On the NBA: Can’t Stop the Beat

The process of free agent wooing cannot be easy for Utah Jazz GM Kevin O’Connor. I would guess that his work involves no 225-foot murals draped down the skyscrapers of Salt Lake City or iPads stuffed with enticing videos of Karl Malone waxing poetic about his relationship with the organization. No, the Jazz’s biggest haul in the free agent market of recent years involved getting a young star to renege on a verbal promise made to a blind man because Utah had just offered him an unreasonable amount of money (which later turned out to be very reasonable). Utah, as elegant and comely as its scenery may be, simply does not present the ideal stomping grounds for an NBA player; still, the Jazz represent the NBA’s answer to the Atlanta Braves (sans the one ring): a veritable stronghold of consistency and efficiency. Without fail, the team puts itself in position for more, allowing itself the opportunity to succeed, even when overmatched. As redundant and sportswriter-ly it is of me to say it, the Jazz succeeds because it lays a groundwork for and a culture of success. Still, cliche doesn’t field a good team, and O’Connor had his hands full this offseason with the imminent departures of some of his finest players in All-Star-type (and occasional All-Star) Carlos Boozer, the stud youngster who lied to the blind guy (and isn’t so young any longer); sharpshooter and Buffy the Vampire Slayer extra Kyle Korver, who was simply the best shooter in basketball last year; and undrafted rookie Wesley Mathews, who surprised many with his fantastic perimeter defense and surprised all with his fantastically inflated contract from the Portland Trailblazers. Yes, for once, it seemed doom and gloom would finally sully the eerily pure whiteness of the Utah landscape; O’Connor then went to work.

When a team finds itself both struggling to remain relevant while trying to take into consideration financial limitations (such as an owner’s refusal to pay the luxury tax), it usually decides one or the other, as splitting the proverbial baby in half usually ends in more of a mess than choosing one specific goal (and please, please forgive me my puns). The Jazz saw itself in this exact situation at the beginning of the Summer of Bron Bron, staring into the Boozer-less abyss it had feared (and prepared for by resigning the undersized but imposing Paul Millsap) for years while alternately attempting to move under the tax of the luxurious. In a summer where big names could not be kept at home through mere millions and established loyalty, what chance did a market like the Jazz’s have? The team, aware as any of its impending irrelevance that could spur true franchise player Deron Williams into the same kind of trade demands that the LRMR products made, saw what the Raptors and Cavaliers did not this offseason: opportunity in the face of debilitating change. Where Dan Gilbert groaned publicly and Bryan Colangelo scooped up a few second-rounders, O’Connor lost his prize free agent with poise, aggressively grabbing a trade exception worth 13 million dollars. Of course, the rest of the story seemed fated: lunatic GM publicly shops best player of awful team, smart GM smells blood, the Jazz seizes opportunity. The Alaskan kid that had risen to prominence in Salt Lake City vanished like that, off to the big city and contract he had pursued like a fiend for years, and in his stead, there stood a behemoth of a man-child, Al Jefferson, the most underrated haul of the Summer.

As I reiterate a story that seems more predestination than happenstance, I cannot help but stand in awe at what the Utah Jazz were able to do. Rebuilding projects typically take years, testing the patience of the most diehard fanbases and giving inconvenienced stars the opportunity to find fame and fortune elsewhere. O’Conner, weathered genius Jerry Sloan and Jazz ownership would have no parts of such a process, knowing exactly what we all knew: time is short, opportunities for Larry O’Brien trophies scarce. In the midst of a summer that seemed to thumb its nose at the small markets, proving that there was no place in today’s NBA for those teams whose owners weren’t gigantic Russian playboys or smooth-jazz-playing Isiah Thomas fans, the Utah Jazz established itself, as if it had to, as one of the NBA’s premier franchises. It can always find a way to win, even when odds and circumstance are legitimately conspiring to take Utah down. As impressive as the haul of Al Jefferson was, though, exactly how many wins that consistency is good for can still be argued. But that misses the entire point.

