Editor’s Note: As we sit and wait for David Stern to emerge from moderated discussions with the union, Todd Peterson joins us and talks fans and expectations for the young Utah Jazz. -JL
Obviously the big concern on everyone’s mind is “are we going to have an NBA season this year?” Hacked twitter accounts and “gulfs” aside, we still don’t know. So instead of complaining about life under a horribly oppressive lock-out regime let’s do what we would normally do during the off-season…..speculate over the starting lineup. With the uncharacteristic uncertainty of the franchise there has been a lot of talk about who should get the starting nod and I plan on arguing that the front office should “blow up the team” and go young. In this discussion there is, in reality, only one legitimate argument that we need to consider and that is winning. If you try to say that the team should play the veterans because they have earned it, or because they’re being paid so much, or maybe even because they are better then I simply suggest to you some patriarchal Ricky Bobby logic, “if you ain’t first you’re last.” The only question the coaches need to consider when picking the starting five, or in distributing minutes is who will help win the most games? Because “winning” theoretically has a different meaning for each fan we will consider the different scenarios below.
The Ring Seeker: This is the fan that has the “been there, done that mentality.” They won’t be happy with the team until they are turning over cars, & kissing their girlfriend in the street after the team brings home the crown. This fan could live with a self-created lottery pick next year and would survive a less than involved role in the playoffs for the next couple of years if it meant a title was waiting down the road. The Ring Seeker is concerned with the long term because (let’s face it) there’s no viable option for having a ring ceremony at the beginning of the 2013 season. To this fan, I ask this: If the veterans can’t take the Jazz to the pinnacle this year then when can they? Obviously the most recent moves by the team have been away from veterans and so why should they not continue that trend by transferring the playing time over to the younger generation as well? Any hope at a title involves the young guns. Why waste playing time and starting experience on players that ultimately aren’t going to be a part of the long-term goal? Now, I’m not saying KOC should get rid of anyone on the team that has more than one year in the league, I’m just saying they should be used as support players to help bring along the rookies and sophomores. In other words without a championship in the near future, why not develop the “potential” into all-star output.
The Perennial Contender: This fan just wants to be assured that they are going to be interested in basketball come late April. They hold on to that almighty Jazz argument of “at least we have a team that is always in the playoffs.” This fan wants to be in the playoffs; (1) preferably this year, or (2) worst case scenario, next year. There is no interest in spending any time at the lower rungs of the league regardless of what that means for the future. In this case we look at the roster for this year and maybe some of next year. By continuing with the veteran players, the team would basically be staying with the starting lineup from the end of last season. Obviously last season had its difficulties on and off the court so it may be unfair to gauge the players based on the end of last year, but that’s all we’ve got. The team played 25 games without D-Will, and won 8 of those, a winning percentage of .32 (you forgot how bad it got, didn’t you?). Over a full season that percentage would translate into about 26 wins, better than just six other teams last year (Twolves, Cavs, Raps, Wiz, Nets, Kings). If the lineup remains composed of mostly veteran players we have to ask, what do we think the vets are going to do differently? By not changing the lineup the team must be saying that the starting players are either going to play better, or that everyone is (prepared for/happy with) a 26 win season. If it’s the later then why not win 26 with the rookies? At least they will be getting some experience while the team wallows in mediocrity and piles up the draft picks. If, on the other hand, the thought is that something is going to change with the starting vets, then what is it? Is Jefferson going to learn how to play within a system instead of being the black hole on bad teams? Is CJ going to be consistent and contribute the way fans have always wanted? Is AK going to stay healthy and be the AK we saw in Eurobasket? If you really believe these things simply because we are starting a season that doesn’t involve the D-Will trade or Sloan leaving, then I’m impressed with your overzealous faith in the team.
The Ego Protector: Finally we have the fan that has nightmares of seeing a young kid from the Miller bloodline on the lottery stage wearing goofy glasses and vying for one of the top three picks, and not because we made a trade and finally got a lucky break. This fan’s biggest ambition for the Jazz is to stay comfortably above the Raptors, Cavs, Kings, and Twolves of the league. They need instant validation that they aren’t party to a despicable team, or otherwise they may just jump ship. The question here is who can win instantly? This is probably the hardest question to answer right now for this team as we know so little about some of the guys. We have to ask whether or not the rookies and sophs can post a better winning percentage then the .32 from the end of last season? Staying in the meaty area of the league (roughly a .48 winning percentage) would require 13 more wins then what the end of the year vets did last year (13 games = difference between .32 and .48). So we are wondering whether the veterans or the young guys can be 13 games better. Assuming that health is the only legitimate change from last season; my argument is that either group, young or old, can basically win the same number of games next year, so we should only be considering what is best for the team in the long run (May I end this argument by saying that any fan that is happy with the mediocrity described in this section is not a true fan of Jazz Nation and should be buying Miami Heat jerseys and putting Yankee stickers on their iPhone covers. Nuff Said).
In the end, the argument for the young players is summed up in two words, “Why Not?” Whether you are a ring seeker, a perennial contender, an ego protector, or maybe a combination of them all it’s hard to answer this question. With so much speculation and so much uncertainty we can’t help but rest our hopes on a miracle of team unity, health, and championship play to magically appear out of the ashes of last season, but it is simply not logical to wait for that. We’ve got to look to the future, start planning for the team’s great return to basketball prominence and that is only going to come through the young players. So put ‘em in coach! We want to see them make bad passes, we want to see their lapses of thought, we want to scream at their stupidity through the t.v., but most of all we want to see some sort of decision towards a chance at progress. Let’s keep this streak of bold moves alive.