Editor’s Note: The modern era of the NBA is generally accepted to have begun with the 1979-80 season, the advent of the 3-point line in the NBA. The lists to follow—one for each of the NBA’s 30 teams—will only consider seasons since 1979-80. We continue the series today with the best of the Utah Jazz.
It took awhile for the Utah Jazz to gain traction, with the franchise slogging through five straight losing seasons in New Orleans and four more in Utah before finally breaking through for its first postseason berth.
Then it took two decades to get the Jazz out of the playoffs—a 20-year streak of postseason appearances that is the third-longest in NBA history, stretching from 1984-2003.
The Jazz were born in New Orleans as an expansion team and made a splash right away by trading for former LSU legend Pete Maravich.
But the trade gutted the franchise’s ability to add young talent moving forward, as the deal with the Atlanta Hawks cost two first-round picks, three second-round selections and a third-round choice over the next three years.
The Jazz had no permanent home, playing games at Loyola University Fieldhouse and the Louisiana Superdome, but had to go on the road for a month every season due to Mardi Gras commitments at the dome.
After five years in New Orleans, the team moved lock, stock and really mismatched nickname to Salt Lake City.
After four more years of missteps, the Jazz won the Midwest Division title in 1983-84, posting the first winning season in franchise history and advancing to the second round of the playoffs. Later in 1984, the Jazz had one of the watershed moments in franchise history when they drafted point guard John Stockton out of tiny Gonzaga—a choice that was booed by fans at Utah’s draft party.
They might have been wrong on that one.
In 1985, the team drafted Louisiana Tech forward Karl Malone in the first round and together Stockton and Malone became synonymous with two things—the Utah Jazz and the pick and roll.
The two future Hall of Famers would lead the Jazz to back-to-back NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998, falling short each time to the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls.
To date, those are the only two Finals appearances in franchise history.
In their 40 seasons, the Jazz have had only eight coaches, hiring their ninth in May in former Atlanta Hawks assistant Quin Snyder. Jerry Sloan was coach in Utah for more than half of the franchise’s history, parts of 23 seasons, compiling a record of 1,127-682. Frank Layden coached for parts of eight seasons immediately prior to Sloan, winning 277 games.
Similarly, the Jazz have been stable in the front office since coming to Utah. After burning through four GMs in five years in New Orleans, Layden was hired to run the operation in May 1979 and held the job until June 1987. Later, his son Scott Layden would oversee personnel decisions from June 1989 to August 1999.
Kevin O’Connor has been the GM in Utah since August 1999, the longest tenure in franchise history.
Utah has just five playoff appearances since their streak of 20 straight seasons ended in 2003 and in all they have 25 postseason berths in 40 seasons.
Hhere are the best players, by position, for the Utah Jazz in the modern era, beginning in 1979-80. Players had to have played 200 games for the franchise and averaged 25 minutes per game.