The Utah Jazz are going to the playoffs. Hmm. Let me re-phrase that: the 2011-2012 Utah Jazz are going to the playoffs. Nope, still not good enough. The 2011-2012 Utah Jazz are going to the playoffs, and their head coach Tyrone Corbin has now coached a grand total of 92 games. Almost there. The 2011-2012 Utah Jazz, who are led by career non-stars and NBA castaways, are going to the playoffs; and their head coach Tyrone Corbin has coached a grand total of 92 games in his career.
All of this is a surprise. The Jazz finished last season 8-20 after Tyrone took over for Jerry Sloan. They got rid of their franchise player during that stretch. And with their #3 draft pick they picked a project European center who was super young and super raw. The Jazz added Jamaal Tinsley and Josh Howard in the off-season; and traded Mehmet Okur to the New Jersey Nets for a trade exemption, one that they did not use. The Utah Jazz were just not supposed to make the playoffs this year.
But they did.
It’s not insane to suggest that on paper the Jazz were not supposed to be very good this year.
I mentally prepared myself for that fact, and as a result, I adjusted my theoretical trajectory for this team accordingly. A lockout year the year we would have most needed a training camp? Two pre-season games total? No summer league for our younger guys? A free agency period that started and was completed in the span of 8 business days? I did not think our team got a fair chance to improve. And I did not think that our team DID improve. I was expecting the majority of the improvement to come DURING the season. I was mentally prepared for a tough year. I filed 2011-2012 off as a 68 game preseason (preseason + regular season, and no playoffs); a preseason that would get us ready to be in the playoff hunt in 2012-2013.
As a result, I kind of wanted the Jazz to play this season in a realistic fashion with realistic goals; and not in a deluded fashion. And subjectively, perhaps selfishly, I felt like playing this season out like we were a real playoff team would have been deluding ourselves. Looking at how we finished last year, and what little was done in the off-season, it is not crazy to think that we wouldn’t be in the playoffs this year.
"Really? The playoffs? This year?"
That seemed like a delusion to me. I wanted this season to be a full-season preseason where we get ready for the next year. I did not want to "waste" the year aiming for an impossible goal, and "losing" the wrong way. I honestly wrote this year off. I’m repeating myself here; but there’s a reason for that. I’m repeating myself because I repeated the same things all season long. I was a very vocal "fan" all season long. I thought the team was fooling themselves into thinking they could make the playoffs with this roster; especially with how mismatched the lineups were.
And I just did not shut up about it.
And you know what? I challenged the Jazz to prove me wrong and they did. It’s highly ironic that I felt like the Jazz would be ‘wasting’ this year by trying to go for an impossible goal (the playoffs), and instead I was advocating for the Jazz to waste this season and run it like an extended pre-season (mixing and matching lineups, switching things out, teaching more – and being in less dire situations). I would not shut up about how I felt.
And now I’m not going to shut up about being proven wrong by the Jazz. I was wrong. I was wrong on three big things this year. And I’m happy to be wrong about each of them. The first was that the greed of the owners and players would mean we wouldn’t even get a season this year. I was wrong there, and I’m happy I was wrong. This 2011-2012 season was a lot of fun (if not also stressful for me). The second thing I was totally wrong about was my then justified concern for Enes Kanter. Kanter may never end up being the #3 best player in his draft class; however, his performance this season as won me over. I was judging him against the average production for his #3 draft spot. Instead, and to his credit, Enes won me over quite soon after the season started (I did put him in the first Jazz quintet, for the first Jazz game of the regular season, if you look back in the archives). And I recognized the folly of that. He wasn’t the perfect pick to solve all of our problems. He’s probably never going to be an All-Star. But more than all the other guys drafted after him, he does something as a rookie at an NBA starter level. At the age of 19. I’ve turned 180 degrees on Kanter, I even thought that he should only be playing 13 mpg this year. Instead I ended up advocating for him to play a bit more, and I bristled at how he was mothballed down the stretch. I did not think that Kanter would be a bust, but I did not think that the Jazz should have drafted him. Today there is no one else I would have drafted at that spot. I was wrong there, and I am super happy to be wrong about Enes. Dude is a beast.
The third biggest "Amar was wrong" moment was the biggest "Amar was wrong" moment of the season. I just did not believe that this team was a playoff team. I went on the record thinking that the Jazz would win between 31-35 games (depending on injuries). Well, with one game left to play (and most likely the Jazz will go hard for the W) the Jazz have 35 wins already. Regardless if they make the 36 win plateau or not this team has proved me wrong. I challenged them to exceed my expectations each month, some months they did, other months they did not. But at the end of this season, all the record books will show the 2011-2012 Utah Jazz as a playoff team. And I was really wrong about that.
And as a Jazz fan – I’m MOST happy about being wrong about that, and way more happy about that than I am happy to be RIGHT about the countless things I was right about in 2011-2012. (Some big, some petty) I don’t think I am some expert. I don’t have inside access. I can’t even get my bloggers media credentials, despite trying. I do all of this for the Utah Jazz fans, because I am a fan.
