Friday, December 23, 2011

The Worried Note's NBA Preview (2011-2012)

Back-to-back-to-back games. My wife is going to hate me. Probably worth it.

It's going to be a sloppy, wild ride this NBA Season. I imagine it to be something like a night with John Mayer.

Here's what I'll do. I am going to breakdown the teams that I think are going to be worse than people think and teams that I think will be better than people think. Then I will break down my beloved Utah Jazz.


Memphis Grizzlies - The bandwagon is still over-flowing after an exciting and surprising playoff run last year. The pundits are lumping them in somewhere near the front of the West. They resigned Marc Gasol which only helped that opinion along. Here's the thing though: the run was a fluke. It was a team of guys who had never done anything playoff wise before that season. They were missing their best player which at times can lift the rest of the team (see The Ewing Theory). It was also a team of guys who were not getting paid. This season: Z-Bo PAID, Gasol (PAID). I don't what a rich Zach Randolph on my team. I just don't.

Boston Celtics - This team is done. Rondo is disgruntled. Allen was beginning to look washed up two years ago. Paul Pierce was terrible in the playoffs last year against a team/player (Heat/LeBron) he usually thrives again. KG has no legs. Jeff Green's heart doesn't work. And still ... this team is picked to be in the top of the East somewhere after the Heat and Bulls. I think there is a legit shot this team doesn't make the playoffs. Mark my words.

New York Knicks - It's no secret that I think Carmelo is junk. So take this with a grain of salt, but I think that after the Melo trade last year, this team legitimately sucked. I think that Amare and Carmelo don't complement each other at all. People seem to think that Fat Baron Davis still has some games left in him. I don't. I don't think the players like D'Antoni or their Donnie Walsh. I think they'll make the playoffs, but they are certainly not contenders as many believe them to be this year.

Philadelphia 76ers - Like Memphis, they made a nice little run last year. Where in the playoffs, played decent against the Heat. Like Memphis unfortunately, some guys got paid this year (Thaddeus Young). I think young teams like this once they get a little taste of success lose their scrappyness. This team was scrappy this year. I think it's gone this year. I don't like Igoudala. Also, Doug Collins has the reputation as somebody who has a great first year with a new team and is fired within the next two season. I can't see anyway this turns out any differenly.


Minnesota Timberwolves - I never thought I'd say this ... but I like the Wolves. I think Rubio is going to be great for this team. Kevin Love seems to have become a better rebounding version of Memo Okur (RIP). I have had a man crush on Wesley Johnson since he was trying to avoid eye contact with Bernie Fine at Syracuse. B-Easy can score. Darko is tall and servicable. BOLD PREDICTION: 8th seed - Minnesota Timberwolves. There. I said it.

Milwaukee Bucks - I think we get a good/healthy year out of Andrew Bogut this year. That will make most of the difference. However, I love what GM John Hammond has done. I think Stephen Jackson is perfect fit on this team (underrated defender/great shooter). I love Mike Dunleavy for them ( needed change of scenery, place he could become a playmaker). Then they surrounded those guys with good defenders. Bucks ... also in the playoffs.

New Jersey Nets - I think Deron is going to have vengeful season this year. He has two legit shooters to throw it out to (Morrow/Stevenson). He has been reunited with his pick-n-pop partner Memo Okur. He has a scrappy rebounder (Humphries) who can share Kim Kardashian stories. Nice backup PG's to spell him. Most importantly I think he has the chip back in his shoulder. I think he wants to go out and prove that he is the best PG in the game. The Nets will be the 8th seed in the East this year. Bang.

Sacramento Kings - The Jimmer is going to be fun. I really want the Kings to sign AK so that they can officially become my 2nd favorite team to watch this year. I like the Jimmer, Isiah Thomas rotation at point. Isiah I think is going to be phenom in terms of popularity with the fans. He owned the Jimmer Jam in Provo last summer. I like the JJ Hickson additon. I think DeMarcus Cousins is going to breakout this year. I think the Kings will compete for the playoffs early in the year before falling off considerably. BOLD PREDICTION: Jimmer Fredette wins ROY. (Chances I regret saying that in about 4 months? 95%.)

Washington Wizards - I am frisky on the Wiz this year. Wall, Jordan Crawford, Nick Young, Jan Vessely (hustle, lob guy), Javale McGee (block and lob guy). Sign me up. They have done a nice job of surrounding Wall with shooters and guys who can catch passes up at the rim. I don't think they make the playoffs, but they will be tough. I think this team makes the playoffs if you switch Wall with Derrick Rose. Wall just might be the poorman's Derrick Rose.


The Jazz are not going to be good this year. They are too young. The veterans that they do have don't fit the season. This is going to be a growing pain year. This team will have a Top 10 pick in next years draft (which is loaded). This team is not going to win often. It's going to be fun though.

With the trade of Mehmet Okur (RIP) to the Nets. It appears that the Jazz have embraced a full-on rebuild for the first time since perhaps they traded away Adrian Dantley in 1986. Derrick Favors is going to be the guy. CJ Miles I think is going to have his best season. Jeremy Evans will be fun. Gordon Hayward I think is going to have repeat of last year (slow start, strong finish), Alec Burks is going to be a phenom once he gets comfortable (see: Gordon Hayward). Jazz fans will have fun losing this year because it is going to be awesome watching this team develop.

Jefferson is the next to get traded by the way. KOC I think is going to pull a shrewd move and move Jefferson to a desperate team for a 1st round pick. (I see the Rockets as the likely place). Then the rebuilding will completely be in full swing.

The only thing that scares me: I think Raja Bell plays 30 minutes a night. Yikes.

EAST                     WEST
1. Miami Heat          1. Oklahoma City Thunder
2. Chicago Bulls       2. Dallas Mavericks
3. Atlanta Hawks     3. Portland Trailblazers
4. NY Knicks          4. LA Clippers
5. Indiana Pacers     5. LA Lakers
6. Milwaukee Bucks 6. Denver Nuggets
7. Orlando Magic     7. Memphis Grizzlies
8. New Jersey Nets  8. Minnesota Timberwolves

Round 1:

Heat over Nets in 5
Thunder over Timberwolves in 4
Chicago over Magic in 6
Mavericks over Grizzlies in 7
Hawks over Bucks in 6
Blazers over Nuggets in 7
Knicks over Pacers in 6
Clippers over Lakers in 7

Round 2:

Heat over Knicks in 6
Thunder over Clippers in 7 (GREAT SERIES)
Chicago over Hawks in 5
Mavericks over Blazers in 5

Round 3:

Heat over Bulls in 7
Thunder over Mavericks in 6


Heat over Thunder in 5

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Ghost of Keith McLeod

The Utah Jazz bottomed out during the 04-05 NBA Season. After an unexpected fast start, the losses began to pile-up and the team began to quit. Chief among these quitters was newcomer Carlos Boozer, who after being called out by late Jazz owner Larry H. Miller for his poor effort, faked an injury at mid-season and didn't return for the rest of the season. Among the people on the roster at this time: a baby-faced Mehmet Okur, a fiery Raja Bell, and one Keith McLeod, an undrafted rookie from Bowling Green who started the majority of the season after Jerry Sloan threw Carlos Arroyo into the doghouse and traded to Detroit.

Things looked up though. The Jazz received the 6th pick in the draft which Kevin O'Connor brilliantly parlayed into the 3rd pick giving the Jazz their pick of either Chris Paul or Deron Williams. They also drafted early in the second-round a promising shooting guard that was being targeted by the San Antonio Spurs by the name of C.J. Miles. The subsequent Rocky Mountain Review (R.I.P.) gave us our first glimpses of the future. It was the Jazz's Stark Expo.

The season began against the Dallas Mavericks. Dirk was there, so was Devin Harris, and a young wing player out of Wake Forest: Josh Howard. Keith McLeod started this game. The Jazz were electrified by the entrance late in the 1st quarter by their star rookie Deron Williams who ended the game 18 points including a half-time buzzer beating heave from half court. It seemed that the future had arrived. The Jazz beat the Mavericks that night.

