I'm not getting into stats right now. I'm not going to get into analysis about how the Jazz will do in the future. I'm not going to talk about what I believe makes a great team and what doesn't.
This is just a post about mourning. It's about forming a relationship with a team and players who don't give a crap about me, but I care about them anyway.
We all know that the Jazz are likely getting Al Jefferson via trade. We also all know this means the Jazz probably won't match the offer to Wesley Matthews.
And I'm annoyed at the trade and utterly heartbroken about OMSW.
Welsey Matthews was my favorite rookie ever. Watching him come out of nowhere was more fun to me than watching Deron, AK-47, and anyone else I was old enough to remember during their rookie seasons.
He hustled. He played tough. He defended. He hit threes. He made moves to the hoop and backdoor cuts. Yeah the rim sometimes blocked his dunk, but you have to take the good with the bad.
That he was an undrafted rookie just made him even more awesome.
I remember last March, as Matthews took over the starting SG role and got even better, I thought how lucky the Jazz were to have him. I seemed to me a perfect role-player, the kind of guy would-be-champs muddle about trying to find year after year after year. The kind of guy that can turn a pretender into a real contender.
I had been pining for a better SG ever since Raja Bell left. And after years of Derek Fisher, Gordan Giricek, Young-and-dumb CJ, Ronnie B., Kyle Korver, and company, after all those 50-point bonanzas from opposing SG's, after Linus freaking Kleiza scored over 40, we suddenly had him. A complete player. One who could shoot AND play tough D. And he was even better in the playoffs, after Harpring talked to him about knocking opponents around.
What wasn't there to like about Wesley? He was seriously the only thing I enjoyed about the Jazz last November and December.
And now he's probably gone. Going to a team with a smaller role for him. Going to a team where he's not the right kind of role-player. Going to a coach and PG who won't know what to do with him.
So the Jazz are losing a perfect fit. Wesley has a less likely chance of becoming the player he could be. And the Jazz will probably replace him with a bunch of randoms.
And it sucks that it's not a basketball move at all. It's a financial one. It's deliberately letting an awesome guy go with no prospect of replacing him.
So yeah. I'm really bummed.
It's like how I felt when my girlfriend decided to stop writing me letters about 10 days into my LDS mission. Just like that an entire year of emotional attachment is rendered pointless.
And he's gone so we can get Al Jefferson. Boozer 2.0 — a couple minor "improvements" but no major flaws addressed, and a couple nice things about version 1.0 no longer available.
You know, I just 3 days last week celebrating Boozer's departure. I talked about it to everyone I could—everyone who gave a crap about basketball. It was more exciting than getting my iPad for my birthday—though maybe that's going too far ;)
And now he's back. Sure the packaging's different, but still. 3 days of jubilation all for naught.
So we're back to where we were. Post-achilles-pop Memo (who had a very down year already), Boozer 2.0, Deron, AK, Millsap, CJ, Ronnie P., the KOOF, talk of Ronnie B. back.
Sweet. Same team as the last 4 years. A #5 seed. Again.
Yeah, there are some maybe's and some differences. The team understands how to use AK again. That changed the entire season last January: from 9th best in the west to playing like a top-3 team in the league the rest of the year. Millsap's ready to start and contribute. Hayward looks like he could be a real gem. Smart CJ may be here to stay. And at least Boozer 2.0's big enough to put him in the center spot. And maybe Boozer 2.0 will really blossom under his first decent head coach, PG, and teammates in his entire career. Maybe he'll start trying on defense. Stranger things have happened.
But so what. I don't care right now. Here's what I do care about:
1. I was looking forward to see the Jazz prove the Ewing Theory right once again.
2. I was looking forward to see Millsap make a serious run at the Most Improved Award.
3. I was looking forward to see Wesley make a serious run at the Most Improved Award.
5. I was looking forward to Deron going crazy (like 23 & 12) because he had to take on a little bit more offensive responsibility
6. I was looking forward to nights of the KOOF and Fes, and the playing time that just may let them turn everything around.
7. Hayward dazzling us all with his smarts and skills
And now how do I feel about these?
1. Jazz no longer qualify for Ewing Theory status
2. I'm afraid Boozer 2.0 may suck too many touches for Millsap to become the guy I believed he can be
3. Forget about it. Don't even bring it up.
4. Blue collar tough guys doesn't describe a team adding Boozer 2.0 and losing Wes
5. Deron probably won't go crazy, and he'll be overlooked by talking heads again
6. KOOF will repeat last season. Fes may not even be on the team. Booch may never post a comment again.
7. Still has a decent chance of happening. Yay. 1 for 7
So yeah. There's only 1 thing left that was making me excited about next season.
