books, NBA, sports, Utah Jazz

Ladies And Gentlemen, Your 2009-2010 Utah Jazz!

If only Williams and the Jazz could stand up to the Lakers…

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It took me (Ben) five hours to write last year’s NBA preview post. I remember being wide awake at five thirty in the morning, and — realizing I wouldn’t fall back to sleep — I showered, dressed, and drove to Caribou Coffee with a stack of Sports Illustrated NBA Preview Issues dating back to 1999. I flipped through their yellowed pages and divined their timeless wisdom (or, in the case of any prognostication involving Jamaal Tinsley, their absurd, cockamamie bullpucky). I poured my finite NBA wisdom — long on Utah Jazz history and short on most everything else — into what turned out to be 3005 words. When I finished the obscenely long post it was just before noon.

This will not be quite so ambitious.

The first thing I will say about the upcoming NBA season and my meager attempts to do it blogging justice is that I intend to write about more than just the Utah Jazz. Certainly most NBA posts will result from an initial Jazz thought or comment. If you imagine this blog’s NBA commentary as a giant house, then the vestibule which leads to the main hall which leads to the major rooms both downstairs (the spacious living room, the renovated kitchen, the dining room and the small sitting area just off it) and upstairs (master bed, guest bed, full bath, study, walk-in closets, etc.) will all have walls adorned with Jazz photos, pennants, cardboard cutouts, and other paraphernalia. (You will be struck by how much this house resembles a Salt Lake City TGIFriday’s.) But if you (once you’ve strolled through the entire house) happen to then go through the mud room to see the garage, you’ll find that there are additional, non-Jazz specific photos, pennants, cardboard cutouts, etc. on the walls of this small, poorly lit, somewhat confined, cluttered and odd-smelling little room that serves as, let’s be honest, a pretty crappy garage next to an otherwise stately mansion.

So you’ve got that to look forward to.

Why am I pledging to temper my full-on Jazz obsession this year? Well, let’s be honest — Utah is not going to win the title. The truth hurts. Last year I genuinely believed that Utah was a dark horse contender for the NBA Finals. (I picked Cleveland to beat Los Angeles in the Finals.) This year I don’t genuinely believe that. I believe Utah could be a dark horse in the West. I even believe they will could win the Northwest. (Chauncey’s honeymoon in Denver is over, while Portland — the sexy dark horse pick — will may have growing pains.) But there’s no way Utah beats the Lakers. Or, if it came down to it in a playoff series, San Antonio. Utah hasn’t won a game in San Antonio this decade.

So instead of dwelling here on my Jazz-related questions (Will Carlos Boozer help or hurt the team? Either way, does Utah trade him? And when? How will Boozer and Paul Millsap coexist? How much has Ronnie Brewer progressed? Will Andrei Kirilenko even show up this year? Or will he be too busy blogging? What’s the ceiling for a healthy Deron Williams? Can Kyle Korver wear his socks any higher? Is this the year Kosta Koufos becomes a household name?), I want to step back for a moment and recommend a book that every NBA fan should have in his possession (if not now, then within the next 15-20 minutes):

Bill Simmons writes likes he’s talking with you over a couple beers. The conversation is mainly about sports, but to talk sports he also has to reference pop culture and pull in The Godfather, Ric Flair, Karate Kid III, strip clubs, the Doobie Brothers, Hoosiers, “The Wire,” blackjack, Animal Instincts II, Tiffani Amber-Thiessen, Cliff Huxtable, Dirk Diggler, Matt Damon, “Sanford & Son,” Lionel Richie, and Conan the Destroyer … and those examples are just from the book’s footnotes.¹ He obsesses over the little things (the idiocy of NBA sideline reporting; the awfulness of ex-players become play-by-play commentators) that are worth being obsessed over. He’s sharp, smart, funny and opinionated. The two biggest NBA fans I know are Scott Guldin and Denys Lai, and when we talk about the NBA, our conversations sound like a Bill Simmons column.²

Simmons, like any true fan, has his beefs with the NBA. He cites the truly atrocious ’06 Finals (Miami vs. Dallas) as “the biggest travesty in the history of NBA officiating” and laments how slick and corporatized the league has become as a product (while acknowledging that the man who has overseen its explosion, commissioner David Stern, is “the first- or second-best sports commissioner ever (depending on how you feel about Pete Rozelle)”). He bitches and complains but it’s out of love. And he’s entitled: He’s still grieving Len Bias and trying to console himself with Clippers season tickets.

There are whole sections of Simmons’ book worth skipping (unless you think it takes twenty-six pages to make the case that Bill Russell was better than Wilt Chamberlain, or care about why he classifies the 1962-63 season as “The Void”), and fully 338 of the book’s 715 pages are devoted to the ninety-six players he would assign to his five-tiered NBA Hall of Fame Pyramid. But this is like complaining that you’re not getting your money’s worth from Mark Cuban’s Twitter feed. The Book of Basketball is such a splendor of excess that I’ll be referencing it for the next five to twelve season-beginning NBA/Utah Jazz blog posts.³

Reading it has also somewhat soured my annual tradition of meditating on SI’s NBA Preview issue. After adjusting to Simmons’ witty and opinionated commentary, the SI preview felt a little, well, stale. Would Simmons be caught dead saying (as “a rival scout” does — presumably with a straight face — in one of the “Enemy Lines” sidebars), “I think Rudy Gay can be an All-Star if he gets on an established team”? Or, “Ramon Sessions doesn’t have a major weakness”? Or, “You can tell how much [Luis Scola] enjoys the game because he plays with a smile on his face”? Or, “Another young player who’s coming on is C.J. Miles?” (You can stop me anytime.) Or, “Tyrus Thomas [can get] selfish at times, as if he was stepping up to be the Man.” (Really, anytime.) Or, “Jamaal Tinsley could carry this team on his back even if both of his legs were chewed off by bears.” (I made that one up.)

