Monday, October 27, 2008

Hardwood Paroxysm's 2008-2009 Season Preview: Utah Jazz


Well, except me, anyway. But we'll get there.

Before our opening preview, I wanted to say how much I respect Jerry Sloan and the Jazz organization. It's easy for a system that's been around for a million years to grow stagnant, to try and force the players to the system. Sloan has engineered a winning tradition with roots in both fundamentals and versatility that fits the personnel. That's hard to do, and to have done it with the class and respect that Sloan has for so long is simply incredible.

Okay, let's talk about this particular Jazz team. Yay, go team.

Your opening preview is by Graydon Gordian.



The Jazz are that wonderful team who always seem to take a backseat to the other more exciting squads in the NBA. Even when they are on top of their game, pulling out ridiculously long home winning streaks or having their young and amazing point guard show up both Steve Nash and Chris Paul, they are the Jazz and they don't get the same attention or ink as the Lakers, Celtics and the rest of them.

There are a lot of reasons to love the Utah Jazz. Carlos Boozer is only one of them. Boozer is a hardnosed player who is always going to go to work. Day in and day out the effort is the same from Booze. He's always all in. Pair him with Deron Williams, one of the headiest, strongest, smoothest point guards in the league and you've got a tandem that is easy to root for. Kirilenko may make you crazy, but he also makes your jaw drop when you peep the boxscore and see him racking up stats in all categories. Points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, he gets it all. If pretty boys are your thing, Kyle Korver is on the roster, if you like D-League dreams, then we have my boy Benson's blogging nemesis, Morris Almond. Ronnie Brewer is a young guy that is easy to love and of course Matt Harpring, who just keeps on coming back strong, time and time again.

Kosta Koufos goes on my "to watch" list if for no other reason than his name. Gerry McNamara somehow seems like a perfect fit for Utah, a no nonsense hard worker. Jerry Sloan may be the biggest reason to root for the Jazz, in my mind. The man has longevity (20 seasons with the Jazz), in a world where this does not happen. By the book and beyond intense, Coach Sloan will always make sure his teams are playing the way that he wants them to and that he is the one in total control, always. There will be no primadonnas and spoiled superstars on his squad and I absolutely love him for it.

Watch the Jazz this year, they are always a breath of fresh air.


We'll get to the irrational reasons to hate the Jazz in a second. Do you want a rational one? They are, without a doubt, the most overrated NBA team at this particular moment in time. It's broken down into two elements. The team's mythical legend, and the makeup of the team itself.

Now, if you're like 90% of the NBA world, this is useless to you. The Jazz are amazing and a championship contender and so close to winning a championship. Hurray! This is the hate section. You don't have to hate them. But if you want to, here's some reasons.

"But they went to the Western Conference Finals two years ago!"

Stop. Stop right there. They beat the Rockets in seven games. Congratulations. Five other teams have bounced McGrady in the first round. We typically don't celebrate teams for making it out of the first round. Oh, but they beat the Warriors! Riddle me this. How many times has an eight seed beaten a number one seed? Off the top of my head, I think the answer is not too damn many times. Why is that, you think? Because the eigth seed isn't very good, that's why. The Warriors were a fun, feisty, near-psychotic team that was perfectly matched to beat a mentally-fragile Dallas team and got served that matchup. Anybody really think that that Mavs team, you know, the one that won 67 games, that team was going to lose to Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko? Anybody? No? Okay, then.

Last year they beat a Rockets team without Yao Ming, without Rafer Alston for much of it, and with a banged up Tracy McGrady. And it still took them six games! Do you think the Spurs would have toyed around with the Rockets for six games? The Rockets? The Lakers? They won, congrats. It's funny, because all the people that talk about how the Jazz could win an NBA championship are the same people that needed about fourteen seconds to decide the Lakers would stomp the hell out of them. Which they pretty much did. Oh, what's that? It took six games? It took a five point and eight point overtime victory at home where the Jazz are "unbeatable" just to extend that series before the Lakers spit them out. Oh, yeah, at home.

My problem is that people look at the success this team has had and think that they're in the upper cusp of the West. And they're not. It seems like, essentially because of a ripple effect from the Warriors upsetting the Mavs in a once-in-a-lifetime perfect storm. But they haven't proven they belong in a Western title discussion. And that was before the Rockets, Hornets, and Blazers all improved. These guys look like shining examples of a new era. In reality, they're a cheap trick that had the good fortune of pounding a whelp that shocked a mentally unstable championship contender one year. Take away that win over the Warriors and what do you have? A one and done team that does nicely in the regular season, gets past an easy first round opponent, and then wilts when the real teams come to play. Congratulations, you're the Orlando Magic of the Western Conference. Don't forget to tip your waitresses.

