Posted by: Shauna Brock on October 22nd, 2010The author's views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of the Utah Jazz.
In light of the NBA’s adoration of its superstars, and ESPN’s need to cover every Lebron James burp, some of the hardest working men in the league are overlooked every year while they kick and scratch and bite their way onto a team. These players are not sending agents to negotiate twenty million dollar a year contracts (with an option for an extension) but instead want nothing more than a chance at the league minimum, a place on the regular rotation of a team, and the chance to possibly win the hearts of the crowd and coaches with a game winning shot, a la Sundiata Gaines.
Gaines, by the way, is one of the players cut from the Jazz roster this week. Jerry Sloan’s roster is always guard heavy, and sadly he was a team favorite who came into camp without a guaranteed contract. Now, with a final set roster of 13 strong and talented players, Gaines and other hard workers like Othyus Jeffers, Ryan Thompson, and Demetris Nichols are left to scramble and struggle and yet plan for a season in the D-League.
The Jazz went into the pre-season with 12 confirmed roster spots and they leave the pre-season with 13 confirmed roster spots, the final one going to second round draft pick Jeremy Evans. All of which was expected. So why does the pre season matter?
Because, beyond all of the reasons listed above, and beyond the heartwarming stories of rookies landing game-winning shots, there is a truth to the preseason: the team and the fans learn that what the team is capable of and if they can play together.
Jazz fans should consider themselves lucky. While so many stars put in half-hearted attempts in the pre-season, resting due to hangnails (or in more serious cases, pulled hamstrings), the Jazz treat the preseason like the season has begun. Coach Sloan is looking for chemistry and skill. He expects the units to work together and to learn the offense and when someone is not pulling his weight, that someone ends up very quickly on the bench. Guaranteed contract or not. So for Jazz fans, the season really begins in early October. We get seven extra games to watch scuffling and fighting and basketball led by one of the premier coaching units in the country. While ESPN and Yahoo and Fox Sports fawn over Miami and Los Angeles, teams like Utah plow their way to confidence, chemistry, and capability.
In Utah, this year, those three c’s matter.
While the rest of the NBA was sucked into the drama of the Cleveland/Miami off season, Jazz fans watched alone and in horror as player after player left for greener pastures. First, many of us breathed a sigh of relief as Carlos Boozer trotted off to Chicago. But even as the ink dried on that overblown contract (was there really a bag in front of the door?) we watched Kyle Korver join him, which meant three point shooting had fallen into the inconsistent hands of CJ Miles and the oft injured ones of Andrei Kirilenko. Wes Matthews moved on to Portland and an organization that was willing to pay him what his agent thought he was worth. Even Kyrylo Fesenko hunted around for a different team. To make matters worse, as stars flocked to New York to build the next superteam, short-lived rumors surfaced that the Knicks were interested in Deron after his contract with Utah was done. Meanwhile, die hards stared at the calendar, wondering if the Mayan prophesy about 2012 was actually in reference to the end of Deron Williams’ contract.
As summer dragged on and Miami’s window for another championship opened, and the Lakers and Phil Jackson seemed poised for a three-peat, the Jazz looked at a ticking clock that included contract deadlines and luxury tax penalties charged to an ownership that is no where near the top of the wealthiest owners list.
But the Miller family did not disappoint. First, came Al Jefferson, the once touted rookie who has been used as a player in trade deals more than a player on the floor. He arrived in Utah with the battle cry that makes every Jazz fan cheer: “I like to be in the paint!” Then, the triumphant return of veteran sharp shooter Raja Bell made all of us Kobe and Laker haters more than a little jubilant. Point guard Earl Watson made Utah his home, as did big man Francisco Elson. New faces like Hayward and Evans showed promise and suddenly, the pre-season mattered. It mattered a lot. New, key players needed to learn (or re-learn) the very complicated Jazz offense. Players with egos needed to learn to mesh together again. The “rat pack” had been replaced and the team had to rework chemistry; they weren’t painting the town red anymore. Not the way they used to.
This fall, Jazz have more than proved they are capable of answering the cal. They are building chemistry based on wins, not frustration and those wins have made them confident. Not only have they stayed unbeaten in the preseason, something that has never happened for this long in franchise history, but they also have beaten teams that last year made them trip and fall all over themselves like high school players meeting their idols. And yes, two pre-season Laker victories ARE important; the Jazz haven’t won two in a row in LA since they wiped the floor with that team that included a rookie Kobe Bryant.
In the end, does the preseason matter when it comes to season rankings and team abilities? No. Kobe and Lebron will turn it on once it “matters” and the ratings are rolling in. But what’s happened over the last few weeks is that Utah’s motley crew of almost-forgotten big men and free agent guards is that they are learning they are capable and as a result, they are building confidence. Clearly, they are building the chemistry that winning teams need.
It isn’t going to be an easy season and Jazz fans need to have patience, but it’s going to be exciting. Those of us watching the pre-season have been lucky enough to get a glimpse of what the Jazz really have to offer.
I just wish we could carry all the training camp attendees into the regular season.
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