30 Teams, 30 Days
Utah Jazz Season Preview.
We conclude the Northwest Division previews with the Utah Jazz. You can read past previews here.
Today’s pop culture leans toward more people bumping Kanye or Kings of Leon on their iPod rather than Miles and Mingus on their record players. But true music lovers recognize jazz too. NBATV shows us that more people would prefer to tune into whoever the Lakers or Cavs are playing rather than consistent, mainstay franchises like Utah. But true basketball lovers recognize the Jazz too.
Just a couple of weeks back, two big pieces of the Utah Jazz legacy were cemented into basketball history. One of the greatest and longest serving coaches of all time Jerry Sloan was inducted into Basketball Hall of Fame. This was no retirement ceremony, though; Jerry is not shying away from the stresses of coaching as he enters his 21st full season at the helm in Salt Lake City. The one consistent, loyal force that stands above the rest in today’s game. The inspiration he gives to his team from the volumes his dedication speaks cannot be matched. The other Jazz legend inducted was point guard maestro, John Stockton. John and his on-court partner Karl Malone, however, have been gone for a long time now.
Utah fans would still be yearning for pick and roll perfection if it wasn’t for the earlier-than-expected rise of this franchise over the last two years. Utah (led by the Malone/Stockton remix of Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams) has hung round with the better teams in the Western Conference and making decent runs in the Playoffs for a couple of seasons now. In this time, Utah offered a dynamic, tough team with as many different and complex weapons as Fallout 3 has for its first-person shooters. Utah built a strong reputation in the always tough Western Conference of being solid and consistent.
That all nearly changed this summer when Carlos Boozers trade demands left Jazz fans feeling like they could do with having a little chat with those old disheartened Cavalier fans. Just as things were looking up. Just when they advanced to the Conference Finals, falling to the eventual champions. Just when the Jazz were an eight-seed that could still hang around with the big boys, trade requests happened.
Then again, as of now, Boozer’s demands have found no supply. Training camp opened and Boozer had been all smiles and all Jazz uniformed. Interest has been decent, rumors were fabricated, but nothing materialized. Utah kept one of the best power forwards and a 20 and 10 guy, having an unhappy star cannot be a good thing. Then again, unless you work in the Cavs front office, most people don’t sing Boozer praises. Having Mike Krzyzewski as a reference or having words like ‘loyalty’ and ‘respect’ associated with his name is reinforcing. If Carlos stays loyal to the franchise and earns his bread and butter, then everybody will eat.
We just don’t know in this trading frenzy basketball world of today if Boozer will remain happy with his situation and remain at the Jazz. Especially after his previous adamant demands. One month a player could be on the cover of SLAM in one jersey and by the time the magazine makes it overseas, he could end up somewhere else. So instead of speculation, we need to realize the Jazz are more than just one guy. It’s whether they get to grips with this fact or not that will determine how far they go this season. So what will this Utah Jazz franchise be next season? A team that may not be an outright contender, but still a force and a western conference? If Boozer eventually leaves, will the Jazz simply end up like the Cleveland team of 2004? Pissed off and trying to blow hot air through the sails that this man’s departure took the wind out of?
Now, how do you go half deep into a season preview without talking about Deron Williams? Well some things go without saying, but with the body of this article shamefully focusing on rumor and drama, lets now focus on what’s real and true. Deron Williams is arguably the best point guard in the League right now, (you’ll agree… unless you purchased the Chris Paul cover). Either way, with one of the best floor generals in the game, Utah is going places. Deron Williams is that good. Exactly how good? Well who’s he the best point since? Nash? Kidd? Fellow Jazz man Stockton? How about Magic? It goes without saying we are dealing with real talent here. Raw talent might get results, but real talent guarantees them. Utah’s future still belongs to the safest hands in the League.
The rest of the Jazz roster shapes out quite nicely, and even if they began to let it go a bit they’d be whipped back into shape by the Sloan Ranger. Who would argue with one of the best motivators in the game? He’s the type of guy who gets ejected from games and leaves the referee thinking, ‘Should I go too?’ You don’t mess with NBA royalty. Jerry Sloan will put all these pieces together right or he’ll put these pieces in their place.
When you look at the rest of this Jazz roster, you see a versatile and dynamic unit. Not many teams can boast about having two former All-Stars that spread the floor as well as having their two go-to guys. Utah can, though. Andrei Kirlienko gives the Jazz a forward like no other — tall, skilled, versatile, defensive-minded and able to score… quickly. At his worst, Andrei is still a viable third or fourth option; at his best AK-47 is killer. Mehmet Okur on the other hand is one of those rare-breed centers, one of the few guys who could frustrate Shaq. A center who can more than hold his own in the paint but can also take you out to the three point line and bury you. Coaches dream of guys who rebound so efficiently and are also clutch, and that’s what Okur is. The Jazz really do have talent in depth because their players have talent in depth.
Let’s not forget other key guys like Paul Millsap and Ronnie Brewer. Rising talents that get their own in a crowded ballclub and could still turn it up even more if needed to step in further. Guys who impress in the season and come up big in the Playoffs. Let’s not forget raw talent like C.J. Miles or Ronnie Price. And let’s not forget Ashton Kutcher punking opponents from behind the arc, either.
It’s a shame that a guy like Matt Harping (who deserves more ink than this for his consistent, reliable and unsung career) may not be able to make it back this year. But let’s hope he does. A guy like Matt is a reliable, do-it-all and give-it-all guy. A man who possess talent but even more determination and sense of work ethic. What he gives to his team cannot be measured in stats and is hard to quantify in words. It’s a shame that reliable, free agent, veteran talents like Brevin Knight have not been brought back. With that being said, it’s clear Utah still has the necessary parts to scratch at contentions door for the foreseeable future.
The Western conference is getting stronger. It’s the Lakers signing Artest stronger. It’s the Spurs signing Jefferson stronger. It’s the Grizzlies finding some Answers stronger. It’s the Nuggets stronger and it’s the Trail Blazers stronger. Utah has gone up against the West’s best over the years and held its own. They may have been just shy of contention over the last few years, but they’ve still hung around these tough parts of the wild west, and they’re stronger for it. Just call them the Sacramento Kings of the 10s. If they continue how they’ve gone, the Jazz will only get better. They may not be among the best right now, but one thing is for sure — they are legit. With a focused Boozer secure, this could be it.
For too long, memories of the Utah Jazz in the Playoffs have belonged primarily to other teams. From Mike’s Final’s winning, ‘Last Shot’ to Golden State’s breakout series. Even when the Playoff memories are in the Jazz’s favor they remain an afterthought to things like Kobe’s famous air balls. Isn’t it time this unsung team stood up and demanded to be really noticed?