I know that a lot of things will work themselves out. There will be plenty to enjoy about next season once the games start. But man ...
To have everything I was looking forward to sucked away into a black hole. That kind of stinks.
But here's the worst thing of all:
The only reason trading for Al Jefferson makes sense is if the Jazz front office really thinks it makes them a championship caliber team. And if that's the case, letting Wesley go makes no sense. When you're making a championship run you always take the best players—luxury tax be damned—and there is nobody available that is as good as Wes.
Seriously, Boston had to ignore the luxury tax to win. Lakers had to ignore the luxury tax to get their team. Even the Spurs went into serious luxury tax territory to make one last run (didn't work out, but they weren't exactly conservative when they signed Richard Jefferson).
Under today's payroll and roster rules, you cannot seriously compete unless you throw luxury tax concerns out the window. You have to be smart about it. You can't pull an Isiah/Knicks. But when you're ready to take the championship-run plunge, you take it all the way for as long as it makes sense.
That was, incidentally, the Suns big screw-up. They didn't recognize this when they had the right team (Joe Johnson still on the team and happy, Shawn Marion still happy, etc.). So they blew up their best team of the run, gave up every little asset to try to save money, then ended up spending the money anyway on players and a team not as good.
That's just reality in today's NBA. It may change in the future. But that's how it is today.
So why go into luxury tax territory for Boozer 2.0 but not take that extra plunge by signing the best SG the team's had in 5 years (who also happens to be by far the best SG available right now)? Why make a championship run-type salary increase and ignore one last, smaller piece (especially long-term)?
Well, there are two reason. First, the front office may be just plain stupid. It's not a crazy possibility. There is plenty of evidence over the past 40 years that a lot of NBA GM's are idiots. And what kind of person thinks Al Jefferson is really the right dude? I mean wasn't our primary need defense in the post? So yeah, maybe the front office guys are just dumb.
Okay. I guess I can forgive dumb. I've put up with my brother for the past 30 years haven't I? ;) I know you read this.
But there's also another possibility. A really crummy possibility.
Maybe the front office believes the team isn't championship-run-ready. Maybe they just wanted a big name to come in to save face. Maybe they are doing this just to help ticket sales this year.
That's right. There's a possibility that they just made a move that binds the team as it is with no roster/salary flexibility for changes for the next 4 years. Deliberately. Knowing they weren't going to make a championship run. Just to make sell more tickets. Just to make more money. To increase profits.
And if that's the case, then we fans are going to spend our lifetime cheering for a team that's screwing us. A team operates according to the Clippers Manifesto.
I know money matters. I know keeping the team financially viable matters. But you can't tell me that a team with Wes and under the luxury tax level, a team that would still make the playoffs, isn't also financially viable. But if the team isn't thinking like that, if they want the brou-ha-ha of bringing Jefferson to sell tickets, to maximize jersey sales, etc. then that stinks.
Because if that's really what's going on, then here's what will happen. If the decisions are strictly financial and no t basketball, then the team won't improve. Deron will bolt in 2 years. And life as a Jazz fan will become more and more depressing as time goes by.
I feel gloomy.
I'm probably overreacting. But that's what happens when you mourn the loss of one of your favorite players. That's what happens when you celebrate the loss of Boozer 1.0 only to acquire version 2.0 five days later. That's what happens when most of what you were looking forward to about next season vaporize into the ether. That's what happens when the front office seems either dumb or sinister.
Of course, Kevin O'Connor and Greg Miller could change my mind instantly by matching Wes's offer sheet. Show some balls—if you think you're building a championship-caliber team then take the plunge. Go all the way. Make one more roster move, one more decision that makes basketball sense, luxury tax be damned. Bring back the only truly dependable SG we've had in 5 years. Bring back my favorite rookie ever for a sophomore season, just to see what he can become.
P.S. I can't take credit for the title. It came from a comment posted by softdrinks—who happens to love the Jefferson deal and is probably right about why it will rock. But in one of his comments he included the phrase elevating to a new horizon. As I thought about it I realized it was one of those gooked up metaphors we all accidentally do, especially when writing blog comments late in the night. Because you don't really rise to horizons. Horizons are on the ground. And, being a teacher and would-be poet, the screwy metaphor really amused me—particularly since it fits how I feel about the Jefferson deal more than it fins what softdrinks thinks. Still on the ground. Just in a different spot. So I used it here. So thanks, softdrinks, I needed a chuckle.