There is something different this year with the Utah Jazz. Yes, there’s new uniforms, new colors, new floor, and even a new suite in Energy Solutions Arena, if you’re willing to spend the money. You would have to have been living under a rock not to notice that some of the faces on the Jazz roster are different from last year’s squad. (Apologies to those who actually do live under rocks. But don’t worry Minnesota fans, once David Kahn leaves it’ll be safe to come out. When Rubio comes from Europe you’ll know it’s safe. That’s the sign.) This year during media day there was an eerie optimism that I felt as I listened to interviews and read different articles today. I’m going to cite a few things that stood out to me during media day.
The Value of a Friend
Raja Bell was mauled. Cut off midsentence, grabbed with two long arms and almost tackled by a much-discussed man with shaggy blond hair.
Bell quickly turned around to discover the culprit. In turn, Bell found a friend.
Andrei Kirilenko was saying hello. And Bell was once again a member of the Utah Jazz.
The duo embraced, laughed and smiled. They requested a moment alone and were granted it. Within seconds, the former and current teammates were catching up and reconnecting after five long years.
For Bell, 34, a quick minute filled with private conversation said everything about his decision to once again call Salt Lake City his home and the Jazz his home team.
If anybody remembers the season in which Bell and Kirilenko played together it was like watching guerilla warfare. The Jazz were outmatched, outmanned, and disrespected. They were even picked to challenge the NBA’s worst record ever before that season. But they were not out-coached nor out-hearted. They battled hard with each team every night. It was such a fun team to watch because you knew all those players were putting it out on the line for Coach Sloan every night. They had no choice but to rely on hard work and not talent. That kind of experience forged a bond that we can’t imagine. Bell & Kirilenko have that bond and experience. They also are our only ties back to the Stockton/Malone era. That friendship will drive Kirilenko and Bell this year and influence others. Like I said “Eerie Optimism”.
Kevin O’Connor’s New 2nd Round Draft Steal
Deron Williams on Jeremy Evans to David Locke:
I’m really impressed with Jeremy Evans. Really, really impressed. He just needs to add 20 lbs., and he’ll be a monster. Oh my gosh. I’ve never seen anyone jump like that. He jumps so quick. He goes after the ball. Just ridiculous. … It’s like he can jump three times before you jump once.
[Sidenote: During the interview David Locke remarks that Deron Williams is "Like the fourth Jazzman to say that". I also endorse listening to CJ's interview for a quick anecdote of Evans blocking Francisco Elson. Also CJ's interview will give you a good laugh. What up doe?]
Jerry Sloan also on Jeremy Evans to David Locke:
I was shocked [by Jeremy Evans' artistic talent] and I was really excited for him because he’s a wonderful guy. He works hard, he’s got some talent, and it’ll be fun to watch him grow.
I am saying this emphatically now. Jeremy Evans will be the steal of the 2010 draft. Let me repeat myself, Jeremy Evans will be the steal of the draft. I have found that the most impressive compliment Sloan can say about anyone is “He works hard.” If Sloan says that about a player then he will rarely be in Sloan’s doghouse and Sloan will put that player in situations where they can grow, succeed, and improve. Don’t believe me? Look at Paul Millsap or Wesley Matthews. Eerie Optimism.
Paul Millsap on….Paul Millsap?:
[The biggest area of improvement in Paul Millsap's game will be...] Will be…his confidence level.
I don’t know if Paul Millsap’s new press secretary is Karl Malone but that was definitely Paul Millsap referring to himself in the third person. Every year Millsap adds a new dimension to his game. This year? He added “Speaking in Third Person.”
Paul Millsap has always been in the shadow of Boozer. His time in the limelight was postponed last year with Boozer unexpectedly opting into his contract last minute. Millsap for the first time in his career is the man. He is the Jazz’s starting Power Forward. Don’t think that is a big moment? If you don’t, you need to think back to when you were in high school. Remember your first day of school for your senior year? Remember when you started to become yourself for the first time because there was no one above you to tell you how to be? You controlled that year for the first time without one of your peers outclassing you. Well this is finally Millsap’s senior year and he started it off right. By speaking in third person. Eerie Optimism.
My last observation from camp cannot come from a quote but it comes from the way each of these players carried themselves in interviews. In acting (Yes, I’m using an acting reference), we use the term subtext often. Subtext refers to what a character is really saying in a play. The line might read, “It’s a wonderful day.” But depending on the way in which the character says it changes what he or she means by “It’s a wonderful day.” It could be negative or positive.
How does that relate to media day?
In interviews I heard players able to be themselves in Utah for the first time in a long time. Deron Williams was the unquestionable leader of this team. CJ Miles could be himself without worrying about being thrown into Sloan’s doghouse for half the season. Fesenko spoke as if he finally realized he’s playing on a professional basketball team. There was excitement just to be there as evidenced by Hayward and Evans. There was the maturity of Raja Bell, Earl Watson, and Francisco Elson who would be able to set the example of hard work. There is the freedom to create a new destiny as evidenced by Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. There also was the relief of knowing that rumors were just indeed rumors with Andrei Kirilenko. There was the bond of old friendships and the budding bonds of new. In short, there is something eerie about this year’s Jazz team. It is the optimism of being able to create something new and tap into potential that has not yet been seen. So get your popcorn ready Jazz fans. It is the beginning of a new Jazz era.
Follow Mychal on twitter @My_Lo