Know thy enemy: Utah Jazz
Last season: 48-34, third in the Northwest division, 8th in the Western conference.
Key additions: Drafted Eric Maynor and Goran Suton.
Key losses: Unless you consider Morris Almond and Jarron Collins game changers, then nobody. I do, however, reserve the right to change that "nobody" based on Matt Harpring's health.
For reasons I can't fully understand, I've never been a big Bruce Springsteen fan. I totally respect his talent as a musician and lyricist. I recognize his songs' craftsmanship. His passion as a performer is undeniable. He's obviously enjoyed staying power. He's pure rock and roll. And it's not like I hate the guy's music. Springsteen's got a handful of songs I enjoy. "Rosalita (Come out tonight)." "Streets of Philadelphia." "Badlands." "Born to Run" is among the great rock anthems. And I absolutely love "Hungry Heart. " (Semi-little known fact: Springsteen originally wrote "Hungry Heart" for The Ramones, but his manager wisely advised him to keep it for himself.) Springsteen just seems like an artist I'd really dig.
But for whatever reason, I've never truly bought in with The Boss. Given my rep as a music geek (and, honestly, pretty much a music snob), people are typically surprised when I inform them I'm largely indifferent to Springsteen. In particular, my buddies who are Springsteen fans, which, by definition, means they're passionate about Springsteen. Without fail, Bruce fans LOVE them some Bruce. They'll follow that cat to the end of the Earth. It's serious business digging The Boss.
I suppose it's a possibility if Utah can stay healthy enough to avoid last season's patchwork follies that prevented the continuity necessary for great chemistry. That quest is already off to a bad start with injuries to C.J. Miles and Matt Harpring, who may end up missing the entire season. Some might suspect those rotational shuffles may be the culprit for last season's horrific defense, although I think the issue has more to do with Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur forging a front court sieve than discombobulated lineups. And any team with Deron Williams running the show has a chance. The personnel is hardly cruddy. But there's a ceiling to my enthusiasm, despite every positive I'm aware exists. Like Bruce, the Jazz just don't move me on a consistent basis. I respect their importance, but I don't own any of their albums (although, ironically, I own tons of actual jazz albums).
The 2010 version of the Utah Jazz is damn near identical to Utah Jazz version '09.0. Thus, my KTE breakdown from last season more or less covers the high points I'm expecting in the immediate future. Precise and flexible offense, whether you're talking D.Will's ability to direct traffic while getting his, Carlos Booze/Paul Millsap tandem's low post scoring prowess or the bombs outside courtesy of Mehmet Okur and Kyle Korver. Underrated contributions from Ronnie Brewer. A little bit of everything from Andrei Kirilenko. A mix of good and bad defenders evening out for largely pedestrian results. Oodles of fun attempting the correct pronunciation of "Kyrylo." Absolutely zero fun permeating from Jerry Sloan. You saw it last season. You'll see it again this season. I'm thinking 53 wins, plus respective third and sixth place finishes in the Northwest Division and Western Conference. More or less a 2009 carbon copy, including the first round playoff exit.
But that "same as it ever was" doesn't leave Utah's season devoid of any intrigue whatsoever. The Jazz and Bruce Springsteen share one more commonality: A fan base that appreciates a "salt of the earth" persona. Ain't nothing flashy about either The Boss or Sloan's tradition established in Utah. You give an honest day's effort for an honest (if generous) day's pay and respect the everyday Joe funding your career. Which brings us to Boozer, who's establishing quite the "have double-double gun, will travel wherever the bucks are best" persona. Last December, he created quite a stir with his announcement that opting out of his current contract was a given.
"I'm opting out. No matter what, I'm going to get a raise regardless. I am going to opt out, I don't see why I wouldn't, I think it's a very good business decision for me and my family, but I'd also like to see what happens with the Jazz and stay here."
Safe to say, the Boozer blood lines can't be traced back to Nostradamus, because much happened the PF didn't see coming. He chapped the hide of the Jazz's late owner Larry Miller, who referred to Booz's statement as "one of the top 10 stupidest things I've heard an NBA player do in 20 years." Ouch! But kinda accurate. Especially in light of the intention being voiced while nursing an injury that took nearly two additional months to heal and an economy's collapse that prompted franchises to watch their pennies and Boozer to eventually opt back in. But for what it's worth, if Miller had been aware the (former) franchise player would not only publicize front office conversations about working a possible deal, but specify the Bulls and Heat as preferred destinations (complete with plans to eventually unite Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade), he'd have labeled the "opt out" announcement merely one of the "top 11 stupidest things I've heard an NBA player do in 20 years."
So like Carl Spackler and total consciousness, Boozer's got that going for him, which is nice.
Salt Lake City may feature a heavy Mormon population, but "Utah Jazz" is as prominent as any religion practiced in town. To say the least, these are not casual fans. They're as loud and dedicated as any in sports. Thus, Boozer's swelling rep as a player primarily in it for the money (is there such a thing as a basketball mercenary?) doesn't strike me as simpatico with the average Jazz fan's mentality. But maybe I'm wrong. I recently asked a Salt Lake writer about Boozer's reception these days, and he said it was fairly positive. The writer was also surprised, but perhaps folks have gotten past whatever misgivings they felt and have since decided to cheer on Boozer, since his success will hopefully drive their team's. Maybe the circumstances behind Boozer's arrival led them to expect little loyalty from the outset. In the world of professional sports, loyalty is often rare under the best circumstances. But I'm curious to know how y'all would feel (and subsequently treat) a player like Boozer if he were on the Lakers.
Would you be counting down the days until his contract expired, then salivate at the idea of showing him the door, regardless of any void? Would you regard Boozer as a businessman first, and as long as he fulfills his job requirements- if you covet points and rebounds, he typically does- you're cool with him perhaps listing "winning" second on his priorities? Would you put the issue behind you entirely once the season was underway, because bottom line, dude's a Laker and you get behind anyone donning purple and gold. The Laker Nation used to find ways to support Smush Parker. If rallying behind William Henry is possible, you can get behind an all-star forward not necessarily married to your franchise. Obviously, it's nice when a player puts a ring on it, but should he feel obligated to?
Photo: Deron Williams scores a basket. Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Image