Jeff joins Tyler over at the Pulse Network’s Sports Buzz for some morning after thoughts on the Jazz, their 2011 selections, and even some Jimmer. Take a look, and let us know how you feel about this year’s draft in the comments.
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I think we’ve all come to terms with the overall “meh” that is this 2011 NBA draft. It’s a two horse race, and the rest of the field is full of GM landmines. I mean, we have a Turkish player that hasn’t played a single competitive game in the last year being discussed as a top pick! Some of these players will certainly be good, but it’s hard to say ANY (besides maybe Irving) will be no-lose great. So, why wouldn’t the Utah Jazz use all their luck this year and get saddled with the number 3 pick? Your guess is as good as mine.
So, here we are… the Jazz have the 3 and 12 picks and need to make some magic happen. It’s a rebuild year, so they can’t afford not to have a successful draft… but it’s dicey at best. What do they do? Here’s my take on the two picks the morning after:
The 12: I don’t see a scenario where the Jazz don’t take Jimmer Fredette if he’s available. Right now, Chad Ford has Jimmer heading to the Suns at 13 (Sam Amick of SI has him going 22 to the Nuggets), but I think the Jazz grab him first. Here’s why:
- He’s a player and a winner. I know he played almost NO defense in college, but he was mandated to save energy for offense. The Jazz definitely need defense, but they desperately need someone that can create offense and shots off the dribble, and Jimmer can create. It’s rare, but Jimmer is the kind of player that is a threat as soon as he steps across the half court line.
- He is a goldmine. You thought Kyle Korver sold jerseys? All Kyle did was kinda look like a Mormon. I don’t think any of us have a barometer for what an actual Mormon kid can do in the Salt Lake market. He’s the Tim Tebow of the NBA draft, and whatever team picks him will sell a bajillion jerseys, put butts in chairs, and will whip the fan hypemachine into a lathered frenzy. All of which will be compounded if he goes to the Jazz. Don’t underestimate the importance of any of those three items to a small market team that is in the throes of rebuilding.
Is he a long term solution? Can he play in the NBA? Is he too slow for the 1, but too small for the 2? I don’t know. All I know is that the talent disparity between Jimmer and anyone else in this draft at a relative position to his is not great. If the Jazz do end up keeping the 12, I’m willing to take a flyer on a kid that is going to keep the franchise I love alive during rebuild years.
[Saying all of that, remember that the Pacers once had a similar situation. They made the hard choice and took a pass at the 11th pick on hometown hero Steve Alford (Yes... the same Alford that was mixed up in BYU trouble last year). Fans were LIVID that the franchise didn't pick the New Castle, Indiana native. In the end they got over it... since the Pacers ultimately passed over Alford for the Knick slayer himself: Reggie Miller. Yikes.]
The 3: This pick depends on one horrifying thing… David Kahn. The Minnesota Timberwolves notorious GM (who is STILL dealing with the sins of his past picks) may be the Jazz’ great hope, or great destroyer. Make no mistake, the Jazz want Derrick Williams. He’s a talented (near) can’t-miss type that shoots well, is NBA ready (well… as close as anyone in this draft), and can be a viable wing for the team. Williams would immediately address one of the team’s greatest needs, but unfortunately, every draft board I’ve looked at has him going at 2 to the Wolves. BUT, if there’s one GM that will either A) trade this pick, or B) screw this pick up, it’s David Kahn. Hooray! Here’s the good, bad and lucky of the 3 pick:
- The good: Chad Ford says “I’m already hearing from sources that Minnesota has told people it’s very open to moving the second pick. Kahn really wants to add some veteran help to the team.” Well, the Jazz have veterans, and need that 2 spot. My hope would be that the Jazz package a current vet, and maybe the 12 or 3 pick and jump to the 2 (Millsap?).
- The bad: Other, more desperate teams want that 2 pick. If the Jazz don’t end up landing it, they are the team on the outside looking in. The 3 pick will probably ultimately turn into Brandon Knight – a fine player, but not AMAZING, or Enes Kanter… the Turkish tough guy who hasn’t played a competitive basketball game in over a year (yep… your 2011 NBA draft, folks). I doubt the Jazz take Kanter, since they already have 5 guys that can play his position, and what are they going to do with minutes in that situation, but you never know. Kanter has more upside than nearly anyone else 3-10 in this draft.
