Utah Jazz: An empty feeling settles in Jazzland with early exit, uncertain future
SALT LAKE CITY — Around the NBA, 16 teams began preparing for the playoffs Thursday.
Meanwhile in Utah, 14 players cleaned out lockers, exchanged jokes and farewells with teammates, ate a traditional Crown Burger lunch and conducted end-of-season interviews both with media and Jazz brass.
"It's a tough day," longtime Jazz power forward Paul Millsap admitted.
For a franchise that prides itself on being a playoff regular, it should be.
For only the fifth time in the past three decades, the Jazz ended their season without making a playoff appearance.
In a powerful yet unintended symbol of the postseason void in Jazzland, even the hardwood court named after Larry H. Miller and both basketball standards had been removed from EnergySolutions Arena's surface for a rock concert.
It's an empty feeling for everybody involved with the Jazz.
"It's disappointing we didn't make the playoffs," Utah swingman Gordon Hayward said. "Obviously, that was the goal."
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin described Utah's elimination, finalized with an 86-70 no-show in Memphis on Wednesday, as being "a little premature." It's the second early exit in the past three seasons since the organization saw the departures of Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams.
"We wanted to continue to still be playing and preparing to be ready for a playoff game today," Corbin said. "But that's not where we are."
The Jazz finished with a winning record of 43-39, but that was two games behind the 45-37 mark that earned the Lakers the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Instead of a playoff reward, the Jazz received the NBA's boobie prize — extra vacation time and a spot in the upcoming draft's lottery.
General manager Dennis Lindsey admitted that is a "very" disappointing outcome.
"The standards here are that we've been a perennial playoff team," Lindsey said at the end of his first season as Utah's GM. "Even though we've had a winning record we fell short of one of our goals — namely of being in the playoffs."
Lindsey understands that his team's passionate fanbase is frustrated, and he believes it should be. This is an organization that aims to be a perennial championship-contending squad, not just one that has to rally at year's end to fight for No. 8 seed postseason scraps — let alone a lottery team.
"I expect the fans to be very disappointed," he said, "and let us know and hold us accountable and make us all work a little bit harder."
At the same time, Lindsey made it clear that disgruntled fans' #FireTy Twitter campaign — or similar messages elsewhere — isn't catching on in the front office.
While upset about an inconsistent season, which bottomed out during a 3-12 stretch last month, Utah's management remains in Corbin's corner.
Not making the playoffs isn't an acceptable long-term trend. The Jazz have no intentions of becoming Charlotte or Sacramento. But Utah brass recognizes that some peculiarities this season added to the degree of difficulty of Corbin's job — from the large amount of free agents, to Mo Williams' 32-game absence with thumb injury to the tricky balancing act of playing established veterans while developing promising young players.
"Ty's our coach and has the Miller family's full support," Lindsey said, convincingly.
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