Jump Ball: Jazz Fans Torn in ’14 Finals

June 12th, 2014 | by Dan Clayton
LeBron's Heat? Or the Spurs? Dowsett and Clayton go toe-to-toe. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

LeBron’s Heat? Or the Spurs? Dowsett and Clayton go toe-to-toe. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

At some point next week, somebody is going to get to relive the champagne shower and celebrate an NBA title. But who deserves it more, the Spurs or the Heat? Here at SCH Headquarters, we’re pretty torn.

In the course of regular conversations about this year’s NBA Finals rematch between the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat, it became obvious that SCH’s Ben Dowsett and Dan Clayton, both Jazz guys at the core, have different secondary allegiances where this series is concerned.

Ben and Dan are extremely aligned on a lot of basketball issues, but have landed in very different places with regards to this June’s basketball climax. We thought it would be fun to figure out how these two Jazz enthusiasts wound up at opposing ends of this battle royale.

Here is some fun back-and-forth from Ben and Dan on their Finals rooting interests.

What do you like about the Spurs/Heat from a personnel standpoint?

Dan: Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili have long been two of my favorite pros, because of their class, approachability and no-nonsense demeanor. I’ve had a lot of really great interactions with both (especially Manu, always thoughtful enough to carve out some time for chats with Spanish language press). In general, I think the Spurs find good, relatively humble, hard-working guys because of their personnel philosophy. Gregg Popovich has said, “We like players who have gotten over themselves.” That sounds different from a team that introduces its free agents with a backdrop of fireworks, premature dynasty talk, and “Can You Dig It?” I just like that most (if not all) of the Spurs have an earnest, lunch-pail approach to winning. It’s easy for me to get behind that.

Ben: It’s pretty near impossible for any basketball junkie to argue with any of that, and you won’t hear anything of the sort from me. I love everything about the Spurs, top down. My answer boils down to one thing: my unwavering, fanatical, bordering-on-unhealthy rooting interest in LeBron James. I’ve always been drawn to generational prodigies – the prospect of truly remarkable human achievement is what I first became so enamored with about sports, and who better for a then-13-year-old1 to latch onto than this guy? I’ve been all-things-LeBron ever since, and 2010’s Decision debacle and the resulting laughable popular reaction only intensified this. That’s really the long and short of it for me – while I respect and enjoy several other members of the Heat2, only the power of LeBron could sway me away from these Spurs, one of my all-time favorite teams in their own right.

Dan: I can understand that. I, too, am in awe of LeBron, as anybody with eyes and any amount of basketball knowledge should be3. He’s the best basketball player on the planet, full stop. I will admit that, while I find a lot of the LeBron-centered narrative to be tiresome4, LeBron the athlete is an almost peerless specimen. Regardless of what transpires in this series or in the rest of LeBron’s career, we’re all lucky to be able to watch this guy. Frankly, I just like the Spurs’ personnel more.

What makes you root for the Spurs/Heat from a basketball philosophy standpoint?

Ben: It certainly starts with King James, but watching the Heat’s evolution since The Decision has given me a great appreciation for many other parts of the organization, in particular coach Erik Spoelstra. Oft-maligned in that first Big 3 season as nothing but a holdover coach who would cede to a bigger name once LeBron got his hands on the wheel, Spo has quickly become one of the most respected minds in the game. Championships will do that, of course, but this isn’t an artificially inflated reputation in any way. His early years in the video room show through more and more each year, as he now trails perhaps only his Finals counterpart as far as game-to-game tweaks and strategic savvy (and to be fair, said Finals counterpart is currently handing Spo his lunch through three games this year). His willingness in the 2012 playoffs to re-invent his team as a small-ball scoring machine5 was a bold risk, one that could have cost him the job had it failed. Fast forward to today, and a fully humming Miami team is the most entertaining sporting spectacle I can conceive of. The language of that statement touches on the other side of the coin – they’re not “fully humming” nearly as often as they likely should be. But that’s what we have the Spurs for, right Dan?

Dan: Exactly. That’s a huge part of the reason I love pulling for the Spurs any time the Jazz aren’t directly involved. San Antonio has built such a strong sense of identity that, no matter who is on the floor, we get to watch both the science and art of great offensive basketball. Their system is also based on offensive ideas I believe in: spacing, balance, passing, quick reads, and of course a superstar-agnostic dedication to finding the best shot regardless of who takes it. It’s a very different structure than their previous title teams, but I love it.

Ben: That evolution from their past titles has been such a joy to watch from. As usual, Pop and RC Buford are about five years ahead of the rest of the league, and you’re not overstating anything when you liken their offense to modern art. It works as a bit of a silver lining for me, personally – if Miami wins, my favorite athlete ever continues his march to all time glory, and if San Antonio wins, I get to celebrate the triumph of a system which, just like you, I believe is the purest form of basketball we currently know, being led by one of the greatest coaches in team sport history.

Do you think the outcome of this year’s Finals matters to the Utah Jazz?

Dan: To be honest, I wonder if a third straight Heat title could impact the NBA marketplace in a way that hurts the ability of Utah or other small market teams to compete. I briefly touched on this at the start of the playoffs for SCH. The longer Miami maintains its dynastic stranglehold on the league, the more likely we’ll see an arms race that the Jazz just can’t keep up with. It’s why I have no problem cheering for the Spurs, whose success reflects an approach that, while not easy, is achievable for just about any team. They found a way to get their hands on a generational talent, and then nailed a series of late picks and shrewd pick-ups to surround that guy with people who would buy the vision. Miami’s success is the product of a set of conditions not available to every team. Not that I begrudge Miami their particular strategy for building a contender; I’d just rather see the Spurs’ method prevail since that’s likely the path the Jazz will have to take if they’re ever to summit the mountain.