But it was not so. Jerry Sloan stuck to starting Keith McLeod who continued to look worse and worse compared to his backup rookie. Then Sloan started Williams ... at shooting guard, and began playing the legendary Captain Crunch: Milt Palacio. Things went grey in Jazzland. Deron began to fume at Sloan, setting the stage for a battle that would last 6 years, his play diminished. His playing time too. Keith McLeod remained. During a game late in the season against rival Chris Paul and the Hornets, McLeod and Palacio (what? This still makes no sense) had a disappointing first half (one in a long series). Sloan went with Deron to start the second half. The rest was history. At the time I believed that Keith McLeod was history as well. The Jazz went a run after Deron started at PG, falling just short of the post season. Things again were looking up.

The Jazz seemed poised for greatness. A young roster. Another great draft pulling in Ronnie Brewer who looked dynamic during a great Rocky Mountain Review (R.I.P.), Dee Brown, and the little known Paul Millsap.Then something curious happened. Keith McLeod was traded. It made sense, until it was revealed that the trade was for Derek Fisher. It didn't make sense. Why pull in a veteran PG making a lot of money when we had the PG of the future on the cheap right now? Either way the season looked promising. Sophmore C.J. looked to be the starter at SG, Brewer looked poised for an All-Rookie team run. Then the Jazz coaching staff pulled another curious move. They pulled C.J. from the starting lineup after he had started hot and then gone cold, and gave all the SG minutes to Derek Fisher. This is curious for one reason. Derek Fisher is 6'0 and is not a SG. The rest of the minutes went to basically useless veteran Gordan Giricek who was curiously not traded to this point despite his poor play, fighting with Sloan, and routine smoking breaks during timeouts and half times. Nevertheless the Jazz had a successful season, making all the way to the Western Conference Finals.

Again the future looked bright. And it was. For four years. Brewer developed nicely. Millsap became a beast. Deron became the best PG in the league, and Memo was Memo. Then the Chicago game happened. And it all fell apart. It was time for the Jazz to start over. The seemed poised to do so.

They received Derrick Favors from New Jersey, Gordon Hayward developed at the end of his rookie year as a legit scorer and playmaker. The Jazz had exciting second rounder Jeremy Evans, and then drafted big-man Enes Kanter and swingman Alec Burks in the lottery. It seemed that the Jazz had fully embraced the OKC Thunder model and were going to let their young core develop together and hopefully create another golden age of Jazz basketball.

Then a name appeared. A name I hadn't heard in a very long time. A name I thought I would never hear again. Keith McLeod. This didn't make sense. Why here? Why now? Old demons filled my brain.Visions of Deron Williams sitting grumpily on the bench. Still, McLeod doesn't have a guranteed deal. Even if he made the team it would be as a 3rd stringer. Still I couldn't shake the feeling that this was a bad omen. However I remained steadfast in my faith that the Jazz were committed to letting our young guys play and develop like the Thunder had done with Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, and Harden. I ignored Jamal Tinsley, a minor blip on the rader, a strange blip, but just a blip.Word began trickling out of Jazz camp that Raja Bell was impressing. THE Raja Bell. My mouth was beginning to go dry. Surely Corbin wouldn't play that corpse instead of Burks, Hayward, or C.J.?

Then for the 1,000 time in my Jazzfan career, something curious happened. Something curious indeed. The Jazz signed Josh Howard. Yes. That Josh Howard. The Jazz Howard who admitted to smoking marijuana live on SportsCenter, the Josh Howard who was once too hungover to play a game for the Dallas Mavericks, the Josh Howard who couldn't tolerate standing for the National Anthem, the Josh Howard who had barely played any games in the past few years. This Josh Howard. I have seen this before. I can see Burks and Hayward sitting sourly on the bench and Bell and Howard struggle to defend or score points. I see Corbin losing his young players. I see the Jazz relying too much on their "trusty veterans". I see mediocrity.

I see the ghost of Keith McLeod. It should haunt you as it does me.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Visual Essay On My Trip To Rupp Arena

(with textual notations by the author)

You are looking live from scenic Lexington, Kentucky! I am heading to Rupp Arena to watch the Kentucky Wildcats take on the legendary Portland Pilots.

This is not inside the arena. This is inside a mall near the arena. Lexington loves their Wildcats.

This is inside the arena. So if there is a tornado I can look forward to flying urine and feces.

Wildcats fans. Their necks are red and their bald heads are painted. Look for the mullet in Picture A.

Must be nice.

Armed with my Free Enes badge, I was ready for the game.

I cannot tell you how much this waving flag hypnotized my wife and mother-in-law. Place gets pretty noisy.

And we're off for a sloppy first half!

At some point during the second half the brought out former Wildcat Antoine Walker out onto the floor. Standing O. I hope they paid him.

Whatever he said to them as he passed their huddle must of worked because then this happened: (watch the whole sequence. The first dunk was not the only dunk)

Then they did this flag pyramid thing. My wife woke up. Crowd also went wild. I should mention that Rupp holds 5000 more people than the home of the Utah Jazz, the ESA.

As the game ended the cheerleaders (male and female) stood on the court as they and the crowd sang "My Old Kentucky Home". Very cool and reminiscent of Yankee Stadium.

Then a cardinal was outside my window.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

CHASE RANK: The NBA's Top 100 Players

I had problems with ESPN's #nbarank . Everyone had problems with ESPN's #nbarank . Here are my Top 100. But first my guidelines:
-Homerism - MATTERS (I tried though)
- Above all I ranked based on what players I think would get you the most wins simply by his presence on a team. If I were picking my top 12 guys based on one single game to determine my life, I may not pick them in this order. Purely based on an 82 game season. Here we go: (I added comments when needed)

100. Andrei Kirilenko
99. Ben Gordon
98. Tayshaun Prince
97. Andrea Barginani
96. Chris Kaman
95. Tony Allen
94. Gordon Hayward
93. Elton Brand
92. Emeka Okafor
91. Mehmet Okur
90. DeAndre Jordan
89. Andre Miller
88. Chauncey Billups In the battle of washed-up, semi-fat PG's I took Billups over Miller
87. Thaddeus Young
86. Carl Landry
85. Darren Collison
84. Jrue Holliday
83. JJ Barea
82. David Lee Perhaps the most wildly overrated player in ESPN's ranking
81. Shawn Marion
80. Caron Butler
79. Brandon Jennings
78. Danillo Gallinari
77. Grant Hill If you would have told me 7 years ago that Grant Hill was still IN THE LEAGUE ...
76. Raymond Felton
75. Demarcus Cousins
74. Jamal Crawford
73. Derrick Favors
72. Wesley Matthews
71. DeMar Derozan
70. Nicolas Batum
69. Kyle Lowry Congrats Kyle
68. Taj Gibson
67. Aaron Afflalo
66. Mike Conley
65. Brook Lopez
64. Brandon Roy Should legally change his name to Poor Brandon Roy
63. JaVale McGee
62. Jameer Nelson
61. Kendrick Perkins
60. Roy Hibbert
59. Devin Harris
58. Ty Lawson
57. George Hill
56. Wilson Chandler
55. Jason Kidd
54. Carlos Boozer
53. Luol Deng
52. James Harden
51. Andre Igoudala
50. Luis Scola
49. Paul Millsap
48. Danny Granger
47. David West
46. Tyreke Evans
45. Kevin Martin
44. Joakim Noah Another wildly overrated player by ESPN
43. Al Jefferson
42. Monte Ellis
41. Gerald Wallace
40. Josh Smith
39. Ray Allen
38. Tyson Chandler
37. Serge Ibaka
36. Jason Terry
35. Tim Duncan Watching him last season, even this might be too high
34. Stephen Curry
33. Marc Gasol
32. John Wall
31. Nene
30. Andrew Bogut
29. Al Horford
28. Kevin Love
27. Zach Randolph
26. Kevin Garnett
25. Eric Gordon By the end of the next season (whenever that is) I wager this will be much much higher. I saw Eric Gordon DESTROY Deron Williams in a game at the ESA. I worry about his injuries.24. Lamar Odom
23. Rudy Gay
22. Joe Johnson
21. Chris Bosh
20. Carmelo Anthony
19. Rajon Rondo
18. Russell Westbrook
17. Amare Stoudemire
16. Tony Parker
15. LaMarcus Aldridge
14. Paul Pierce
13. Steve Nash
12. Blake Griffin
11. Manu Ginobili He is a surefire Hall Of Famer right? They never mention that on broadcasts but think about what he has done in his career. He should be a first ballot HOFer.
10. Pau Gasol
9. Kobe Bryant
8. Chris Paul
7. Deron Williams
6. Kevin Durant
5. Derrick Rose
4. Dirk Nowitzki
3. Dwayne Wade
2. Dwight Howard.
1. LeBron James

In the words of Principle Skinner: "Prove me wrong kids! Prove ... Me ... Wrong!