How about the actual makeup of this team? Deron Williams? Okay. Deron Williams is awesome. Trying to argue he sucks or is overrated is so insane it's not even worth talking about. The only thing more insane than trying to talk about Deron Williams not being that good is trying to talk about Deron Williams being better than Chris Paul.

Oh, I'm sorry, does that get your attention?

The rest of the crew? Weeeelll...

Get a quarter. Go on, I'll wait. Get a quarter.

Okay, now flip it. There, Andrei Kirilenko just scored 17 points, had 12 boards and six assists. Your team won. Collect $200 dollars.

Now flip the quarter again. There, Andrei Kirilenko just went 2 of 14 from the floor for 4 points, 4 rebounds, 1 block, and 6 fouls. Do not collect $200, do not pass Go, go directly to FAIL.

I'd say that someone needs to get into AK's head to straighten him out but you'd end up going through an endless series of doors that go nowhere. Much like the Jazz's playoff hopes.

But let's not leave out Memo! How could we? You know, in a conference that features Yao Ming, Tim Duncan, Amare Stoudemire, Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, Greg Oden, Marcus Camby, Al Jefferson, Erick Dampier, and Tyson Chandler, you know what I want? I want a center that hates playing down low and only rebounds when his coach chains him to the goal like a chompers thing from Mario Brothers. That guy drifts outside like there's an endless supply of Nutter Butters out there. And everytime it leads to a bad offensive position for the Jazz, you see Sloan yelling at him and Okur looking back like "What? What was I supposed to do?"

Ronnie Brewer and Paul Millsap are nice. Can you tell me when they'll be back from their permanent vacation in 2007?

But of course where would we be without Betrayal Skull Dude? I'm not even going to bother telling you about why you should hate the guy over screwing over the Cavs. Because in about, oh, seven months you'll have a whole new owner he'll have dicked over to hate him for. No, I'm going to talk about Boozer's penchant for challenging players much, much bigger and better than him. Last season I paid particular interest in the Utah versus San Antonio matchup on April 16th. Seeing how teams deal with the perennial title contenders late in the season can be an insight to the team's makeup. Utah had spanked the Spurs during a slump 90-64 the last time they met. So with the playoffs approaching, this one should be tough, eh? The Spurs walked in the door, dragged the Jazz out through the saloon doors by their hair, threw them in the street and executed them. Then walked inside and took their poker money. It was brutal. But what caught me was three times, Boozer attempted to challenge Tim Duncan inside. I found myself pausing it, and replaying it over and over again. The look of determination on Boozer's face. The half-yawn as Duncan swatted him away. The anguished look from Boozer as if to say "How could this possibly happen?!" I desperately want Yahoo! to start tracking and publishing the Blocks Allowed stat for the season, not just for the nightly box score. I have a feeling Boozer is the All-Star that leads in "number of times has had sh*t rocked."

You want the summation of why to hate this Jazz team? Because in May, pundits are going to be telling you to watch out! The Jazz are coming! Run and hide! This team is on a mission! And then it's going to run into the same problems it always has when it's not the regular season. They're easily solvable. That happens when you don't defend well. Don't buy the hype. Hate the Jazz.

Keep your eye on Morris Almond. The kid's a natural scorer and he's been incubating the Jazz system. Even if he starts in the D, this kid's going to be behind the starter's by the start of next season. He's shifty, he's got good handle, and he's proven he's willing to put the work in. He's made Sloan happy, and that's hard to do.

I feel like Kirilenko is at a precipice. Last season was trying to rebound from a bad season. If he regresses this season it may start a career long slide. If he improves, he might actually hit a new level that everyone's been waiting on. I don't think there will be any middle ground.

If you haven't read about Boozer's family and their battle with their son's illness, go check it out. It's really important to read before making snap judgments on a person's character in a business that's very hard for anyone, even those in it, to understand.


Paroxi-Wife Note: Hey, Utah didn't fair too poorly on my list of possible NBA cities to move to. This is a) because they get snow and have good skiing; b) because there's an IKEA close; and c) I heart Dooce. I don't have hate for the Jazz; I'm just still wondering if there is actually jazz in Utah? In which case, I might like it even more.

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