Thursday, April 14, 2011
Jazz Season Review
This was a crazy season, it is the first in my memory that we have not made the playoffs. (I was on my mission during the 2003-2005 seasons.) Along with not making the playoffs, we had a mid-season trade, and had a coaching change. Normal teams go through stuff like this, but the Jazz have never been a normal team.
One thing I always loved about the Jazz was that they played as a team. Players would come here and have the best years of their career. Most players, after leaving, never did as well. Even with two hall-of-fame players, it was never about them, but the team, the system, the organization.
When the year began everyone knew this was Deron Williams team, and we were OK with that. He was the best PG in the NBA and was going to lead us to victory. We had some amazing comeback victories, all was well.
Unfortunately, for the first time it didn't seem like a team anymore. In a close game we would give the ball to Williams and look at him and say, OK, win this game for us. Several times he did, sometimes he didn't. We began to play more 1 on 1, plays got broken, there was not as much passing or movement. The potential and talent seemed like it was still there, but something wasn't right. It was frustrating to watch the players look so disinterested when I had seen so much more from them this season.
I could tell Sloan was frustrated, when you have seen something work for 20+ years, and your team is refusing to listen to you, who wouldn't? I have watched the Jazz system in action my whole life, and this wasn't it.
Williams was frustrated as well, instead of leading by example or explaining/coaching the new players, he always seemed angry and demanding. Hayward got out of position once and ended up scoring, but was yelled at the entire way down the floor and into the timeout. This was not the Jazz I grew up watching, it was no longer fun.
Sloan had always said when it stopped being fun he may just wake up one morning and call it good. Well it happened, and like always, he was true to his word. You can point fingers, but what's the point? I will always remember Jerry as someone who expected 100% from himself and his players, nothing less. If you were willing to work hard, you were rewarded. He got more out of his players than anyone else I have ever seen. He was always willing to accept the blame when the team was losing, and willing to give the accolades to his players when they were winning. He was humble, hard working, and a great example of a leader. He was not perfect, but he never claimed to be. It was a big loss when he retired, to the team, and the NBA as a whole.
Now, even more, this was Williams team. If there had been pressure on him before, there was even more now. He was playing injured, being accused as a coach killer, and the team continued to spiral downward.
Then word came, Williams was traded. I thought losing my favorite player since Stockton and Malone would be heartbreaking, but it was a relief. I would liken it to a breakup where you thought things were great, but once it's over you feel such a burden lifted. We would most likely have lost him for nothing, and now I don't have to hate him for leaving us as a free agent. I hope the best for him and that it can work out better for both of us. This is a mutual breakup.
In return for Williams the Jazz received a one time all-star PG in Harris, and Favors who had been taken third in the draft. Favors was a player the Jazz tried hard to move up to be able to get. The Jazz also received two draft picks and $3 million dollars. I was excited for the future, but the future was all that there was to be excited for. With all the new players, new coaches, we had to come up with a lot on the fly. When most teams were coming into their own, we were trying to establish any kind of identity.
The final few weeks of the season showed us what can be. We had wins over three playoff teams the last week of the season. We beat the Lakers in LA, the Hornets, and the Nuggets. The first two of those games were ones that those teams needed to try and move up in the playoff standings. Favors and Hayward showed that they will be important pieces of this team for years to come. It's a weird feeling to have the playoffs start, and not have the Jazz be a part of it. But, I find myself more excited than I have all year for what is to come.
Soon the NBA draft will be here and we will add another two lottery picks to our team. If we can stay healthy (I feel like I say this every year), we should be a very competitive team as soon as next year. How many teams have rebuilt as quickly and well as the Utah Jazz? We are still a piece or two away, but I feel privileged to be a fan of this team. Once a Jazz fan, always a Jazz fan. Because that's the great thing about this team, it's more than a player, or coach, it's a team. And I'm proud to call it my team. Go Jazz!