The Utah Jazz: A Long Road Ahead

Something has happened to the NBA in the past 20 years or so. No one could have predicted it or seen it coming, but nevertheless it has happened. The pure unadulterated game that we grew up playing in the driveway with our friends is slowly being dissolved into nothing.

Wait, the NBA is all of the best players in the world playing together, what could be wrong with that?

Lets take a trip down memory lane to the summer of 2010. The greatest player in the world was in the midst of making the biggest decision of his life. To leave his home town of Cleveland and head to not only a more desirable location, but a better team overall. It is apparent to us now that there was something going on behind the scenes or inside LeBron’s overly massive head. Somewhere along the way he thought “you know when I break it down I actually make more money off my endorsements so is my salary that big of a deal?” And it wasn’t. He took a pay-cut, he took himself out of the mega-star role he had been living in the past and settled for a superstar role on a team with more than one superstar. I mean two is better than one right? Well what about three? Well three would be unstoppable… Then the question of chemistry would come up. Well you can’t just put the best players in the world together and expect them to form the best team in the world because there’s other factors that go into a team, right? There has to be role player, players that are ok with passing up the big shots and who just want to be on a championship team. Okay, so that took one year to dissolve. One year to learn the chemistry of your teammates who all are looking for that magical ring to put in their trophy case.

How is this happening in the NBA but not in any other leagues?

If we take the moment to acknowledge the Superbowl champion Baltimore Ravens, I think we have a great contrast. Here you have a team where you could look top to bottom across the league and agree that the Ravens honestly don’t have any of the best players at any of the positions. Ray Lewis is on strings out there, Terrell Suggs is a great linebacker but he’s not the best right now after a serious mid-season injury, Ray Rice is great and explosive but I don’t know many people who wouldn’t rather have Adrian Peterson or Arian Foster. They have an aging Anquan Boldin who has great hands yes, but he’s not Megatron. Then last but not least there’s Joseph Vincent Flacco, who by all of my accounts was never going to win a Superbowl because he wasn’t the kind of guy that had the chops to lead his team to the promise land. Even as I watched him win the Superbowl MVP I still couldn’t shake the doubt. Is he a good player? Yes. Is he a Hall of Famer? No. Now it’s probably unfair to judge his career right now at this still young stage but let’s be honest that’s what winning does. It answers as many questions as it asks. But let’s get back to the point. The Ravens won the Superbowl this year because of two things, (1) they got hot! (2) they were physical. We can sit here and talk x’s and o’s until we’re blue in the face and the one thing that won’t come up in that is how hot a team is. It’s almost like when you’re hot you’re a different team. You play out of your mind and all of the right things start happening at the right time. This is the soul reason why the giants have won 2 Superbowls with Eli Manning. 2008, the year of the Patriots destiny, the year they could do no wrong, the year the stars aligned, for 19 games. They were 12 point favorites going into the game and they could barely score 14 points in the entire game. So what happened to the most prolific offense of recent memory? They weren’t hot enough. The great thing about the NFL is the fact that you get down to the championship game and the only thing that matters is the next 60 minutes. You don’t have to be the greatest team to ever play, you don’t have to have the best quarterback or the best running back or even the best kicker. You have to be better than the guys lining up in front of you for SIXTY minutes, that’s it! Nothing before that time matters and nothing after that time matters. You can say the same about college football or college basketball. But you know what you can’t say that about? The NBA.

But I love the NBA why are you hating?

