Utah Jazz: Sefolosha story reinforces fears about luring free agents

CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 23: Thabo Sefolosha #22 of the Utah Jazz reacts prior to a game against the Chicago Bulls on March 23, 2019 at United Center in Chicago, Illinois. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 23: Thabo Sefolosha #22 of the Utah Jazz reacts prior to a game against the Chicago Bulls on March 23, 2019 at United Center in Chicago, Illinois. Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Thabo Sefolosha won’t be returning to the Utah Jazz next season. A possible reason for his departure may reignite old fears among the Utah faithful.

With their moves over the last week, the Utah Jazz have essentially completed work on building their roster for the 2019-20 season. As much as those dealings were about the new players coming in, a big subplot to the team’s summer story was the players who have or will soon be moving on.

One such player — and a guy who some opined the team could bring back for a third go-round in Jazz blue — is veteran forward Thabo Sefolosha. Whether or not there was ever a real chance Sefolosha would get re-upped is unknown. In any case, one possible reason for his inevitable departure may give Jazz fans pause.

In a feature for the Swiss publication Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Sefolosha put to rest the notion that he could be back in Jazzland next season. In doing so, the 35-year-old seemingly indicated to NZZ’s Roman Schuppli that his wife had actually requested he find a new place in which to play his trade.

The reason: she didn’t feel at home in conservative Utah.

Via NZZ (translated) —

"“It’s all about my two daughters and my wife,” he says. Sefolosha wants his family to feel good – which was not the case anymore in the Mormon state of Utah.In particular, his wife had suffered in the conservative state, in which rigid moral concepts are widespread, and could not develop. “During her career she has always put her own interests and needs behind her and made great sacrifices,” says Sefolosha. Now she has spoken out against another engagement in Salt Lake City."

Right away, there are a couple of things to unpack here.

First of all, it’s hard to know whether something gets lost in translation with these kinds of comments. It’s entirely possible that Sefolosha’s wife’s experience in Utah wasn’t as bad as this particular article seems to indicate.

That said, clearly something was amiss for the former Jazzman and his family and they felt it was time for a change, regardless of what the team’s plans for him were.

I, for one, don’t think you can fault anyone for wanting to live somewhere they feel comfortable. As such, I don’t fault the Sefoloshas for making a decision they feel is right for their family. However, this development is sure to reignite some old fears among the Jazzland masses.

At the least, it hearkens back to Ante Tomic’s wife reportedly putting the kibosh on his move to the 801 in 2015 (Tomic went on to re-sign with Barcelona). If you’re the glass-half-empty type, though, it’s hard not to think about the outsider’s perception of Salt Lake City as relates to NBA players.

Salt Lake and the state of Utah have long been dismissed as NBA free agency destinations because of concepts like this. From #Nightlife to Derek Harper famously saying, “You go play in Utah,” Jazzland has been subject to negative commentary before.

And to hear that a veteran player and family man — exactly the kind of person that the Jazz feel they can get to overlook these issues/perceptions and make a home here — could be opting out because of them is troubling.

Especially when the Jazz have one of the league’s most affable and exciting young stars leading the charge and the team looks to have a legitimate pathway to contending right now.

Another interesting aspect to this for me is the dichotomy that exists between Salt Lake City and the rest of the state. While the brunt of Utah is as red as you’ll find in the country, its capital is actually fairly progressive.

Believe it or not, there are liberal people here. I know them and occasionally vote with them. They’re cool.

Random factoids — the last three Salt Lake County mayors have been members of the Democratic Party. In 2015, one study suggested Salt Lake was one of the top 10 gay-friendly cities in America. And the city participates in the Kyoto protocol, a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

SLC is oft referred to as “a liberal island in a conservative state.” That idea is pretty well accepted in Utah. San Francisco, California it most certainly ain’t, but those are just a handful of examples that testify to the fact that there actually are other interests in Salt Lake City and Utah besides the predominant local faith.

They’re in the minority, but they are there.

Regardless of your affiliation, you would hope that free agents could find solace in that. Or, at the least, be taken enough with the Jazz organization, the team and its penchant for being competitive at a high level to overlook some political or religious differences.

Next. Will the Utah Jazz produce another diamond in the rough next season?. dark

Again, I don’t fault Sefolosha for his decision to support his wife, especially after she has sacrificed and quite literally moved all over the world with him as he’s pursued his basketball career. They both seem like great people, and good on them for being able to make their home where they choose.

Also — Sefolosha may not have figured prominently in the Jazz’s plans anyway.

Still, if you’re a long-suffering Jazz fan who has dealt with the likes of Harper and Rony Seikaly rejecting moves to Utah when they could’ve been the missing piece(s) to a title run or two; one forced to deal with the fact that Bojan Bogdanovic is being called the greatest free agent signing in team history, a story like this is a sobering reminder that the Jazz will always face certain challenges in fielding a championship-level team.