Reading the tea leaves with Zaz Hatuj


I think this is the attitude we want to see from Enes this year.


Many a season ago I was on an expedition through the Rockies when my team was stranded on the side of a snowy peak by a sudden storm. Our lives were saved by a Hindu holyman we happened to come across, hidden away in a remote cave.

And so it was I first met Zaz Hatuj.

He had traveled across continents and oceans to make his home in the Western United States; drawn, as so many of us were in that day, by the shining beacon of basketball Nirvana that was to be found only in The City by the (Salt) Lake. He was mesmerized and inspired by the Karmic perfection of the Stockton/Malone pick 'n roll, and found enlightenment from the divine Buddah-like wisdom and leadership of the great Jerry Sloan. He also enjoyed watching the Jazz Bear repel from the ceiling.

He gave us food and shelter on that fateful night, but he was also able to tell our fortunes using the ancient mystical practice of Tasseography: the art of divination through tea leaves. My colleagues did not listen to his forecasts and forewarnings and were immediately come upon and consumed by a wandering pack of nomadic Grizzlies early the next morning, but I survived to tell the tale.

Many times in the years since have I traversed the path to Zaz's mountain home, making the trek through the wild to partake of the ancient man's wisdom. Unfortunately, on my most recent trip it seemed he had developed a severe tea allergy, and is now forced to do most of his foretelling using crunchy Alpha-Bits cereal.

With this sugary breakfast fare as his primary means of prognostication, I asked him to reveal the fortunes of our beloved Utah Jazz for the upcoming season.

The first name to go into his bowl was none other than the mighty giant from the land of Turkey, our potent and virile young center, Enes Kanter. The constituent letters of cereal were mixed about, in went a carefully measured and prepared portion of wild mountain goat's milk, and what slowly emerged was a message most telling and prophetic concerning the young Turk: ENTER SNAKE.

After a puff or two from his Hookah, I immediately understood the meaning of the message.

It was clearly referring to Snake Plissken, the heroic central character of the dramatic films "Escape from New York" and "Escape from L.A.". It was obvious to me that in order for the Jazz to have success this season, young Enes must be able to carry a hero's load upon his broad shoulders, develop a fearsome demeanor of toughness and confidence, and defend us from any and all threats upon our goal. He must marshal his team around him, and lead us in our attempted escape from the dangerous and hazard-filled Western Conference. In short, he must announce his presence and Enter the ranks of NBA starters on a national stage.

That, or Salt Lake City is going to become a giant, walled-in penal colony and Enes is going to start wearing an eyepatch. Hard to tell for sure.

Next, I impatiently urged Zaz to cast his portents upon the name of Trey Burke, that young Wolverine so recently and fortuitously acquired to lead our team to the promised land. I was unable to control my desire, giddy with wonder and curiosity to know the fate of the young point guard, whose talent and potential are so widely and variedly speculated upon. As the frosted letters bobbled to the surface, it took me a moment to make sense of the message they formed: BR TRUE KEY.

It was only when I said the words aloud that the meaning came to light. It spelled out the phrase "Be Our True Key", which seemed to me to echo the true sentiment in the heart of every Jazz fan concerning Trey Burke. Obviously, the future is still in doubt for our miniscule Michiganian, and the prevailing and overriding wish emanating from every crag and crevice of Jazzdom is for Trey to be the true key to our offence; one that, if honed and fit correctly, will unlock the door to Postseason Greatness.

As is began to softly snow outside the cave entrance, I was filled with a sense of urgency and uncertainty that bubbled up from deep within my bowels. Moments later the urgency emerged as a burst of gas from my own primary cave entrance, but the uncertainty remained. I returned, quickly and purposefully, to the task at hand.

The next name to go into the bowl was that of the baby-faced forward whose StarCraft exploits are legend; the one and only Gordon, son of Hayward. His name was displayed from the Delphian depths with a directive derived from dear departed days of yore: WAY ROD GON HARD.

Only I, with my insight and knowledge of Jazz history and culture could make sense of this missive. It was a command, aimed at the Butler basketball prodigy but born on the hardwood courts of West Virginia: "The Way Rod Gone Hard". It referenced the immortal Hot Rod Hundley, whose exploits within and around the game are famous to any true Jazz faithful: he led his charge as an All-American in both high school and college, and then thrilled fans with accounts of explosive exploits as the longtime voice of Jazz basketball in Utah. It was clear to me that for Gordon Hayward to be successful as the leader of the team, he must emulate the scoring prowess of the great "Hot Rod", and bring style and panache to the offense, always "Going Hard" as Rod himself would have done.

If Gordon can go HARD the way "ROD GONE HARD", as they might colloquially say in the hills and valleys of West Virginia, he will be quite a sight to behold. Hot_rod_hundley_medium

What would Hot Rod himself think of the message the fates impart? Perhaps only the revered Zaz Hatuj knows for sure.


As the volume of snow increased and the light outside showed its first signs of wane, I decided to quicken the pace. Two names at once! The Alpha-Bitical Aiellos of Alec Burks and Derrick Favors went simultaneously into the drink, and the ominous augury that surfaced filled my heart with dread: the names spelled out, respectively, R SUCKABLE and DICK FAVOR ERRS. The first I recognized easily as a warning that the team collectively, possibly, despite the notions of some of the more optimistic among us "ARE ABLE TO SUCK", given the right circumstances. Perchance this pertained to Alec Burks, and his growth and usage under the tutelage of the current coaching regime?

The second phrase almost certainly alluded to the "Favor" our proud program did for our cross country rivals in Golden State in allowing them to unload Richard "DICK" Jefferson in their search for a championship. Will this decision truly be an errant one as the foretelling foretold? Only time will tell.

Hoping that the disheartening discourse was only the result of my haste, I bade Zaz to recast the frosted fragments of foreboding. He vigorously shook the milk-filled bowl like a tyke with a Magic 8Ball. This time the words put my heart at ease.

The disturbing warning composed of Alec's corn kernels congealed itself into a hope-filled banner shining, to my mind, of optimistic possibility: LUCK SABER. I instantly visualized the slashing young guard as an instrument of prosperous potency. Perhaps if used correctly, Burks could be a boon to our team in the manner of a shining, sharp-edged weapon whose very presence brings good fortune to our blossoming young club?

The accompanying phrase was, if possible, even more inspiring. It read: RAVE IF R D ROCKS. I mentally filled in the blanks, taking it to read: "Rave if Our D Rocks!" A telling and insightful portent prescribed to the hard working Derrick Favors, it brought before my eyes the definition of rave: "An extremely enthusiastic recommendation or appraisal of someone or something." How meritorious a moniker to apply to our dominant defensive anchor! How outstanding an outcome for all of Jazz fandom! I murmured an impassioned entreaty that it be so.

As the cold winds of Rocky Mountain evening began to whistle through the rocks, I realized that it was time that I depart. In my soul I longed to know the fates assigned to all our newfound Jazzfolk. What would the oracle tell of the once-proficient but oft injured Brandon Rush? How could I identify the journeyman guard assigned to tutor Trey when the Alpha-Bits contain no Roman numerals? Would I just throw in three i's? Do I have to spell out John Lucas the Third? Questions for another day.

So it twas the hour had grown late. Fatigued and weak from a diet consisting only of breakfast cereal and goat's milk, the infinitely wise Zaz Hatuj retired to rest and recoup his strength, while I returned to my Ski Lodge Resort Base Camp where I had taken residence.

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