It has been an uproarious, and at times, emotional decade of Jazz basketball.
From the lows of Jerry Sloan’s sudden retirement and Gordon Hayward’s shocking departure to the elation that came with the arrival and development of Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. From the demise of the Deron Williams/Carlos Boozer era and eventual tear-down of the roster to the arrival of Quin Snyder and Jazz’s most recent three-year run of playoff appearances.
And everything in between.
With the ’10s coming to an end, The Salt Lake Tribune figured now would be a great time to wrap it all up. Here’s the decade in Jazz basketball:
Best five players
1. Rudy Gobert
Gobert is the Salt Lake Tribune’s Player of the Decade. After being drafted in 2013, Gobert emerged so quickly and effectively in his second season that he forced a trade of former No. 3 overall pick Enes Kanter. In five of the last six seasons, he’s led the team in Win Shares, and has crafted the team’s identity as the best defensive team of the last half-decade out of thin air. While he’s yet to make an All-Star appearance, the two Defensive Player of the Year awards and two All-NBA center nods show that, by the end of the season, the league finds its way to appreciate Gobert’s impact.
Rudy’s thoughts on the decade
“Every season was so different. I really liked my second year, when I started to play, and we really had a good group. We didn’t make the playoffs, but we started to have fun on the court and I think it was great. My fourth year, the first time we made the playoffs, was a good year. I really felt like we started to be dominant. Every year was great. Maybe just my third year wasn’t great, I had an injury, and didn’t make the playoffs.”
“Obviously, when we beat OKC, Game 6. Nobody expected us to beat them, and we did.”
Favorite individual performance:
“Maybe my career high, my 35-point game against the Knicks at home. National TV, and it was a close game too. We kept fighting. That’s one that comes to mind.”
On what he’s learned during the decade:
“It’s a process. You don’t want to enjoy the bad moments, but you have to see the bigger picture and understand that there are some ups and downs, and it’s a long season. Always keep going forward, and if you do that, and work the right way, good things will happen.”
2. Gordon Hayward
There have been just two Jazzmen named as All-Stars in this decade: Deron Williams and Gordon Hayward. While Williams only played for about 14 months in a Jazz uniform this decade, Hayward, who was drafted in 2010, saw the ups and the downs of the franchise and his own development culminate in his 2016-17 All-Star season, leading the Jazz to a playoff series win against the L.A. Clippers. His departure in free agency in 2017 seemed a massive blow at the time.
3. Derrick Favors
Derrick Favors also saw it all; only Hayward played more minutes in the decade than Favors. Included as the key piece of the Deron Williams trade, Favors grew from a 19-year-old teenager to a father with three children in a Jazz uniform. At first, Favors was the third big, a defensive option behind Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, but grew into a long-term starter after those two left in free agency. While he was traded in the offseason of 2019 to the New Orleans Pelicans, the two sides still have fondness for one another, and a reunion could be in the cards in the years to come.
4. Donovan Mitchell
Donovan Mitchell came into the Jazz’s summer league camp in 2017, fresh after being selected in the first round of the draft, and set the Jazz’s world ablaze. He dominated summer league games, and outplayed short-term starter Rodney Hood at the shooting guard position from the get-go. By November of his rookie season, Mitchell was the Jazz’s undoubted No. 1 offensive option. He’s the first guard to average at least 20 points per game in his first three seasons since Allen Iverson.
5. Paul Millsap
The heights were higher for Deron Williams, but Paul Millsap played nearly three times the minutes as Williams did in the 2010s in a Jazz uniform. Millsap, a second-round pick who worked his way up the rotation, was the Jazz’s best player in their first post-Sloan trip to the playoffs in the 2011-12 season. The Jazz let him go in free agency after 2012-13, though, which proved to be a mistake: he made the Eastern Conference All-Star team in the next four seasons for the Atlanta Hawks.
Worst five players
1. John Lucas III
John Lucas III was bad enough in a Jazz uniform to become a meme. As part of the rotating group of 2013-14 point guards that was by far the worst position group of the decade, John Lucas III stood out. Neither a shoot-first nor a pass-first point guard, his 32% shooting from the field and 2.6 assists per 36 minutes are truly remarkable numbers for a player who played in 42 games and started six of them.
