In addition to coming to the conclusion that the group had reached its expiration date as a realistic threat in the Western Conference, there was the desire to get a bunch of draft picks, get bad and get a transformative player (or players) at the top of the draft.
But apparently, the Utah players didn’t get the memo. While it’s hard to picture the Jazz carrying their very early success deep into the season, it’s nonetheless been interesting to watch the club win its first three games and take a 6-2 record — second-best in the West — into Wednesday’s meeting with Dallas.
Donovan Mitchell Still Pulling for the Jazz
Donovan Mitchell, a three-time All-Star and leading scorer for the Jazz in each of his five seasons with the club, isn’t so surprised as he looks on from his new home. He, Rudy Gobert and Bojan Bogdanovic were sent to Cleveland, Minnesota and Detroit, respectively.
What remains (and what’s replaced them) in Utah — with draft picks still to come — has made for a competitive, nothing-to-lose outfit.
“They got hoopers,” Mitchell told Heavy Sports. “I don’t know why everybody was so quick to write them off.
“I think they got phenomenal leaders in that locker room. Mike Conley is a phenomenal leader. Jordan Clarkson is a phenomenal leader. Then they got Collin Sexton and Lauri Markkanen, guys who can really go … Malik Beasley. Like, they’re just not some slump. They have guys that can really go.
“You know, I think the world was shocked, because we traded me and Rudy and Bojan, and so I think they expected it to go south, and it’s not the case. I got a lot of respect for those guys over there. I talk to Mike and JC all the time. They’re still my friends. But, you know, they’re not bad players. Like I think people just kind of overreacted to the trade, but they’re working hard and getting wins that they deserve.”
Mitchell, Cavs Have Eyes on NBA Finals
There may also be a measure of the Jazz players fighting back at management regarding the notion they have been built for the lottery.
“I haven’t talked to them about that,” Mitchell said. “I’m just supporting them. I’m supporting their success.”
And enjoying the fact the Jazz, with Markkanen averaging a career-high 22.6 points, are firing away unencumbered by expectation.
“I can even see it,” said Mitchell. “I’m just happy for their success, and that’s the only thing I really talked to Mike about. And when we talk on the video games, we’re not really talking about basketball, but, you know, they’re a group that’s exciting and going out there and playing. I think that’s what you see on a night to night basis, and it’s great to see — my guys that are my friends out there hooping and having fun.”
Those latter parts are similar to what Mitchell is experiencing in Cleveland, though the Cavaliers do carry the expectation of an up-and-coming crew after building through the draft and trades.
“I think we’re a group that’s trying to get, not just to the playoffs, but continue to get to a championship level,” Mitchell told Heavy.com. “And, you know, when you have guys that are continuously working and working, and we all have something to prove and everything aligns, that’s what you’re seeing in this group — continuing to fight and fight for something big.
“A lot of guys haven’t experienced it. I’ve been to the playoffs every year, but I haven’t been to a conference finals or Finals. There’s only one of us that has (Kevin Love), and we’re all looking, we’re all hungry and we’re all doing it for each other. I think that’s what you’re seeing. Guys are competing for each other and that’s huge.”
And the younger Cavs perhaps don’t know enough to be nervous about their move up the Eastern Conference ladder.
“That too,” said Mitchell. “It’s almost a good thing. That’s all going to come with experience. But it’s not March or April yet. It’s still early, but we’re doing a solid job.”