Dante Exum's career revival is bittersweet for Jazz fans

Dante Exum is having a great season for the Dallas Mavericks, and we can't help but imagine what could have been.
Dante Exum celebrates his buzzer-beating 3-pointer with teammate Luka Doncic
Dante Exum celebrates his buzzer-beating 3-pointer with teammate Luka Doncic / Sam Hodde/GettyImages

In a late April 7th matchup between the Dallas Mavericks and the Houston Rockets, Jabari Smith Jr, Houston's 2022 first-round draft pick stepped up to the free-throw line to extend his team's three-point lead. Maverick fans were on their feet as the 6'10" forward lined up his first shot and released.


Disappointed, but still in control, Smith took a deep breath and set up his second attempt. Make this shot, and his team secures a two-possession lead. Miss the target again, and Dallas gets a chance to knot up the game with a 3-ball. Smith bends his knees and puts up a second free throw. The ball floats to the basket but falls short, meeting the front of the rim with a hideous clank and falling into the hands of PJ Washington.

The clock reads 8.1 seconds remaining, and the ball finds Dante Exum who fights off a Rocket defender and pushes the ball down the court.

Three seconds. Exum hands the ball to Luka Doncic--the obvious choice to take the Mavs' final shot--who is immediately swarmed by Rockets defenders in an all-out scramble to force Doncic into a poor shot attempt.

Two seconds. Fighting through outstretched arms, Doncic locates an open shooter on the wing, and rifles a chest pass to a wide-open Australian who catches, loads, and fires the game-tying bucket.


For most fans in the NBA, this shot is certainly an exciting play, but not noteworthy beyond the moment it lives in. But for Jazz fans, we experienced a fruit salad of emotions: apples of appreciation, raspberries of regret, pineapples of pride, and strawberries of sadness.

Confusing metaphors aside, Jazz fans have a unique perspective on Exum's career. Utah drafted Exum 5th overall in the 2014 draft, knowing he'd be a bit of a project. His athleticism and physical tools complemented his versatile game. He got to the rim well and handled the ball tremendously, but still had some space he needed his game to grow into.

Exum's game never fully met his pre-draft expectations. He struggled to score consistently against NBA defenders, and injuries derailed any momentum he ever built. The unfortunate reality for Utah and Exum was that he wouldn't be available for the Jazz when they needed him, and he didn't show significant growth when he did take the floor.

Dante Exum
Dante Exum throws down a dunk for the Utah Jazz / Gregory Shamus/GettyImages

When the Jazz parted ways with their Aussie prospect, I was genuinely sad to see him go. Knowing in my heart that he could be so much more than he was ate at me and I always wondered if the Jazz would regret letting him go.

Utah traded Exum to Cleveland after seven seasons in Salt Lake, and his time with the Cavs was short-lived. After the 2020-21 season, Exum moved overseas to play in the Euroleague. When a player finds himself out of the NBA, it's rare to see him return to play any meaningful minutes in the league again, so this season's re-entry has been a bittersweet experience.

Exum has been terrific this season in his first season with the Dallas Mavericks. When Kyrie Irving went down with an injury early in the season, Exum filled in for their All-Star point guard to tremendous success. He's hit clutch baskets and been an excellent contributor, dishing out 7 assists to pair with his 11 points in a win against Golden State a game ago. Exum is hitting a blazing 50% from 3-point land on the season and has carved out a valuable role with the Mavericks.

Exum underperformed in Utah, and he wasn't forced overseas for no reason, but I can't help but wonder what could have been if Exum stayed in Utah. Would a full healthy season spark growth in his skillset? Could Exum fill the same role with the Jazz that he currently has for the Mavs? His career has been filled with "what-if" questions, but right now, he's finally taking over his own story, and it makes me happy to see that he's found a place.

The Utah Jazz may not win another game this season. With an 11 game losing streak, and little incentive to win, it's going to be a rough ending. dark. Next