2. Brandon Rush
Acquired as a potentially promising piece in the Warriors’ salary dump trade in 2013, Rush could not have been a worse presence. True, he was coming off an ACL tear, which potentially excused his below-replacement-level play. But it didn’t excuse his poor locker room attitude, in which Rush made clear he didn’t want to be in Utah from nearly the second he stepped in the door.
3. Andris Biedrins
Andris Biedrins was at one point a useful center in the late 00s, but had declined badly by the time he was included in the Warriors’ salary dump. His biggest issue was a horrific case of free-throw yips that caused him to shoot just 16% from the free-throw line one season. He was awful in only six Jazz games, but the Jazz kept him on board nearly all season. In fact, in those six games, Ty Corbin played him over first-round pick Rudy Gobert.
4. Tibor Pleiss
Acquired as part of the Enes Kanter deal, Tibor Pleiss was a 7-foot-3 center with theoretical 3-point shooting ability. The Jazz gave him a 3-year, $9 million deal after acquiring him in the trade, but Pleiss proved to be far too slow to defend on an NBA court. Worse, when the team needed to salary dump him in 2016, they had to use two second-round picks in order to do so.
5. Diante Garrett
Lucas and Jamaal Tinsley struggled enough in 2013-14 that Diante Garrett was called up from the D-League to play over 1000 minutes in the NBA. That he was actually the best option at times was remarkable, given his resume. After his one season playing major minutes in a Jazz uniform, he never played another minute in the NBA.
The season with the highest win total (51) of the decade, and the Jazz’s only division title, the 2016-17 season felt like a culmination of a years-long rebuilding process. Gordon Hayward had developed year-by-year into an All-Star, and Rudy Gobert was the difference-maker down low. The first-round win in seven games against a formidable Clippers team with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan felt like a franchise turning point — but Hayward’s departure in the offseason meant a Jazz setback, though one that was smaller than expected.
The only season with a win total in the 20s, the 2013-14 season was ugly. There was a rotating cast of bad point guards, a coach in the final year of his contract that, at times, chased wins over development, and some iffy play from young players of whom too much was asked. After Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson were allowed to leave in free agency, this always felt like a tanking year, but the reward didn’t turn out to be worth much, either: the Jazz selected Dante Exum No. 5 in the ensuing NBA Draft.
Best five moves
1. Rudy Gobert for No. 46 (Erick Green) and cash
Getting the team’s player of the decade in exchange for the second round pick and some cash is a pretty fine piece of business pulled off by Dennis Lindsey and company. Willing to take a risk — albeit not an expensive one — on a big man who had disappointed at the NBA combine, Gobert’s unique length and ability to move turned out to be a massive success, beginning in his second year under newly-hired Quin Snyder.
2. Donovan Mitchell for Trey Lyles and No. 24 (Tyler Lydon)
That wasn’t the only time the Jazz would fleece the Nuggets in a draft day deal. The Jazz loved Donovan Mitchell, but couldn’t find a way to move up in the draft to get him. That is, until the Nuggets called and offered the No. 13 pick in exchange for No. 24 and a player they liked in Lyles. Coming off a poor season, the Jazz were happy to move Lyles to move up to get their man. Meanwhile, both Lyles and Lydon struggled to contribute in Denver: Lyles moved on in free agency, while Lydon had his option years declined and is now out of the NBA.
3. Picking Joe Ingles up on waivers
Joe Ingles had just lost a roster battle on the last day of training camp in L.A. with the Clippers. Figured to be headed home to Australia, Ingles got a last second call that the Jazz had claimed him off of waivers. Quin Snyder developed the team’s 15th man that cost the team no assets into a valuable starter, the NBA’s consecutive games active leader, and the decade’s 5th-best player in terms of Win Shares added to the team.
4. Trading Deron Williams
It turned out to be the perfect time to trade Deron Williams. When Williams privately told the Jazz front office that he planned not to resign with the team after his contract was up, Kevin O’Connor went into dealmaking mode. While the trade shocked the league, getting two good players — Derrick Favors and Devin Harris — and two first-round picks proved to be a good move for the Jazz. Williams played two good seasons with the Nets, but injuries made his $98 million new contract with the team an albatross. The Nets, after utilizing the stretch provision to cut him, still have $5.4 million of Williams’ salary on their books in the 2019-20 season.
