One of the teams that is quickly slipping out of the NBA's playoff race is the Utah Jazz. However, their fall is a puzzling one, as they are a talented team who seemed to start losing when they should have been winning more.
There are a variety of reasons why this can happen to a team. Injuries can do it, chemistry issues and even youth can play a role. The Jazz are a unique case though, in that they seemed primed to be recovering from such issues by now, rather than suffering under them more harshly.
The Jazz had claimed a record of 30-24 when the NBA hit the midseason All-Star Break back in February. Since then, Utah has gone a lackluster 4-12, which is bad no matter what type of competition you are facing.
One problem the Jazz have had since the All-Star break is that they have played quite a few good teams.
All but one of their losses during that time has been to a likely playoff team. While that is not what Jazz fans want to hear, it is better than losing to the bottom of the league along with the top.
However, if this team is ever going to take the next step as a unit, it is going to have to start beating those good teams consistently. Losing to the Thunder most of the time is understandable given their status among the NBA’s elite. Losing to Cleveland, Milwaukee and Houston needs to stop.
The team has some personnel problems that one can also blame. Mo Williams is clearly not the answer as a starting point guard. The fact that the Jazz are 3-9 since Williams came back from injury on March 6 is evidence enough of that.
His inconsistency is deadly for a team that is so young at many spots. He is also not a good fit because of the type of team the Jazz are. A balanced team like this one that relies on defense and post play needs a floor general, not an under-sized shooting guard.
That is particularly true when it comes to a team like the Jazz, who look like the perfect supporting cast for a superstar that is not there. If this team had a Kevin Durant, LeBron James or even a Chris Paul, it would be an NBA Finals contender. Granted, that is easy to say, but it is especially true considering the youth and depth Utah’s management has built in recent years.
There is also the issue of this team’s identity. When you look at the best teams in the NBA right now, they all have a strong sense of who they are and the game they play. It seems as if the Jazz really lack that right now.
Are the Jazz the veteran-laden team that their starting lineup suggests? Or, are they the young up-and-comer that seems to characterize their second unit? Many of the veteran players will hit free agency this summer, which also provides ample distractions for the team.
At some point, the Jazz have to decide who they are. Since Deron Williams was traded and Jerry Sloan resigned, that has not happened. Either keep your veterans and make the moves in free agency necessary to win now, or flip those talented vets for more youth and attempt the Oklahoma City model.
In the NBA, it does not pay to be mediocre. You need to either be great and winning or bad and rebuilding.
The Jazz are neither right now, and it is hurting them in both the present and the future.