Every successful NBA team needs a leader. The Celtics of the 60’s had Bill Russell, the Lakers of the 80’s had Magic Johnson, and the Bulls of the 90’s had Michael Jordan. A team without a leader is like a car without a steering wheel, an army without a general, and a Reese’s peanut butter cup without the peanut butter. An NBA team won’t get far without a clear leader, and frankly a Reese’s tastes horrible without the peanut butter cup. Although the Jazz don’t need to pull apart (or consume) hundreds of Reese’s candies to learn this lesson, they still have some leadership questions to answer before next season kicks off.
If you take a quick scan of next year’s Jazz roster, you won’t notice much of a veteran presence. Obviously the roster includes a few notable players that have been around the league for a bit, namely Richard Jefferson, Brandon Rush, John Lucas, and Marvin Williams, but none of those newly acquired veterans are expected to make a serious impact next season, let alone lead the team. So what exactly does a lack of superstar veteran presence mean for the Jazz of 2014-2015? Well, for one it means Al Jefferson won’t be waiting on the bench to relieve Kanter or Favors when they make a mistake. It definitely means Ty Corbin’s role will be more important than ever. It also means the locker room needs to find a new undisputed leader, and fast. I never thought I would say this about a team of twenty-something year olds, but time is truly of the essence.
When you think of the qualities a true leader possesses, does anyone on the current Jazz roster come to mind? Can you think of a player who embodies self-confidence, who gleans strength from the team’s success, who knows the correct way to deal with failure? If you think long and hard you might come up with a few names, but maybe more than anything this little thinking exercise proves that leaders don’t grow on trees. It’s not enough for a leader to simply be talented or to have a great mind for the game of basketball. In a lot of ways, a leader is responsible for the morale of the entire team, which is a heavier burden than scoring 20 points and pulling down 10 rebounds per game. He needs to command respect, act as a guide, and give the team confidence when the chips are down. So who can do that for the Utah Jazz?
This is perhaps the first time I’ve never been able to clearly identify the leader of an NBA basketball team. The leaders I’m familiar with are normally the loudest guys in the room, not to mention the most critical and obnoxious (take Kobe Bryant for example). Unless I’m missing something, this Jazz team doesn’t have anyone like that. The veterans mostly keep to themselves, and strangely enough, so do the youngsters. I’m not suggesting there is anything inherently wrong with a quiet leader, it’s just a rarity in the NBA. One thing is clear however—if the Jazz are going to experience any amount of success this season, they need a leader. The discussion about who should fill that role will go on for months, but in the meantime, I’ll nominate a few candidates for consideration.
- Gordon Hayward - I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of Jazz fans think Hayward should be the one to lead this young team into the future. Last season he really came into his own, averaging 14.1 points per game, 3.1 rebounds, and 3 assists. He’s been around Jazz land for a while so this offseason should officially signal the end of his learning period. I think this year will determine if Hayward can lead this team, or if he’s just another talented player. My only concern is his tendency to lose confidence at crucial points during the season. If he’s going to lead, the Jazz need to be able to count on him.
- Derrick Favors - Favors is undoubtedly one of the quietest players in the NBA today, but that doesn’t mean he can’t lead. He posted 9.4 points per game, 7.1 rebounds, and 1 assist last season and will look to improve upon those numbers as his playing time increases this season. Gordon Hayward once told The Big Show’s Spencer Checketts and Gordon Monson that Favors could go a whole practice without saying a word. Who knows, maybe we have another Tim Duncan in the making? One thing is for certain, he definitely has the talent and work ethic to do the job.
- Trey Burke - Even though he hasn’t played a single regular season game in a Jazz uniform, Burke still needs to be considered for the open leadership position. Everyone knows great point guards make great leaders. Magic Johnson, Jason Kidd, and John Stockton have certainly taught us that over the last 20 years. If there’s one thing we know Burke can do, it’s lead a team. He led a Michigan team that no one expected to finish near the top of the Big Ten, or make it to the Final Four, but they did. Even though Burke is a newcomer in every sense of the word, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him take control next season.