- The lucky: If David Kahn chooses Enes Kanter at 2 and Derrick Williams falls into the Jazz’ lap… pretty sure that’s a guarantee.
As a basketball fan, you really can’t complain about moving up in the draft, but if you’re going to pick a draft to move up in, this was not the one to do it. It will be interesting to see if Kevin O’Connor can make some magic happen, and more than almost any other GM – he has incentive. The Jazz lost the AMAZING Williams and HOF Sloan on his watch. Well O’Connor, it’s your time to shine. Time to make us believers. Prove to Jazz fans that you made the right moves last year. Right now, the jury is out… and Kevin is on the clock. We’re all dreaming up.
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[Editor's Note: As the playoffs move forward, we continue to discuss the future of the Utah Jazz. Nick Smith joins Salt City Hoops to chat current players. Who stays, who goes, and how bright are their respective futures? Join us for part 2 of this 4 part series. - JL]
Devin Harris – 6’3 PG
Current Contract Situation. Harris is under contract next season with the Jazz for $9,319,000. His contract will then expire after the 2012/2013 season where he will collect $8.5 million.
Future with the Jazz. Devin Harris has been a player the Jazz have hoped to land since his days in Dallas. They like his quickness, good attitude, and pesky defense. Harris was an all-star in 2009, but since that time, the injury prone point guard’s game has regressed. It’ll be interesting to see if being back in a winning atmosphere can return Harris’ game to a high level. The Jazz were 7-10 with Harris in their lineup, which doesn’t sound like much, but overall it is much better than where they were without him. He also deserves credit for doing a good job of coming in and playing his game and not trying to do the impossible in replacing Deron Williams. Watch for an improved defensive game and a nice increase to his 5 APG career average. Although I see this Ludacris look-alike returning to the lineup next year (his contract is too affordable), he could potentially be a player the Jazz end up packaging alongside a draft pick to either move up in the draft or to acquire other assets.
Fransisco Elson – 7-0 C
Current Contract Situation. Fransisco Elson signed a one-year deal with the Jazz last off-season for the veteran’s minimum $1,146,337. He is now a free agent.
Future with the Jazz. This was likely the one and only season Elson will play for the Jazz. When healthy, Elson is a big man who runs the floor very well, brings toughness to the court, and can occasionally hit the outside jumper. If the Jazz enter next season needing to add another big man, fans shouldn’t be totally opposed to Elson grabbing that 12th roster spot. Elson has championship experience, and his good attitude and veteran leadership make him an affordable mentor for some of the Jazz’ younger players. Saying that, father time has taken his toll on Elson, and the 35 year-old has struggled to stay healthy. With the addition of Derrick Favors, and the possibility of one of the Jazz’ two draft picks being a big man, I see Elson as the odd man out for next year’s roster. It may just come down to Fesenko or Elson, and with the Sisco Kid’s age, I imagine the Jazz decide in favor of the Ukrainian.
Al Jefferson – 6’10 PF/C
Current Contract Situation. Al Jefferson has two more years left on his current deal. He will make $14,000,000 next year and $15,000,000 during the 2012/2013 season.
Future with the Jazz. Big Al’s first year with the Jazz was a tale of two halves. The first half of the season Jefferson struggled to be consistent and figure out the flex offense, while the second half of the season he was the 20 and 10 type player Jazz fans had hoped for. While the increase in productivity was great to see, there was a disconnect between the Jazz’ success and Big Al’s. At age 26, it’s fair to say that Jefferson’s best years are still ahead of him, but a major concern still exists, namely: can he be a star on a winning team? With a sample size of 7 seasons, Jefferson hasn’t been on a team with a winning record once. In fact, the only three month period in which he was on a winning team he struggled to play well. Unfortunately for Jefferson, statistics show that the amount of points he scores in games has a negative correlation with how much his team is winning. During his short time with the Jazz (and in his defense), roster changes and injuries were more to blame for the team losing than Big Al’s lack of effort, or leadership. He showed huge heart the second half of the year. He mentioned that he came to Utah for three reasons; to play for Coach Sloan, to play alongside Deron, and to finally be on a winning team. At the end of the season, Jefferson didn’t have any of those to hang his hat on. Instead, he was back on a losing team that decided to begin re-building midway through his first season. He had every right to be disappointed, but he continued to work hard to improve his game. Look for Jefferson to continue his improvement while he gets more comfortable in the Jazz’ system. Also, Derrick Favors’ length and athleticism should make Al’s job on defense much easier than playing alongside the undersized Millsap. As for his future, I don’t see the Jazz moving Jefferson. Hopefully his game will further adjust to fit what the Jazz need from their big man, and if the team can add some shooters, his job of scoring in the paint will be easier than it has been. With multiple draft picks and other uprising young players, there should be plenty of talent to help Al Jefferson buck his reputation of being the cause for bad teams.
