If you’ve been paying attention to the NBA off-season this summer, it’s no secret that the short time since the NBA Finals ended has been fascinating with all the player movement. Shaq teaming up with LeBron, Ron Artest leaving the Rockets for the Lakers, Trevor Ariza opting for the Rockets over the Lakers, Rasheed Wallace joining forces with KG, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce in Boston, and Hedo Turkoglu leaving the Magic for Portland, then backing out of that and signing with Toronto — all of this activity has kept the NBA at the center of the sports world, and our own Utah Jazz have stayed right in the mix of things. After a decent draft, picking up guard Eric Maynor and center Goran Soutan, the Jazz hoped to solidify the team’s future by re-signing Paul Millsap. Last Friday, Millsap signed an offer sheet with the Portland Trailblazers. However, since Paul is a restricted free-agent, the Jazz had the opportunity to match the offer and keep him in a Jazz uniform for the next several years, and they did so.
For several weeks now, all ears have been abuzz with trade rumors surrounding Jazz All-Star forward Carlos Boozer. The most significant rumor had Boozer going to Chicago in a three-team deal also involving Portland, in which the Jazz would receive Bulls forward Tyrus Thomas, a former No. 5 overall draft pick. With both Boozer and Millsap’s contracts on the payroll, the Jazz will be paying approximately $80 million this year and will be over the league’s salary cap, meaning the team must pay a luxury tax to the NBA. But the Jazz brass made it clear they were willing do so in order to keep Millsap. So whether or not a deal is made to send Boozer packing and ease the burden of his salary is yet to be seen.
However, these NBA goings-on are not the only thing I wish to discuss. Several weeks ago I watched replays of the 2006-07 AFC championship game between the Colts and Patriots, followed by Super Bowl XLI (41 for you non-Romans) between the Colts and Bears. I remember the pain I felt watching the first half of the Colts-Pats game. My beloved Colts were being dominated and could do nothing right. Or maybe New England could do nothing wrong. Either way, Indy seemed to be doomed to another loss to the Patriots after being down 21-3 at one point. Call it a miracle, call it luck, but I call it sheer willpower that brought the Colts to life, as the defense made huge plays against New England’s nearly flawless offense and allowed Peyton Manning to do what it is that has won him three NFL MVP awards. The Colts would ultimately win by a field goal and go on to face the Bears in the Super Bowl. The Chicago defense had been tops in the league all season, and they possessed a special teams weapon in Devon Hester, who wasted no time in showing the Colts’ special teams unit what he could do on the opening kick of the game: the Bears took a 7-0 lead without their offense even stepping on the field. The Colts would struggle against a daunting defense and hard rain, and trailed 14-6 at halftime. Once again, however, Peyton Manning corralled the troops and methodically led the offense to some quick second half points to get back in the game. Thanks to spectacular plays by their own defense, a couple fumbles by Chicago running backs and some terrible plays by the ever-incompetent Rex Grossman, the Indianapolis Colts rode on the backs of Manning and running backs Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes to a Super Bowl victory.
Watching these games again made me think of the Utah Jazz and how they possess no such greatness. Yes, Deron Williams is one of league’s top three point guards and there is a lot of talent on the roster, but our poor Jazz lack some certain element of excellence. Certainly they’ve won enough games each season for the last 20+ years to make the playoffs and two finals appearances, but it’s been quite awhile since we’ve seen the home team in the Delta Center/Energy Solutions Arena show a killer instinct. Great teams in the NBA kick the snot out of the bad teams. The Jazz usually manage to squeak by and, if it’s a road game, they most often lose. Great teams can become greater when faced with a large deficit. The Jazz make a few small runs, but still manage to post a double-digit loss. Great teams are able to rely on Derek Fishers, Trevor Arizas, Robert Horrys, Rajon Rondos, Josh Smiths, etc. The Jazz throw in Jarron Collins and hope he gets the rebound if Deron Williams misses the shot. Is any of this sounding familiar? It should, because not only has it been a trend, but it will likely become a permanent fixture in this organization. I’m not claiming to have any answers, but I am tired of seeing the same problem and nothing being done about it. The league is changing. The game is changing. The Jazz are not.
I am not challenging the greatness of Jerry Sloan or the ability of any of the team’s players, but rather calling to see more of each player’s ability. If the team doesn’t have the money to spend on big-time free agents, so be it. If Carlos Boozer is dealt (and all indicators say he will be), it is not likely that the Jazz will receive a player equal in ability to him at the power forward position, because there aren’t many. The game is changing and if the Utah Jazz must evolve with a different type of personnel at the power forward spot, then trading Boozer now could prove to be very exciting. You never know — we might see the emergence of CJ Miles and Ronnie Brewer as serious scoring threats. Kyle Korver’s shot should re-appear with more minutes on the court and undoubtedly Deron Williams will continue to dazzle us every time he touches the ball. Perhaps an escape from such methodical, pass-it-to-the-post basketball will spark a new fire in the team and bring a new brand of exciting basketball to Salt Lake City.
I’m only trying to be optimistic though. Realistically, trading Carlos Boozer leaves the Jazz with approximately zero low-post scorers (no, Paul Millsap cannot play the post like Boozer) and we could be looking at some long seasons of wins in the low 40s and some more No. 8 seeds — or even missing the playoffs altogether. The worst part is that we as fans can’t do anything about it. We just have to wait and see.
Stay on your toes, sports fans. There could be some action waiting to take place with your Utah Jazz and it will likely have pretty dramatic effects on this coming season, hopefully for the better. But that’s why you have to keep watching — you never know what new intrigue lies in each new day of this wild and crazy NBA offseason. May the basketball gods (even though there are none) smile upon Utah this summer and, no matter what happens with our boys in Blue and White (not BYU), let’s keep filling those seats and being the best fans in the NBA.
Adam Stevens is an occassional sports contributor to Rhombus. He spends a lot of time thinking about the Jazz.