I know a lot of you dislike LeBron James. He is one of those polarizing players that you either love him or hate him. However you feel about him, I don’t know many people that would not at least put him in their top 10 players of all time, unless they were being unreasonable. Most people would either put him as the second best player of all time behind Michael Jordan, or the very best of the best. While this is a very subjective argument that probably doesn’t have a definitive answer, LeBron has left a legacy in the NBA. The last time LeBron James was not in the NBA Finals (2010), Jerry Sloan still coached the Jazz, memes were not mainstream, the iPhone 4 was about to come out, Blackberry was still a thing, Angry Birds was relatively new, Butler lost the NCAA tournament, and probably a bunch of other significant events had not happened yet. Then if we want to look at the last time he missed the playoffs (2005), it’s like looking at prehistoric times.
Now that the Golden State Warriors have emerged as the favorite to win it all for the past few years, LeBron has somehow transformed into a sort of underdog. While he is just as guilty as Golden State of trying to create super teams, he is not currently on one. While I don’t think LeBron needs a super team to be successful, this year’s playoffs have been an epic tragedy. LeBron James put up an otherworldly performance, arguably playing better than he ever has, to drag a team full of misfit toys to the NBA Finals. A potential best player of all time put up one of his best games of all time in Game 1 vs the Warriors, and scored 51 points, something that just doesn’t happen in the Finals. George Hill was sent to the line to put the team ahead, the game was sealed, LeBron was going to win game 1 of the Finals. Even with a ridiculous overturned charge call that should not have been reviewed in the first place, the Cavs were going to pull this through. They had given themselves some room for error and were within sight of the finish line. Then George Hill missed the second free throw. JR Smith temporarily lost connection with reality. Tyronn Lue did not call a timeout. Tyronn Lue did not call a timeout. Tyronn Lue did not call a timeout.
Not only did it take multiple teammates to let LeBron down time and time again, with multiple mistakes throughout the game that he was somehow able to cover up until the very end. It took a crucial referee mistake. It took multiple coaching mistakes, and what I believe was the worst mistake of them all in those last few seconds of regulation. It almost feels like a depressing metaphor for life, even superheroes can fall if their team lets them down. The following is an uncut video of LeBron James’ reaction when he found out that Tyronn Lue had a timeout to call.
(You can start the video at 1:30 if you want to cut to where LeBron finds out.)
When LeBron finds out the Cavs had a timeout... pic.twitter.com/703E5WMCEm— Rohan Nadkarni (@RohanNadkarni) June 4, 2018
Then there is the famous meme of LeBron’s face when he looked at JR Smith after his inexplicable play.
This is the face of a man who gave his absolute 110%, there is not anything a player could have possibly done more for their team than what LeBron did in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals. Coldplay sings about this emotion: “When you try your best but you don’t succeed”.
I did not think I would find myself invested in this playoff series. The Warriors are supposed to sweep the Cavs, or at least beat them in 5 or 6 games. Nobody thought the Cleveland Cavaliers could waltz into Oracle Arena and steal game 1. I can’t help but feel empathy and sadness at the result of these games so far. Who knew that the NBA Finals were not going to be a boring blowout, but a legitimate tragedy?
This whole ordeal has increased my appreciation for the Utah Jazz, from the management, to the coaching, to the chemistry of the players, by at least 100 fold.
On Saturday, the Jazz had a fairly significant draft workout. Here is the tweet containing the players involved:
Donte DiVencenzo’s former roommate, Donovan Mitchell’s former teammate, Jrue Holiday’s current brother among those working out for the Jazz tomorrow. Plus some guy from Duke. pic.twitter.com/l7mkYYi6T2— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) June 3, 2018
Most notably, Duke prospect Grayson Allen was here in Salt Lake City, along with other potential first round picks in Jalen Brunson, Aaron Holiday (Jrue Holiday’s brother), and Khyri Thomas. Grayson Allen is my personal favorite of the bunch, although he has a reputation of dirty play. However, if we’re honest, it might just be beneficial to the team to have a Draymond Green-type personality to show other teams that we mean business. Grayson Allen is otherwise known as an athletic scorer, who is a solid passer, and a good three-point shooter.
Earlier I mentioned the chemistry this team has. It all seems to stem from the players being actual friends with one another. It is obvious from their social media accounts that they aren’t just putting on a show, they genuinely like one another. This weekend, Ricky Rubio posted some more pictures on Instagram, and his teammates won’t let him go without giving him a little grief. They’re starting to catch some national writers’ attention with it too.
Donovan, Rudy and Ingles won't let Ricky get his model on— Bleacher Report NBA (@BR_NBA) June 1, 2018
(via @rickyrubio9) pic.twitter.com/oxW10CDtKv
It is a breath of fresh air to see players acting natural, and getting a small look into their friendships with one another.
Bleacher Report also put out an article on the best player each team could acquire in free agency. They gave the Jazz Tyreke Evans. Their reasoning?
“Joe Ingles is fantabulous. Royce O’Neale has his moments. Volume-shooting Ricky Rubio is apparently a thing. Alec Burks is good for smooth-looking scoring outbursts at random. Jae Crowder sometimes fancies himself a pull-up artist.
Donovan Mitchell is the real deal.
Utah needs another shot creator anyway.
That’s what this team missed the most—and still pines for—following Gordon Hayward’s departure: from-scratch shot creation. Head coach Quin Snyder’s egalitarian offense masks much of the absence, but the Jazz placed 21st in field-goal percentage on drives and 29th in efficiency when using three to six dribbles.”
Settling for Evans is smart. It preserves the heart of their flexibility for 2019, depending on how much Exum and Favors cost in their new deals. Oh, and signing Evans isn’t really settling at all. He shot 48.2 percent on drives and 53.4 percent when using three to six dribbles—the sixth-best mark among 57 players to attempt three such looks per game.
Tack on his steady spot-up showing (38.9 percent on threes), and the Jazz have themselves a difference-maker—someone who helps bridge the remaining gap separating them from the small clique of firepower-flush contenders in front of them.
It is a good read overall, and an interesting take. I would be cautious of Tyreke because of his injury history, but if he stayed healthy he would certainly be a difference-maker on this team.
The Jazz put out their 2017-18 player recaps over the weekend. It is a really well-designed web page with cool graphics, highlights from each player, a few stats, and small blurbs on each of their accomplishments. To view that, click here.
One player we forget about is Tony Bradley. In his highlights video, he looks like he is becoming something. We forget that he is 20 years old. We forget that he looks like he has a pretty solid shooting touch that could be further developed. It seems as though Tony has had a very productive season, making the best of his G-League assignment, working toward a career in the NBA. I love having Ekpe Udoh on the team, but Tony Bradley’s development may mean greater flexibility for Dennis Lindsay in the upcoming offseasons. If anything, we may not be able to afford Ekpe after this upcoming season, and Tony Bradley should be ready by then to step up into a backup role.
Erik McCree is another interesting player that looks like he might just be a diamond in the rough with enough development. He is 24, but has some solid skills. I think it is important to remember these players, because they are our “backdoor” prospects. This is where we find players like Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, among others. It is just another cool part about following this well-managed organization. It really is a treat, how much we’ve gotten to witness the growth of the Utah Jazz. Here’s to hoping we are able to continue further on this fast-track to greatness.