Utah Jazz: An empty feeling settles in Jazzland with early exit, uncertain future
To a man, the Jazz's key players from this season expressed their appreciation for the organization and a desire to return if that works out best for both parties.
"The ball is in their court," Mo Williams said. "I think it's more so what direction they want to go."
"It's a great situation to be in if you're the Utah Jazz or you're a fan," said Jefferson, who has been with the Jazz since being traded from Minnesota in 2010. "They've got a chance to make some big moves, some big moves. I think true fans would love that — to see how their team could be rebuilt."
His feelings about his home for the past three years?
"I love the city of Utah," he said, evoking laughs and memories of Karl Malone's similar statement after The Mailman was drafted by the Jazz in 1985. "It's a great city."
Big Al laughed when Jazz PR director Jonathan Rinehart whispered "Salt Lake."
"I love the city of Salt Lake. It's a great place," he said, smiling. "I love to stay out of trouble, focus on your game, the fans, the people here, everybody here. It's like a big, happy family. I love it."
The tightness of this Jazz squad — despite its many struggles and weaknesses — made it even tougher for teammates to say goodbye so early in spring.
Even with the bitterness of not completing a goal, the Jazz felt good about winning nine of 11 games near the end of the season to fight back into the playoff hunt.
"It just would have been so easy to fold up and give up on the season. We didn't. We fought all the way to the end, all the way to the last game of the season," Jefferson said. "Even though we didn't make the playoffs, I don't think anybody here should have a reason to put their head down because we did our best — from the coaching staff all the way to the trainers."
Their coach — for now — agreed wholeheartedly.
"I can't say enough about this group of guys. I appreciate them staying focused on the race at the end and staying in there until the very last game," Corbin said. "When things weren't going well for us in that stretch, they continued to stay together and showed a lot of high character in working their way back into it and having a chance to get in at the end."
Who knows how many of them will reassemble again next fall to try to return to a more familiar and less-empty-feeling postseason spot.
"The NBA's a business. It's weird thing to think how many free agents we have," Hayward said. "The team can just change dramatically. That's why you try to enjoy all the moments with this group of guys this season. A lot I've been with for three years. You never know what's going to happen."
They do know one thing that won't happen in this arena for at least six more months.
Meaningful basketball games.
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