 season, you can bet that there are bright and exciting times ahead for the Utah Jazz.