The Utah Jazz play in what is currently the roughest division in basketball, even if divisions mean nothing in basketball. During its current era, an array of contenders have emerged as “the new”, and “the new” always seems sexier than the Jazz. The Durants, the Melos, the Roys even‒ these men will all still have their chances against the machine that is Utah this year and certainly into the future. But this chapter was supposed to have been written and closed for Utah at this juncture, one which see the biggest hinderance to the Jazz’s title hopes not in any other team or player, but in making the shiny news toys Jerry Sloan was just given fit into the pegs that all Jazz players must. Because that is what Utah does; it does not adjust, and it certainly won’t fold or break. It forges on, trudging through new paradigms and eras, waiting for its opening. By tipoff of opening day, the flex offense and its components will be in motion, whether Jefferson has learned to play in it or not. The defense will be violent, as it always has been. And the Jazz will win because that is what it knows how to do, regardless of context.

Featuring philosophizing on league-wide issues, ‘On the NBA’ is the new Red94 general NBA column.  Recent posts can be accessed via the sidebar.  Follow Red94 on Twitter and Facebook for new post updates.

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  • Anonymous

    In the ESPN season preview, I think I picked the Jazz as my sleeper to come out of the West. If Sloan can get Jefferson to fit (and he will, Sloan gets everyone to fit), that team has completely rebuilt itself with a new frontline duo of Jefferson-Milsap to go with Williams. Incredible.

  • Eric

    A bold move to post Jazz content on a Rockets site. I like it.

  • Svspider

    I read every day. Have never posted. Simply could not let this one pass. Did you seriously just spend an entire column extolling and praising the UTAH JAZZ? Seriously, on a Rockets blog? I am all in favor of general NBA commentary. As a Rockets fan since Calvin came to town, I am entirely against all things Utah Jazz.

  • jmwilliamson

    Hey Jacob, did you recently convert to Mormonism or what?

    No, but seriously, as much and as long as I have despised Jerry Sloan and the Utah Jazz, it’s impossible not to respect them as an organization. It is very impressive how they have remained relevant over the years in such a small market and undesirable locale.

  • Bob Schmidt

    I would have preferred something on the Rox, or our upcoming opponents, the Spurs. (I suspect a latent Jazz fetish) Sorry Jacob, this one didn’t work for me…. But, then again, I’m narrow minded and know it…

  • Rocket Fan in Santa Barbara

    I enjoyed reading about the Jazz, but I don’t exactly stand in “awe” of them. Williams is a beast and Utah will score points, but I don’t see the defense, especially up front. Millsap is a fine player, but he reminds me of Carl Landry in that he has a readily defined upside and certain defensive liabilities (even though both Millsap and Landry work hard and hustle). Jefferson seems too slow to be a good defensive center, but perhaps that’s unfair given his injury history. The wing players are solid, but fairly pedestrian. The Jazz are a good team, but even further away than the Rockets in becoming a true contender.

    BTW, I watched the Clippers play the Kings last night. It was kind of interesting (in the way seeing a horror movie is interesting) watching the likes of Brian Cook and Luther Head play significant minutes …

  • Patrick L.

    I read all the time. But seriously, dont do this again. I hate the jazz. I kept reading and waiting for a punch-line and it never came. I have season tickets and i GIVE my jazz tix away every year bc I CANT EVEN STAND THE SIGHT OF THEM!! …even if the Rockets win!

    This is a warning.. Not cool, bro. Not cool at all.

  • a little insight

    As a personal friend of Jacob’s, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard him curse the Jazz, their players, organization, and city. And in all honesty, I think that’s exactly why he wrote this piece, as an effort to exorcise those demons, an attempt at real objectivity, a display of genuine appreciation for the NBA, all of it, even it’s unsightly armpits like Matt Harpring (R.I.P.).