Watch for article number three later this week as I take a close look at the decisions awaiting the next group of Jazz men; Earl Watson, Raja Bell, Ronnie Price, and Kyrylo Fesenko.
[Editor's Note: As the playoffs move forward, we continue to discuss the future of the Utah Jazz. Nick Smith joins Salt City Hoops to chat current players. Who stays, who goes, and how bright are their respective futures? Join us for part 1 of this 4 part series. - JL]
The 2010-2011 season is officially over for the Jazz, and now it’s time to shift our attention to the many important decisions that await the Jazz front office. General Manager Kevin O’Connor did not hesitate when admitting the upcoming draft is the most important in Jazz history, but the draft still months away! Let’s talk current players. My last article discussed the bright future of the Jazz considering their young talent and multiple draft picks, but what I failed to mention is financially healthy the Jazz are going forward. With Andrei Kirilenko’s enormous contract coming off the books, the Jazz have a significant amount of cap space. Off-season signings and trades will not happen until a new Collective Bargaining Agreement can be agreed upon between the league’s owners and players, but with the NBA as popular as it was this season, the looming lockout could be shorter than we think and personnel decisions for the Jazz are (optimistically) right around the corner. This series of articles will discuss each player’s current contract situation with the Jazz and what decisions to expect the Jazz to make. We’ll feature players in order of tenure with the Jazz, newest to oldest, while tiebreakers go to tenure in the league. This article features rookie Jazz men Jeremy Evans, Gordon Hayward, and Derrick Favors.
Jeremy Evans – 6’10 F
Current Contract Situation: Jeremy Evans is under contract next season for an extremely affordable $788,872. Although he’ll still be the lowest paid player on the Jazz, it’s a nice 67% increase in pay for the second year player.
Future with the Jazz: Evans is a freak athlete who jumps higher and faster than anyone else I’ve seen in the league. What’s perhaps most impressive about the young kid is he already has a sound understanding of how to use his athleticism to create scoring and rebounding opportunities. This understanding helped mask his severe weight problem (think the opposite direction of Oliver Miller) which will be instrumental in his developing into a real player. That’s’ a big if, but with the rookie pay scale for 2nd round draft picks awfully team friendly, I doubt the Jazz will pass on the opportunity to see what this kid can do with an entire off-season to prepare. For a cool $800k and for being the best friend to one of the Jazz’ future franchise players, expect to see the human pogo stick back in uniform next season.
Best case scenario: Shawn Marion, Thaddeus Young
Worst case scenario: Jared Jeffries
Likely scenario: Luc Richard Mbah A Moute
Gordon Hayward – 6’8 G/SF
Current Contract Situation. Hayward is under contract next season for $2,532,960, with team options of $2.7 million and $3.4 million for seasons 2012/2013 and 2013/2014, respectively.
Future with the Jazz. The Jazz’ group of untouchable players is very small. In fact, by my count it stops at two. Gordon Hayward’s strong all-around play at the end of last season made him one of them. During the last two weeks of the season, Hayward showed that he could be special in this league. He has surprising athletic tools, a great work ethic, and an unbelievable basketball IQ. As a 21 year old rookie, Gordon can shoot the three, defend dynamic perimeter players, and is an exceptional passer. Jazz fans hope to see an uptick in his consistency, and his ability to finish at the rim. The Jazz desperately need him to contribute every night as a legitimate driving threat. No question G-Time will be back with the Jazz next season, and hopefully many more to come.
Best case scenario: Brandon Roy-like (pre-knee surgeries)
Worst case scenario: Mike Dunleavy
Likely scenario: Don’t kill me for this, but… Wesley Matthews?
Derrick Favors – 6’10 PF
Current Contract Situation. Favors is under contract next season for $4,443,360 with team options of $4.75 million and $6.01 million for seasons 2012/2013 and 2013/2014, respectively.
