The Utah Jazz
are doing their own thing.
"Jazz musicians enjoy themselves more than anyone listening to them does." Tony Wilson, from 24 Hour Party People. This is one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite movies of all time. The Utah Jazz can be related to this quote in that they run their team for their own fanbase and no one else. The Jazz have not made the Playoffs since 2012 and have not truly contended since the 2010s started. The Jazz appeared in the Playoffs every season from 1983-84 to 2003-2004. From the 1990s to the present, the Jazz finished below .500 three times, in 2004-2005, 2010-2011 and last season. For a former Bulls fan who had to endure the post-Jordan/post-Championship years plus MJ's first three years, this is quite astounding. As a Clippers' fan, this is incomprehensible. The Jazz have had rebuilding seasons, but they have rarely been truly awful or tankerfic as some current bottomfeeders. Somehow, even through the lean years, the Jazz have put together a competitive and competent product on the court. They have never attempted a five year long tank job like the Sixers, or gone completely off the rails like the Knicks or the late 1990s/early 2000s Bulls. And unfortunately, they have never been the tragically flawed but humorously entertaining team like the late 1990s/early 2000s Clippers. The Jazz have been a stable solid franchise since their move to Salt Lake City. Their loyal, vocal, and rabid fanbase deserve this.
The Jazz have no choice but to run their franchise in a prudent and intelligent manner. While very good NBA Players relocate to Utah for the right price and situation, superstars and transcendent players are not clamoring to play at Energy Solutions Arena. Salt Lake City is pleasant, but at times it seems like a colder and more stuffy version of Portland with less trees. The Jazz knows they have to draft wisely, harness homegrown talent, and make smart trades and free agent signings. The Jazz whiffed a couple of times with Morris Almond, Ryan Humphrey and Kirk Snyder. They thought Raul Lopez could become the Spanish John Stockton and they probably should not have traded Shabazz Muhammad for Trey Burke, which is essentially trading a 15 to 18 point a game entertaining old school scorer for a back up (maybe third string) point guard. The Jazz also drafted Gordon Hayward and Andrei Kirilenko. They found Paul Millsap, C.J. Miles, and Mo Williams, three very good NBA Players, in the second round. They kept homegrown star, Deron Williams, for the right amount of time before he fell off a cliff and then smartly turned him into Derrick Favors and two first round picks. The Jazz are not the Spurs, but they are pretty damn good at this. They have to be. They can get players like Matt Harpring and Kyle Korver to come to Salt Lake, but KD and LaMarcus are not going to be Jazzmen anytime soon. Perhaps a greedy overrated semi-star like Carlos Boozer will take the Jazz's money. (He's made over 150 million in his career, gasp!) But just like earlier in their history, the Jazz's All-Stars will have to be homegrown like Williams, Kirilenko, Stockton and Malone. Perhaps Favors and Hayward can become All-Stars, and like a few experts, I am betting on the former. That young Australian kid will have to be their transcendent player. Until, then, the Jazz admirably are retooling and remaining competitive at the same time. They fill the team with solid players and decent citizens who are professional and give their fanbase hope and something to still cheer for in the present. I am not a Jazz fan, but I do respect the way they run their organization. Wait, they drafted DeShawn Stevenson, didn't they, there is an exception to every rule.
Favorite Obscure Player (FOP)
The Haitian born big man Olden Polynice played for the Jazz from 1999 to 2001, and was charged with impersonating a police officer, twice, during his tenure with the Jazz. Polynice flashed an honorary badge he received from the Los Angeles Police Department, which maybe a benefit he received from playing with the Clippers in 1991-1992. Polynice stated, "I'm with the California Sheriff's office and I can have you arrested." When I first heard this story over a decade ago, I never thought about jurisdiction. I just thought that out of all the cities where a 6'11 Black man should attempt to impersonate a police officer, Salt Lake City should not be one of them.
Jazz Watchability Essay
If you are looking for famous superstars that casual fans would recognize, the Utah Jazz are not for you. For the avid basketball fan, the Jazz are subtly entertaining and underappreciated, kind of like Jazz (again). The Jazz compete hard on most nights and coach Quin Snyder has attempted to add some life into their offense even though they are still near the bottom in possessions used per game.
Gordon Hayward is a do it all (but not do anything exceedingly well) offensive marvel. If you like old school Turkish players, Enes Kanter would have been a star in the 1990s. Derrick Favors always look good on the court, no matter how many layups and key free throws he seems to miss every time I tune in. Watch Dante Exum hit the rookie wall while making two plays a game that make you not write him off for at least three more seasons. Trey Burke is an example of a back up point guard forced to be a starter on a developing team. He has gone to the bench recently, and the Jazz have been playing better. At an Oregon college somewhere, Luke Jackson is contemplating an NBA comeback every time he sees Joe Ingles on TV. I am enjoying the last few years of Steve Novak's career and will tell every young tall person I know that they might be able to get a few NBA contracts if they can shoot.
Paul Tee's Prognosis
The Jazz are one superstar or two more very good players/borderline stars away from contending for the 7th or 8th seed in the absurdly loaded Western Conference. Gordon Hayward is a good second option and Derrick Favors is a good all around big man. Alec Burks could be a poor man's Jimmy Butler. The truth is the Jazz probably will never get their superstar. Good role players will take the money and go to Utah, so will a few very good players. But superstars, young or in their prime, never clamor to play in Salt Lake City. The Jazz will have to hope that Dante Exum will be a near transcendent player which he may or may not get to. Exum is not even old enough to drink like Ty Lawson. It is just too early to tell. If Exum never gets there, the Jazz will have to trade for a two or three very good players to compliment their Hayward-Favors-Burks core. The Jazz have always been a smart, prudent and intelligent franchise. Working in a small market that is not a sexy destination, it is a necessity. And this will be the case going forward, Exum has to be that guy. If he can, I have faith in the Jazz front office to construct a great team that will win a round or two in the Playoffs. If he can't, they will likely make some moves to field a team with a bunch of very good but not great or transcendent players. Eventually, maybe three years or five years, the Jazz will make the Playoffs again and once they do, they will be there for a good seven to ten years. It is a tradition.