5. Signing Royce O’Neale
Royce O’Neale was nearly a complete unknown from an NBA point of view when the Jazz signed him in the summer of 2017. He wasn’t drafted after a 4-year collegiate career at Denver and Baylor, because he didn’t really stand out. So he went overseas, and was playing less than 20 minutes per game for an average ACB side, Gran Canaria, where O’Neale averaged 8.2 PPG. There were probably 50 overseas players that were on NBA radars more than O’Neale. But Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey signed him to a guaranteed contract, O’Neale beat out local Joel Bolomboy for the Jazz’s 15th-roster spot, and now, he’s moved his way into the Jazz’s starting lineup.
Worst five moves
1. Draft mistakes
Every GM wishes they could have a few picks back. It’s no exception for the Jazz’s 2010s GMs, though it’s interesting to compare hindsight now to foresight when the picks were made. Everyone loved the Jazz moving up to take Trey Burke in 2013, but it was a gigantic error: they should have taken C.J. McCollum or Giannis Antetokounmpo instead. In 2012, the Alec Burks pick was well-received — not many were clamoring for Kawhi Leonard, who went three picks later. Dante Exum seemed like a good pick at the time in 2014. But the Trey Lyles selection in 2015 always raised eyebrows — fans wanted Devin Booker. And while it’s turned out to be a poor draft, Grayson Allen’s selection in 2018 didn’t seem like the right move then or now.
2. Not giving Hayward the contract he wanted
It’s an understandable mistake, but a costly one. In 2014, Gordon Hayward was coming off a season where he had led the Jazz in scoring, but not terribly efficiently — he only shot 30% from 3, for example. So the Jazz chose not to give Hayward the 4-year maximum contract agent Mark Bartelstein wanted, instead telling him to seek offers in free agency. He got a maximum one from the Charlotte Hornets that the Jazz matched, but this one had an opt-out provision after year three. He’d use it three years later, and then leave the Jazz for the Boston Celtics in 2017. That one year would have seen Hayward and Donovan Mitchell play together, and maybe tilted the decision in another direction.
3. Not matching Wesley Matthews
Coming off an impactful performance in the 2010 playoffs as an undrafted rookie — Matthews played 37 minutes per game in those playoffs — he earned a 5-year, $34 million offer sheet from the Portland Trail Blazers. Spooked by that amount of money for a player they had just found, the Jazz let Matthews go. Matthews, though, made himself known as one of the league’s best role players for the entirety of the contract, and still is a difference-maker in Milwaukee a decade later.
4. No. 30 (Josh Hart) and No. 42 (Thomas Bryant) for Tony Bradley
Tony Bradley was a promising young center with NBA rebounding ability, but the Jazz were worried the San Antonio Spurs were going to take him with the No. 29 selection. So they used their second-round pick in 2017 to leapfrog the Spurs to get their man. One problem: Bradley still has yet to pan out. Josh Hart has turned out to be a useful wing player, while Thomas Bryant has become an efficient scoring big man in Washington. The Spurs took Derrick White with the No. 29 spot, and White ended up playing for Team USA in the FIBA World Cup this year. Bradley’s only 21, but will need to improve mightily to reach the heights of the other three.
5. Letting Paul Millsap go
It was clear that new GM Dennis Lindsey wanted to get off the Jazz’s treadmill of mediocrity in 2013, when he traded the Jazz’s free-agency cap space for two first-round picks from the Warriors. That was probably a good decision. But the 2-year, $18 million contract that Paul Millsap ended up signing with the Hawks was a steal, and Millsap — who was named to four All-Star games in the next four years after leaving Utah — turned out to be much more valuable than the picks the Jazz got in the deal.
Best five moments:
1. Jazz win Game 6 against OKC — April 27, 2018
As the Jazz dribbled out the clock in a first-round win against the Thunder, they signaled that a new era of Jazz basketball had begun. A rookie — Donovan Mitchell — had carried the Jazz to a first-round series win, earning a big hug from head coach Quin Snyder. Rudy Gobert and Joe Ingles pranced about, hyped about what they had accomplished. They ran into a formidable Rockets team in the next round and lost in five, showing how much more work they had to do, but this was perhaps the moment in the decade when Jazz happiness was at its most pure.
