It’s been just over a quarter of the season, and so far Jazz fans have found themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. The rock being progress, while the hard place is the upcoming draft. So what is a fan to do? Cheer for your team and still hope they lose? Pretty much.
So how did this happen? Well, the Jazz opened up the season much worse than anyone could have anticipated. Sure, no one was picking them as a dark horse team of the West, but occasional members of the media had Utah as at least as a League Pass team from time to time. After all, the CORE FOURTM existed! So jumping out to the worst start in franchise history and owning the league-worst record caught all of us by surprise.
When something like that happens, it’s easy to lose hope and go all in on the draft. The Jazz really weren’t showing any signs of promise yet and rather than settling for kind-of-bad, they might as well be REALLY bad. Right? Who knows, maybe Jabari will come knocking?
Then Trey Burke comes back. Suddenly, this team has a little spark in them, winning three out of four games. Who do they think they are, the Spurs? And just like that, Jazz fans find themselves in the current James-Franco/Aron-Ralston-esque dilemma a la 127 Hours. While you could technically call that stretch a “winning streak,” it was anything but that in my opinion. They might win a few games, but they’re far from being a good team. How else can you win three of four and remain in last place? Not this year.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all this already, staying in last place takes almost as much effort as fighting for first place. At least from a fan perspective. Each win is bittersweet. Being a fan means cheering for your team through the good times and bad, and herein lies the root of the dilemma. We want to see Burke run as floor general; we want Hayward to become a consistent 20-10 guy; we want Favors to dominate the paint. But where is the line between watching progress unfold and understanding the need for a true number one option? Even the casual Jazz fan knows that this team needs a key piece in the upcoming draft. If beating the Kings gets in the way of that, then put on your jester outfit and lose to the Kings no matter what it takes.
Speaking of the Kings, the last two games against Sac-Town are perfect examples of this idea. Last Saturday at home, the Jazz showed what they were made of. Other than a botched defensive assignment of, oh I don’t know, guarding a three when you’re up three with only a few seconds to play, the Jazz had that game won. But they were smarter than that. Maybe that assignment wasn’t botched at all: they had the Kings right where they wanted them but decided to hand it over in overtime. I’m totally okay with that kind of loss, actually. We still got four quarters of solid Jazz basketball. We got to see progress and still chalk up the loss tally.
The most recent game in Sacramento, however, was a little heavy handed on the positive side. The Jazz shot lights out and won by a comfortable margin. Every now and then, a win like that is good for morale. It helps steady the ship during a rocky season. But a win against a team like that is really like a double loss. We lose ground in the lottery odds, and they gain ground. The only team that Jazz fans should really want to beat is the Warriors, because the Jazz own GSW’s pick.
With a whopping five wins now, there are a few other examples of smart losses and dumb wins. We battled hard against Portland, even Indiana among others. But what it ultimately comes down to is short term versus long term. Winning feels good in the short term, while losing is the best thing for the long term, despite how counterintuitive that sounds.
It’s a tough pill to swallow. Fans want their team to win, and it will never be easy to cheer for losses. But a little bit of pain right now would potentially alleviate a lot of pain in years to come. For the time being, Jazz fans will simply have to pick their poison.
By no means does either choice make you a bad fan.