DID UTAH GIVE UP ON THIS PLAYER TOO SOON?
Jazz fans love a good success story, especially when that success story was drafted by the organization. Stockton, Malone, Kirilenko, Hayward, Mitchell, Gobert, Williams all hit star status in Utah and the NBA as a whole at one point or another. Most fan bases will take all the stars they can in any shape or form, but for Jazz fans, these names felt a little more impactful because they were drafted by the Jazz or traded for on draft night. Utah had single handedly watched them grow and become their best selves, allowing the fans to feel an even stronger connection. No one was bought, lured or coaxed to the organization as a star, Utah had built their own. As loved as Mehmet Okur, Carlos Boozer, Al Jefferson or even Jeff Hornacek were in Utah, the hype could never compare to a homegrown star.
The homegrown mindset can also be a major hang-up. Fans want to see that success story play out so badly that they cling to these players year upon year in hopes that they may one day hit their draft comparison ceiling. This was certainly the case for 2014 5th overall selection, Dante Exum, out of Australia. Exum was pegged as an elite finisher with an explosive first step who had defensive versatility rarely seen from the guard spot. His talents and skills as obvious as they were, would only grow immensely. He had the right attitude, the Jazz were known for being patient and loyal, Exum was set up to be a star. Unfortunately, we know how the rest of it goes.
Exum was mainly hurt, missing the entirety of the 2015-2016 season with an ACL tear and only squeezing in 14 games in 2017-18 due to shoulder issues. When Exum was healthy he seemed to be in coach Snyder’s doghouse, or limited enough from a spacing standpoint that it was hard for him to see the floor outside of defensive opportunities. In short, Exum in Utah was nothing but empty potential and small glimpses of promise shadowed by giant moments of frustration. Everyone in Utah wanted to see Dante succeed up until his very last minute in a Jazz uniform, but it wasn’t meant to be. Utah sent him away after five trying seasons to acquire Jordan Clarkson in 2019, where Exum finished his Jazz career posting 5.7 PPG on 40 percent shooting from the field and 30.5 from three. He totaled 2.1 assists to 1.3 turnovers, snagged about 1.8 total rebounds per game and started 72 of 245 games for the Jazz. This was a far cry from what was expected by both Jazz brass and himself.
Exum would only appear in 30 games with the Cleveland Cavaliers before another major injury and decided to go play overseas in 2021 when he was able to do so. His NBA career was practically over at this point as he suited up for Barca in Spain and Partizan in Serbia. Forgotten by the NBA world, Jazz fans saw his name resurface on July 14th, when it was announced he would sign with the Dallas Mavericks for the veteran’s minimum. It was cool to see Exum get another opportunity, but few fans, not still stranded on Exum island, thought it would amount to much.
Exum apparently thought differently. Per Kevin O’Connor: “Exum has 23 points and 17 assists to 5 turnovers in 59 minutes for Dallas” in their three preseason games. It may be preseason opponents, but Exum even earned the start in the Dallas loss to Real Madrid last night where he went 4 of 5 from the field enroute to knocking down two triples on three tries. His 13 points tied for a 2nd in team high points and he led the team in assists with 9 dimes for the Mavericks. He only coughed it up once, and had two blocks, one being highlight worthy as he sent it back with his elbow. Exum has appeared as an early revelation for Dallas as he looks to carve out an “energy” guy type of role. Early on, it doesn’t seem as if Dante Exum is fighting for a roster spot, but rather major rotational minutes, something he hasn’t experienced in the NBA since his rookie and sophomore season. Jazz fans are cheering on Dante and should be thrilled for any success coming his way. And if you’re a bit jealous, that’s understandable, but remember we have our own impact player who was formerly out of the league in Kris Dunn to celebrate. It can be true that the Jazz moving on was the right call, and that Dante could still carve out a role in the NBA. Utah would have been foolish to continue hoping for the emergence of what they thought they would get in 2014, and Dallas could be genius for giving Exum another go.