HALLELUJAH! RAJA BELL IS BACK!
I swear this is true: I was going to write a post this weekend about OMSW and how the Jazz should go after Raja Bell as 1) the Jazz weren’t expected to announce a decision on Wesley until Monday; 2) I have more time during the weekend; 3) because the free agency frenzy has made me unable to leave my computer and my eyes are sore as hell.
RAJA BELL IS BACK! I can’t remember the last time I was this excited. I can’t stop grinning (seriously, my face hurts). After hitting the “Publish” button, I am heading straight for my rooftop so that I can go scream my head off. This makes me OK with Al Jefferson. This makes me OK with losing OMSW.* This makes me OK with the world. The summer is complete.
I wanted the Jazz to go get Raja Bell even before the Bobcats traded him to the Warriors. I’ve felt for several seasons now that the Jazz’s most pressing need was not post defense, but veteran leadership and toughness. Me in December 2009:
Phil Johnson and David Locke recently had a conversation about the kind of player Raja Bell is–i.e. the kind of guy that gets after his teammates when they’re not getting the job done–and whether players can evolve into that. Phil’s position was that you can’t change personalities and you either have it in you or you don’t. And if you ask me, that is exactly what’s missing from and wrong with this team.
And four months ago:
Raja Bell has been released by the Warriors. KOC, please sign him immediately. I know he likely won’t be able to play in the post-season, but I want him more for his leadership and toughness than anything else. Despite the logjam situation, we need his Matty-enforcing-“you hit my guy, I got his back” mentality. I honestly think his presence on the team makes us a possible contender. Even better, he already knows the system.
Now, let’s go a little further back in time–just a little–to July 2005. We all know that Phoenix was able to offer Bell a longer contract than the Jazz, and he ended up signing with them that summer. Before that happened, however, resigning him had been one of the Jazz’s top priorities. An excerpt from the desnews that summer:
It never was about the points Bell produced or even the minutes he played. It was about the attitude. It seems a long time since Karl Malone, Jeff Hornacek and John Stockton could get their teammates fired up with a hard stare. Now look. Sometimes the Jazz are as soft as goose down. Occasionally last year, in spite of Bell’s efforts, they seemed ready to curl into the fetal position. Lots of big bad teams–and mediocre ones, too–came in and slapped the Jazz around. Used to be teams feared the Jazz. Now they dismiss them.
Aside from Jerry Sloan, the steadiest force against apathy was Bell. He was the guy who drew the technical fouls. When the Jazz showed little interest in playing, it was Bell who called their effort “unacceptable.” In mid-March, sensing a number of teammates had already checked out, Bell growled, “So we don’t make the playoffs? But we can beat teams just to say we beat them.”
The situation was, and is, this: The Jazz don’t have much leadership. Bell may not have been the team’s long-term solution, in part because he wasn’t a starter half the time. But he did his best. Kirilenko has the right spirit, but his orders get lost in translation. Carlos Boozer doesn’t always motivate himself, much less his teammates. Matt Harpring has enough to deal with just staying healthy.
Bell wasn’t just a leader on the court, though. He was always there after games to offer perspective. He had that rare combination of civility and honesty. The man was as straightforward as a judge. It was Bell who labeled the Jazz’s inability to execute “ridiculous.” It was Bell, too, who said he wasn’t worried about his contract, but whether he played well and won; Bell who kept the Jazz from simply forfeiting the season after Kirilenko and Boozer went down.
Bell put in two seasons with the Jazz, doing everything he could, throwing himself about the court, taking charges and, of course, firing people up. He showed younger players how they should play, coaches how much he cared and fans why paying $50 for a ticket is worth it.
Does this sound like someone we need?????
Over the course of this summer, we lost two of our four oldest players and the average age of our team is now 25 years of age. After Memo and AK, Ronnie P and Deron are our oldest players at 27 and 26. 8 of our players are 25 or younger.
Going into this summer, I thought our top priority (after dealing with our own free agents) should be a tough-minded vet with
an enforcer mentality…e.g. Raja Bell. There were innumerable times in the past two seasons when I’ve thought that the suckitude unfolding before my eyes would not be happening if we had some veteran leadership on the team. Again, this is just me, but I would’ve put signing a veteran enforcer on the top of my priority list above a defensive big. (In regards to the defensive big–I’d be happy with a serviceable defense-minded big even if he’s offensively limited (offensively limited might even be a plus because that would mean he made it to this level on his defense). If Fes can become that guy, all the better.)
Like him or hate him and inability to make shots in the first 46 minutes of games aside, Fisher played that tough vet role for us on a team of extremely young guys, and without his presence we got softer as the years went by–which could be construed as a step backwards even if there weren’t actual roster changes. Going into games or the Playoffs with the right mentality, and having someone in the locker room that guys can look to for that, is half the battle. Raja Bell fits the bill perfectly.
When the Trailblazers signed OMSW to the “Screw you Utah” offer sheet, I was completely torn. I changed my mind every other second about whether the Jazz should match.
–It was too much money. Way too much money (I thought he was worth about $4M per before free agency opened).
–On the other hand, he was–as a rookie–our best defender last year according to the Jazz’s defensive grades.
–On the other hand, I wanted the Blazers to lie in the bed that they’d made.
–On the other hand, don’t we have to match given the alternatives (Al Harrington, Shannon Brown, etc.)?
Raja Bell was the one and only replacement for OMSW that I would’ve been 100% happy with. Best of all, he’s been here before, he is the epitome of a Jerry Sloan player, he knows the system (take a moment here to appreciate the consistency, longevity, and stability of the Utah Jazz/Jerry Sloan era if you want), and he’s not afraid of getting on the backs of undefensively-inclined teammates. I realize that there should’ve only been one statement after “Best of all,” but there’s just so much to appreciate.
Back in July 2005 before free agency season opened, Raja said:
“That,” he said, “is one of the reasons I’d like to stay in Utah–because when I came out of Dallas, even though I didn’t have a lot of numbers, I thought that being on winning teams and playing the role I was asked to play would get me somewhere I wanted to be. And Utah was the only team that saw that in me.
“I think the future here is really, really bright–and I want to be a part of it.” (desnews)
Welcome back Raja. I’m elated that you’re back–because our future is really, really bright now.
Remember that time during the Playoffs two years ago when Jerry said we didn’t have any “nasty”? We got it now. Woohooooooooooo!
Now, go watch this a million times:
*About Wesley Matthews (not that he deserves to be a postscript):
I love the kid. He was one of the bright spots of last season. No matter what, losing him sucks. I wish we could have kept him, but the NBA is a business and I can’t blame him for signing the offer sheet (although my initial reaction was to do so). We’ll miss your defense and hustle and shouting “Oh my sweet Wesley!” whenever you do something great. Nothing but the best.