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Worried Note Book Review (Vol. 1 Issue 1.)

Inspired by the recently much discussed Tribune profile of the LHM Company, I decided to return to the (now reborn) blog to write a post that I have been meaning to write since May. One of my New Year's resolutions ( drinking more water is an annual resolution which I always fail: see disastorous Disneyland Trip May 2011) was to read more sports related books. I don't read fiction. The last fictious book I read was indeed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Despite sticking to non-fiction, before this year I had read very few (or perhaps no) sports books of any kind. Thus in January I decided to change this. Here are the sports related books I have read this year so far. (I plan to soon read Jane Leavy's new to paperback profile of Mickey Mantle)

I began ny sports non-fiction odyssey with one of the quintessential books of the genre, Buzz Bissinger's book chroniciling a single season of Texas High School Football powerhouse Odessa High. The book was written in 1988 and for that reason it is some what dated. Once you get past the dusty cultural refrences the book becomes a unbelievably intimate portraite of a town that seems stuck in the past.

Through the early stages of the book, Bissinger explores the town's ugly history and ties it in with it's still ugly present. Odessa is a town that seems plucked up from the Jim Crow south and placed back down in Reagan's America. Segregation is still the name of the game in Odessa. The whites live in one side of town, the blacks in another and there is literally train tracks that seperate them. Race is one of the main themes of the book, and racism runs rampant through Odessa. Black athletes for their beloved Panthers are praised before the start of the season, but if they begin to show signs of not meeting the often unfair expectations, they become venom in the mouths of the white town people. The character (I use the term loosely) who tragically represents this aspect of the interaction between the team and the town in the star HB James "Boobie" Miles. Reading a follow up on Miles after completing this book was disturbing.

Second, only to the black star athletes, in terms of pressure and at times hositility is the coach of Odessa Gary Gaines. I'm not sure that most professional coaches experience the day-to-day pressure that Coach Gaines deals with throughout the season. After critical losses, his home and car are viciously vandalized.

All in all the book paints Odessa in a horrible light, as a town that is literally dying. The anger in the town due to the socio-economic issues is palpable and the team definitely recieves the brunt of that hostility. One top of the social issues I became engaged in the team through every win and loss and was anxious to see how far the team goes. Highly recommend.

As the college basketball season was heading towards March Madness at the same time that Gordon Hayward was finally emerging for the Jazz, I next read Underdawgs: How Brad Stevens and the Butler Bulldogs Marched Their Way to the Brink of College Basketball's National Championship. The book was written by David Woods a local Indiana based sports journalist. My first of two complaints about the book was why Underdawgs when they are the Butler Bulldogs? To seem modern? Or perhaps is he racist and he chose the dawg because of the black players on the team? Seemed like a weird choice.

The other complaint would be that the book doesn't feel like a single work, but rather a bunch of newspaper columns thrown together. This probably be because that is what Woods does for a living, but the book does flow as nicely as something like Friday Night Lights.

My favorite thing about the book is definitely the history of Butler and particularly their storied basketball program that I knew little about. I had no idea how much the history of the sport was ingrained in the history of the program. Due to my own personal collections to the Hoosier state, this proved to be a fascinating aspect of the book for me.

The other great aspect to the book would be the individual profiles of the key players. The chapter on Gordon Hayward and his fanily was of particular interest for me for obvious reasons, but the profiles of other players like Shelvin Mack were equally as interesting. When Butler a month after I read the book made another miraculous run to the Championship game, it made it even easier for me to root for this team.

We all know how the season chronicled in the book played out, but one of the most interesting chapters in the book explored the events immediately following the end of the Championship game. It describes a scene in the Hayward car ride home with Gordon's two parents. His Mom feels very strongly that he should return to Butler. His Dad feels strongly about heading to the NBA. Knowing how the Hayward-less season played out it only makes one wonder what would have happened if Gordan had not come to the Utah Jazz.

Jazz fans should be able to appreciate this book, or people interested in basketball history, but the clunky writing style makes it a difficult read.

Clemente by David Maraniss is what I turned to next as catchers and pitchers began to report. For such a legendary baseball figure I have to admit that I knew very little about Clemente. I came away blown away. This is one of the best biographys I have ever read. Period. Maraniss is a great writer and Clemente proves to be an amazing subject.

Clemente's rags to riches story, the racism he experienced in the early part of his career, and his many eccentricities were all expertly analyzed. One of the great scenes described in the book is about Clemente and his wife on a trip to Europe and the racism they experienced in a upper-end furniture store. The shocking racism was not the interesting part, but rather the way Clemente handled the situation. He is the definition of a strong man. This is a must read.

Very cool for me was the fact that one of the players that plays prominently in the book is Cy Young winner Deacon Law. He was the Pirates ace through the early 60's including their shocking World Series win over my beloved Yankees in 1960. Soon after completing the book, Deacon was a guest of honor at a Salt Lake Bees game. I was able to get a baseball signed by him. He signed it "Vern Law Cy Young Winner 1960". As he handed it back to me he said "They only gave out one of those when I won it." Awesome.

I followed up the Clemente biography with another baseball book by now Grantland writer Jonah Keri. The book chronicles the recent rise of the Tampa Bay Rays. More specifically how the management team headed by non-sports figures used Wall Street tactics to turn the worst team in baseball into possibly the best run team in all of sports.

These men: Stuart Sternberg and Andrew Friedman are now personal heroes. Their profiles in the book were by far the most interesting sections for me. If I ever became exceedingly rich in Wall Street, I would try and by these guys. If I didn't want to own a baseball team before ...

The other great aspects to the book chronichled how the previous (incompetent) owner was able to get the Rays to Tampa. It was especially interesting due to the next book I read.

Like the Butler book earlier, Keri writes like a newspaper journalist which makes the book at times hard to read as a single flowing piece, but rather a bunch of columns thrown together. Still would recommend to anyone who is interested in advanced statistics and such.

(Bring it back to the intro) Reading Keri's book made me very interested in reading Larry H. Miller's autobiography because I knew a little bit about how he came to run the Jazz and the ownership of the Rays lead to natural parallels. I also wanted to read the book because he grew up with my Grandmother and I wanted to learn a little bit about his troubled childhood which I knew a little bit about and about the Capital Hill neighborhood in general. I got that in spades.

The problem with the book is the style. Miller is not a writer by trade so the book is mostly stream of consciencousness talking. This doesn't prove to be a major problem however, because most of what he says is exceedingly interesting.

His childhood was indeed rough. Rougher than I had imagined. It becomes clear that he is an outlier just in the way he was able to overcome his own parents. It also sends a great message about the need everyone has for a support system. Miller's was his wife Gail and her family. Truly touching stuff.

The book also gave me anxiety multiple times. First when Miller risks everything to start his own dealership. The first time he risked his worth, it was very little. His family was living off of scraps. The second time he risked everything (to buy the Jazz) there were millions at stake. His walking the reader through the events surrounding his purchase of the Jazz are thrilling.

