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The Downbeat #1262: The Ultimatum Edition

In which we discuss our Jazz fan breaking points, the role of confidence in player development, a possible 2014 Draft consolation prize, David Stern's last week in the NBA, and your FanPosts.

Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Hey, Jazz fans. Let's talk. No, seriously. How are you? How's life? Are you feeling good about things?

I ask because of this:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Over 80 people have contacted me privately and offered up a very real future possibility where they stop rooting for the Jazz / buying tix.</p>&mdash; Amar (@AllThatAmar) <a href="">January 28, 2014</a></blockquote>

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And also this:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Trip to the e-mail inbox later, and now it&#39;s above 90 people who came out and told me that they could stop being Jazz fans. Crazy afternoon.</p>&mdash; Amar (@AllThatAmar) <a href="">January 28, 2014</a></blockquote>

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Now, our fearless leader goes on to emphasize that this is in no way representative of the entire Jazz fan base. He also clarifies that the reasons for quitting are various and sundry.

I only mention it because I've heard similar sentiments from people I know. And it's an interesting thought exercise: What would it take to get you to stop watching the Jazz?

Don't misunderstand me; I don't mean to turn this into an I'm-a-bigger-fan-than-you pissing contest. I'm not expecting a torrent of "HOW DARE YOU QUESTION MY COMMITMENT I'LL NEVER LEAVE THE JAZZ" comments. I'm legitimately curious.

The nature of my own fandom has changed over the years, though that probably says more about me than it does the Jazz. I've been a sports journalist, for one thing, and once the game is part of your job, your relationship with it is irrevocably altered. I yell less than I once did, I feel the thrill of each win and the sting of each loss perhaps less keenly than in my youth. Then again, I suppose this is as much a result of aging as it is my career, or the amount of minutes Richard Jefferson plays, or anything directly related to the team.

The one thing I couldn't do, even if I stopped following the Jazz, would be to pick another team to follow. The moment that team came up against the Jazz, my will would crumble. I don't have the guts. Basically, I'm this guy.

I am reminded, again, of my oft-mentioned reference point for the fan experience, Nick Hornby's soccer memoir Fever Pitch. A relevant excerpt:

I had discovered after the Swindon game that loyalty, at least in football terms, was not a moral choice like bravery or kindness; it was more like a wart or a hump, something you were stuck with. Marriages are nowhere near as rigid -- you won't catch any Arsenal fans slipping off to Tottenham for a bit of extra-marital slap and tickle, and though divorce is a possibility (you can just stop going if things get too bad), getting hitched again is out of the question. There have been many times over the last twenty-three years when I have pored over the small print of my contract looking for a way out, but there isn't one. Each humiliating defeat (Swindon, Tranmere, York, Walsall, Rotherham, Wrexham) must be borne with patience, fortitude and forbearance; there is simply nothing that can be done, and that is a realisation that can make you simply squirm with frustration.

The loyalty Hornby mentions here goes double for Jazz fans, I think. Our organization is (or was) synonymous with loyalty for much of my lifetime. We will celebrate a symbol of that loyalty on Friday, when we honor Jerry Sloan. Then again, it's easy to be loyal when times are good.

And let's be honest: times are nowhere near bad yet. We have a young team with plenty of talent, and a future filled with possibility.

But is that enough for you? What's your fan ultimatum? I'd be interested to hear.

I didn't watch the Kings game on Monday night, but I was driving home during the final three minutes, so I got to hear every delightful moment of the parade to the free-throw line that ended the game. (I have to say, I probably enjoyed it more than those watching, thanks in no small part to David Locke's increasing fury at each miss, and each botched Sacramento possession.)

For those of you who enjoy irony, you'll note that during all that horrific free-throw shooting, the one guy who didn't get in the game -- and hasn't for several weeks -- was Andris Biedrins, he of the historically bad free-throw percentage.

The Trib's Aaron Falk gave us an update over the weekend on Biedrins, leading off with...well, I think you know:

Out on the court early before a game, his teammates buzzing around him and paying little mind, Andris Biedrins steps to the free-throw line.

This is where Biedrins has become something of a legend over the years - for all the wrong reasons. He hasn't shot better than 32.3 percent from the line in any of the last five seasons.

But on the floor one evening, without thousands of eyes watching him, anticipating failure, Biedrins takes 15 shots. They are not the beautiful, arcing attempts; some are flat and catch the iron awkwardly. But in the end, 12 of them go in the hoop.

That's why one of Biedrins' former coaches doesn't pay much mind to the struggling player's mechanics.

"I don't think its anything to do with form," said Sacramento Kings coach Mike Malone, a former Golden State assistant. "I think it's a confidence thing. He was not always such a poor free-throw shooter. But this game ... so much of it is mental. The biggest part of it for Andris, not just from the foul line but from a whole basketball standpoint, is confidence. You go back 4-5 years ago, when he was playing with confidence, he was one of the best young big men in the NBA."

The free-throw thing is funny given Monday's fourth quarter. But that last quote from Mike Malone interests me. He basically confirms what we all have thought about Biedrins: namely, that at some point his confidence was crushed, he's never been able to get it back, and all the talent in the world can't recover from that.

