"We did not change as we grew older; we just became more clearly ourselves."
For the last couple weeks, cheering for the Utah Jazz has been like supporting the moles in a game of Whack-A-Mole. While there have been moments of promise when the team has been able to keep its head above ground far longer than expected, every game is ultimately just a series of crushing blows upside the head. Last night was about as close as the Jazz have come to victory in the last six games, and I doubt (m)any fans would say that the team actually played well.
Because the team is performing poorly, a common tendency is assume that the team needs to do something big to "fix it". SLCDunk has been overrun with trade proposals, lineup changes, and propositions of all sorts that hope to restore the team’s fortunes or at the very least to shake it from its doldrums. Even Jerry Sloan (who normally regards variety as the hobgoblin of small minds) has tinkered with the starting lineups a couple times- though the end results, alas, have remained the same.
This is a frustrating time for everyone who cares about Jazz basketball, and I can hardly fault those who have leant their voices to the growing chorus of nattering nabobs of negativism. Though I too am frustrated, I would like to propose something entirely different… call it a non-solution. I think the Jazz should keep trying the same thing until it works. The same players, the same rotations, the same play calls, everything. I say it’s time for the team not to look for the cavalry but rather to look in the mirror.
Historically, the Jazz have been a team which not only wins consistently but which wins by means of consistency. This, of course, is most famously embodied by Stockton and Malone. Whereas other franchises would have given up on their core after, say, 10 consecutive non-championship seasons, the Jazz stuck with John, Karl, and Jerry for as long as they themselves were willing to stay together. When the team pushed through to consecutive NBA Finals appearances, it wasn’t because they started doing something different; it was because they got really good at doing what they’d always done.
Because I believe deeply in the Jazz way of doing things, I hope the team does nothing at all about its current struggles. I want Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson to remain together in the starting lineup until they learn how to work well together: to play defense with their feet and not just their arms, to pursue every rebound even if the other person is closer, and to punish opposing teams by working the high-low offense. I want Andrei Kirilenko to start off the game by playing hard, smart, and within the system. I want C.J. Miles to be the first one off the bench, ready to score but willing to do whatever the team needs. I want Raja Bell to be aggressive but smart and to stop fouling jumpshooters. These things are not happening right now, but there’s no reason they can’t come about given enough time. It takes repetition, commitment, and consistency, but the solution lies within the Jazz's grasp.
My proposed non-solution will not result in a drastic bump in this season’s win totals. If anything, purposely avoiding short-term solutions is likely to hurt the team in the win column. This doesn’t bother me, however, since the Jazz are simply not going to win the title this year no matter what. The goal of my non-solution is to build the team slowly and methodically so that they will be better next year and the year after. Maybe this is not a fast enough process to satisfy you- which is especially concerning if your name is Deron Williams. Slow-moving as it may be, this franchise has long held that the way forward is through determination, consistency, and incremental improvement. The team shouldn't ignore its blueprint in order to placate its franchise point guard. Rather, it should stick to the blueprint and try to get him to buy in to what the team believes will be the long-term solution.
Lately the team has neither looked nor played anywhere near its potential. The coaches are frustrated, the players are frustrated, and the fans are frustrated. But just because nothing is working doesn’t mean that the team ought to be doing something differently. Repetition and force of will are not exciting, but ultimately they are effective- and even noble. Here’s to hoping that the Jazz can work out their kinks not by changing who they are but by being who they are. In the words of Corrie ten Boom, "When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don't throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer."