The Utah Jazz have not won a championship in their 42-year NBA history, but do they now have the building blocks to create a title contender?
It is 18 years since the last time Utah even made an NBA Finals appearance, during the franchise’s most successful period with John Stockton and Karl Malone.
Yet there should be newfound hope around the current Jazz squad that there are players who could soon return the Jazz to those heights once again.
A brief Jazz history
With their initial entrance into the NBA as an expansion franchise in 1974, the team was known as the New Orleans Jazz, before the franchise relocated to Utah just five years later.
Including the years in New Orleans, the Jazz suffered a miserable opening ten years in the NBA, which saw them blow the chance of having, what would turn out to be, a future hall of famer on the squad three times.
The LA Lakers drafted Magic Johnson with a pick they had acquired two years previously from the Jazz, before the franchise gave up the rights to Moses Malone and then traded their 1982 draft pick, Dominique Wilkins.
Stockton and Malone era
However, the Jazz more than made amends with their draft picks in the 1984 and 1985 seasons, where they took John Stockton and Karl Malone, respectively.
Utah did not know it at the time, but this partnership would go on to become one of the greatest in NBA history and provide continued success for the franchise during the late 1980’s and throughout the 90’s.
Stockton went on to end his career with the most assists and most steals in NBA history, both records which he still holds today, while Malone still sits second on the all-time NBA scoring list behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Yet even with all their continued success, the Jazz could never get over the hump, with a certain Michael Jordan preventing them from winning either of their two Finals appearances in 1997 and 1998.
Utah has fluctuated since 2003, which saw the end of the Stockton and Malone era, but they now look set to create a possible championship contender for upcoming years.
New hope in young squad
At this moment in time, the Jazz does not have a single player on their roster over the age of 28, something of a rarity amongst NBA teams, where experience is usually a valuable asset.
But under head coach Quin Snyder, the young Utah squad are learning to fend for themselves, and are doing so successfully.
Even though they have suffered injuries to key players, the Jazz sits only one and a half games behind the Houston Rockets, who occupy the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Two of their top four guards, Dante Exum and Alec Burks, have appeared in a combined 28 matches all season, while power forward Derrick Favors and center Rudy Gobert have also both missed time.
This illustrates the potential of some of the pieces in the Jazz squad that they can come through these difficulties and remain a playoff contender.
With shooting guard Rodney Hood and small forward Gordon Hayward alongside Favors and Gobert the Jazz have an impressive line-up, only lacking a point guard to complete the starting five.
Favors is an old school breed of power forward who alongside the ‘stifle tower’ of Gobert at center, provide a difficult matchup for any opposing four/five combos.
Hayward has the potential to become an elite scorer for the Jazz, as does Hood, if they can just find slightly more consistency in their three-point shots as combined, they already average over 34 points a game with neither yet close to shooting 40% from long range.
Utah hopes that Exum can fill their point guard void, although it may be difficult for him to do so after suffering an up and down rookie year before now having to come back from an ACL injury suffered while playing for Australia last summer, which ruled him out of the entire 2015-16 NBA season.
The pieces are certainly there for a successful next few seasons, although Utah may still be one superstar away from being a serious title contender.
But, if their current pieces can improve over the next few years, there is no reason for Jazz fans not to have renewed hope in a squad who could potentially bring a ring to Utah for the first time in their history.