Future with the Jazz. Remember that two-man list of untouchables? If begins at Hayward and ends at Derrick Favors. Favors is a young talent that also started playing especially well toward the end of the season. He showed great signs of development and got better every game he played. In Favors’ 22 appearances with the Jazz, he averaged 8.2 PPG, 5.3 RPG, and 1.2 BPG, all while only playing 20 MPG. If you were to adjust Favors’ stats for starters minutes, he would already be nearly averaging 16, 10 and 2! The most impressive aspect is that Derrick has yet to develop any real offensive moves. All of his production is coming from raw athletic ability and sound fundamentals. Once he couples his athleticism with some offensive prowess, the sky is the limit. Look for Favors to improve his defensive ability (without fouling), building a back-to-the-basket game, and an increase his FT%. I expect Favors to be the Jazz’ Most Improved Player for next season. As for the future, get used to seeing Derrick in a Jazz jersey.
Best case scenario: Amar’e Stoudemire
Worst case scenario: Stromile Swift
Likely scenario: Al Horford
Watch for article number two next week as we take a close look at the decisions awaiting the next group of rookie Jazz men Devin Harris, Al Jefferson, and Fransisco Elson.
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[Editor's Note: Guest writer Nick Smith joins Salt City Hoops to discuss the untimely departures of Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams. Is there any upside in what transpired last season?]
Last July the Jazz’ wild 2010-11 season unofficially began when Portland offered undrafted rookie Wes Matthews a massive contract. With the recent departure of Carlos Boozer, as well as the determination that the Jazz were not interested in retaining Kyle Korver, it was clear this season would bring some changes. Jazz General Manager Kevin O’Connor began working the phones to replace roster pieces they had lost in the offseason, and at the time, it seemed like he did a nice job filling major gaps with the additions of Al Jefferson, Raja Bell, and Gordon Hayward. After all, with Deron Williams’ contract in its final years, the Jazz had no time to waste in convincing him that Utah would be the place he could win a championship and where he should re-sign. But if the Jazz learned anything from the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors last summer, it’s that there is a fine line between striving to make your organization one that will be attractive for big-time players and becoming a hostage to free agency by allowing a star player dictate how you manage your operations.
The Jazz began the season living up to their high expectations. However despite the great start, many of the Jazz players expressed that the team was not as good as their record indicated; they were right. The Jazz subsequently became the first team in NBA history not to qualify for the postseason after beginning the year with a 27-13 record. The monumental meltdown began sometime in mid-December and continued into the new year as it felt the Jazz were dropping game after game. Frustrations in the locker room began surfacing as the season progressed and the team struggled to find consistency. Add the mid-season resignation of head coach Jerry Sloan and long-time assistant Phil Johnson and suddenly this team was in even deeper trouble. With Deron Williams taking much of the heat for Sloan’s departure, his soon-to-be legacy of being the player that drove beloved coach Sloan out of town seemed to make Deron’s free agency decision a no brainer. The Jazz were doomed; the clock was slowly ticking toward the end of Deron’s contract while the Utah-bound shadow of the Cleveland Cavaliers drifted slowly across the plains.
Two weeks after Sloan’s retirement lightning struck again. A SportsCenter-delivered message shocked Deron Williams and the rest of Utah when learning that he had been traded to the New Jersey Nets. What did all of this mean for a Jazz fan? I struggled to find the positives in trading away your franchise player for unproven pieces until just two days later the New Jersey Nets held a press conference that began sorting everything out. At the press conference Deron said something that made it perfectly clear how Jazz fans should feel about the trade. In response to a reporter’s question about Williams’ future with the Nets, Deron said; “I can’t really give any assurances, or say that I’ll be here — I don’t know what the future holds, I look forward to the possibility of it… It all depends on how the next year goes.” Wow! How do you feel hearing this if you are a fan of the New Jersey Nets? The reality is, on the day of the trade the Jazz organization released themselves from Free Agency purgatory and were proactive in beginning to plan for the future. They stole three years from the inevitable rebuilding process by acquiring assets and draft picks that takes years for suffering teams to earn.
