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Path to the Championship: Utah Jazz

Last Season: To say the Utah Jazz disappointed themselves at the end of the 2018-19 season would be an understatement. Though winning 50 games versus 48 the season before, the Jazz seemed to be on an upswing at the end of 2017-18 with the emergence of Donovan Mitchell as the fresh energized face of a franchise that had honestly been searching for an identity and accompanying poster child since John Stockton and Karl Malone ruled the Wasatch front. (Okay, they tried with Gordon Hayward, but no dice). Head coach Quin Snyder could get the Jazz better than 9-12 through the first quarter of the season, and they finished with just as many struggles, going 1-4 versus the Houston Rockets in the opening round of the postseason, despite Mitchell leading the team in most every measured statistical category.

Transactions: After being much-rumored since NBA All-Star last February, Utah made it’s big splash into free agency by acquiring Mike Conley to man their point position going forward, something Ricky Rubio was never truly able to do well consistently. Conley’s energy and fervor not only make him a great acquisition in the offseason, but one hell of a community guy in a city where that will not only be welcomed, but applauded and embraced. He is one of the sport’s greatest ambassadors, with or without NBA Cares.The team also picked Emmanuel Mudiay, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jeff Green, Ed Davis, Thabo Sefolosha, Epke Udoh, and signed Happy Valley, Oregon’s own Nigel Williams-Goss in free agency. Their only first round draft pick came in the form of New Balance intern and high school sensation Darius Bazley, whom they shipped to Oklahoma City, and Hofstra’s Justin Wright-Foreman in the second round. With a roster currently sitting at 22 bodies, training camp ought to be awfully competitive.

Title Hopes: With the acquisition of Conley, my outlook for the Jazz – which obviously is dependent upon them being injury-free – is that the Jazz are top three and my personal dark horse pick for a shot at the NBA Finals. Realistically, I think the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, and Portland Trailblazers might have something to say about that, so maybe don’t go fitting Snyder and the Miller family for championship rings just yet – maybe 2021. Still, I think the Jazz have the capability to finish with 55-58 wins as constructed. It’ll certainly be a lot of fun to watch, and if there’s no other motivation, go out there and do it for Jerry Sloan. After the Deron Williams debacle and his failing health, the man deserves to see a great run like the ones he, Stockton, and Malone used to put together.

The Tragic Flaw: The fact is, the Jazz should have been progressing in 2018-19, but instead regressed a tad too much. I believe the expectation put on Mitchell was too much on Mitchell, and not enough on the shoulders of the rest of the team, like Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors, and especially Ricky Rubio. I mean, you’re not an elite guard – even a good guard – when Joe Ingles is dishing out more assists night in and night out. With Conley, the pressure is off Mitchell to be the playmaker; hopefully he can go back to being the scorer without all the pressure and just ease into helping the Jazz make their move.

Tracy Graven is a Senior NBA Analyst for BackSportsPage.com and has covered the NBA for 17 years.

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