Ladies and Gentlemen, the 2009-10 Utah Jazz basketball season is over.
Basketball is not a game about talent. It’s not a game about stats. It’s not a game about matchups. It’s not a game about filling the right roles.
Basketball is a game about team dynamic. Talent, stats, matchups, and roles are all part sof it—but just parts. It’s the dynamic that matters.
Growing up, my church ball team went undefeated for five straight years. From the time we were awkward 13-year-old deacons to when we were nearly-18-year-old priests, we destroyed everybody. We walked into the church gym, and felt everyone else cower in fear.
Did they really cower? Probably not. But we believed it. We felt that way. And so we played that way.
I was the PG. I was also probably the cruddiest dribbler on the team. So why did I always bring the ball up? Because my teammates knew—and I mean knew—that not only did I always look to pass to them first, but I always looked for the awesome pass that was thrown just so, the soul-breaking pass that led straight easy shot that embarrassed the dude guarding them.
When the lane or the back side opened up, I’d drive in for a ridiculous one-handed floater. I did it with absolute confidence because I knew that our front line guys would pound the other team to death to try rebound a miss. And because I had that much confidence in them, I made a hell of a lot more than I missed.
Our leading scorer was given so many passes because we all knew that if he had a good shot, he’d make it. We always went inside first because we knew our front line would beat the other guys into submission within the first 10 minutes, and we’d have our way around the basket after that.
And a hundred variations of the same theme.
And yet, there was not one of us that anyone would look at and say, now that guy’s a baller. Put me on any other team, and I’m just okay. Put any of us on another team, and we suddenly became decent. But put us together, and we beat everyone we ever played.
Hell, we didn’t even like each other better than any other group of neighborhood dudes. A couple guys were close buds, but the rest of us had our own group of friends and our own lives. But put us together on the basketball court, and our in-game-chemistry was out of this world.
And dynamic—not talent, not stats—dynamic is why the Jazz are toast.
The dynamic of this team died in the middle of last season. It died when Millsap was in the middle of his streak of double-doubles, when the Jazz rallied for what should have been a season-changing come-from-behind road win at New Jersey, and Boozer—so injured he couldn’t play, yet smiling and having a grand old time anyway—announced that he was opting out of his contract regardless of what happened, because he’d be getting a raise.
At that moment, it was over. We didn’t see it clearly, but that’s when the Jazz dynamic died.
And it’s funny that we didn’t see it. Because everyone was pissed at Boozer. It was an unbelievable moment—so obtuse and so clueless that we couldn’t even believe that it happened. But the truth is we believed the team was still salvageable. But it wasn’t.
Just look at what happened next:
Millsap continued playing like a beast, solidifying himself as the Jazz PF-of-tomorrow. D-Will’s ankle got better, and his stats from mid-December to the end of the season show this: 22 PPG, 12 APG. (CP3 who?). AK-47, injury and surgery and all, played like AK of old (seriously, look at his per 36 minutes stats from 2008-09 and 2003-04 — he just couldn’t play the minutes because of his health). Memo scored 18.5 PPG in January and 21 PPG in February (on 56% FG, 67% treys). Brewer went from a decent starter to a damn good starter (17.5 PPG, 5 RBD in February).
And here’s what was important: because Boozer had told the world he was opting out “regardless” of anything else, the Jazz started putting together a new dynamic: one without Boozer. And they were clicking. It was a good dynamic. An exciting dynamic. I remember reading Dime Smack after another Jazz win, and even the Dime Magazine writers (the biggest big-market, official superstar worshipers I’ve ever read) were talking about how exciting the Jazz were to watch.
And everyone I knew was getting giddy, anticipating when our team would catch up and pass Denver for the #2 seed in the West. That was the Jazz. That was our team. They were putting together the dynamic that would carry them for the next 3 seasons. And it was a good dynamic, an exciting dynamic, one that felt like it was just going to get better.
And then Boozer came back.
And the final 25 games of the season happened.
Every good thing built in January and February came crashing down into a pile of rotten manure. The dynamic of the team changed. But there was no way for it to change for the better because Boozer and his teammates had already moved on. Boozer was on his way out. They had recreated the team identity without him. And to try to force these two things into some kind of functional marriage for the last ¼ of the season was hopeless.
It was like a high-school couple that was breaking up because they were going to college on opposite sides of the country. After breaking up, they decide to get together again for the last 2 or 3 weeks of summer because … well, it just kind of ended up like that. Those last 3 weeks are never any good, because both kids have already emotionally and mentally moved on. Not even the making out is any good, because they’re both kind of anxious to get on with life and find someone else.
That was the Jazz for the last 25 games last season. All chemistry, all positive team dynamic with Boozer had evaporated, and there was no going back. Everyone had decided to move on.
And we all know what happened next.
Boozer doesn’t opt out. Team payroll goes through the roof. Jazz sign Millsap to be their starting PF, only he can’t start. Boozer throws his teammates under the bus (seriously, check out his comments about the Lakers playoff series). Boozer becomes more obtuse and clueless with every day.
And still Boozer comes back.
But it was hopeless. The team dynamic with Boozer was already diving into a black hole, and nobody seemed to realize that no matter how much you might wish otherwise, You Can’t Pull out of a Black Hole. It doesn’t matter that, on paper, the Jazz are better with Boozer. You can’t pull out of a black hole. You can either jump ship, stay the course to oblivion, or hit the turbo to hell.
Keeping Boozer hit the turbo to hell. And what’s sad is that I don’t know if getting rid of Boozer would even be enough anymore. The poisoned dynamic has spread so far.
D-Will had 2 assists against the Mavs. You have to go back to December 28, 2006 to see the last time he had only 2 assists in a game. He doesn’t trust any of his teammates to pull off a big win. It’s not just a Boozer problem anymore. The entire team has been poisoned.
The only way to salvage the season is to 1) trade Boozer immediately for anything and 2) trade someone else for a #2 guy that D-Will can build some trust and a new positive dynamic with.
You don’t know how much it kills me to think about the second part. I love the Jazz. I love cheering for AK, Brewer, Memo, and Millsap. And I know one or more of these guys will have to go to bring in the kind of player we need. But I’m afraid that there are no other options. The dynamic with Boozer is beyond dead. And even the dynamic without Boozer doesn’t look like it can survive anymore—and damn it KOC, it could have thrived!!!!!
A new dynamic needs to develop, and the only way is to blow up the team.
Otherwise, we’ll be “enjoying” a lot more games like Denver, Houston, and Dallas this year. Or even worse, D-Will could become so discontented that he shuts down until he’s traded somewhere else.