Deron has since expressed that he will consider an extension with the Nets and many still argue that the Jazz should not have traded him and should have tried to convince him to stay, Toronto Raptors style. New Orleans’ point guard Chris Paul was not shy expressing his thoughts concerning Utah’s move. The day after the trade, Paul tweeted:
What’s interesting about this comment is how I’ve never felt better about the Deron trade as I did while watching the Utah vs. New Orleans matchup earlier this week. Although New Orleans is set to make the postseason, their playoff stint is expected to be brief and Paul’s departure from New Orleans will likely follow as his contract ends as Williams’ does after next season. And therein lies the irony; one of Utah’s largest critics of the trade comes from the voice (twitter account) of the next superstar waiting to bounce out of the Big Easy via free agency and leave his team with nothing. The trade was all about the future, and the future for the Jazz is promising. What’s the future like for the New Orleans Hornets? Only time will tell, but in my opinion, see Cleveland’s and Toronto’s.
I understand the season was frustrating. The team began the year with hopes to win the Western Conference, now they hope to win the lottery. Looking in the rearview mirror is hard on the eyes; the Jazz lost their best player, they lost as the Mailman would put it “ two head coaches”, and they had a losing record for just the second time in 28 seasons. But for a season that could go down as the worst mid-season collapse in NBA history, the future is somehow still bright for the Jazz. Nothing went as planned for them, and yet, I have no reason to doubt that the next 10 years will be better than the last 10 because of what happened this season. Kudos to Kevin O’Connor and the Jazz front office for being resilient and making the hard, yet right decision of trading Deron Williams and positioning this team for years to come. The drag of missing the playoffs is fortunately something Jazz fans are not too familiar with, but at the end of the day, I would rather be a loser than a hostage.
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[Editor's note: With the recent acquisition of D. Favors, the Jazz are suddenly flush with big men. Guest writer Nick Smith asks where Paul Millsap fits into the rebuilding Utah Jazz... or if he fits in at all.]
In 2006, the Jazz took a second round gamble with their 47th pick and selected an undersized PF in Paul Millsap. Millsap had been, for the third consecutive year, the nation’s leading rebounder, but outside of his rebounding skills and high motor, Millsap came into the league with much to work on. However, in his 5 years with the Jazz, Millsap has done everything the organization has asked him to do and has been a complete pro. Paul made strides in his game every single year and has become one of the more offensively skilled bigs in the NBA. He possesses great guard skills, a nose for the ball, and has a Kevin-Garnett-smooth jumper that he can hit from virtually anywhere on the floor. But there is one thing Paul Millsap does not have and that’s size. You can’t stop the heart of a lion, but you can stop a power forward who stands only 6 feet 7 inches tall.
Millsap waited patiently for Carlos Boozer’s departure for his chance to be a starter, and this year he got that chance. Paul has missed only 6 games all year, and has played extremely hard. Still, evaluating the quality of this season for Paul is very difficult. Was this actually a good year for Millsap? Looking at the stats, this season looks like a staggering success. By most measures he had the type of production that nearly all teams hope for from their starting power forward. In 72 games, Paul averaged 34.3 MPG, 17.4 PPG, 7.7 RPG, and 2.4 APG while shooting a very effective 53.1% from the field 33.3% from three. Still, Millsap’s lack of size was exposed on a nightly basis (see Demarcus Cousins’ performance from Sunday), and despite his significant increase in minutes, Paul still needs 5 additional offensive rebounds in Utah’s last three games to avoid his all-time career season low for that statistic. That’s a stunning fact for a man who’s mantra has always been to out-work anyone who stepped inside the paint.
Considering that Paul has been playing against the biggest and the best big men in the NBA, he has done a nice job (especially when you remember the lack of help from forever-ailing Mehmet Okur), but on February 23rd everything changed for the Jazz. Jazz General Manager Kevin O’Connor shocked the NBA by silently pulling the trigger and dealing one of the league’s premier point guards from the Jazz and changing the entire face of the roster. O’Connor and the rest of the Jazz brass decided that they would not let their best player walk for no return. The Jazz had a generalist “big man” in Paul Millsap but with Williams departure, they suddenly had a specialist power forward in Derrick Favors. Standing at a legit 6’10 with a wingspan and vertical leap that puts even Bill Walton at a loss for words, Derrick Favors became the future of this organization. Just a few nights ago he stood toe to toe with the length of the Lakers, and for the first time in years, the Jazz could challenge LA in the paint. So, if Derrick is the future for this team, what do the Jazz do with Paul Millsap? That’s the (multi)million dollar question.
