This was how the season was supposed to be. A happy DWill leading the team with Jerry in the background, playing on a different level than anyone else on the floor and clearly in a class of his own. Instead…sigh.
I kind of fell into blogging by accident two years ago. In the beginning, I just needed a place to–
–share my joy (5%);
–vent one-liners (95%)
–(Boozer’s defense: 85%)
–(Boozer’s inability to think before he speaks: 15%)
–about the Jazz, since I don’t have any fellow Jazz fan friends around me (converted exes I’m no longer in touch with notwithstanding). I only started posting in earnest and writing game recaps this season–and that really started out as a simple exercise in posting pictures of DWill’s outfits when he began the season on the injured list. To my total amazement and surprise, I seem to have picked up a few readers along the way–and not just those few friends that I told about this particular blog.
[DWill has matured as a basketball player and point guard, and seems to be moving in the right direction in becoming a locker room leader as well. But perhaps the most apparent difference is his sartorial choices–which have improved from *cringe* to [in Borat voice] *very nice.*]
How would I sum up this season in one word?
Derailed. (Not totally in train wreck territory though).
Between Jerry saying that this was the most talented team he’s ever coached, and Memo reporting to camp in the best shape of his career, and KK2’s already legendary hardworkitude, and most of the team voluntarily returning to SLC early to work out and train together, and what was seen as an extraordinarily deep bench, and the new sound system and intros at the ESA–there was no conclusion to be reached, other than that it was going to be OUR YEAR.
And then Stinking Rose did this:
Although we didn’t know it at the time, our season had begun circling the drain. It started out well enough. Five straight wins to get Jerry his 1,000th win with the Jazz at home, and then the guys packed up their stuff and headed off on an Eastern road trip.
That’s when the cracks started showing. Bad losses to bad teams. Becoming the Bullets’ win virgin sacrifice. Memo’s dad taking ill. DWill coming back too early and setting himself back. Boozer going down. AK going down…Matty never having gotten back up from his pre-season surgery and JC having to take months off to rest his golf cart elbow…Sap going down…finding out that the road woes from last season were still here and oh-so-real, and now were accompanied by back-end-of-back-to-back woes. The absolute, absolute highlight of the season taking place in the form of a dance-off between Fess and KK2…and then LHM so completely unexpectedly and devastatingly passing away. A 12-game win streak that included victories over LAL and BOS ended with a horrible 3OT loss in Miami. The next game, a no-show in Orlando, accelerated the drain circling…suddenly we were having locker room issues and everyone hated each other…all the while, we kept losing and losing and losing. Thinking that we had hit bottom with the loss to Minnesota at home, only to have that topped (or bottomed) with the home loss to GS, who had 4 undrafted players, 3 rookies, and an assistant coach to its name.
We limped into the Playoffs, limped through the Playoffs, and limped out of the Playoffs, and our season ended.
There’s nothing easier than overreacting and throwing blame around when things are rough, and believing that a massive overhaul is the only solution in the universe. We as Jazz fans don’t really know how to deal with injuries, and only know how to judge healthy teams. And while this past month has hurt and disgusted and frustrated and pained, I have to say that the coaching staff and ownership did an admirable job this year, getting the Jazz a Playoffs berth considering the pervasive “Man Down” theme that never seemed to end, and personal losses. There are a lot of bad franchises out there that wouldn’t have given a second thought to tanking for a Lottery pick, but not our team. Our team forged on ahead and did the best they could–until they had to fight for a good seed and then collapsed (the “look at the bright side” attitude can only last so long).
If “who’s returning” is the biggest question
heading into this offseason, the next question would seem to be if Jerry will return for a 22nd campaign. Maybe I’m in the minority and maybe I’m completely past it and/or just really old, but I don’t want the inmates running the prison. I like having a coach that I respect completely. I don’t agree with all of his decisions, but I absolutely love Jerry’s competitiveness. I also like to watch tough, physical, bang it out basketball (which the new rules and our current roster have stolen from me).
And so if it comes down to changing the system (coach) or personnel, I say change the personnel. I don’t think the system is broken (although it could stand to be tweaked; more emphasis on perimeter defense comes to mind); it’s often been said that this year’s team was not a Jerry Sloan team in that it was not only soft, but extremely poor at executing. There are only a handful of players on the current roster that “get it”–as “it” is defined by Jerry (DWill, Harp, Collins, Ronnie B, Sap, and KK2). I don’t know if the same could be said for AK, KK, and Memo, but I think they buy into the system. And there are two guys–CJ and Boozer–that have no idea what Jerry wants or expects from them on the court. So front office, it’s on you to go out there and round out the roster with guys that fit the system (some defensive-minded vets with nothing to prove individually–or as Coach Pop puts it, guys that are “over themselves”–would be nice. Real nice. So nice).
Some say that Jerry doesn’t develop young guys–I call bullsh*t. Very, very few players leave the Jazz and go on to excel. Mo Williams, perhaps the guy that springs to mind that did, has said that Jerry taught him how to be a point guard. Jerry developed or at least played a major role in developing Stockton and Malone. Bryon Russell, Shandon Anderson. DWill would NOT be the player he is today if he hadn’t gone through that rookie season. OK, so he played behind crap players that he was superior to his first year, but that made him better and aggrandized the chip on his shoulder that we’ve all come to know, love, and depend on. Millsap and Brewer–both developed by Jerry. Like I said above, I don’t want the inmates running the prison, and I like that our players have to earn their playing time. As for the assertion that Jerry doesn’t play young guys–Sap is the living proof that that’s not true. Like all other fans, I would have liked to see KK2 get more minutes this year, sure. But I’m not going to say that because KK2 didn’t get much playing time during his rookie season, we need a new coach.
Anyway, if Jerry decides to retire, then that’s that. The man has earned the right to decide what he wants to do, and how and when he wants to do it.
This should probably be a separate post, but I’ve come to the realization that my hopes for next season/the future of the Jazz are completely and unhealthily (unrealistically?) pinned on the development of Kostko into Mark Eaton-lite*. I think we’ll see a lot more of him next season, and I can’t wait to see how he develops. [The months are stretching out in front of me now as far as the eye can see, and I won’t even have the Olympics to distract me during the interminably long basketball-free months of interminable boredom. Sigh.] Secondary hope: that DWill matures into the locker room leader and voice of the team that we need–we started seeing signs of that during the Playoffs, but we need more.
It’s going to be an interesting (and hopefully active and fruitful) off-season, to say the least, and could be the most important off-season in Jazz history–including ’03.
6/25: NBA Draft
6/30: Deadline for opting out
*Stuff like this just fans the flames of my hope fire:
Following the Flash’s win Saturday night, Koufos drove up to EnergySolutions Arena for a late-night shooting session on his NBA team’s court.
The 20-year-old rookie didn’t leave the building until he hit 100 shots, which happened just before midnight.