Was it just the Owner?

This post is exclusively for John. So, if your name isn’t John, you do not have to read it.

John: in response to your question about how much credit Ryan and Ashley Smith get for the success of the Jazz this past year, I wrote this for you and my opinion hasn’t changed.

To start, let’s look at some the notable stances, changes, and accomplishments Ryan and Ashley Smith’s first year of ownership of the Utah Jazz they have:

  • Embraced Black Lives Matter
  • Participated in the Utah Pride Celebrations
  • Provided a scholarship to an underprivileged student for every win
  • Added Dwayne Wade as minority owner
  • Secured the no. 1 overall NBA seeding
  • Played in the second round of the Western Conference Playoffs
  • Re-signed Rudy Gobert (now three time DPOY) and Jordan Clarkson (Sixth Man of the Year)

While the Jazz have shown improvement over last year (+8 wins, got passed first round in the playoffs) this is the same roster with the same coach. The Smith’s have surely provided a refreshed culture on the organization, but this isn’t as if this is a rags to riches story. Rudy would have likely been re-signed by any owner given his unique skillset. Clarkson, maybe not. But again, the core was already in place. No, they aren’t the media darling, but very few teams are.

Now for comparison sakes, let’s look at other recent examples of owners who have bought NBA team. I bring this up to illustrate that the Smith’s aren’t the first tech success to dive into the NBA ownership.

  1. Steve Balmer – The former CEO of Microsoft for 14 years purchased the Clippers in 2014.
    • Record in the year before purchase (2013-2014): 57-25; Lost W. Conference Semis
    • Record in the year of purchase: 56-26; Lost W. Conference Semis
    • He is the most annoying owner to watch on the sidelines, but he gives a damn and wants to win… he just bought the wrong franchise… history matters — LOL CLIPPERS
  2. Tilman Fertitta – Purchased the Rockets in 2017.
    • Record in the year before purchase (2016-2017): 55-27; Lost W. Conference Semis
    • Record in the year of purchase: 65-17; Lost W. Conference Semis
    • They tried to be innovative and made some serious moves, but couldn’t get it done. While regular season improved, the end result was the same.
  3. Joseph Tsai – The Co-Founder of Alibaba purchased the Nets in 2019.
    • Record in the year before purchase (2018-2019): 42-40; Lost E. Conference 1st Round
    • Record in the year of purchase: 35-37; Lost E. Conference 1st Round
    • Poised to make a serious wave this year, they saw a modest increase in performance
  4. Mark Cuban – Purchased the Mavericks in 2000.
    • Record in the year before purchase (1999-2000): 40-42; Didn’t make playoffs
    • Record in the year of purchase: 53-29; Lost W. Conference Semis
    • He won an NBA championship in 2011

What does this list tell us?

  • It is too early to tell. It took Cuban 10 years to win and he is one of the most liked owners in the league. He shares some of the same qualities that Smith has. However, he bought a team that wasn’t a playoff team. So maybe Smith get’s it done sooner? TBD
  • There wasn’t much difference in the year before the purchase to the year of the purchase. Three of the four teams on the list were already playoff teams.
  • The owner does matter, not arguing that, having a good owner is important… but having great players or one of the greatest helps a lot (looking at you Dan Gilbert you coward for roasting LeBron when he left… you are a baby.. but LBJ also ruined the league).

To summarize, the Smith’s bought an already good team. They were somewhat more healthy. Same coach. He has helped, but I am not sure he is suddenly the catalyst. Time will tell, John.

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