It’s no secret that the Jazz have already realized they have a logjam. The team has started talking about and playing Millsap at the small forward position. This seems to be a perfect scenario to make room for Derrick Favors while keeping Millsap’s production on the floor, but sorry Jazz fans, I just don’t see it happening. When I think of a small forward, I think of a shooter with range, a quick release on his shot, and an ability to beat other guards off the dribble. When I think of Paul Millsap’s game, I don’t think of any of these things. Why spend time trying to fit a round peg into a square hole if there are other options for Paul? Here are the options that face the Jazz:
Option 1: Express to Millsap that he is a leader of the team and the intangibles he brings are greatly needed, but he needs to go back to coming off of the bench. The Jazz need Millsap to be the third big, the Lamar Odom, the guy who comes in and dominates against other teams’ bench players inside the paint lines like he used to. Paul Millsap is an average starting power forward in this league, but he is one of the best, if not the best third big man in the NBA.
Option 2: If Millsap is not pleased with option one, the Jazz owe it to him to move him to a place where he will get what he wants. His trade value has never been higher and the Jazz could use this value to address other issues on their roster by building a deal centered on Millsap. Millsap, coupled with one or two of the many draft picks and young players the Jazz have, would likely be enough to reel in a dynamic wing player that the Jazz desperately need. Imagine a frontline of Al Jefferson and Derrick Favors that is complemented with a tantalizing wing player like Danny Granger, Andre Igoudala, or Jamal Crawford. Utah could then use one of their remaining future picks for a guy like Kenneth Faried or Tristan Thompson to replace (I hate that word) Millsap’s rebounding and energy in the paint to become the new third big. And for the really optimistic Jazz fan, one could even make an argument that between Memo’s return and the Jazz’s rights to the 7’2 Croatian Ante Tomic, the Jazz could have a high supply of serviceable bigs, even without Paul.
Paul Millsap embodies everything that’s good about the NBA. Off the court he’s a class act, and on the court he’s very tough, plays through injuries, and leaves it all on the table every night. Even though Coach Sloan isn’t with the team anymore, I still love to use the following term when describing players like Millsap; he’s a Jerry Sloan type guy. It’s no secret why the fans love him, why the organization loves him, and why the only Jazz jersey I own is #24. Hopefully the Jazz can manage this issue with a simple rotation change, but depending on how well that goes over with Paul, I’m here to warn you Jazz fans: Millsap’s days here in Utah may be numbered.
Let us know what you think in the comments, and follow Nick on Twitter!
In last night’s Jazz vs. Laker game, the Jazz were up only 1 point in the final seconds. It was crunch time, and Kobe called for the ball. He was ready to finish them off. Kobe entered Mamba mode, drove to the rim, lost his handle, and the Jazz scraped by with a win.
The Jazz left LA with a much needed (streak breaking) win, and we were left with this image of Kobe:
After seeing it, I could only think of one thing…
If you follow me on Twitter, you already saw this… but I had to share again. The dialog just works on so many levels (especially when you think of Gasol as the “stupid bat”). If only Sasha Vujacic was still here to play Atreyu.
Anyway, great win for the Jazz in an otherwise depressing season. Yes, we’re acting like the Jazz just won the finals, and if you’re critical, sorry. Give us a break… we finally have something to be excited about. It’s been a rough season, and the fanbase needed this. At this moment, I couldn’t be more excited to see what the Jazz can do with these pieces going forward (especially after the draft). Rebuilding is painful and we’re not used to it, but Hayward and that game gives us hope that the Jazz are in a better spot than most of us supposed. After all the wreckage fans have been through this season, we finally have a glimmer of hope.
I love this tweet from Spencer. It reflects the light we had from a happier time onto our near future:
At the moment, I couldn’t agree more.
I don’t know how I missed this article the first time around (apparently need to update my reader), but NBA Confidential did a pretty awesome post on How Deron Williams Could Have Gone to New York Instead of New Jersey. It was linked in the TrueHoop bullets yesterday, and a lot of what was written struck a nerve. Not from an “I disagree with this” standpoint, but more from a perspective of disbelief.
Just when I’m coming to terms with this whole disaster that is the Utah Jazz’ 2011 season, Sam Amick (the blog’s author) has a Q&A with Kevin O’Conner that raises more questions for me than provides answers. Here are two questions that I would ask O’Conner after reading this article:
Question 1) How do the Jazz let Sloan walk KNOWING that you’re trying to trade D-Will?
