The Utah Jazz’s season is definitely not going the way anyone had planned. While few would have said Utah would be at the top of the standings at this point due to their nightmare schedule to start the season, few would have predicted they would have been this outclassed in many of those matchups. There have been many words written trying to find the problem, solutions, and whatnot, but I keep going back to a children’s story.
There’s a children’s story about a girl who gets swept away to another land. You’d have to be living under a rock not to have seen it or even heard about the movie: The Wizard of Oz. But few have read the stories. The stories are far more tragic.
When that girl, Dorothy, arrives there she first comes in contact with Munchkins who told her how to find her way home. The only thing she wanted when she got there was to get home. She wasn’t much concerned of others problems or issues. She was focused on just her. Her return back to Kansas. She is told the Wizard of Oz can magically grant her the ability to go home. She’s found her singular mission.
She first comes across a Scarecrow who tells her that he used to be able to scare all the crows away until an older crow realized that he was just made of straw. After that, no crow paid him any mind and they ate corn his fields without fear. The strawman desperately wanted a brain to outsmart his opposition. Dorothy realizing that she needs help—despite him not having a brain—takes him along on her journey after she convinces him that the Wizard of Oz can provide him with a brain.
Shortly after she runs into the Tin Man. In the stories, he had suffered a lot of tragedy before giving up and being found rusted out. Before he was made he Wicked Witch of the West cursed his axe to prevent him from marrying his one true love. That same enchanted axe chopped his limbs off, one by one, and he replaced them with tin. His entire body was remade in metal, except his heart. Without his heart he was unable to care for his one true love. By the time Dorothy and the Scarecrow found him, he had given up. Dorothy and the Scarecrow see that he his axe and strength can be helpful on the journey. Once he is convinced the Wizard can give him a heart, he’s ready to roll on the journey.
Finally they run into a lion. He leaps and snaps at Dorothy. She slaps him and calls him a coward. Without any resistance, he backs down and admits that he is. He wants nothing more than to rise up to his cultural role of being the ‘King of the Forest.’ He is convinced by this ragtag group that if he joins them the Wizard will provide him with the courage that he seeks. He joins them. Not to aid them in their quest, but to gain what he has always craved.
This unlikely of allies only share one goal: to get to the Emerald City. Not to help the other, improve each other, nor to hear of each other’s struggles. Just get to the Emerald City and then they can get what they want. An alliance. That’s it. As everyone will remember from the stories or the movie, their mission of getting to the Emerald City soon becomes dependent on each other overcoming what they lack along the way.
Dorothy must find home wherever she finds herself and not think of it as a place.
The Scarecrow must think of creative ways to overcome their obstacles.
The Tin Man must trust and find compassion for those around him.
The Lion must step up into his role as the Alpha despite the paralyzing fear that comes with it.
To put it bluntly, the very thing they craved—belonging, brains, compassion, brawn—was required to be at the feet of the Wizard before they could receive it... or so they thought. They would learn that it was not something that could be bequeathed, endowed, or purchased. It was to be earned and cultivated. To get really cheesy, once they met the Wizard, they already had that which they desired. All he did was possess the credibility to help them see and believe that they already had it.
The Utah Jazz over the past three seasons have been on this odd journey. The franchise had a tornado named Gordon sweep them away to unfamiliar territory. Their only desire was to get back home. The past two seasons, they found a scarecrow of a team that proved to be adept at scaring most enemies away. With Ricky Rubio, Thabo Sefolosha, Jae Crowder, and Ekpe Udoh at their side, they found if they arranged the pieces just right, few dare oppose them. Likewise, the postseason possessed more experienced enemies who could see that the Jazz were just a scary defensive team with a gimmicky arranged offense that was patrolled by straw men.
So the Jazz went out to get muscle. An offensive axe that could provide real metal on that side of the court. They brought in Bojan Bogdanovic and Mike Conley. But that axe cut off many of their limbs in the process. Ricky Rubio, Thabo Sefolosha, Ekpe Udoh, Grayson Allen, and Jae Crowder all were betrayed by the axe. The Jazz’s heart, Derrick Favors, was axed but never replaced.
Despite the uphill battle the Jazz fought with their new axe. But as the season went on, they have started to lose steam, and rust. As adversity has hit them, they have found ways of excusing the problems similar to the cowardice of the Lion. The schedule is difficult, we’re all new, you need a PhD to run the offense, and the fans are abandoning us.
Finally after a terrible loss at home to a team that lacked any teeth, the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Utah Jazz showed that they backed down from even a light challenge like the Lion when called out by the little girl Dorothy. The Thunder called them cowards, heartless, and brainless by running them out of their own building. After the game, the Jazz’s media availability basically confirmed that. They said they had a lot of problems. Similar to the Lion’s exclamation of, “You’re right. I am a coward.”
Which brings us to the present. All season this roster has been chasing external things they needed to obtain whether it’s knowing the offense, having passion on the court, fighting back, and being a championship contender as if they would be gifts that could be bestowed through free agency, a coach, and a cool uniform. But like the story, they are things that are already required for the journey and they cannot be given or bestowed by anyone. They have to fake it until they are it. It’s look in the mirror time, and it doesn’t matter who looks at them back, they have to still step up to the challenge and be what is required whether they are the right man for the job or not.
Other teams have had difficult schedules and are not getting waxed by teams below .500.
Other teams have poor benches and are atop the NBA Standings.
Other teams have tons of new roster additions and are still able to play as a unit.
Other teams don’t quite and get blown out by 20+ points regardless of where they are playing.
The Jazz can’t expect to start winning games once some magical, all-powerful GM gives them power, brains, and a damn heart. No, no. That is what was required much earlier in the journey. If they haven’t found them now, the schedule cannot give it to them.
So like Dorothy, the Jazz must realize that if they cannot feel at home now in an unfamiliar place, they will not feel at home in a more familiar one.
If they wait until additional calvary comes, they will fail.
If they wait until they gain knowledge in the offense, they will be tricked.
If they wait until someone finds a pulse, it’ll be too late to show what that heart can do.
If they wait until the opposition is lighter, they will still be cowards, but now they get to pick on someone not their size.
The Utah Jazz currently are a team filled with scarecrows, tin men, and cowardly lions. Can they finally play like what they want to be regardless of who they are now? Let’s hope so.