    And I think there’s something very admirable in such an effort, because blind hate is just that, blind, and it takes maturity and insight to recognize that there’s something to love in just about everything.

  • Svspider

    A valid point and one I don’t disagree with. But you say “just about everything” and for me the Jazz fall into the “just about” portion 🙂

  • Rookie Contract

    We should never speak of the Jazz unless it’s a discussion tied to a Rockets victory or pregame analysis of how we can attack them. Really, this is historic. To say that I love this spot for all that it does and does not offer is not an overstatement or hyperbole. I wish you had not done this deed. I feel robbed. The place where I felt a common love for the trials and tribulations the Rockets have experienced through the Dark ages. The place I could come to which truly understood the Rockets struggle for relevance. The place where thoughtful analysis was no longer an adjective as it is implied. Robbed, I say, Robbed. Shame on you! Jacob, Shame!

    Hold your head high nonetheless, you are family and will be treated as such. As the Rockets have overcome an ill advised Shane Battier dribble drive, or post up, or anything other than a three, so too will Red94 overcome your secret love (clearly this article breaks the boundaries established for respect for the Jazz.

    On a side note, how successful is always in contention but never a winner. Is that truly a sign of greatness; something to be admired or rather should we not cast this organization to the ground and ridicule them publicly as the organization that could never find the right combination to get over the top. I lift what’s left of my Red Stripe and say “Carry on”.

  • Mollamar

    We don’t hate the Jazz blindly. We hate them like we hate Al Qaeda — because of what they did to us. Barkley not closing out on that Stocton 3 = USA not sending the troops into Tora Bora.

  • Anonymous

    In fairness, Shane Battier has a very impressive hook shot with either hand.

  • Rookie Contract

    To be clear, if and when Battier attempts anything other than a three, you can be sure that the defense has frustrated the Rockets offense. Regardless of the effectiveness, the game plan does not call for Battier as a scoring option unless all other options are closed. Post play by Battier is a last resort.

  • As a Utah fan I appreciate the article and your objectivity. When Aaron Brooks drops 7 3-pointers over Deron this fall I’ll know where the good Karma came from. Great read.

  • Boomgoestheydynamite

    Fantastic post.

    Can’t wait to see how Jefferson really fits in this year with the Jazz’s system. If preseason is any indication (and it isnt), this Jazz team could make some noise. Don’t forget AK is playing for a new contract… and for him, it’s more about respect than it is dollars.

    Gonna make Red 94 a frequent stop with this kind of league analysis being produced. Nice.

  • Taivo

    Thanks for the excellent post. Coming from a Rockets fan it is doubly welcome to Jazz fans. It has been said (somewhere by someone) that a man’s worth is judged by the quality of his enemies. If the vehemence of the Rockets fans shown here is any indication, then the Jazz are truly blessed. Jazz fans only really hate the Lakers (and MJ personally), and that hate is deep and old 😉

  • Danny

    Let me first say to all rox fans that the hate is mutual although the respect level is just as high as the article portrays. As not only a Jazz fan but a Basketball fan I have come to appreciate 3 organizations quite a bit, not teams but organizations…Rox, Jazz, and Spurs…There is nothing impressive about these teams to the outside world (Mainly Laker fans) but to me I see coaches like Rick, Pop and Jerry taking teams and getting the absolute best out of them, regardless of the situation. This article in a sense can be changed to the rockets, since the 67-68 season there have been a total of 12 losing seasons!! thats amazing considering its in a span of what 40+ seasons, not to mention 2 championships and arguably the greatest center of all time.
    So the way I see it, the Jazz (and I don’t like saying this) are a basic blueprint copy of the Rockets organization. Good coaches, many winning seasons ans short rebuilding stages. All we need now is a couple of championships and we should be good to go!

  • Beefcake

    Ha Ha “undesirable locale” have you even been to Utah? I lived in Houston and I know what it’s like there you couldn’t pay me enough money to live there again. It’s flat, humid and hot all the time. Just had to throw that out there.

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