UTAH FINALLY BUYS INTO DANNY AINGE’S MASTER PLAN
TIMBERWOLVES DEFEAT JAZZ 143-118
The Jazz finally did it. After days of hope and weeks of promise, they finally bit the dust. Last night’s loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves was evidence of Utah giving up the ghost when it comes to being a scrappy competitive team. The Jazz gave up their highest point total of the season, no overtime required, at 143. They have now lost three straight all in front of the home town crowd in the house that Larry built. They allowed the shorthanded Wolves to shoot 57 percent from the field and nearly 54 percent from deep on 43 attempts. Anthony Edwards had 31 points in 33 minutes. This was acceptable, even for a Jazz team trying to win. Sometimes superstars have big games. But after giving up career highs at 29 points apiece to Jaden Hardy and Josh Green for on Monday against Dallas, the Jazz turned around and awarded two Wolves players with shiny new Career Highs. Jaylen Nowell had 30 points on 16 shots and was 6 of 9 from distance. Luka Garza, who fooled Utah into thinking he was the other Luka, scored 25 points off the bench by hitting 4 triples in 23 and a half minutes. He also had 9 rebounds. The Jazz have finally become the team we thought they would be. To say the Jazz finally bought in to the tankathon would be incorrect. The Jazz and coach Hardy wanted to win, to compete. They wanted to be that scrappy rough and tumble, upset the odds on any given night type of squad. They wanted to be a playoff wild card, an enigma if you will. But Danny Ainge had traded too much, had gotten too far in his teardown and rebuild of the franchise underneath the snowcapped mountains, to allow it to continue. The Jazz didn’t buy in, but Danny decided to pay for them regardless.
He did so by involving Utah in a three-team deal that sent Mike Conley and Nickeil Alexander-Walker to the T-Wolves moments before the teams tipped off. The trade also moved Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt to Hollywood to suit up for the Lakers. The Jazz in return got Russell Westbrook and his expiring contract, likely to be bought out. Other players to Utah included Juan Toscano-Anderson and Damian Jones who were both out of the Laker’s rotation. The big piece was the lightly protected 2027 first round pick via LAL. Danny did his best Thanos impression by adding another first to his gauntlet, and the Jazz got much worse. The veteran leadership and steady hand of Mike Conley will be sorely missed on and off the court. Beasley and Vando had ups and downs but both were a key component to Utah’s impressive depth. With all that gone, the Jazz road to lottery got a lot easier. We can and will argue the return was not enough for what was sent out, but its clear this move was about cap flexibility in the future, assets in the future, and playing time for younger guys now. All four of those players sent by Utah were veterans by definition. Now the team outside of Jordan Clarkson, Kelly Olynyk and Rudy Gay the Jazz have gone full on youth movement. The path to the lottery is clearer than ever before, but the road just got a lot bumpier.
Players were visibly bothered in the loss to Dallas, and it only got worse as you could imagine when teammates were literally leaving the building knowing they had been traded an hour before you hit the court. The team was obviously out of it and despite the Wolves being involved in the same deal, you could see the difference between a contending move and a tanking move. The Wolves had fire and excitement; the Jazz had lost hope. Lauri Markkanen went above 20 points again after a brief break, with 21 points. Walker Kessler had 16 points and 9 rebounds with 3 blocks. Kelly Olynyk had one of his better games as of late with a 14-point showing, but it took him 14 shots to get there. Collin Sexton was the one bright spot in this game. The young guard will be filling in for Mike Conley most likely as the new starting Point Guard. Sexton has not created as much buzz as fans were hoping for when he was included in the Donovan Mitchell trade. The jury is still out on his role and ceiling and with Conley in Minneapolis, Collin Sexton will have full rein of this team. He delivered his first night with a 22-point performance while shooting 60 percent from the field. He nailed 4 triples on 5 tries and even added 5 assists with 5 rebounds. The best part for Young bull though was the zero under the turnover category. He also got to the charity stripe more than any other player in the game with 8 free throws in which he hit six of them. Speaking of players bound to get more time in the trade aftermath, Talen Horton-Tucker remerged after 4 straight outings of riding the bench. He had 15 points and a nice six assists while shooting 50 percent.
Future first round picks don’t do much for the present, and the players certainly felt the weight of being shorthanded, emotional and unmotivated. Despite those stats listed above, the Jazz somehow looked worse than they did against the Dallas Mavericks. There was little to be excited about. Gay, Fontecchio, Agbaji, all had harsh games. But with two of those three guys we expect a learning curve and growing pains. In the case of Rudy Gay, we don’t expect much. So, they get a pass. In the wake of no Conley or Beasley, the Jazz needed another backcourt member to rise up. Jordan Clarkson is that guy and can be that guy, but against Minnesota it wasn’t happening. JC fired up 13 attempts and would only see three go through. He was 1 of 5 from deep. He did have six assist and 6 boards to his credit, but this new version of the Utah Jazz cannot win games with Clarkson scoring 8 points. They may not be able to win games with him scoring 30 plus, but 8 will not suffice. Get ready for the tank commander to segment to appear a lot more than the building block section as we head into the last stretch of the season.
THREE KEY NUMBERS:
As Woj himself shared, The Jazz through 2029, the Utah Jazz lay claim to 15 first round picks. Regardless of how you feel about individual trade successes such as Bojan’s move to Detroit or the most recent swap with the Lakers, Ainge has given the team flexibility they so desperately lacked a year ago. The future is unknown, but Utah will have every chance to make it count
Staying in line with what Woj shared after the trade news, let’s talk about the money. If you want flexibility and freedom, check out Utah’s upcoming cap space potential. Utah could have 60 million plus on the table when free agency and the like rolls around. If Sexton, Markkanen, Kessler and Agbaji end the year growing and improving together, Utah can add a lottery selection to the roster and some nice trimming in Free Agency to accelerate the rebuild process if they so choose.
It can be difficult to see players part during any trade, but to see Mike Conley Jr head out the door is a major bummer. Mike was the supposed piece Utah needed to claim its first title, and although that never came to fruition, he was nothing but a professional and a fan favorite. Mountain Mike made his first career all-star game here and often showed love to the fans and community. Mike is they type of player that you always hope finds success regardless of any new scenario he is given. Grizzlies fans still cheer him on, and the city of Utah will continue to do so as well. When Mike got the trade news, he still wanted to participate in Utah’s starting warmups to help the remaining players to feel a bit more regular approaching tipoff. Watch Walker Kessler talk about Conley post game to get a sense of how teammates viewed him and how emotional it was for them to see him leaving. Conley played 213 games for the Jazz averaging 13.8 PPG and 5.8 Assist. He was a tad under 40 percent as a three-point shooter. Jazz nation wishes Mike Conley Jr and his family nothing but the best and he is sure to receive a warm welcome whenever he appears at the Delta Center next season.
OPPOSING FAN COMMENT OF THE NIGHT:
“A SODA BLIND TASTE TEST AS TIMEOUT ENTERTAINMENT IS VERY ON-BRAND FOR UTAH.” -FORESHOLD