Two wizards. Only one John Stockton.
I — if you don’t know which of us is writing this based on the title of this post, then hello, and glad you just discovered our blog! — have great co-workers. I’ll give you an example of how great they are. I went into work last week and found on my desk a Starting Lineup John Stockton figurine. Behind him, propped in a plexiglass holder, were about twenty-five sheets of paper labeled “INSPIRATIONAL JOHN STOCKTON SAYING” with a big speech bubble in the middle of the page. I began flipping through the pages, stirred by pithy maxims like, “Plan the work and work the plan,” “Let me know where you want the ball,” and, “You look really good today.” The final ten pages or so were left blank for me to write my own inspirational sayings, as if I could possibly improve upon that last one.
What’s great about my co-workers is that no less than five of them were reasonable suspects for this stunt. (The mastermind, it turns out, was Michael Link. I asked him where he found a Starting Lineup John Stockton and he, in response, asked me how much I thought it was worth, giving me an over/under of five dollars. “Oh, way more than that,” I said. “Good,” he replied, “that’s what I want you to think.”) What’s also great is that, any time during my day when I need a little inspiration, I can look at a small, plastic figurine of number twelve and, mentally, see this:
And I am instantly ready to plan the work and work the plan.
For a season preview of my beloved Utah Jazz, it’s probably telling that I spent the first 250 words going on about someone who has been retired for almost a decade now. (“You’re living in the past!” is what a Cleveland Cavs fan shouted at me a couple years ago. I picture that fan now, looking at himself in the mirror in his Ramon Sessions jersey, wondering every time Antawn Jamison hoists a three if it would be possible to take a tire iron to his shooting hand and make it look like an accident.) This year, for the first time since 1988, the Utah Jazz reported to camp and Jerry Sloan was not its head coach. The last link to the great Stockton/Malone era was gone. The shock of last season’s tailspin after Sloan left and Deron Williams was traded to the Nets wore off during the offseason but then hit me anew last month. Oh yeah. Times have changed.
One day we’ll hand this over … to Devin Harris and Derrick Favors.
My expectations for this season were the lowest they have ever been, even after Stockton retired and Malone left for the Lakers in 2003. Utah traded Mehmet Okur for table scraps. It signed Jamaal Tinsley, the dumbest thing the franchise has done since re-signing Greg Ostertag (a move that surely shaved ten years off Sloan’s life). It lost its first two games in spectacularly bad fashion, by a combined 42 points to the Nuggets and the Lakers. Raja Bell was declared officially dead by a Utah coroner before someone pointed out that he was still walking and talking and therefore technically alive. Gordon Hayward had not progressed much in the offseason. Enes Kanter, the third pick in the draft, was hardly setting the world on fire.
And then … (and yes, I cheated by waiting until three weeks into the season before writing this) … I felt hopeful. After dropping three of the first four, Utah has rattled off five straight wins. None have been against especially strong teams, but still. This is a young, hungry team. We suddenly have size and athleticism in the frontcourt. Josh Howard was a great pick-up. Al Jefferson may not actually be a total stiff. Ty Corbin may have learned something from all those years under Sloan.
I’m not going to delude myself that the Jazz is going to contend for anything this year. It’s going to be a weird season, but one that will certainly favor the younger squads. Had you asked me three weeks ago if Utah would make the playoffs, I’d have said certainly not. Now? I’m cautiously optimistic. It’d be a seven or eight seed at best, but that’d be a real accomplishment for this team, and something to build on.
I was all shook up when Utah dealt Deron Williams last year. Now, knowing that D-Will would never have re-signed with the Jazz — and watching his Nets stink up the Atlantic Division — I confess a certain degree of smug satisfaction. I like Williams and hope he (and Okur) turn things around. Williams was instrumental, in one way or another, of forcing Sloan out (though whether Sloan jumped or was pushed we’ll probably never know). Sloan would’ve left eventually, of course. So we soldier on. It’s a strange time to be a Jazz fan, but at least they’re playing games. That’s something to be thankful for.
My NBA blogging will probably be a bit more sporadic this season, especially as I resolve not to curse the Bulls (and my friend and fellow NBA junkie Scott Guldin) by saying anything good about them. It’s a bit shoddy to make predictions three weeks into the season, but I like the Thunder in the West, even though Russell Westbrook is a head case who will absolutely never co-exist long term with Kevin Durant. I won’t tell you who I like in the East because … well, see above.
Your obligatory Mark Eaton pic:
Let’s go Jazz.
[h/t Erik Brueggemann on the Stockton/wizard pic]