20 January 2011
Jerry Sloan has probably filled a palette of swear jars in the last few games. Al Jefferson literally doesn't know what to do. Deron Williams doesn't want to even talk about it anymore. And Utah Jazz fans are left searching for answers with ever-more radical personnel solutions. I've heard everything from "bench the entire starting unit" to "go get Carmelo Anthony." And they're dead serious about it.
That's not a good sign.
It's also not the problem, and therefore not the solution. It's like putting an Ace Bandage on a broken leg, or taking an aspirin for a heart attack. Ask Jerry Sloan and he'll say his squad lacks toughness, but the days of "just rub some dirt on it" are gone, replaced by leather sofas and sympathetic ears in a confidential setting that includes textured windows and a guy or gal you call "Doc."
What I'm getting at is that this Jazz team's problems are mental.
They have the talent. They've been given the tools. But for whatever inexplicable reason they refuse to use them for more than a few minutes at a time. Is it a lack of communication either on or off the court? It's been suggested, by Big Al, at least as far as on the court goes, and that's surely part of the problem.
Last season, when they started scraping the bottom of the barrel early in the season after getting shot down by the Boston Celtics like Mikhail Prokhorov shoots down distracting trade talks, an off-the-court impromptu dinner meeting was held, one that would act as a catalyst for a major turn-around. While they're once again down and in Beantown, it certainly couldn't hurt to get together as a team once again, off the court, since they clearly can't seem to do so on it.
It's now or never for the Jazz. They are fortunate to still be deadlocked with the Oklahoma City Thunder atop the Northwest Division, but they won't be for long if they don't address their issues promptly; three of the next four games are against the elite of the NBA for the Jazz, while the Thunder are staring squarely at the soft underbelly of the league for most of the next month. (And don't look now, but the Denver Nuggets are re-focused and about to steamroll both clubs)
Having failed to make hay while the sun was shining, Utah must now, as David Locke put it, "steal cookies from the cookie jar," an unappealing prospect since the Jazz couldn't whip a tub of cream with an electric egg beater the way they've played over the last month, especially with a defense that has more holes in it than a pound of Cache Valley Swiss cheese.
I don't think this Jazz team knows who they are. They lack an identity, instead morphing into some bastardized version of whomever they happen to be playing on a given night. It seems like common sense that you aren't going to be any better than .500 when you don't have a will of your own to impose on the opposition, rather opting to try and beat them at their own game.
Deron wants to push the ball, but maybe that's not who they are. You have to pick your spots. His team-high usage rate is highest in the first quarter, even as the Jazz are one of the worst first quarter teams in the league. When they're successful they start the game inside-out, as the offense was designed to work and we saw in the recent victories versus the New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Williams recently quipped that maybe the reality is that the Jazz are a .500 team who overachieved early on. Well, if that's true I can pinpoint an area that happens in.
When Deron has 10 or more assists the Jazz are 16-4. When he has under that they are 11-11, exactly .500. In wins this season, Williams averages 10.5 dimes and 1.6 three-point field goal attempts, compared to 7.6 dimes and 2.3 three-point tries per game, in losses.
He wants badly to put the team on his back and carry them to the promised land. However, in the current era of superteams that's simply not going to happen. You gotta have help. And he does, if he's willing to use it.
Williams is rightfully the leader of the team, but he has yet to grow fully into the role. Case in point, every time he's asked after a loss what changes should be made. Every time --every single time-- he defers to Jerry Sloan, saying "you'd have to ask him about that." It comes across as distant and petulant. If you can't go to your coach when you have a basketball-related problem who can you go to?
Are we to believe that Sloan would turn him away if Deron approached him as a floor general, the role he's in, that Sloan would hang up the proverbial phone when Williams asked him?
This team isn't on the same page right now. Hell, they're not even in the same library.
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