There’s been a lot on my mind over the last couple weeks as I put the 2014-15 season in the rearview mirror. I wanted to share some of what I was thinking about the season that was, and what’s ahead, with all of you.
I want to start by thanking our amazing fans. I’m proud to say that I play for the Utah Jazz. We have the best fans in the league. As a collective group, all of us really appreciated everything you did for us this year and the support you brought to ESA every night — even early in the season, when we were struggling and went through that nine-game losing streak. That’s when the support meant the most. It seemed like, even then, the games were sellouts almost every time we played at home. I’m really glad that you stuck with us, and by the end of the season, we could tell that you were as excited and ready for the future as we are.
As the leader of the team, I think I speak for everyone when I say that we can’t wait to get back on the court next season. I hope that you are ready for us to take another huge stride next year.
This is a franchise that has historically been successful and in the playoffs every year. We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs in my five seasons in the NBA. We’ve kind of stumbled a little bit and taken some steps back. But the support has never wavered, and it makes me really grateful that I play in a place like Utah.
Since I was drafted, I’ve tried to get better as a player each and every year. For you to kind of wait on me to grow and become the player that I am right now, and to see the guy that I could be — I really appreciate that.
I could see it in the responses I got on social media after the loss to Memphis, in what ended up being my last game of the year. I missed a free throw at the end of regulation that would have tied it, and I felt horrible. I posted to social media that the loss was on me. The responses came pouring in, and the majority of them were overwhelmingly supportive. That really hit home for me.
It’s something a lot of people disregard. A lot of people believe fans don’t really make a difference in how a player performs, but I would argue against that. When fans have your back, it gives you confidence, and it was good to see that come from a tough moment in the season. I appreciate that you have continued to stick with me and the Jazz through thick and thin.
You’ve always had my back, and I thank you for that.
THE SEASON THAT WAS
Even though we didn’t make the playoffs, I think this season was a successful one for us. More than anything, it was about growth, it was about learning and it was about experiences.
We definitely experienced a lot of things. We had buzzer-beating game-winners. We lost at the buzzer. We blew out teams by 30. We got blown out by 20-plus points. We saw everything.
We were also involved in the most games decided by five points or less. Those are the experiences that are going to help us the most in the future. Those are environments and opportunities that you can’t create in practice and you can’t teach. The only way to learn how you’re going to respond when you’re in a close game is by being in a close game, and we were in plenty of them.
By the end of the year, we were playing extremely well collectively, and we were going into most games expecting to win. That’s different from my previous seasons here. Even with games that were difficult matchups, we understood that if we played our best basketball, we’d give ourselves a chance at a W.
I can say without a doubt that the thing that allowed us to have as much success as we did down the stretch was our defense.
There were a bunch of games, even in the second half, where we struggled to score. That comes with the territory. We’re a young team, and we’re still not as good at executing against half court defenses as those other veteran teams. That’s a product of youth and inexperience. Because we don’t necessarily know how to attack a defense, we’re inconsistent, and that’s something we’re going to have to work on a bunch heading into next season.
But despite what was going on with our offense, we knew that as long as we stayed true to who we were defensively, we always gave ourselves a chance at the end of the game. That’s the reason why we were successful.
It’s fun to be at a place like that, especially for me, being the competitor that I am. I hate losing so much. So to be able to go into every single game expecting that if we play our best, we should win and we’re going to win, that was a good feeling.
Honestly, one of the most important elements was just seeing ourselves do it. Right before the All-Star break is when I can really remember our confidence taking a turn. We played Chicago at their place in January, and just rolled them. That was a big turning point for us as a team. We went out and didn’t just beat one of the best teams in the league, we destroyed them. It showed us we could do it.
By the end of the year we had this swagger about us we didn’t have in the beginning. It’s part of that feeling of expecting to win, and it became a habit.
We finished the year 19-10 after the All-Star break, and there were three or four games that we should have won that we didn’t because we had some guys out injured. So we could have easily finished with one of the best records in the league after the All-Star break.
We were playing so well after the break that, to a man, I think the guys in our locker room would say they didn’t want the season to end when it did. That’s rare in the NBA. It’s a long season. We play 82 games, and ours was technically a losing season. Most guys would be anxious to get out of there. But the fact that we weren’t, that we wanted to keep playing, just says a lot about how we felt about the way we were playing late in the year. It’s also just the mentality of the guys on our squad, that we wanted to keep playing. I think that’s a good sign for the future. There are good things to come for the Utah Jazz.