I’ll be the first to tell you that I honestly do not find that much enjoyment in the NBA, but that is mostly just me and I see how millions of fans across the world are entranced by the league and its charismatic players. They’re the best in the world at what they do, and that is why they are there. Playing on the biggest stages for the biggest contracts for the chance at the biggest prize. And it’s not that I don’t like the NBA because I can sit down and watch a game and enjoy watching players that have perfected their craft and performing masterfully. But in the NBA the best teams wins, every time without fail in history the best team wins. In the late 90’s the Bulls won every time they played the Jazz. I mean the Jazz had Malone and Stockton! And the Bulls still won every time. Yeah they had Michael Jordan but lets talk about Dan Marino for a second who only ever made it to ONE Superbowl his whole career and got destroyed. When you play seven games that’s what happens! There’s no magic! Let me rephrase, there is magic because there’s magic during any professional championship because you’re watching the two teams that earned their right to play, go at it head-to-head for potentially seven games. Anyone who says that isn’t magic is crazy but it’s just not the same. There’s something about watching George Mason make it to the Final Four that just steals the hearts of Americans every time it happens. At the halfway point in the NBA season we can assume a few things. The Lakers will be without Howard next year, the Heat will make it to the finals, and the Thunder will make it to the finals. Now of course none of that is set in stone but show me anything that tells anything different and we’ll talk. LeBron James is the greatest player in the world right now and the Heat play in the Eastern Conference where the only team that could threaten them is the Knicks, and they can’t threaten in a series. They could win one or two, to be honest the way the Celtics are playing right now (WITHOUT RONDO) they could steal one or two from the Heat, but not four games, no way, not going to happen. Then there’s the west, who have their own super team in the Thunder. The Clippers are a super team in the making but Blake just hasn’t polished his game enough for anyone to agree they could pose a real threat to the Thunder. Then we have one of my favorite teams, the Spurs. Who knows what is going on with the Spurs right, but then again who ever knows what is going on with them. The most interesting thing about the Spurs right now is that their winning without Duncan and Ginobili. So they can win without their two best players, but not only that, their two best players aren’t focusing on doing anything besides resting and getting healthy. What has been the biggest problem for the Spurs in the playoffs recently? No energy! They give it 100% all season and their mid-30’s legs give out on them when they face the young guns in the early rounds. Saving them for the second half of the season could be a coach of the year type move for Popovich. So that will certainly be interesting to watch down the stretch. But will it be enough to break up a rematch for the title? I don’t see it. I’m open to the possibility and potentially changing my mind in the future, but I don’t see it right now. And I don’t see it for a long time.

So where does that leave the Jazz?

Well there are a few ways I could put this but honestly neither of them are better or worse than the other one. Let me just say that the Jazz’s greatest chance to bring home their first title was when D-Will was dishing to Boozer. I don’t see anything right now on paper that would even get them out of the first round of the playoffs. And that’s the absolute worst spot a team can be in right? You are struggling to find your identity, you aren’t really sure what you have with the players on your roster so you’re not entirely sure where you need the most help. You made it to the players yeah, but honestly more than half the league makes it to the playoffs so pat yourself on the back for that one. At the end of the day you come home with another over .500 season with a lot more questions than you started the year with. And the worst position of all right in the middle of the draft where you’re not going to get a great player but he won’t be the worst. But you NEED a great player. If we learn anything from LeBron James and Chris Bosh going to Miami, or KG and Ray Allen going to Boston, it’s that at any given time in the NBA there are at least three great players and at most five. Once you start putting these handful of great players on great teams in great cities, why would anyone want to leave? Who would want to stay in Cleveland over Miami? Who would want to be in Toronto or Minnesota over Miami or Boston or Los Angeles? Now don’t even get me started on Utah. I’ll be the first person to tell you how great the wide west is and how beautiful of a place it is but there just aren’t too many 19 and 20-year-old kids who can’t wait to pack their bags for Salt Lake City. It hurts me to say it because they’re my hometown team but there just isn’t a winning tradition here. We’ve never won a championship in college or professional basketball. As much as I would love to see it happen I just don’t see the Jazz competing realistic in the next 10 years. I would love to see a fluke or a Cinderella run into the championship but it’s not going to happen. At least not until we have someone to take us there. Maybe it is Gordon Hayward and I’m wrong about him being a softie, or maybe it’s Derrick Favors who has shown promise, or maybe it’s both of them. Only time will tell. The Utah Jazz have two things on their side right now; they’re young, and no ones talking about them. They have nowhere to go but up and it should be an interesting ride.