The chapters about his relationship to Stockton and Malone are worthwhile for Jazz fans. I was surprised about how vulnerable Miller makes himself in the book. He is open about the fact that his drive in business forced him to basically give up his relationship with his family which he admits caused major damage to his children.

Despite what you may think about Larry H. Miller, I recommend reading this book purely for the story of a truly fascinating life. I came away with more respect, but also a more human picture of Miller. Recommend to all, but highly recommend to Jazz fans.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Why does The Mailman get all the blame?

I guess I'm a masochist.

There has been a lot of discussion in the sports world about two of the stars of the current NBA Finals, Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James. This talk has not been focused on Dirk's dominant playoff run or LeBron's annihilation of the Chicago Bulls. Instead the talk has been focused on their failures of playoffs past. It has been about their psyche and whether or not they have the will or ability to rise to the challenge in the final moments of a championship series. So far, both players have had their ups and downs in this series.

As a Jazz fan with a typical years-of-getting-my-heart broken complex, my mind drifted to the championship failings of the two superstars who define the franchise. Their names have been mentioned a lot these past few weeks, joining LeBron and Dirk on the list of great players lacking a championship on their résumé (yeah ... I used the fancy e's). I saw those two series losses on ESPN's list of the greatest playoff series ever. Because hearing that was not pain enough, I have been trying to relive those series against the Bulls (now over a decade ago). I watched nearly the entirety of 1997 Game 6.

That was not enough though. I needed to see for myself how the so-called "choke jobs" of LeBron and Dirk matched up against the choke job closest to my heart. Karl Malone was my favorite player long before I can remember. In the summer of 1996 I dragged my grandmother to the Fanzz (what was it called in 1996? I can't remember) store in Crossroads Mall to buy a Karl Malone jersey the first day you could buy those putrid purple jerseys with the copper trim and mountains on the front (they were the coolest thing in the world then). My brother loved Stockton, but I was a Malone man. This is why it pains me so deeply that whenever he is mentioned nationally today, he is only mentioned as someone who choked during those two finals.

So I looked at Malone's stats during those two Finals to compare to LeBron and Dirk's. Malone's stats were actually pretty good for someone who supposedly didn't show up. During his 12 Finals games Karl averaged 24.4 ppg 10.4 rpg 3.6 apg while shooting an okay not great 47% from the field. Fine. He also shot only 67% from the free throw line including multiple games where he missed crucial ones that could have changed the course of NBA history. Still, if Chris Bosh were putting those stats up right now he would be the Finals MVP and the media would be talking about him like he was one of the Top 5 players in the league.

While running over the stats from those finals, something else caught my eye. It begged a question that I have never asked, nor have I heard anyone else ask. Did John Stockton also choke? The many years that I have endured the bashing of Karl Malone's performance in the clutch has changed the way I look at Malone. I used to think he was the best thing (to borrow a term from KOC) canned soup. Now if you were to ask me the greatest player in Jazz history and I would say John Stockton. For some reason both nationally, in the local media, and within the Jazz fan community whenever the Jazz's playoff failings are brought up the only name ever mentioned individually is Karl Malone. Karl Malone choked away a chance at a championship at the expense of Michael Jordan. I have never batted an eye at this. However seeing the stats from those Finals of my youth changed my perspective somewhat.

During the course of those fateful 12 games in June of 97 and 98, John Stockton averaged 12.3 ppg 8.8 apg and 3.3 rpg while shooting just under 50% from the field and 81% from the free throw line. Not exactly the numbers you think of when you think of John Stockton. The numbers are not terrible, but we are talking about arguably the best (or 2nd best) player on the team and one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history (currently Top 25 on Basketball Reference) and a player thought of as the greatest player in franchise history among the fans. Shockingly Stockton was actually not good at all in the 1998 Finals where he put a very 2011 Jason Kidd-eque 5.8 ppg 8.6 apg 2.5 rpg while shooting 48.9% from the field and 72.7% from the free throw line.

Now I understand that Stockton by that point had been in the league for 13 and 14 years respectively, and that he began the 97-98 season by breaking his leg, but still. The Jazz needed more from him right? Somehow though, Stockton has completely escaped the venom that Malone has experienced as a result of those losses from Jazz fans. It's pretty shocking how much of the blame Malone shoulders even though he was almost entirely carrying the team offensive load on his back. Do you think that Phil Jackson in the locker room before the game said "Gang, tonight we have to focus our defense to stop Bryon Russell and Greg Ostertag because they have killed us this season!"? NO! They were geared entirely to stop Karl Malone from scoring the basketball. He still put up 24 and 10 while shooting 47%.

I understand that it was Malone who missed some big free throws and it was Malone who fell asleep and let Jordan strip him to setup the shot in Game 6. People have completely forgotten that in famous "Flu Game", Stockton had free throws at the end of the game which could have forced the game into OT against a completely drained Jordan, but he missed.

It's time that people take some of the burden of those Finals losses off of Karl Malone's shoulders. Like LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing and the other great players who never won a championship, the Jazz as a team just didn't have enough.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Calling My NBA Playoffs Shots

I changed the name of my blog from The Perfect Game to Worried Note. Get it? It's clever. Anyway here are my picks for the NBA Playoffs.


SPURS (1) vs. Grizzlies (8)
Would not be surprised to see the Grizzlies pick up a few games against the Spurs (especially if Manu is not healthy, but even still Memphis shouldn't be a problem for the Spurs. Spurs in 5.

LAKERS (2) vs. Hornets (7)
Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. Hornets will be a challenge in the same way that things that are not challenges are challenges. Lakers in 4.

Mavericks (3) vs TRAILBLAZERS (6)
Upset alert. I don't like the Mavs. I thought they could win the Finals when the crushed the Jazz during their best stretch of the season in the early part of the season. Then Caron Butler went down. While the Mavs have done nice job staying in the top half of the challenging West, I can't take any team that has a wing rotation of Peja, DeShawn Stevenson, Shawn Marion, ? , etc. very seriously. Meanwhile the Blazers pulled a nearly Pau Gasol level heist by swiping Gerald Wallace from the Bobcats and Michael Jordan. He is the perfect defender against Dirk. Think Stephen Jackson. The Mavs also don't have the personnel to expose LaMarcus Aldridge on defense. Blazers in 6.

THUNDER (4) vs Nuggets (5)
Best first round series by far. I was hoping that the Nuggets would get matched up against any other team than the Thunder. I though they would beat the Spurs or Mavericks, and definitely wear the Lakers out.  Instead they got the Thunder, who I think is going to make some noise this year. Thunder in 7.

BULLS (1) vs. Pacers (8)
Nothing to see here. Bulls in 4.

HEAT (2) vs. Sixers (7)The Sixers are a fun team. I love Thadeus Young. I wish he played for the Jazz. Still, the Heat have LeBron and Dwayne Wade. Heat in 5.

CELTICS (3) vs. Knicks (6)
Second best 1st Round series. I found it very odd that the Celtics wanted to play the Knicks over the Sixers in the 1st Round. On paper it seems like the Knicks are the type of team that could get hot and beat anybody in the field in a given game or even series, but then I remembered that the Celtics like to play/defend teams that have a ball dominant player who shoots with high volume in isolation. Hellllloooo Carmelo Anthony. Celtics in 6.

MAGIC (4) vs. Hawks (5)
One of the worst series thus far. Two boring teams. The Magic have Dwight Howard. The End. Magic in 5.


Spurs (1) vs. THUNDER (4)

The Spurs I think are the perfect matchup for the Thunder. They have a quick, good defender in Westbrook to shadow Parker. Lots of length to bother Duncan. Solid team defense. The only wild card is Ginobili who may or may not be healthy. Thunder in 6.

LAKERS (2) vs. Trailblazers (6)
On paper another good matchup for the Blazers. Still I think that the Gasol/Bynum/Odom front court bothers Aldridge. Artest is the perfect type of defender for both Gerald Wallace and Brandon Roy. Here is a dirty secret too, Kobe Bryant doesn't mind being defended by Wesley Matthews. Kobe lit the Jazz up last year. He seemed to take pleasure particularly against Matthews who has a good defensive reputation. Lakers in 6.

