The Utah Jazz Ultimatum

Mar. 14, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson (25) walks off the court while playing against the Phoenix Suns during the second half at the US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Jazz 120-111. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE.

Oh, the agony of defeat!

I’ll admit tonight’s 120-111 loss against the Phoenix Suns stung. As a Jazz devotee, I make it my mission to watch EVERY game! Even if their current 20-22 record (which, coincidentally, happens to match the Suns) blows huge balls of yarn. Even if those absurd trade rumors never come to fruition. Even if the Jazz brass are kicking back, shooting tequilas and watching reruns of the Kardashians on a nightly basis knowing full well that the Jazz faithful are in horrific agony after each botched game. Yes, despite all of that … I still watch the games and (kind of) enjoy them.

But after each loss comes a similar question: what are we doing?

Actually, it’s more like: Oh, bleeding hearts of the world unite! What. The. Hell!

For the love of all that is holy, I feel like I’m entitled to some sort of an answer instead of the usual “no comment” BS dished out by Kevin O’Connor and the Jazz organization. Are we making a move, or aren’t we? Are we gunning for the playoffs, or trying to tank? Are we building a team around Big Al, or Favors? (Or is this some sort of diabolical scheme cooked up by O’Connor that will eventually land us both D-Will and Dwight Howard to stand alongside our draft picks?) Because, from the looks of it, Big Al is our go to guy.

Forget that Favors, Tinsley, Kanter, and Miles more or less kept us in the Phoenix game heading into the final period. Forget that. With five minutes remaining, every pass must go to Big Al. He’s our star, our cornerstone. That’s why we traded D-Will, Okur and Boozer. That’s why we let Korver walk. Because we had Big Al.

And so, about midway through the fourth quarter, Coach Corbin substituted Favors (14 points, three rebounds) and Kanter (eight points, five rebounds) for Jefferson, who finished with a respectable 18 points and seven rebounds.

But the Jazz lost.

Just as they’ve done all year. When they weren’t getting chomped to bits by the always supreme Steve Nash, the Jazz were wasting opportunities on the offensive end of the floor. Granted, not all of those botched attempts were Big Al’s fault, but the lesson Utah should’ve learned months ago was that Jefferson (and Milsap for that matter) cannot carry this team. And yet, every game I watch in complete and utter dumbstruckedness as the Jazz pound the ball underneath to Jefferson, who attempts to battle three or four guys all on his own like a deranged Charles Barkley circa the ’92-93 finals. The results vary depending on the opponent’s competency level, but more often than not a big “L” forges itself onto our schedule sheet, in place of a much needed “W”.

I’m probably beating a dead horse here, but I’m starting to wonder if Utah has changed their mind and decided they don’t want to start from scratch. Rather than develop the new talent they traded for, perhaps they feel grooming Big Al into a legitimate threat is the more viable option. That’s the only explanation I can think of (that and the D-Will returning to Utah conspiracy) that would excuse Coach Corbin and co. from sticking with their youngsters down the stretch.

What if we’d won?

What if Jefferson had notched 10 more points and went on to win the game? My opinion would still be the same in this regard. I’ve consented to the notion that Utah’s main priority right now is making the playoffs. That’s fine. (No, really, that’s fine.*) In the end, the Jazz are an organization that needs money to survive. I get that. But that still doesn’t mean they should run their offense through Big Al. To make the playoffs, the Jazz need a more well-rounded game that consists of outside shooting, and teamwork. Instead of relying solely on Big Al down the stretch (or Devin Harris for that matter, although I’d make a strong case for Tinsley who, barring a costly turnover in the closing moments, had another excellent performance against the Suns), the Jazz need to let Hayward, Howard and/or Miles chuck shots from the cheap seats; run some more plays for Raja Bell; allow Milsap a little more wiggle room; let Jeremy Evans throw down some pain! Then, when the time is right, hit Big Al for a few quick shots. (Assuming they’re all still on the team after tomorrow …)

Just stop expecting Al Jefferson to finish the game. He cannot do it.

Listen, some players have it. Some don’t. I sure as hell didn’t when I played ball. If you gave me the rock with time winding down, or in the middle of a close game, I’d squeal like a pig, take off my shirt and hop around like a castrated bull for 45-minutes.

Only a select few have the gift. Big Al does a lot of things really well; he deserves to be called an All-Star, but he’s not a finisher. He remains a top notch supporting player, albeit one who has a hard time playing in a team environment. That’s quite the conundrum.

But I digress.

Utah played hard and hung in there the best they could against the Suns. I figured Phoenix would smoke’em on the 3-point line if the game ever got close (why can’t we get a guy like Dudley or Frye) – Utah shot an okay 38-percent (especially considering they were on the road), while Phoenix was much better at 47-percent – little did I know that Steve Nash would revert to his 2005-06 MVP season ways and demolish us down the stretch. Every year I expect the man to lose a step, but every year he blows me away with his ridiculously awesome play. He is one of those guys I don’t mind losing to, if only because he consistently does the game proud. He deserves much, much better than his current position on an ailing Phoenix team – send him our way!

Short-sided

A lot of people will tell me to relax about this loss. The Jazz are still in playoff contention, and probably will be until the final day of the regular season. The problem with these losses is that they come back to bite you in the butt like that friggin’ Sharky from Eek the Cat. In point of fact, as of right now, two teams stand between us and a playoff berth: Houston and Phoenix (I won’t count the T-Wolves since, without Rubio, they’re finished). So far we’ve gone 1-2 against those guys – not a good start, but keep going. The good news: we get two more chances to beat Phoenix, both games of which are played on our home court. The bad news: we play the Rockets one more time in Houston. I’ll let you mull that one over.

Sloan-sided?

I’ll end my rant by expressing my surprise at seeing Jerry Sloan’s name linked with the New York Knicks. By now the NBA world has collectively mourned over Coach Mike D’Antoni (and likewise moved on), so now there’s only one thing to do: debate endlessly about possible replacements to fill his void … uh …

Naturally, when talking about a run n’ gun, offensive minded, 3-point shooting, undisciplined collection of ruffians – consisting of guys like Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and JR Smith no less – the first name that instantly pops to mind, in terms of the proper leader for this particular squad, is Jerry Sloan.

The ex-Jazz coach has proven his ability to handle egos (think Carlos Arroyo, DeShawn Stevenson and D-Will) and work with talented 3-point shooters (Kyle Korver, Gordan Giricek) on the NBA’s biggest stage (Utah). Bringing him to New York makes perfect sense. In fact, I’d like to open a poll in the event that Sloan does get hired: how many days will it take for Carmelo to go totally ape-shiz crazy and bale New York for the comforts of Miami? Any takers?

*Said I through gritted teeth

 

In case you don’t know who Sharky is:

Topics: Al Jefferson, Corbin, D-Will, Derrick Favors, Gordon Giricek, Hayward, Jerry Sloan, Korver, New York Knicks, Okur, Paul Milsap, Phoenix Suns, Trade, Utah Jazz

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