And as a fan I have a right to my opinion. But as a good, non-homer fan, I can also be free to admit when and where I was wrong. I was wrong about some big things this year. And in retrospect, with the information we have TODAY, a lot of my concerns retroactively become invalid. That said, even in the second week of March the playoffs looked like a delusion. The Ricky Rubio injury that destroyed the Minnesota Timberwolves season was quite a help. The Portland Trail Blazers hitting the self destruct button also helped. Those were two teams ahead of the Jazz who bowed out early. The Phoenix Suns got a rash of injuries that ultimately sunk them, they would have been a lot tougher last night had Channing Frye played. The Jazz had some help making the playoffs this season. But as I wrote months ago back when the Jazz were rolling in January – the best teams take advantage of the fortune they received (earned or not). The Jazz took advantage of the good fortune this year.
The biggest fortune the Jazz took advantage of were the injuries to Raja Bell, Josh Howard, and later C.J. Miles. It’s not a surprise that the Jazz went on a huge run when Gordon Hayward returned to the starting lineup (after being moved to the bench), Paul Millsap was shifted to the small forward spot, and Derrick Favors got a huge boost to his playing time. If those three guys stay healthy down the stretch – and the Jazz don’t go with their big lineup. And, honestly, if those three guys stay healthy down the stretch, Ty probably leans on them and we don’t secure a playoff spot.
The Jazz took advantage of what this tough season game them, and they fought through everything they had unfairly thrown at them – and they’ve come out as winners. And as a fan you love that.
Playoffs. Yes, in 2011-2012.
To me I look at this as making the playoffs one year earlier than I had planned. If you look at the rise and fall of Jazz teams under the slow growth plan, a disappointing season after initial growth is always right around the corner. I expected this year to be that year. When the Andrei Kirilenko led Jazz almost went to the playoffs (and finished 42-40) the next season they had their down year (26 wins). Of course the silver lining is that the down year brought us Deron Williams. There are other examples of ‘the down season’ I could list, but I’ve already used up 1.5k words saying "I’m wrong". I have all off-season to talk about being wrong as well.
Because I felt like we weren’t going to make the playoffs I was more critical of this team, particularly because they were ‘deluding themselves’ with this eventually fruitless playoff push. Well, I was the wrong guy, and we’re now in the playoffs. Good on the Jazz. They deserve the playoffs because they started playing better. I felt like missing the playoffs by playing the veterans would be dumb. They made the playoffs by having to use more mixed lineups of veterans and youth. This is a very good, necessary, and positive step. This was a step I honestly thought wouldn’t come until next season.
We’re a season ahead of my trajectory. And that’s awesome. Even if we do have a ‘down’ season next year it doesn’t matter. The Jazz overachieved this year. They earned my full support. Even if they do get in trouble in the playoffs this year – it doesn’t matter one bit to me. They weren’t even supposed to be there. They crashed the party. I don’t care if they make a bad first impression. I didn’t even think they’d make it to the party.
The Party Starts now!
Yes, The party starts now. Playoffs. More Jazz home games. (More possible over time periods) An opportunity to beat up on the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs again? A chance to turn my theorized 68 game extended preseason into a 70+ game long REAL season? Where do I sign? I was vehemently against going for the playoffs because I felt like it would mean that if we get there (unlikely), then the only guys would play would be dudes like Raja Bell and Josh Howard. That may yet be the case, but it wasn’t Raja and Josh who got the team to the playoffs. It was Al Jefferson turning into a more complete player on offense who could trust his team mates more, and a guy who hasn’t taken a shot over a triple team in months. It was Paul Millsap working through his middle of the season wall, re-discovering his shot, and continuing to play both ends of the court. It was Devin Harris finding his outside shot, knowing how to better pace his game, and pick and choose his spots on offense. It was Gordon Hayward doing everything. It was Derrick Favors finally being allowed to do ANYTHING. It was Alec Burks being able to play through great stretches and mistake filled minutes – all in the same game and not going to the doghouse (like Jerry Sloan used to put younger players). And most of all, it was Tyrone Corbin not making the same mistakes all season long, and for Tyrone Corbin learning, analyzing, and adapting things. Jerry Sloan made superb game to game adjustments, but was very slow in making in-game adjustments. This season Tyrone Corbin has shown us that he has the potential to be great at making in-game adjustments. He’s made some GREAT ones this year – and he hasn’t even coached 100 games yet.
This Jazz team surprised me in so many ways. And I’m happy that they eventually MADE the playoffs the right way. In a realistic way. In a non-deluded season where they aimed for the playoffs, and reached for what they aimed for. I am happy as a Jazz fan. And as a Jazz fan I am happy for our players (young and old), and happy for our front office, and happy for our coaches. But more than any of that – I am extremely proud of the entire franchise right now.
Over the last year the Jazz lost Jerry Sloan to an unofficial attempted coup, lost our franchise player, missed the playoffs for the first time ever, and the league locked out. It was a very depressing sequence of events. I do not think ANY team (not even Bobcats fans) had it as rough as Jazz fans did. And you know what? Now we get the playoffs.
We Are Utah Jazz!
Even those of us who were wrong about some big things this season.