Some quick facts:
- Sloan retired February 10th, 2011
- Deron Williams was traded February 23, 2011
- 13 days separated the decision to part ways with a Hall of Fame coach and the Franchise All-Star.
Amick asks when O’Conner started strategically looking at the D-Will trade, and O’Conner says, “I’ve been looking at it for a while.” A while? A WHILE? something doesn’t add up here. If you’ve known that you’re going to trade Williams for “a while,” how do justify letting Jerry Sloan walk? I know you say that you tried to talk him into staying (the morning after the true firing/quiting altercation began), but Sloan left because there was some kind of irreconcilable difference between he and the organization. It’s my belief that a large part of that differences was regarding Sloan and Williams’ rocky relationship. I’m not saying that either party was right or wrong, but it’s pretty clear that the point of friction in the departure was Williams and Sloan. It came to a point where one or the other had to go because the couldn’t coexist. That’s a tough pill to swallow for Jazz fans, and I’m not saying that you can’t lose one… at that point, you probably HAD to lose one of them, HOWEVER, you can’t lose both of these pieces in the same year. If you were going to get rid of Sloan, then keep Williams. If you’re going to get rid of Williams, then keep Sloan. This town may not be big enough for the both of them, but it was certainly big enough for one or the other.
O’Conner claimed to have been in the market for trading Williams for “a while” yet he still lost Jerry Sloan over it. At worst there was some scheming here by the Jazz GM to oust both of these personalities, and at best the situation was grossly mismanaged.
Question 2) When you decide to trade your all-star, shouldn’t YOU be making the calls?
Amick asks O’Conner why other execs felt slighted by their lack of knowledge on the Williams trade, and O’Conner says “Anybody who called me I talked to them about it.” Okay, that’s great, but how much calling did O’Conner do himself? He makes it sound as if he just watched Denver do its shopping and then took the second best deal left when all dust had settled. I don’t hate the trade (especially with how poorly the Nets and Jazz have ended up playing), but this exchange makes me wonder if O’Conner could, in fact, have done better. I’m not the GM of any franchise, but I know that if I’m trying to sell something of value, I want as broad an audience as possible. Especially if the item I’m selling is one of a kind. Instead, the Jazz went into stealth mode and took the scraps from a division rivals’ broken process.
I’m excited for the future of the Jazz. I like the pieces we have, and I like the opportunity that this draft presents, but I’d like our chances a lot more if I felt comfortable with the leadership of the front office. The frustrating thing is that I DID trust them until this Sloan ordeal went down. The Williams trade, while not horrible, has just added fuel to that fire of skepticism. I want to believe in this franchise, but when I read articles like this and watch a season with so much promise go up in flames, it makes that difficult.
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I’ve spent the last few days writing and rewriting this post. I can’t get it right, and I’m done trying. Like most lifelong Jazz fans, I’m frustrated, annoyed, confused, and a bit angry after the departure of Jerry Sloan. I’ve read the he said/she said, listened to the Karl Malone firestorm, and heard the pressroom rumor mill. Through it all I still have no clue why he left, and after experiencing near Sloan overload, I’ve come to this conclusion: it doesn’t matter. I don’t really care what the catalyst for his departure was, and I don’t care if he quit or was pushed out. What matters here is that he left, and where it leaves the Utah Jazz as an organization.
When I was a kid, I liked the Jazz because my dad did. I was from Utah, and it was our team. As I’ve gotten older though, I’ve stayed loyal to the Jazz because I’ve been proud to call them “my” team. If you know the history of the team then you know that the Utah Jazz were a gift from the Miller family to the Salt Lake community, and the family has worked diligently to make it a true team. From the days of Pistol Pete through Stockton & Malone, the Jazz have never been run by the superstars. Larry H. Miller worked hard to develop an organization that was focused on winning, and winning right. The team was built on principles of putting in a hard day’s work, playing your role, and leaving it all on the court each night. In the four major American sports, there are very few fans that can say that their team’s ownership built their team the right way from top to bottom, but a Utah fan could say it and mean it. The Utah Jazz did things the right way.
