The Great Jazz Fan Tanking Dilemma

December 13th, 2013 | by Scott Stevens
Photo courtesy of Garrett Ellwood, Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Garrett Ellwood, Getty Images

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.

Scott Stevens

A voice of the everyday Jazz fan. Scott works as a creative writer at an advertising agency in Los Angeles. Sticking it to Laker fans every chance he gets. A former "Jazz Rowdy" and avid interneter with production and writing experience on global sports brands. He has lived everywhere from Texas to DC, and all the way to Thailand. He now happens to live on a boat.

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  1. Aaron says:

    Good piece. I beg to differ, though, about how honorable it is for fans and worse yet, teams who openly tank. I’m hoping for Wiggins or Parker as much as anybody, but I can’t lie, it didn’t sit right when the Celtics shamelessly and almost openly did it in 1997 and again in 2007, and I thought it was poetic and karmic justice when they missed out both times on likely franchise-altering superstars (Tim Duncan the first time and then Durant, assuming they’d have been smart enough to take him over Oden). And I feel the same way about the Jazz. I honestly haven’t felt that I’ve seen any tanking. They’ve had a couple of good wins, hung in there in others when they were clearly overmatched (San Antonio, OKC, and Indiana), and have only been blown out five or six times, usually to far better teams. Strategically, I don’t mind a team saying, “we’re a borderline playoff team with Millsap and Big Al; it’s probably not worth paying them like alpha dogs; let’s rebuild and focus on testing and developing the young guns instead of the playoffs.” But that’s different from all-out tanking. For any team, even one made up of people who aren’t making millions, to do what Boston and others have done should embarrass every player, coach, and executive in on the dirty little secret, and I believe those teams should be subject to losing their lottery chances, if not draft picks. I didn’t think it would be quite this ugly, but I hope we come by our losses honestly and come away with our next superstar.

    • Joey says:

      This is exactly what I’ve been saying all season. I think intentionally losing games is despicable (not that I believe we are.) As weird as it sounds to say I agree with you and hope that we “come by our losses honestly.” The OKC and Indiana games were perfect examples.

      I also hate that losing teams are automatically considerred “tankers” by ESPN and the like.

  2. Aaron says:

    *Come away with our next superstar the same way, I meant.

  3. Alex says:

    There’s a difference between tanking by intentionally losing (Celtics, Warriors) and putting out a crap team with a crappier coach but trying your hardest and still losing the majority, which is what the Jazz are doing and I enjoy watching them play. If they play their way out of the most ping pong balls, so be it.

  4. cw says:

    You like to see your team playing well but if you look at the larger game, a win in december is worth the dried spit on cigarette butt compared to a chance to draft a potential top 10 player. A top ten player puts you in position to contend. A win in december boosts your endorphins for ten minutes.

    And if you look at stats in games with Trey and Marvin playing you will see that the Jazz have been pretty respectable. A middle of the pack NBA team, and that’s for about 10 games. They are basically too good. If they play .500 ball the rest of the year, something I think is pretty probable if nothing happens, they will finish with 35 wins. Last year finishing with 35 wins would have put them 13th in the lottery. In this years draft that probably means a pretty good player, but not a transcendent one.

    If the Jazz get any of the top 5-6 in the draft, you will not remember one thing about this season. It will disappear from your consciousness. If they don’t, every spring, as they struggle over and over again to advance past the first round, you will think back in regret to 2013-14 and wonder what might have been.

    • Aaron says:

      Disagree. The Jazz are in no danger of winning 35 games. If they win 25, we should all be impressed.

      Also, there’s no way to know for sure, but there are prognosticators who believe there could be as many as 9-10 All-Stars in this draft.

      • cw says:

        I hope you’re right, but I don’t think you are.

        • Aaron says:

          Well, it will take four more months for it to play out, but it’s going to take more than a couple of 2-game winning streaks for me to think we’re ever going to play .500 ball over any stretch of the season. Until that happens, I’d say one-third of our games (still a significant improvement), which would put us at 24 or 25 for the season.

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