BULLS(1) vs. Magic (4)
This is a kind of interesting series. Dwight Howard causes problems for everybody, but it seems like the Bulls in particular. The Magic have no one to defend Derrick Rose on the perimeter, but he is going to be meeting Dwight Howard at the rim. Similarily, the Bulls only frontcourt scorer, Carlos Boozer, always always always struggles with length at the rim. Korver and the JJ/Arenas combo cancel each other out. I think the thing that tips the balance is Luol Deng. I think he has a big series against Hedo to lead the Bulls. Bulls in 7.

HEAT (2) vs. Celtics
Oh boy. Why do I have the feeling that this series is going to be a classic. I'm speechless. I can't wait. I think LeBron has a little unfinished business from last year. Wade always seems to step up against the Celtics. Home court helps tip the balance. Heat in 7.

Lakers (2) vs. THUNDER (4)

Another classic in the making. So good. This year's playoffs could only be better if the Jazz were there to get beat by the Lakers again. Kobe vs. Durant. Westbrook is going to cause a lot of problems for the Lakers. They have no answer. He is much better than he was last year. To me he is the MIP for this season. Thunder this year have enough length and toughness up front to battle Gasol and Bynum this year. Thunder will be more hungry I think. Thunder in 6.

Bulls (1) vs. HEAT(2) 

Another good matchup. Kind of a weird series. The best players in the series don't matchup with each other except for Boozer and Bosh. Boozer has classically killed Bosh. I expect that to happen again. I think that the Wade/LeBron combo is too much for the Bulls though. Good series. Heat in 6.


HEAT (2) vs. Thunder (4)
A series I would pay to see. The LeBron head to head matchup against Durant is going to be wild. The Heat will be more worried about Westbrook. OKC is going to be rocking. Again though I am having a really hard time seeing any team being able to contain Wade and LeBron for 7 games. Heat in 7.
There you have it. The Villains win ... like always.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Derrick Rose is the MVP (Everything I Knew Was a Lie)

It has been a hard NBA season for me.

Watching the Jazz this season was probably like watching that movie Swordfish. It was mostly terrible, but there was that one scene with Halle Berry (the early season Eastern Conference road trip that included the Heat game, and a few fun Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors performances near the end). The only other team that I was at least excited to see play (the Miami Heat) were unexciting, nay boring to watch. The funnest team in the league to watch was the post-Melo Denver Nuggets who are right up there with the Lakers, Rockets, and Blazers as my most hated teams. Finally, Derrick Rose is going to be the MVP of the NBA.

This is particularly hard for me to swallow for two reasons. The first reason is that he is the legitimate MVP. I can't argue against it. He is the MVP. Why does this make it difficult for me to handle? Because it makes me wrong. I work with a couple of Bulls fans. This is a direct quote from me when the Bulls selected Derrick Rose number 1 overall in 2008. "Derrick Rose is going to be a bust." I know that I was in the minority with that sentiment, but I believed it to be true.

I didn't like Derrick Rose. I watched the 2008 National Championship game and though I realize he was the reason that Memphis was in the Championship game in the first place and was in a position to win said Championship Game, I thought that the loss fell on his shoulders. Though he was far and away the best player on the floor, blessed with unbelievable athleticism, Rose settled for jumpers (which he couldn't hit) instead of getting to the rim and pushing the ball. He missed a critical FT in the clutch, and gave up Mario Chalmers' 3 which sent the game into OT. I saw Rose as a talented, but lazy player who was incapable of being a clutch go to player due to lack of shooting touch.

I hated the fact that Rose allowed someone else to take his SAT for him which made him eligible to play college basketball. It said to me that he saw himself as above the rules, more important than others, entitled. He was a cheater. It also said to me that either lacked the intelligence or work ethic to get a score on an SAT test that would make him eligible to play in college.

His first season in the league (in which he won Rookie of the Year), I saw the same player that I did when he played for Memphis. He was a talented player with athleticism and explosiveness that I have not seen in any other point guard ever. He also relied exclusively on his athleticism, couldn't shoot the ball which made him ineffective at the end of games, and most of all did not make his teammates better. He wasn't Chris Paul, Deron Williams, or Steve Nash. To me he was a bigger Tony Parker.

Then everything changed. To me, Derrick Rose's elevation to the league's MVP began in the 2009 Playoffs. The Rose led Bulls matched up with the defending champion Boston Celtics in Round 1. It is no secret that Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo are not (to borrow a word from Kobe) fond of each other. It probably started during the course of the season during their matchups. Rondo is famously irritating to opposing players and probably did a poor job of endearing himself to Rose. The dislike continued during Team USA events were the two players were in direct competition with each other for roster spots or in some cases minutes. His dislike for Rondo seemed to unlock something in Rose during that playoff matchup. Rose showed a competitiveness that I had never seen from him. At Memphis, when the game got close and the competition was at its highest point, he shrank. He became a lesser player. The matchup with the Celtics was the first time that the opposite was true.

The next step was again in the first round of the playoffs the next year. The Bulls had regressed slightly falling from the 7th seed in 2009 to 8 in 2010. Matched up against the 1 seed Cavaliers, Rose came face to face with back-to-back MVP LeBron James. LeBron and Rose are similar in the sense that they are the two best athletes perhaps ever to play in the NBA. Their athletic ability is unmatched by any other player that has ever played. Unlike Rose though, LeBron's all-around game was and is nearly flawless. Against the Bulls LeBron unleashed what was probably his 2nd best playoff series ever (Pistons in 2007 being 1st). He averaged nearly a triple double including 31 pts a game. There Rose saw what being an elite player was. It took more than being fast with the ball. You had to have an all-around game. You had to be able to take a game over in the final moments. A lot has been made in the media all season about the work that Rose put in during this summer to get better. I think this series mixed with the rejection of the Bulls by both Wade and LeBron that pushed Rose to undertake that work.

The third thing that helped lift Rose to his rightful spot as league MVP was the hiring of Tom Thibodeau. I think he's a genius. He put Rose in the best position possible to succeed which is what good coaches do. How do I know he is a genius. How can a team be one of the best defensive teams in the league and start Carlos Boozer? Impossible.

Which brings me to the other reason why Derrick Rose being the MVP is so hard. He is better than Deron Williams. I knew that this Bulls season would be an interesting experiment. They are basically the Jazz from 05-10. They switched out Memo for Joakim Noah (offense for defense) , Andrei Kirilenko for Luol Deng (defense for offense),Wesley Matthews/CJ Miles/Derek Fisher for Keith Bogans (nothing for nothing) and Deron Williams for Derrick Rose. I thought for sure that this season would validate Deron's greatness. The Bulls would underachieve and Boozer/Brewer/Korver would be exposed to the nation for what they were: poor defensive players (except Brewer) who were made better by a great system and an elite point guard. Likewise Deron would overachieve with new pieces and have his usual great season.

Instead Derrick Rose carried the Chicago Jazz to what could be the leagues best record. It showed once and for all that the Jazz of the past decade underachieved. They were not coached as well as they could have been, and Deron lacked something to was needed to carry them to the next level. That thing that the great players have where at the end of the game they make something happens ... no matter what. The Deron led Jazz never had that. They won their share of close games, but never the biggest games. They consistenly fell to the leagues elite teams. This was never more clear than in the Jerry Sloan assassination game. The Jazz seemed to be in control for the majority of the game. Then suddenly as the game was nearing its end, Derrick Rose took over. He took Deron off the dribble time and time again. If he didn't have some spectacular layup or dunk, he found a teammate for an open 3.

