For Utah Jazz veterans, rebuilding means uncertainty

Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley is about to start his 16th season in the NBA. He will be 35 by the 2022-23 season. He’s at a point in his career where he has to start thinking about the most important things.

As the offseason rolled around—first with Quin Snyder stepping down, followed by jazz trading Royce O’Neale and Rudy Gobert—Conley thought the jazz might be retooled around Donovan Mitchell. That these two processes may have been the beginning and end of serious turmoil.

But then when the Jazz replaced Mitchell with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Conley was well aware he might be next.

“It was a rollercoaster, and a lot is unknown,” Conley said. “She didn’t know who was going to stay and who was going. When Rudy and Royce traded and I thought maybe it was. And then as soon as Don traded, the flood gates kind of opened and now we’re all up in the air and we don’t really know what was going on.”

Conley had to start having some difficult conversations with his wife, Mary. They’ve built a life in Utah, their kids are in school here and it wouldn’t be easy to uproot things.

In the end, they decided that if Conley traded, Mary and their three sons would remain in Utah, at least initially.

“If I was 20 and didn’t have a family and was traded, it wouldn’t matter, I would go on my own,” Conley said. “But my kids are in school and they have friends and there are neighbors and people who really care about them and having them pick them up and move around wouldn’t be ideal. So whether I go or not, they will be here all year long.”

Once these decisions are made, the next mental hurdle comes. Does Conley want to be part of the rebuilding team?

The NBA title has so far eluded Conley and in the current Utah Jazz team, the championship is not on the table. Conley is at the end of his NBA career and he has talked in the past about making the most of opportunity windows in this league because they are few and far between.

So would Conley prefer being traded to a team that has a chance of being competitive, even if it means wasting valuable time with his family? Is it worth uprooting for trying to hunt for a title late in his career?

“That’s the battle,” Conley said. “I want to win. I signed up here to compete and have a chance to win a championship. But for my career, do I want to sacrifice my family, or uproot them by their roots? I really weigh this weight.”

Conley explained that while wearing his jazz outfit, he’d go all out in helping young players grow and be the kind of player and person the jazz team needs. But, he said, he wants to win, so he does not close the door to the possibility of going elsewhere.

The same can be said for Jordan Clarkson, Rudy Jay, and anyone else who could end up on this jazz list. These are highly competitive athletes who want to play basketball and want to win.

Guy was furious about being on the bench last season and entering this season in good health and hoping he can make a fresh start. But again, that start will come for a team that will suffer more losses than wins.

“At 17, I still have something to prove now,” Jay said.

But there’s also the uncertainty that some of these players haven’t had to deal with. They don’t know if they’ll be on this list after the trade deadline, nor do they know if they’ll become part of the rotation or if Jazz’s coaching staff will prioritize developing younger players over getting reps of veteran players. They don’t know what’s around the corner.

This leaves them in a place where they not only feel weak and on shaky ground but also have to evaluate what they want out of their career.

At least for now, there’s not much they can do but trust the things that got them to this point and make the most of whatever situation they end up with.

“This is very new, but it’s just something I can say I’ve been through and something I can help someone else with in the future,” Jay said. “I don’t know how everything will turn out but I can control myself, how I go to camp and whether I’m ready or not, and I can also control what I say to these guys.”

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