I’ve been alive for 23 years. For four of them, the Jazz haven’t been in the Western Conference playoffs.
The 2012-2013 season has been an up and down year for Jazz fans and it all ended Wednesday night with the worst offensive output in 82 games. A season low 70 points and a shooting percentage of 32 percent against the Memphis Grizzlies effectively ended the Jazz’s last hope of attaining the eighth seed in the playoffs over the Los Angeles Lakers. The 86-70 loss was tough to watch but wasn’t as tough as knowing how many winnable games there were that the Jazz could have used to secure a playoff spot. While it didn’t matter whether or not the Jazz won because of the Lakers victory over the Houston Rockets, the hope ultimately died in Memphis. The Jazz finished the season 43-39, a respectable (and playoff worthy) record if you aren’t playing in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
It’s hard not to look back at the four heartbreaking road losses in early March or the Atlanta loss where a former Jazz man brought the Hawks storming back. All winnable games, that would have had the Jazz back in the playoffs for the second consecutive year. When a fan base becomes so accustomed to success and a chance in the playoffs, it’s hard not feel pessimistic about the season. That being said, the future is bright, the players are young, and in no time, the Jazz will be back where they belong amongst the basketball elite.
Al Jefferson played phenomenal in the final 12 games in which the Jazz went 9-3, to get back into playoff contention. After carrying the Jazz all season long, it seems the Mississippi native may not find his way back to Salt Lake City as a free agent. The time for the youth movement to take over has finally arrived and Jefferson and Paul Millsap could be in different jersey’s next season.
The Jazz only have six players under contract for the 2013-2014 season but also have two first round draft picks to help fill the void that may be left from free agency. Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks–it seems–will all be asked to carry the load and take the Jazz back to where they belong. The culture has been left behind by players like Millsap, Jefferson, and Mo Williams, that taught the young guys how to win. And hopefully they learned.
“We worked our ass off. The many times we could have gave up, we didn’t,” Al Jefferson told The Salt Lake Tribune. A statement that has hopefully been instilled in those young players that may have to take his place next season.
So while Jazz fans wait out the summer months until October, the players should know that the fans are always grateful for the effort they put in every season. We appreciate when they don’t give up. We appreciate the effort they put in to win. We appreciate it all. Mediocre is a good word to describe the Jazz this season, but in the end, it doesn’t matter because the fans know the players gave it all they could. The Jazz most certainly weren’t the most talented or biggest or fastest team in the NBA, but they turned out a winning season when no one expected them to.
So whether or not the Jazz use their salary cap space to re-sign a familiar face or rebuild around the young players or sign someone from a different team, one thing is for certain, the fans will be back, no matter who’s on the court.