Then I saw something that I had never seen before. The Jazz got a critical turnover in the final minute Deron took off down the court for a fast break. Suddenly Derrick Rose looked like he got one of those powerups in NBA Jam that makes your guy super fast. Though he was moving as fast as is possible for a human, it was like slow motion. I wanted to call out to Deron. "Watch out behind you Deron!" Rose stole the ball out from his hands. Ball game over. It was one of the single most remarkable plays I have ever seen. Everything I knew was a lie. Deron Williams was not Derrick Rose. Jerry Sloan no longer was able to coach a team to it's full potential.

Sorry Dwight Howard, your offense has gone (on a scale of 1 to 10) from a 2 to a 6, but Orlando is still mediocre.

Sorry LeBron, another brilliant statistical season, but you play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and you didn't even win 60 games. How does that happen?

Sorry Dirk, Kobe, and whoever else.

Derrick Rose is the MVP. And his facial hair is weird.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Top 12 Jazz Games from Deron Williams

I still haven't reached that last stage of grief. I don't know if I ever will.

Early one morning in February I lost my Deron Williams. After the initial shock wore off, I like all other Jazz fans reached the first stage of grief: denial. "You know he wasn't going to sign with us ... He was going to leave! It's for the best! ... We weren't going anywhere this season anyway ..."  Then there was anger. Mainly this was directed at Jazz GM Kevin O'Connor and CEO Greg Miller. "Why would they do this to Deron? Why would they do this to us? They couldn't even try to work it out with Deron?" Then there was bargaining "If Derrick Favors can develop, we are going to be great. Devin Harris is a better fit with AK! We are better off than we would be with Deron. This is going to be awesome!"

Then, suddenly ... depression. The first three stages took about 2 days. I have been in the fourth for weeks. Even now I find myself drifting into the vast archive of Deron Williams highlights known as YouTube. I relive his greatest moments, his greatest ankle breakers, his greatest ugly but awesome dunks. I still can't believe it. Without question Deron Williams has defined the past decade for the Utah Jazz. He has a lot more years left in his prime. I don't know if I will ever be able to accept that the Utah Jazz could not have made it work out with Deron Williams.

Wallow with me: The John Stockton Memorial List of Deron Williams' 12 Best Games with the Utah Jazz

12. November 30, 2007 Lakers @ Jazz

After a surprise and exciting playoff run to the Western Conference Finals, Andrei Kirilenko had demanded a trade from the Utah Jazz. He felt unwanted and under utilized in Jerry Sloan's offense. Once close with AK, Deron had very publicly called him out. Carlos Boozer (surprise) went down in the first week of the season with a semi-broken leg. On the brink of trading for Pau Gasol, the Lakers came to the ESA for Derek Fisher's first game back in Utah after asking out of his contract with the Jazz. With a starting lineup that included Jarron Collins, the Jazz lacked scoring in a big way. With this in mind, Deron Williams put the ball in Andrei Kirilenko's hands as the primary play makers and made himself into a scorer. To augment AK's jaw-dropping stat line (20 pts, 11 rebs, 11 assts, 6, stls, 4 blks) Deron dropped 35 points in the face of his former mentor while holding him to 3 points on the other end in a blowout win.

11. March 14, 2008 Jazz @ Celtics

In the middle of the 2007-08 title run, the Jazz went into Boston to face a Celtic's team which many at the time felt could challenge the Chicago Bulls' record for wins in the regular season. Not to mention that Celtics had been dominant on their home floor. Going up against an up and coming Rajon Rondo who is now looked at as one of the best defensive point guards in the NBA, Deron dominanted the game in every aspect. Deron was relentless in attacking Rondo going to the line 18 times (making 17) on his way to a 32 point, 8 assist, 5 rebound game. Behind Deron the Jazz blew out the soon-to-be champs on their home court.

10. April 21, 2009 Jazz @ Lakers Game 2

The only loss to make the list. In a rematch of the 2008 playoffs the Jazz faced a Lakers team on their way to their first Gasol-era championship. In deja vu of Game 1 the Jazz were getting blown out early (a running theme against the Lakers in the playoffs).  All hope seemed lost heading into the fourth quarter. An angry Deron Williams decided to take over. He attacked the rim on the break time after time against a much slower Derek Fisher. Deron eventually brought the Jazz back to a point where they had a chance to win, but it was little too late. Still Deron ended the game with 35 points and 9 assists.

9. May 26, 2007 Spurs @ Jazz Game 3 WCF

After a game 2 loss that included a thunderous dunk on Fabricio Oberto which truly put Deron on the map as one of the best point guards in the league, Deron had his best game of the series against the eventual champion (another theme) Spurs. After returning home after the first two games in San Antonio, Deron was agressive early and often against the smaller Tony Parker pushing the Jazz ahead early in the second half in a blowout win (the only one of the series). Deron finished with 31 points, 8 assists, and 5 steals. Included in this game was Deron's infamous ankle breaker on former Jazz-man Jacque Vaughn.

8. May 11, 2008 Lakers @ Jazz Game 3
During a rare Sunday home game on Mother's Day 2008, with the stars of High School Musical looking on, Deron helped the Jazz to a late, comfortable lead on the Lakers. Late in the game Kobe took over and cut away the once comfortable Jazz lead and forced in the game into overtime. In overtime, the game was rarely in doubt as Deron took over as he often did down the stretch in close games finishing with 29 points and 14 assists.

7. May 5, 2008 Rockets @ Jazz Game 6

In a rematch of the thrilling 2007 series, the Rockets (minus Yao Ming) came into the series against the Jazz as the underdog (even after winning 22 consecutive games earlier in the season). The Jazz were in complete control of the series early on, but the Rockets continued to hang around. Early in Game 6 it looked as though they were headed for another Game 7 as Tracy McGrady was on his way to a 40 point game. However, in the second half Deron Williams brought down the hammer  by raining down a series of series clinching three pointers. He finished with 6.

6. May 13, 2007 Jazz @ Warriors Game 4

With George Lucas looking on from the Warriors' band wagon, the Jazz were up against an electric 8th seeded Warriors team that had not lost at home during the playoffs. The Jazz had gotten run out of Game 3 that included Baron Davis' dunk (offensive foul) on Andrei Kirilenko. In Game 4 the Jazz were much more focused a largely controlled the game from the outset. The Warriors became so frustrated that they began throwing dirty fouls all over the court. Deron was a basketball maestro during the game. He was in complete control not only of his team, but the game as the Jazz stabbed the cinderella Warriors in the heart.

5. April 6, 2010 Thunder @ Jazz

In what was easily the best game of the 09-10 NBA season, Deron Williams in engaged in a epic scoring duel with NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant. The Jazz were in control early behind Deron's blistering start. Durant came on late, eventually forcing overtime. Deron and Durant traded buckets throughout the game before Deron hit the eventual game winning jump shot. Game was sullied late by a controversial ending (did CJ foul? I say no). But Deron matched Durant bucket for bucket despite the fact that Durant was hitting 40 footers late.

4. May 7, 2007 Warriors @ Jazz Game 1

An often forgotten game in the shadow of the Derek Fisher game (Game 2), Deron was incredible in Game 1. With only Dee Brown to backup Deron, Deron was the victim of questionable refereeing early in the game. Despite the foul trouble (he had 5), Deron was dominant throughout the game scoring the ball. Behind Deron's 31 points and 8 assists the Jazz won a close game that set a tone for the rest of the series.

3. April 19, 2010 Jazz @ Nuggets Game 2

The Jazz were awful to close the season (as always). They began the playoffs against the Denver Nuggets who had reached the Western Conference Finals the year before and were a favorite to reach them again. The Jazz lost Game 1 pretty handedly in what seemed like a bad omen heading forward, Deron was completely unstoppable during Game 2 in Denver. This may be Deron's most dominant playoff game. He finished the game with an unbelievable 33 points and 14 assists.

2. February 4, 2008 Hornets @ Jazz

 A game that I believe encapsulates Jazz fan's love for Deron. Jazz fans have always had a touch of a little man complex. Always slighted, always up against the world. Deron Williams was the same way. He always played with a boulder on his shoulder. He always felt like he never got the credit he deserved. This is why I think he meant so much to Jazz fans. On top of the stellar play, the playoff wins, it seemed like Deron was a perfect representation of the Jazz.