Jerry Sloan was the heart and soul of this franchise because he embodied the Jazz’ efforts to do things the right way. I’m not saying he was perfect. Sloan has a lot of good qualities, but also has his fair share of bad, and to say that he’s had Jazz nation’s undivided support over the past 23 years is revisionist history. Sloan made mistakes, fans (and players) were quick to judge, and there were times that we called for his head, but in those moments, do you know what happened? Nothing. The Jazz trusted their coach, knew that they had the right guy, and in every instance took a stand against the fans and sent the message that they were not a reactionary team. The Jazz, for better or worse, were an organization that stood by their man. In a world where coaches are traded in & out on the whims of teenage players, a 23-year tenure sends a powerful message. It says that Coach Sloan’s voice was the most important one in the gym. The front office’s implicit trust of Sloan told fans, superstar players, and other organizations that this team was principled. No matter who walked through the door at the beginning of the year, one thing always stayed the same: Coach Sloan. He was qualified, he was smart, and they trusted him. For Jazz fans that trust paid dividends. How did second round picks turn into all stars? How did a small market team consistently make the playoffs and contend against giants? It was because of the consistency of Jerry Sloan, and the understanding that he would be here longer than any one player. There was accountability, opportunity, and expectations. All because of coach Sloan. He was a symbol of the way things were done in Utah, and nothing could change that… until last Wednesday.
Nobody knows exactly what went down in Kevin O’Conner’s office after that Bulls game, but it could not have ended worse for Jazz fans. Yes the team lost a great coach, but what we truly lost was our ability to implicitly trust an organization that was supposed to be THE organization. It doesn’t matter why Sloan left, what matters is that someone thought it was time for him to go… someone thought it was best for a Hall of Fame coach to leave his team in the middle of the season while his floundering squad was in desperate need of leadership. That tells me one thing: Coach Sloan’s word was no longer the most important word in the Jazz gym, and the Jazz’ model of consistency broke down. Something went seriously wrong, and suddenly the Jazz are just like nearly every other organization in the league. Maybe I’m an elitist, or maybe I just expect more out of a team that taught me expect more out of a sports franchise. I would never want Jerry Sloan to feel like he’s trapped on a failing team, but this is not the way you send off a Hall of Fame coach. This event, and the way it played out has created a crisis of confidence in Jazz land. We lost a superb coach on Thursday but with him also went many of the foundational principles that made this team unique.
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Wow. I almost forgot what it felt like to go into a good team’s house and win. Turns out it feels pretty amazing. Here are a few thoughts after last night’s game.
- I like aggressive Deron. Seeing him push the ball up the court and keep the offense running seemed like a major lift. The rest of the team responded well and played harder on defense, cut faster on offense, and just played all around more aggressively. It seems more and more clear… as Deron go, the Jazz go.
- The Jazz actually played defense. Yes, they fouled early and often, but I’d rather see aggressive defense out of the gate that results in fouls than no defense. That aggressive D turned into smart D though, and the Jazz ended up with some pretty key stops down the stretch that helped them maintain their lead. I was pretty impressed with the rotations, and hustle from everyone.
- The Jazz felt like they were in control throughout that game. No come from behind antics. No heaves at the end of a wasted shot clock. They felt powerful, and they won every quarter but the first (and they only lost the first quarter by one point).
- How awesome was it to see Deron go after JR Smith after his flagrant 2 on Bell? For such a moody guy, you rarely see that kind of emotion from Deron on the court. No hesitation, no wondering what the league would do… Williams saw his guy go down hard, and he went after Smith for it. I love the leadership he showed at that point, and throughout the night.
- Jefferson was a beast last night. A BEAST. 28 points (12/20), 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Wow. He had some tough shots too… fall away jumpers, double teams, and face-up jump shots over defenders. Jefferson also played hard on defense, had a key block against Anthony, and took a few nasty charges. Pretty cool to see.
- It was great to watch the Jazz shoot well from the free throw line (17/18). Refreshing.
- The players complemented each other. Don’t know if it was AK being out, CJ being on, or Evans being up, but they were feeling it together.
- Tough night for Hayward. He was a foul away from everybody and had absolutely no shot. I mean, you have to give the guy a bit of a break since he was playing against Anthony, but he REALLY looked out of his league.
- Speaking of Anthony, that was the quietest 31 points I’ve seen in a long time. I was pretty shocked when I saw the final box score. Melo seemed like he was getting blocked, or forced into a tough jumper every time down the floor.
- Raja. Where have you been?
Great night… it feels like good things are on their way for the Jazz. Tonight’s another big test, and it’ll be interesting to see how the team responds to last night’s solid play.