I realize this story is somewhat old, in modern terms, and probably been covered to death by a majority of the Utah Jazz blogs out there, but I felt inclined to chime in my own take on Bell’s status – if only because it remains an enigma to me.
Let’s wind the clocks back a couple of years … So the Jazz are relaxing after another pitiful playoff run. Well, okay they dismantled the Denver Nuggets in a thrilling six game battle, only to get swept by the dreaded Lakers in the next round. Consequently, the Jazz front office decided to shake things up. The bid farewell to Kyle Korver and Carlos Boozer (who both fled for Chicago), and welcomed Al Jefferson and the return of Raja Bell (who nixed an offer from Kobe Bryant to join the Lakers … oh what might have been …). I remember being fairly stoked for Bell’s return, although I hadn’t really followed his career past his stint in Phoenix. I thought we were welcoming back a solid vet who could shoot the three ball, or at the very least act as a pesky defender against the Jazz’s arch-nemesis Kobe Bryant. Bringing Bell back was a sign the Jazz organization were finally doing something to counter their Laker problem … and for a little while it seemed all was right with the world.
Unfortunately, the 2010-2011 season went onto become one of the most bizarre seasons in Utah Jazz history. D-Will nearly bludgeoned Gordon Hayward to death in the first few games, both blowouts to Denver and Phoenix, Al Jefferson was kind of a dud, and our offense looked downright terrible. Then came a random streak, including a sensational come-from-behind win in Miami courtesy of Paul Milsap; followed by a few losses, another streak, and then a downright pitiful January that resulted in D-Will murdering Jerry Sloan in the locker room and replacing him with a stagnant, defeated old man – one who assumed the Sloan mantra and subsequently retired. D-Will was then traded to the Nets, and we received Favors, Burks, and Big Turkey (along with
Devin Harris Mo Williams, and Marvin Williams and perhaps more …). The remaining season sucked, as newly minted Coach Tyrone Corbin struggled to fill Sloan’s freshly vacant presence and work with an odd mixture of youth, veteran and CJ Miles.
The point to that nice refresher was to remind everyone that Raja Bell came back to Utah under very different circumstances. He wanted to work with Sloan, as Bell’s agent, Herb Rudoy, told ESPN:
“He loved playing for Jerry. He loved living in Salt Lake. It was an easy decision for him to come back.”
Hell, Raja loved Utah so much that he turned down an opportunity to possibly win a ring with the Lakers to come and play here. That’s friggin’ loyalty right there. His return also meant that he saw something in that 2010-2011 Jazz squad that peaked his interest enough for him to return. (I know the Jazz offered more money, but to choose Utah over LA was big; even if Bell hated Bryant.) Yet, that Jazz team gave way amidst an unsteady core unit comprised of a superstar PG who was obviously frustrated by Utah’s lack of progress. Out went Sloan. Out went D-Will. And suddenly, Bell is surrounded by a bunch of young kids and a first year coach whose communication skills obviously weren’t up to par.
And yet, Bell didn’t complain. He worked hard to fit in and groom the younger guys. He finished the season averaging 8 ppg and shooting 35-percent from downtown. Not great, but not too shabby either. I actually thought he was pretty cool at times and remember him talking to Hayward and later Burks on the sidelines; serving as a mentor.
A full off season would’ve helped Corbin unite his odd batch of talent, but the NBA lockout forced a completely unrecognizable Jazz squad to face the fire without so much as a plan. As such, Bell got lost in the shuffle and became increasingly agitated with his role – or at least I assume he did – hence the shouting matches with Corbin. Bell was then sidelined with an injury in March, and sat out for the remainder of the season … even when he was healthy-ish. Corbin refused to play him in the playoffs, even against the Spurs when the Jazz probably needed him most …
I only say all of this because I kind of feel bad for Bell. Looking back on the situation, it’s obvious he feels two years got away from him. Two years where he could’ve played on better teams, or been apart of a stronger organization. I get that the Jazz extended him a hand even despite his rapidly decreasing productivity with Golden State and Charlotte, but come on! The man passed up the Lakers to play for Jerry Sloan and the Jazz! And in the end he got robbed … On the Lakers he would’ve been a mere contributor, as his pesky defense had long given way to age, but at least he could’ve ended his career with a bang. I imagine him now, sitting at home thinking about what might have happened had he accepted Kobe’s offer … No one wants him. Not the Heat. And not the Lakers. Of course the man is going to be pissed off!
And yet, I keep reading quite a few negative comments from outraged fans who want nothing more to do with him. To them I say, imagine getting an offer from a large company where you could close out your career in high style. Except, your old company, a valued and cherished one, asks you to return to them. You accept your former companies offer, and within months find yourself on a sinking ship. And worse, no other companies will hire you now that you’ve worn out your welcome. Your career is over, and the best offer you have is a measly buy out?
I think everyone needs to lay off Raja. He spurned Kobe to play in Salt Lake – that in and of itself makes him a hero in my eyes – and contributed where he could amidst a bad situation.
He deserved better.