No game showcased this as well as a matchup with Hornets in February 2008. In what was arguably Deron's best all-around season, he was snubbed for a place in the all-star game in favor of Brandon Roy and a Blazers team that would end up comfortably out of the playoffs. In a stroke of serendipity, Deron's chief rival Chris Paul came into town for the first game post the All-Star annoucements. Deron was angry and played with fury. He destroyed Paul, finishing with 29 points and 11 assists in an absolute evisceration of the Hornets. Included in this game was Deron's crossover of Paul finished with a thunderous dunk over Tyson Chandler.

1. May 5, 2007 Jazz @ Rockets Game 7

In one of the best games in Jazz history, the upstart Jazz went into Houston for Game 7 of the first round series against the Rockets. The Jazz had been destroyed in every previous game in Houston. A strong home court helped the Jazz force Game 7. Deron was huge early. He kept the Jazz in the lead early with some difficult and clutch shots. Late in the fourth after the Rockets had taken the lead, Deron was calm and clutch guiding the Jazz to a huge win including the dagger assists to Andrei Kirilenko for the dagger 3.

The Game 7 in Houston, although not Deron's most dominant game, was his greatest gift to Jazz fans. Coincidentally, not only was this Deron's best game with the Jazz, it was without a doubt Carlos Boozer's best game as well. Jazz fans I think are starting to appreciate just how good Boozer actually was. He finished with 35 points and 14 rebounds, dunking on Yao's head multiple times.

Obviously he had more great games than just these. These are the ones that were on the top of my head. I have a feeling that when I think about this trade in 20 years I am going to be depressed. These 12 games are going to be the 12 of the top reasons why.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Greg Miller Pulls a Michael Corleone

The Godfather is one of the 5 best films of all-time.  One of the many things that makes it one of the best films of all-time is it's incredible ending. During the course of the film we watch as Michael Corleone struggles to do the right thing. He yearns to live a normal, legitimate, American life. He tries to keep his distance from his troubled, powerful, and wealthy family. In the end though, Michael cannot escape his destiny and succeeds his father as the new Godfather. In the climax of the film Michael stands in a church taking part in the baptism of niece. As Michael recites the holy oath we watch as his henchmen carryout his icy plot to take out all of his competitors and enemies, giving him total control of organized crime in America. This includes the killing of his brother-in-law whose child Michael just helped baptize.

It's an incredible ending to an amazing film. Yesterday, Greg Miller made his Michael Corleone move. He eliminated everything in his path to taking total control over the future of the Utah Jazz. His power play included some Corleone-like icy-ness. Michael's move did not turnout entirely well for him. He lost many family members, and pretty much lived out the rest of his life miserable. No one knows how Greg's will turn out. That hinges on two things: the development of the youngest player in the league Derrick Favors, and what Deron Williams is able to accomplish during the rest of his career. Regardless, this was an attempt by Greg to take control.

Here's what happened as far as I can tell: After the death of his father Larry H. Miller, Greg Miller began overspending to keep many of the Jazz's core players in an attempt to keep the Jazz competitive in the Western Conference. This pushed the Jazz deep into the luxury tax, something that Larry H. Miller vowed that the Jazz would never do because financially it would cripple the team. The Jazz's finances became bloated and the team never could climb out from the middle of the pack and become a true title contender.

This season, Deron Williams' attitude and confrontational nature had been grating coach Jerry Sloan all season. Phil Johnson recently told the Tribune that Sloan had been saying since the beginning of the season that he was so frustrated that he felt like he didn't have the energy to finish out the rest of the season. With the reassurance from Johnson, Sloan quit. I think that this, coupled with Jazz fans' reaction to the resignation and Karl Malone blitzing into town, guns blazing, in an awesome and idiotic series of interviews, deeply troubled Miller. He clearly agreed with one aspect to Malone's country ramblings, the inmates were in his mind running the asylum. The players with the Jazz and elsewhere had proven that they had the upper hand over coaches and management.

As Deron stood glibly next to Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony during All-Star weekend, coldly refuting to talk about what exactly his intentions or desires were, I think the wheels in Greg's head began to turn. I don't think Deron knew whether or not he would resign with the Jazz in two years. He couldn't and didn't give the Jazz any indication one way or the other. Because of this, the next season with Deron was going to be hounded by questions about his impending free agency which always, always, always have negative impacts on teams. No team has ever won a title with such questions floating around all season in the modern era.  The Jazz have been watching Denver closely. They saw that a team that had been a top 4 team in the West for the past couple of seasons toil at the bottom of the playoff pack due unquestionably to the lack of passion brought on by Anthony's trade demands. In the end Denver was forced to accept a less than ideal package for Carmelo because of his refusal to accept a trade to the Nets that would bring them a far superior package.

There is also a very important question about how good Deron was going to be in the future. Wrist injuries have begun to become a recurring problem with Deron. He was injured it each of the past three seasons, and every single time he does his jump shooting disappears. Deron's frustrations with the team, coaches, and system were also beginning to effect his play. He lost agressiveness. After the Sloan debacle and getting booed by the same fans that have worshiped him since 2005, I think he was mentally unable to perform to his highest standards. I think there is a fair and legitimate concern that Deron may not ever be the same player ever again.

In the aftermath of the Carmelo-Knicks deal, the Nets' package for Carmelo was sitting on the table. With that in mind Greg Miller decided it was time to take control. There have been a lot of fair questions regarding the timing of the trade. Deron still had one more year left on his deal which hypothetically could have given Deron incentive to stay. The team could continue to develop and turn things around and the Jazz would could become a legit contender. Also with the uncertainty of the CBA, Deron might have favored to optin to his last year of his current deal because the 18 million he was scheduled to make could be well above the max-salary allowed under a new stricter CBA. The CBA also could institute a franchise-tag similar to the NFL, which would have again prevented Deron from leaving. The timing also seemed odd considering Deron's wife living in Utah is due to give birth to their third child in a few weeks.

The reasoning behind the deal is shrewd though. The uncertainty of the CBA could result in Deron sticking around a little longer true, but it also could have prevented the Jazz from gaining anything before he departs. If the NBA loses the 11-12 season, Deron could walk leaving the Jazz without the ability to make any kind of favorable trade to build in his absence. They were also able to capitalize on New Jersey's desperation. The where able to pry away their Carmelo offer, even though Deron seems to have a lot more leverage on the Nets than Carmelo, because he isn't even eligible for an extension until July. The Jazz could not have done better than they did IF they were going to trade Denver.

A lot has fairly been made of both Deron's wife's pregnancy and also the fact that Deron learned of the trade on SportsCenter rather than a phone call from his agent or management. The pregnancy element is unfortunate, but the Jazz had to make a business decision. Sad, but true. The Jazz could not have let Deron know sooner though. If Deron had gotten word before the deal was done, he could have gone to the media to voice his unwillingness to play or later sign with New Jersey which undoubtedly would have given New Jersey cold feet. Deron also could have resisted and tried to convince the Jazz to wait which would have been a great risk to the Jazz. The Jazz were unwilling to do this because there was going to be no better package out there for Deron. Second, it would have put too much power in the hands of Deron. Deron would to a large degree control the Jazz's future. So Miller and Kevin O'Connor pulled a Corleone.

It was cold, calculated, risky, but I it is possible that it was the right move for the Utah Jazz. This doesn't make it any easier to swallow. It was the worst day of my Jazz fan life. Deron was without question my favorite Jazz player since 2005. He is in the prime of his career, though again I worry that his prime may be behind him. Although like a good Jazz fan I will accept the new team, I truly do feel like Jack at the end of the third season of LOST.  We have to go back. Back to the island with Boozer, Brewer, Korver, Hurley, Memo. All those guys.