Ben: The Spurs are the model NBA franchise by any measure, particularly for smaller markets like the Jazz, and you’re right that Utah obviously has no chance of ever compiling a “super team” like the Heat. We differ as far as a potential Heat win’s impact goes; I believe it changes nothing whatsoever for a franchise like the Jazz. Big and small markets are what they are, and that’s just something folks in Utah have to accept. But I definitely don’t think a third straight Heat title will give way to any arms race (at least not one we haven’t already seen attempted), for a couple reasons. First, compiling such a set of superstars on the same team is hard. There’s a salary cap for a reason, making it tough to fit multiple superstars plus solid role players on a salary sheet. Second, and more importantly, this Heat team is an exception, not a rule. They’ve survived by the tips of their fingers at various points during their title runs, this while employing one of the 5-10 greatest players ever. Meanwhile, no one’s holding any parades for this year’s Nets or the 2011 Knicks, and outside the Celtics, all the teams who came the closest to dethroning Miami in recent seasons were created through more traditional team-building. So sure, another team figuring out a way to game the system6 and load up on superstars isn’t out of the question, but I think smart people around the league recognize that outside getting the game’s best player to switch teams in his prime, the odds are better going the other route.

Dan: I think you might be underestimating the impatience and fatigue that would set in if, yet again, Miami is the only team that gets to uncork champagne. Already in the East, no other team has sniffed the Finals since 2010. The longer that continues, the more likely it becomes that teams start to feel like the only way to knock them off the hilltop is to put together their own Ocean’s 11-style ensemble cast. The teams that can afford such an approach will go balls-to-the-wall, and the result could very well be that two thirds of the league’s real stars are on the same 7-8 teams. We’ve already seen teams attempt it, albeit unsuccessfully; if the Heatles stay atop the mountain, I think even more deep-pocketed teams will try the SuperTeam approach, and small markets could be left in the cold, star-wise. The Summer of 2010 is absolutely why competitive balance was such a central theme to the last round of collective bargaining, and already there are rumors of a Heat reload involving Carmelo Anthony. The league cannot become a collection of haves and have-nots.

Ben: In theory I don’t disagree, but in practice I think it just proves a ton more difficult than folks might think. NBA owners don’t get a whole lot more deep-pocketed than Mikhail Prokhorov and James Dolan, both of whom recklessly pioneered attempted “super-teams” that now stand as shining examples for my point: Desire and financial capability matter, of course, but they’re far from the only requisites to building what Miami has. It takes an extremely savvy front office, stars potentially willing to sacrifice both money and status (still a rare thing in the NBA, despite certain exceptions like the entire Spurs team), and a whole heap of luck. On top of that, how many other players have a draw like LeBron’s, one strong enough where someone like Ray Allen would turn down double the money from a loyal franchise that brought him his only NBA title to play for their archrivals? Three? Four? Again, I just don’t see it being an easily replicable model. Teams may surely try, but barring a number of hard-to-predict elements going extremely right, I see them mostly failing and the smart folks like San Antonio continuing to follow their time-tested formula.

Dan: Prokhorov and Dolan’s attempts aren’t examples of why we shouldn’t worry; they’re examples of why we should. The Nets’ payroll and luxury tax bill was $180 million this past season. And no, their superteam didn’t work out like Miami’s, but the point is that the Jazz, Spurs, Bucks, Blazers and another 15-20 teams are never going to be able to compete that way. So Miami’s continued monopoly could take us to to a point where it’s impossible to contend with teams who can afford to pluck already-ripe All-stars from the free agent tree. If that happens, then teams like Brooklyn, Miami, New York, Chicago, the LA franchises, Dallas, etc. will be the only ones who can legitimately compete. The only hope for a team like the Jazz in that type of market is to luck into a top pick and hope you can hang on to your young talent long enough for things to congeal. Unlikely if you look at how long it takes even transcendental talents to learn to win titles after they come into the league.

* * *

Who are you rooting for in the Finals? What’s your Jazz-focused argument for wanting to see Tim or LeBron ultimately prevail? Join the conversation below.

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City where his hobbies include complaining about League Pass, finding good doughnut shops and dishing out assists for the Thoreau It Down team in the Word Bookstore basketball league.
Dan Clayton
Dan Clayton

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3 Comments

  1. LKA says:

    I see there is not much interest in the finals. You go with your conference champ. Looks like Spurs are now up 3 games to one. Next game in Texas and I hope the Spurs give it a lock down. Let’s get done and get on with the draft..

  2. Brent says:

    I’m not torn at all. Go Spurs! They are the most like us or we are the ones trying to be the most like them.

    • Mewko says:

      I don’t like how the Spurs always beat us.
      I don’t like how Tony Parker is a dirty French Fry, sleeping with teammates’ wives.
      But, I admire the way they get things done. They have the best coach no question about it. They have good scouts who get draft picks right. Manu Ginobli at #56, Tony Parker in late first round. They have stayed contenders since 2000.
      I want that to happen to the Jazz, have Favors, Hayward, and Burke kicking butt at age 33-36.

      Theoretically, the best player should be on the best team, and that would explain most everything about the Heat. LeBron is basically the coach during the game.

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