This point is especially relevant when considering another Jazz big man, Enes Kanter. In case you missed it, Clark wrote an excellent piece about the Big Turkey where he mentioned this:

What I think unquestionably happened is that Enes Kanter lost his confidence when he was benched. I mentioned Kanter's numbers in the first 14 games: 14.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 50% from the field in 32 minutes per game. In the next 17 games Kanter played 21 minutes per game and put up 8.2 points and 4.5 rebounds on only 42.6% shooting. Luckily Kanter has been able to find his confidence and is putting up 13.3 points, 7 rebounds in 22 minutes per night while shooting 55.8% from the field the last 12 contests. But in short, I think it's hard to argue that benching Enes Kanter is what helped him find his game again. The exact opposite may be true.

Now, I don't mean to say that Biedrins' and Kanter's situations are exactly the same, or even necessarily analogous. But I do think the comparison is instructive, and the reminder is salient: for developing players, the mental game may be as important as the physical.

Anyway. Go read Clark's thing, if you haven't. Or read it again. It's good.

FanPosts! Here's this week's rundown. (And remember, as always: I feature three FanPosts here every week, so keep writing 'em, and feel free to shoot a tweet or email my way if you want another set of eyes on your work!)

First, longtimejazzfan wonders if the Jazz are in danger of slipping back into the no-man's-land of mediocrity:

What is going on here? I am not seeing a player capable of leading the Jazz to a championship on this roster. I'm not very optimistic that the Jazz can find another Harden deal out there either. Are the Jazz blowing it? Why can't the Jazz just let the last half of this season go to developing Rudy, Clark, Evans, Kanter? The promise of the future hangs in the balance as the Jazz move ever closer to the road of mediocrity. The names may change but the results will stay the same.

The Jazz have been a .500 team since they were fully healthy. It's not like we haven't seen that for the past 3 years.

On the other hand, Uber_snotling points out that the Jazz at least seem to be in better shape long-term than their Western Conference cellar-dwelling counterparts:

Compared to these other franchises, I feel that the Jazz have great potential going forward. Los Angeles is stuck with Kobe and Nash. New Orleans has Davis, but the other parts aren't meshing or staying healthy. Sacramento is capped out going forward and has no defensive identity.

Lastly, icangothedistance gets in touch with his inner Ebert and reviews a Jazz-related film for us:

While browsing Netflix the other night (browsing constitutes looking up he got game because I don't think I've ever seen it and I'm tired of not getting the Jesus Shuttleworth references/jokes) I came across a movie about none other than the first famous Jazzman "Pistol" Pete Maravich. The movie is a narrative telling the story of a very young Maravich age 13 his father and all he taught him about the game and the moment when his coaches (primarily his father and then others) recognized greatness in him.

Thanks, y'all! Great stuff!

So, by now you've heard from My_Lo that Dante Exum has officially declared for the draft. And you probably know that, based on where the Jazz sit now, the odds of jumping up to grab Jabari Parker or another top-three talent are slim. So here's a closer look at Exum, courtesy of ESPN's Chad "Charizard" Ford:

A number of GMs, at least those who have seen [Exum] on film, told me they see the appeal and would be comfortable taking him No. 1. There probably isn't a player in the draft who has the potential to create his own shot (as well as shots for others) the way Exum can. That's very, very valuable for a young, rebuilding NBA team.

While the consensus right now is leaning toward taking Embiid No. 1 overall, strong workouts could change minds -- especially teams that have a point guard on their shopping lists. A couple of teams in the lottery, including the Orlando Magic, Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz, have a lot of interest in Exum. A few of them, such as the Kings and the Jazz, have young point guards whom they like (Isaiah Thomas and Trey Burke, respectively), but Exum gives them a much bigger player and a completely different look.

So Ford specifically mentions the Jazz as being interested in Exum, but he also acknowledges that we've got a pretty darn good point guard already. At 6-foot-6, though, Exum has the length to play shooting guard, and two creators in the backcourt to mesh with the Jazz's other young talent could be very interesting indeed.

Again, this is all assuming we miss out on a top-three pick and can't get someone like Jabari Parker. But since that's looking increasingly likely, Exum could be a decent consolation prize. What do you think?

It's NBA commissioner David Stern's last week on the job, and longtime Deseret News columnist and sportswriter Lee Benson wrote about his role in keeping the Jazz in Utah:

"David always had a soft spot for the Jazz," remembers Checketts. "He was a great help to me. He mentored me after I got to the Jazz, he sent me league resources to try and help me turn it into a first-class franchise, he did everything he could."

And when a $6.5 million loan the Jazz owed First Security Bank was due, the commissioner flew to Salt Lake himself and accompanied Checketts to the bank to lobby for more time to pay it off.

Checketts: "David came out to personally see Spencer Eccles at First Security and tell him what the league would mean in the future and where it was headed. If they'd pulled the loan, the Jazz would have been no more. But I think Spence was really buoyed by David's words and that's why he stuck with us and they didn't call in the loan."

David Stern not only helped save the NBA, he helped save the Jazz.

For all his faults, I can't imagine the NBA without David Stern's smug, I'm-smarter-than-you expressions, biting wit, and love for basketball. He'll be missed, for better and worse.