Greg Miller is Michael Corleone. I just can't decide if Deron is Connie's husband, or the Alex Rocco character.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Jazz Fans' Dallas

About 10 years ago, I used to stay up late to catch a series of documentaries that were permitted to be played on the history channel only in the middle of the night. It was called "The Men Who Killed Kennedy". It was a 9 part series. Each examined a different angle of the Kennedy assassination. It was only allowed to be played that late at night because of how controversial many of the episodes were. even now they never include in the DVD sets or re-air episodes 7-9 which are so off the wall bonkers that I urge you to buy them bootlegged off of eBay. Either way I am well versed in Kennedy lore.

The past couple of days have perhaps been the most cataclysmic in Jazz history. I use the word cataclysmic because I think it invokes a level of unpreparedness in those effected. In 2003 when John Stockton announced quietly following a playoff loss to the Kings that he "was done", every at least knew that it was coming. So much infact that when my Dad and I went to the previous home game we both talked about it as his last game in the Delta Center (didn't think that it would also be Karl's). Point is Jerry Sloan abruptly leaving his 23 year old post is the most cataclysmic event in Jazz history followed closely by (in no particular order): selling Dominique Wilkins, getting burned in the 2005 Draft Lottery, and the passing of Larry H. Miller.

Unlike the previously mentioned events however, Jazz fans seem to be frantically looking for a smoking gun and thinking they see them everywhere. Sloan's resignation has already become Jazz fans' Kennedy Assassination. An event so controversial, shocking, and clouded that will be never cease to be discussed. You have Kennedy (Sloan), Oswald (Deron), and the grassy knoll (WHY DID AK LEAVE THE COACHES OFFICE AFTER THE GAME!). That last game against the Bull's has become Jazz fans' Dallas.

I think that there are only a handful of people who know exactly the series of events that led to the resignation of Jerry Sloan and his "Kitty Sanchez" Phil Johnson.

But here is the general idea that I have put together of what happened. The fall of Sloan started in the 2005-2006 season. The Jazz had just drafted prized rookie Deron Williams. Despite clearly being the best point guard on the team, Sloan begins the season by starting Keith McLeod. After a promising start from Deron, Sloan inexplicably begins playing Deron exclusively at shooting guard and then benches him in favor of soon-to-be-out-of-the-league Milt Palacio. Sloan does not being playing Deron again until the second half a mid-season game against the New Orleans Hornets where Deron explodes and becomes the Deron we know. Deron never got this. He has brought it up multiple times throughout his career. The Jazz missed the playoffs by 2 games that year and Deron (and everyone else to be honest) is convinced that he would have been the difference. While Sloan has admitted that it was a mistake on his part, I don't think that made Deron feel any better. The point is Deron has resented Sloan for a long time.

This season the relationship began to completely disintegrate. Most people, but especially Deron and CJ assumed that with Matthews, Korver, and Brewer all gone that CJ would become the starting shooting guard. Sloan opted for Raja Bell citing a need for defense in the starting lineup and scoring off the bench. Deron and Raja never could build any chemistry and it was obvious that Deron wanted to play with CJ, not Raja. Sloan never budged from his position that he thought that CJ should come off the bench and seemed to be throwing it in Deron's face by starting Gordon Hayward at small forward instead of AK and keeping Bell in the starting lineup for a particular stretch. Deron and CJ's inner circle had many tweets around this time stating their displeasure, so it would seem to follow Deron and CJ felt the same.

Deron also this season was very vocal about his feelings that the Jazz were not putting in the necessary preparation before games. He felt that practices were too light and unfocused on helping new players learn the Jazz's read based offense. He also felt that the team would benefit from film study (a regular part of most NBA team's routine) which the Jazz were doing none of. Deron also insinuated that Sloan was unapproachable about adjusting these types of things, though Sloan disagreed.

Finally, Deron has become increasingly frustrated with running a system that many players on the current team seem to struggle with, while the team continued to lose games. Opposing teams have long known every play off the Jazz offense, but it never mattered because every offensive set has multiple options that cannot ALL be defended. If it is executed properly, there will be a good shot. The problem has been that many of the new players do not know how to respond to defense's taking away of main options and how to find secondary options. This has led to missed buzzer beating long jumpers and fast breaks for the other teams. This has been the main reason that the Jazz have gotten down by 10+ in so many games. This instance on running the offense to its full extent has been the major issue between Deron and Sloan. The is also the impetus to the now fabled halftime confrontation that seemingly was the instigator for Sloan to resign.

Deron also needs to take a look in the mirror. Deron is a great player. He is definitely an All-Star, and is one of the best in the league at making his teammates better. However, he is not in the same class as the LeBron's, Wade's, or even Kobe's of the world. Sometimes it seems like Deron see's himself as God's gift to Utah and to basketball. He has limitations. He is decent, but not great shooter, he struggles to stay in front of opposing point guards (Parker, Curry, Westbrook), and most importantly is way too prone to turnovers and bonehead plays. He needs to look in the mirror and find out that a lot of the Jazz struggles has can be attributed to his passive and at times poor play. It's true that he has been a major part of making the Jazz as good as they have been, but the Jazz's system and Sloan have played a major part in making him look as good to the rest of the country.

Like Kennedy, I think Sloan is rightly praised for some of his present characteristics: loyalty, dedication, hard work, and successfully running one of the best offensive systems ever established. However he is also being characterized to be someone he wasn't. The main thing that you heard especially late Wednesday and early Thursday was: "Sloan is not a quitter! He would never just leave a team mid season!" Well ... actually he is. A long standing record of being a quitter. Sloan first was recruited to play at Deron Williams' alma mater (! ... "back and to the left") The University of Illinois. After a very brief stay, Sloan grew too homesick to continue and gave up his scholarship and came home. After a few years of working manual labor jobs with enormous, freakish hands, Sloan decided to give basketball another try at the University of Evansville. After his playing career in the NBA was done, Sloan accepted a job to coach the University of Evansville, but once again Sloan felt the need to quit mid-season. A decision that unbeknownst to him would save his life. Point is he a card carrying quitter. This isn't out of character for him. It is decidedly in character.

The other thing that has been bother me about the way Sloan is being characterized is that people seem to think his coaching has been without flaws. That is not true. Sloan has always been sometimes too stubborn and hardheaded to make changes to coaching decisions which have clearly not worked out (McLeod, Palacio) being a prime example. Sometimes he is too late to make adjustments that everyone else in the world can see, just because he has a hard time accepting that the original decision he made was incorrect. The craftiest of NBA coaches (Jackson, Popovich) have always been able to exploit the Jazz because it has been easy for them to find match-ups on the court where they can go to work.  An easy example of this was choosing to start Hayward over CJ against Denver earlier in the week. Now, why would you throw a 150 pound rookie out there to defend Carmelo Anthony, whose entire game is predicated on bully his man to the basket to get a foul. Within minutes Hayward was out of the game and ended up playing a total of about 5 minutes. Though I believe all of this to be true, I am aware that Sloan has been an excellent coach and has been one of the major factors in the Jazz's consistenly being good over the course of the last decades. There is no question. But he wasn't John Wooden or Red Auerbach either.

The bottom line is this. Even though Jazz fans will forever being looking for the smoking guns that knocked Sloan's head back and to the left, there is only one to look at. Sloan is Oswald, Sloan is the grassy knoll, Sloan is Castro, Sloan is Lyndon Johnson and the CIA too. I believe the Jazz when they say that no one forced him out. I truly believe that he no longer had the energy to deal with being an NBA coach. Yes, the conflict between he and Deron was absolutely the impetus for his retirement, but I do believe that a younger Sloan would have had no problems at all. He had no energy left. You could see it. He looked increasingly old the past couple of seasons. Deron was probably right. He didn't have the energy to put in the dilligent preparation that Deron felt necessary for success. He also didn't the same kind of energy to battle Deron like he had in the past with Karl Malone, Greg Ostertag, and to a much lesser extent Gordan Giricek. I think Sloan was right. This is the right time. However, Jazz fans are going to have to find away to wash the blood off of their pink dresses.