Hope. For the first time in a long time, Jazz fans can finally see a light at the end of the tunnel. We’re a tortured fan-base and, admittedly, we love to remind you of that. The Flu Game? Yeah, that was us on the receiving end; just in case you haven’t already been reminded of that fact for the better part of the last two decades. We’ve been the NBA’s semi-lovable losers for a long time and, for the most part, it seems like the whole fan base has comfortable settled into that role. Sure, we had a blip on the radar with the Deron Williams-led Jazz (and what a blip that was, when Deron Williams had a legitimate claim to being the best PG in the league and the Jazz were actually finally becoming a contender again), but most Jazz fans don’t look back upon that era too fondly because of the way it ended, with Jerry Sloan – our legendary figurehead – being the biggest casualty of the nasty fallout.
As you can imagine, we’ve been short on hope for a long time, as a result of our many misfortunes. Sure, we probably feed the hopelessness ourselves, but there just hasn’t been much to look forward to. We’ve been waiting for one last piece to the team for what seems like, well, forever. Jazz fans just haven’t had anything to cling on to – except for Gordon Hayward, who may very well be the league’s most overlooked star (no, seriously, the dude is like LeBron James-lite – he does it all). For the most part though, we’ve just watched the losses pile up in the stat column for the last few years.
Here’s the thing, though: The Jazz are actually kinda… just… good again. And I don’t mean good in the sense that they’re not smack-dab in the middle of a rebuild for the first time in a while. No, this team is actually well on its way to being a contender. Don’t believe me? Just look back to this last Tuesday’s performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers. We didn’t just play a tough game against the reigning champions, we neutralized two of the big three and managed to walk away with a comfortable win. For the first time since the Deron Williams era, Jazz fans have hope again. Not false hope, but a real and tangible hope that the team can make some noise in the playoffs.
Now, I’m not saying that the Utah Jazz are going to win the NBA Championship this year. Come on, I’m not delusional. I’m a lifelong Jazz fan, but even I can see that this team isn’t destined for a ring this year. I certainly don’t know where the team will end up in a few years, either but I know what I expect from their early performances: a threat in the West, that can stay on the floor with any team – and I really like that notion. There isn’t a team in the NBA that the Jazz can’t hang with. They’re too long on defense and too good at stopping shots at the rim. In a league that has consistently trended toward small ball line-ups, the Jazz have gotten bigger. They’ve gone against the grain completely and it’s worked. Instead of trying to be more like the 2015 Warriors, the Jazz are doing their best to look like the Detroit Pistons of a decade ago. Rudy Gobert is the best defensive center in the league and he’s flanked by his partner in the paint, Derrick Favors – who is a defensive stalwart in his own right. As the Uncle Drew commercial goes, “This game has always been and will always be about buckets,” and you’re going to have one hard time getting buckets against the Jazz. After all, Uncle Drew himself only managed to go five-of-eighteen from the field against the Jazz, good for a meager 27.8%.
I know the cynics will always expect stars to run from Utah and for the Jazz to always fall an inch short – and, truthfully, I can’t say anything that will dispel that notion. But I can honestly say that this team just feels different. Jazz fans have always been a loyal bunch and for the first time in a long time, they’re being rewarded with a special team out there on the floor. They have an identity and they’re getting results. This may not be their year, but they’re developing and slowly growing into a proper contender behind the strength of this rejuvenated core. It’s more than we’ve been able to ask for, for a long time.
Basically, there’s not a team in the NBA that looks forward to a game with the Jazz and that’s a great feeling for this fan base. If nothing else, it’s a start. It gives us some much needed hope, which was a feeling we’d almost forgotten altogether.