In a lot of ways, the Jazz and Bucks are a mirror image of each other. Two teams that have to overcome a small market with stigmas that keep free agents from wanting to sign in their respective cities.
At least that’s how it used to be.
The Bucks made waves in 2015 when they were able to sign Greg Monroe to a max contract in free agency. It became a big story that Monroe chose Milwaukee over New York and was one of the bigger signs that the NBA might be changing.
Recently the Jazz signed Joe Johnson in free agency, surprising everyone in Utah and the NBA with him choosing Utah over what would have definitely been multiple suitors. It was a sign that the Jazz culture and depth resonated with players around the league.
We can’t really say George Hill or Boris Diaw are the same because they both came here via trade. But, re-signing George Hill, something that seems very possible with his dip in play the last month, would do a lot for the Jazz image. Let’s get on that, Jazz!
So have both these teams overcome the hump of being the last choice of free agency destinations? Maybe. Or perhaps the NBA is in a new age where playing for L.A., Miami or New York isn’t the biggest priority. Maybe we are in a truly global league where winning is the priority and not the city or team. Either way it benefits both the Jazz and the Bucks. And if it’s simply that both teams have done a good job with their cap space, that’s fine. Dennis Lindsey has proven to be very smart with the contracts he doles out. Justin Zanik, who recently left the Jazz for the Bucks, will be the same.
Another similarity with these teams is the quality of players they’ve drafted later in the draft. The Jazz found gems in Rudy Gobert and Rodney Hood late in the first. Having them become starters, and one be a defensive player of the year candidate, is huge. The same goes for Milwaukee who found the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo (I tried to spell it right on my first try and failed) 15th overall and Khris Middleton (I missed the “H” on first spelling) in the second round. Middleton is an efficient shooter as well as a stout defender who shows up well in RPM. Giannis is destroying worlds this season as he seems to be the equivalent of Dhalsim from Super Street Fighter.
Finally, the Jazz and Bucks have shown that, even though it’s a smaller market, you can get national attention and recognition. Giannis is a starter for the East all-stars and Gordon Hayward as a reserve in the West. It can’t be stated how big this is for players. They’ll go to the games, mingle with other players, and get all the attention they deserve. That attention rubs off onto their team. Who knows what conversations these guys have with other all stars. Someone is surely going to ask Gordon, “So is it as bad as they say in Salt Lake City?” Hayward being able to tell them the opposite is big. I know Gordon isn’t the outspoken type, but maybe someone will see what playing for the Jazz has done for him.
I’m a fan of the underdog, it’s who I find myself cheering for, and it’s easy to root for these teams who seem to be in the league on “hard mode.” As the seasons go by, we’ll see who can sustain their success and who may falter back into small market obscurity.