2. Joe Johnson’s Game 1 buzzer beater vs. LAC — April 14, 2017
Star Rudy Gobert injured his knee on the first play of the game, setting the stage for a hard-fought opening contest of the 2017 playoffs. But silky-smooth veteran Joe Johnson took over the contest. After the game was tied via a Chris Paul layup, Johnson casually took the ball 94 feet without a timeout, switched on to Jamal Crawford, and cooked him for the playoff buzzer-beating game winner.
3. Sundiata Gaines’ incredible buzzer beater — Jan 14, 2010
Deron Williams was hurt. Backup Ronnie Price needed a breather. So Jerry Sloan inserted 10-day contract signee Sundiata Gaines into the lineup in the fourth quarter of a nationally-televised matchup against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Gaines balled out, scoring nine points in his emergency stint, leading a Jazz comeback. But the biggest moment came late, when Gaines received the ball with just a second to go with the Jazz down two, and hit a fadeaway three as the buzzer expired. It was pandemonium in Salt Lake City, a movie scene come to life.
4. Miracle in Miami — Nov. 9, 2010
The Jazz, down 19 at halftime on the road against LeBron James’ Heat, looked done and dusted. They especially looked dead with an 8-point deficit with just 30 seconds left to go. Paul Millsap disagreed. Millsap hit three consecutive 3-point shots as the clock wound down and the Jazz played the foul game — he had made just two threes in his entire career to that point. The Heat victory still loomed until Millsap scored a putback at the buzzer of regulation, sending the game to an overtime the Jazz would win. Millsap’s 11 points in 29 seconds remains one of the most impressive scoring bursts by a player in NBA history.
5. Donovan Mitchell’s statement game — December 1, 2017
The Jazz needed a comeback. Down six in the fourth quarter to the New Orleans Pelicans, Donovan Mitchell took over, scoring 41 points in only his 23rd NBA game to lead the Jazz to a victory. Mitchell’s run featured dunks, 3-point shots, and his signature layup finishes that made it clear: this rookie had arrived.
Worst five moments:
1. Jerry Sloan’s sudden retirement – February 10, 2011
After getting into a heated exchange with star point guard Deron Williams at halftime in an important game against the Chicago Bulls, Sloan decided that he had had enough of coaching in the NBA. In a press conference the next day, Sloan — and longtime assistant Phil Johnson — announced their immediate resignation from coaching the franchise, beginning in 1988. Many fans had never known any other coach.
2. Gordon Hayward’s free-agency departure — July 4, 2017
Would the Jazz be able to keep their free-agent starter, after building him from a role player into an NBA All-Star over the course of seven seasons? Hayward’s free agency tour, choosing between Miami, Boston, and Utah, culminated in a meeting between Jazz staff and Hayward at his California home on July. There, Jazz owner Gail Miller asked Hayward if he would stay, and Hayward declined to answer. The next day, Hayward announced he was signing with the Celtics, a big blow for the franchise.
3. Mehmet Okur’s Achilles tear — April 17, 2010
It was Game 1 against the Denver Nuggets in a first-round playoff series, and starting center Mehmet Okur was playing well, hitting his first two shots of the game. But as he drove to the basket, his Achilles tendon gave out, forcing him off the court for the rest of the season and most of the next. The Jazz went on to lose Game 1, and while they won the series against the Nuggets, Okur — a fan favorite thanks to his 3-point shooting ability — never was the same again.
4. Game 5 OKC collapse — April 25, 2017
The Jazz were rolling. With a 71-46 lead with eight minutes to go in the third quarter, on their way to clinching a series victory, the Jazz couldn’t keep their lead. Led by Russell Westbrook’s sheer verve, the Thunder turned the deficit to a tie by the end of the third quarter, and a stunned Jazz team had no chance in the fourth quarter. It looked like a potentially devastating collapse at the time, but the Jazz were able to play well enough in Game 6 at home to clinch the series win.
5. Game 3 Houston runaway victory — May 4, 2018
The Jazz were coming off a scintillating Game 2 win in Houston that evened the series at 1 apiece, giving the Jazz home court advantage for the rest of the second round. With an excited crowd at Vivint Arena ready to explode, the Rockets came out and just dominated the Jazz in Game 3 from the get-go. By the time the dust settled at halftime, the Rockets led the game 70-40, and had made clear that they were the better team of the two.