I personally have decided not to talk, or even worry about the Jazz and the playoffs this season. It just isn’t healthy. On top of that, it almost seems like a flip of a coin at this point. As soon as I think the Jazz have dug themselves too deep a hole, Dallas digs an even deeper one. It’s just not worth the worry. The Jazz will either make the playoffs or fall miserably short. It’s just not worth worrying about from game to game.
Also, none of these points will keep me from worrying about the Jazz from game to game. It’s what fans do.
This week, however, I’ve been thinking about the Jazz’s upcoming offseason. Whether or not the Jazz make the playoffs, I don’t really think their plans for the offseason should change.
In many ways, the Utah Jazz are merely replaying a previous season over again this year. In Deron Williams’ rookie season, the Jazz went a surprising 41-41, finishing 9th in the West, just 3 games out of the playoffs. This Jazz season feels similar to that one in outcome. This year’s Utah Jazz team is unquestionably young, but it has always felt wrong to me to accept their shortcomings because of that fact. In reality, the Jazz are very young at only two positions, shooting guard and center, with the addition of Shelvin Mack at the trade deadline.
The Jazz of 2005-06 were also young, when you consider everything. Andrei Kirilenko was the primary starter with the most experience with only 281 games and 166 starts in 4 previous seasons. Mehmet Okur had only started 67 games previously, Carlos Boozer 180 and Deron Williams was a rookie point guard. For perspective, if Gordon Hayward or Derrick Favors were on that 2005-06 Jazz team today, they would have more minutes, games played and games started than every teammate other than Matt Harpring and Milt Palacio. Yes, this year’s Jazz team is really young with Rodney Hood, Rudy Gobert, and Raul Neto playing big roles, but this is a path the Jazz have successfully navigated before.
I think the bigger point is that the Jazz went from a 41 win team out of the playoffs, to a 51 win team that made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals. The fact the Jazz made it to the Conference Finals certainly had a healthy serving of luck, but this Utah Jazz team hopes to make the same progression from borderline playoff team to fighting for home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs yearly. So how did Deron Williams’ team do it in his second season? Well, the young guys improved, Carlos Boozer got healthy, and Paul Millsap and Ronnie Brewer were added to the next year’s team. This season’s Jazz team has a similar plan: internal growth, bounce-backs from injury, and adding through the draft. But the biggest factor to the Jazz’s progression may have been the addition of Derek Fisher.
Now before I go any further, I just want to say that I don’t like Derek Fisher very much. I thought he did a mostly bad job coaching the Knicks. I don’t like how he reportedly separated from his wife and kids. I don’t like the way he left the Jazz. Don’t get me wrong. It was awesome for the Jazz that he willingly left his contract money on the table and went elsewhere. But Derek Fisher just seems like a man with very little integrity. With that said, he was a great addition for the 2006-07 Utah Jazz team.
On paper, he was actually awful. He shot 38% from the field and 31% from the three point line. He was an absolute atrocity on the defensive end. Starting shooting guards all over the league must have circled the games against the Jazz on their individual calendars. But Derek Fisher also brought championship experience and leadership. I don’t believe in leadership and intangibles and all that stuff, usually. It’s just too hard to measure. But the more I read about guys getting motivated by other stars at USA Olympic workouts, or think about the role of more experienced staff in my own profession, I am forced to believe that leadership does matter. I remember my good friend Layton Shumway telling me how he was impressed with the way Derek Fisher carried himself during media day that season. Layton worked for the Deseret News at the time and saw Fisher up close and mentioned that he talked about championships and championship behavior. Fisher immediately raised the bar of expectations for that Jazz team. Making the playoffs wasn’t enough. I imagine Fisher taught his very young teammates how to act and play like champions to some degree.
This Jazz team needs to find their version of Derek Fisher this offseason. It would be even better if that player could perform better than Derek Fisher did. But they need someone who will come in and help Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors take the next steps. The Jazz need someone who will take Dante Exum aside and show him how to draw a foul convincingly, or teach Rodney Hood how to get an advantage in defensive positioning.
So who is that player? I have three ideas. But first I would like to hear from the readers in the comment section if you have any better ones.