That’s all I could say after the 76ers routed the Jazz 104-91 Friday night.
Gosh darn it all to heck.
That’s all I could say after the Bulls demolished the Jazz 111-97 Saturday night.
Now, with rumors swirling that Raja Bell (who did not play against Chicago for “internal” reasons – i.e. he and Coach Corbin are not getting along) may not be happy with his role on the team, and with the Jazz struggling to remain a .500 ball club heading into the season’s pivotal home stretch, a question must be asked: should the Jazz stop vying for the playoffs?
Look at it this way: is this team good enough to win a championship?
Losses against elite teams such as Dallas, Philadelphia and Chicago say no. But then again, a week ago we were all tap dancing with delight after the Jazz defeated the (Bosh-less) Miami Heat. And isn’t this the same squad that more or less ran Kobe and his thugs out of the Energy Solutions Arena back in February? The same team that nearly came back and beat those pesky Dallas Mavs last Saturday?
Well … yes and no. While Utah may yet be a good team (one that continually under-performs), I’m really starting to suspect that the Jazz organization has absolutely no idea what they’re doing. For one thing …
WHY IS BIG AL THE STAR?
I continually spout how much I like Big Al – and I do. I like the man. He plays hard and does his best to keep his team afloat. Unfortunately, Big Al ruins this team. His presence, nay, his continued efficiency, means he stays on the court 90-percent of the time, while aspiring bigs like Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter remain on the bench, saddled with 5-10 minutes a game.
Case in point: After the victory against Charlotte the Jazz were rewarded with “four humungous boxes of Bojangles chicken” during which Kanter was nearly beaten to death for attempting to eat before Big Al, the unequivocal hero of that particular game.
On any other team Kanter’s attempts to nab some chicken would be welcomed with open arms. On the Jazz, however, the good stuff goes to their “star” center, while the youngsters take whatever scraps they manage to get their hands on.
A Big Victory?
What’s funny is how the Jazz are celebrating short term victories over teams like Cleveland and Charlotte while keeping a straight face. (Collectively, those teams have won 20 games.)
I’m all for the wins, sure, but not at the expense of the future.
Cleveland sucks because they’ve left their franchise in the hands of their draft picks – namely Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson – but they’ve done so willingly to prepare for tomorrow. They’ll take their hits now, and make their runs in the future.
The Utah Jazz, on the other hand, have no interest in creating space for their youth, particularly Kanter and Favors, but instead seem hell bent on improving Jefferson’s and Harris’ game.
Again, what are we doing here?
Are we rebuilding or are we trying to make the playoffs? If the answer is the former, then why did Kanter only receive a total of 11 minutes against Chicago and Philly? Why is Gordon Hayward coming off the bench (a good move, sure, but one that only guarantees short term success)? Why is Derrick Favors reduced to a second-unit sub? Why is Evans riding the pine? And where the heck is Burks?
If the answer is the latter, then why did we trade away D-Will? Why didn’t we resign Kyle Korver? Why didn’t we use our number three draft pick in a trade to snag a few more veterans to place alongside Big Al, Milsap and Bell? Seriously.
What. The. Hell.
Another thing that I continually grapple with: Just what exactly is the Jazz’s offense? Sometimes they run, sometimes they play half court. Wisdom would suggest doing both is a sign of versatility, but I say otherwise. You need a stable offense to establish an identity. Look at the Lakers. For years they ran the triangle offense (which meant they gave the ball to Kobe) with Phil Jackson. Then Phil retired (again) and Mike Brown came in with some radical new ideas (“You’re talking about dreams?”) … what happened? The Lakers unraveled. They fell apart without a proper offense with which to define themselves. Now, a mere month or so later and look at them: 25-16, currently placed third in a very difficult Western Conference and slowly emerging as a team to be reckoned with. Kobe is (kinda) on board with Brown’s scheme, while Gasol has kept from imploding over the various trade rumors circling about him like starving vultures.
The Jazz need an identity. Are they a run n’ gun team ala Mike D’antoni’s New York Knicks? Are they a half court team that relies entirely on their bigs? Or are they an outside-inside team who shoots jumpers, and utilizes their centers/power forwards only as garbage men? I have no clue, because Utah is all of these on any given night.
It’s telling that Raja Bell (the team leader, if you will) has grown frustrated with Coach Corbin. I can imagine a conversation between the two going something like this:
Raja: Coach, why am I here?
Corbin: To give Big Al the ball.
Raja: But I can shoot threes! Hayward can shoot threes! Howard can shoot threes! Even CJ can hit threes when he looks at the basket!
Corbin: But Big Al is our star!
Raja: I should kill you right now.
Coach Corbin’s time with the Jazz has not produced an efficient offense. Granted, he had very little time in the off season to do much of anything, but his coaching looks uneven, if not disjointed. It’s as though he wants to go one way, but ends up going in another due to the bizarre mixture of young and old lining his bench. He can’t very well start Favors in front of Jefferson, right? He can’t bring Bell off the bench for Burks … nor can he force Kanter into the starting lineup so long as Milsap is around.
Corbin is in a pickle, Dick.
What should the man do? He obviously feels the pressure of the Jazz legacy hovering over him (most likely in the form of a volatile Jerry Sloan apparition clinging to his shoulder like an unnecessary appendage, shouting profanities with feigned remorse) – and that legacy has always been: the Jazz do not lose.
They remain mediocre.
And so again I ask: what should the Jazz do? They don’t possess the assets to bring in more talent, nor do they carry the humility to strive for a lottery pick.
My opinion is thus: the Jazz are 19-20 and exactly 2.5 games behind the Rockets and Mavs for the eighth seed in the west. 12 of their final 26 games are against potential playoff-bound teams, including LA, LA, San Antonio (twice), the Magic, and Mavs. If the Jazz continue to play the way they’ve played throughout the year, I see them finishing (and I’m being VERY optimistic here) 31-35. I don’t see a playoff berth with that record, unless Dallas and Houston (not to mention Phoenix, Minnesota and Portland) completely nose-dive.
That said, I think Favors and Hayward need to start. Period. Kanter needs to play A LOT more. I don’t care if he’s having a bad game or not – give the rookie MORE time. Likewise Burks and Evans need at least 10-12 minutes more per game. Big Al can continue to do his thing, except with Favors as his mate rather than Milsap. Hayward continues to evolve (and gets to run the offense more), while Kanter can experience faster development.
In the offseason, the Jazz can pick up some more youth in the draft and trade the older boys (Bell and Milsap, among others) to teams who could better utilize their services – possibly for a better point guard.
This way, the Jazz youth progress more efficiently alongside Big Al (a seemingly long-term part of the plan), and the veterans move on to other respective teams. If the Jazz are serious about rebuilding, then they need to go all the way instead of just dabbling with the idea.
The Jazz tweak their current team. In this instance, guys like CJ Miles and Jeremy Evans need to go, along with our draft pick(s?) in order to bring in more veterans to stand alongside Big Al, Raja Bell and Josh Howard. Devin Harris would seemingly leave in this scenario in order to acquire a more elite point guard (ala Raymond Felton, who many of you seemed to like), while the youth movement would continue to serve as second stringers.
In this instance, like Moneyball, the Jazz rely almost exclusively on aging vets who no longer fit with other teams to make a playoff push. The problem with this scenario, however, is that the Jazz must do something THIS year, or risk floating in the waters of mediocrity whilst carrying a boatload of veteran contracts.
OK, now that you’ve read this far, which scenario would you prefer? Sound off below!