Predictions, then, for the upcoming season?

1. Ron Artest, whether he helps the Lakers or not, is still crazy. Last year I bemoaned the endless Artest-Is-The-Missing-Piece storyline, which — surprise! — didn’t exactly work out in Houston. The problem this year is that he doesn’t need to be the missing piece. He just needs to not melt down and charge into the stands while Kobe and Pau Gasol carry him to an NBA crown. That’s a pretty low threshold. Here’s hoping he fails. (And if he doesn’t, winning an NBA title won’t suddenly reform him into an admirable guy who persevered through endless self-inflicted hardship, a k a, Lamar Odom).

2. Shaq will not make much of a difference. If LeBron’s Cavs win the title this year (and that’s a big if), it won’t be because Shaq pulled a Shazam; it will be because he’s not Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

3. I will continue to have an infatuation/borderline affair with Brandon Roy and the Portland Trailblazers. Scott Guldin will continue to wonder how this is possible. I will do some soul-searching.

4. I will see the Utah Jazz play the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday, November 14. Assuming Sweeneyblog lets me sleep on the couch.

5. The Golden State Warriors have a rough year ahead of them. Anytime your team captain relinquishes his captainship by saying, “I don’t want to be a role model. … Being captain was overrated to me, anyway. You don’t do anything but go out before the game and talk to the refs. I don’t want to do that, anyway” — you probably have a leadership void on your team.

6. Of all the major offseason moves — O’Neal to Cleveland, Artest to L.A., Rasheed Wallace to Boston and Vince Carter to Orlando — the one that will matter the most is Richard Jefferson to San Antonio. Which leads me, [siiiigh], to number seven.

7. The Spurs will beat the Celtics in the Finals. And you have no idea how much it pains me to type that.

Let’s go Jazz.

UPDATE!: Utah drops the season opener in Denver, 114-105, despite 28 and 13 (assists) from Williams. Boozer shot just 3-for-14 for 12 points. In his NBA debut, Eric Maynor had a -8 plus/minus in three minutes of playing time. Kosta Koufus was scoreless. I’m doing it already, aren’t I? I am, right? That’s what I was afraid of.

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1 = Which are quite possibly the funniest footnotes of all time, especially this one from page 613: “Saying Jerry Krause built the six-time champion Chicago Bulls is like calling Lord of the Rings a Sean Astin flick.”
2 = Scott and I once discussed, for a good fifteen minutes, which NBA player had the smelliest poops. We unanimously decided it was Matt Geiger. Denys and I liked to use Kerry Kittles as a one-size-fits-all metaphor given his versatility (e.g., “The dining hall options tonight are really good and varied. You’ve got your chicken parmesan, you’ve got your asparagus and greens, you’ve got the full-option salad bar and then those delicious lemon bars for dessert. Yup, I’ll say it: This meal is sort of like Kerry Kittles’s game”).
3 = Even though Simmons throws John Stockton under a bus, saying Stock “pulled enough dirty stunts over the years to make Bruce Bowen blush,” and “He wasn’t better than Isiah, Magic, Payton or even Hardaway or KJ at their peaks.” I punched a hole in the wall shortly after reading that. Simmons’ final take on Stockton: “He was one of a kind. Boring as hell … but one of a kind.” The vein in my forehead is twitching again.
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16 thoughts on “Ladies And Gentlemen, Your 2009-2010 Utah Jazz!

  1. Oh, Ben. I love you. Thank you for blogging about the NBA.

    I preordered the BoB but it hasn’t arrived yet. I guess it pays to work for a fancy-pants bookstore, eh?

    Why do you sound so exasperated by the SI Preview Issue? Its skull-crushing inanity has always been part of the charm, no? You weren’t truly relying on it for genuine insight, were you? And anyway, did you notice how paltry the preview coverage was in ESPN the Magazine? I didn’t even buy it — not worth the four bucks. (Though, again, it probably would have been different if I worked for a really fancy bookstore.)

    No, I will never understand your affection for a chief rival to your favorite team, because it doesn’t make any sense. I have a healthy competitor’s respect for the St. Louis Cardinals, but I’d rather lube up my body in vegetable oil and spend all day at TanFastic than admit publicly to an “infatuation / borderline affair” with Albert Pooholes and the Red Birds. Yuck.

    I told you about the time I shook Ron Artest’s hand in a Chicago restaurant before he went looney-tunes nutso, right?

    Since the Bulls’ brass would have its fans believe that the organization is maneuvering toward a 2010 Free Agent Coup that will never happen, and since Vinny del Negro himself admits that there is no championship in sight with “all these young guys,” there is decidedly little to get too excited about for me this season. Maybe that DRose will become the first Bulls All-Star since 1998? That Tyrus Thomas won’t punch out Taj Gibson? That Joakim Noah will be more basketball player than d-bag? That the brutal Circus Trip will result in VDN’s firing? Oh, I can hope.

    My prediction: Spurs over Celtics

    Bulls go 43-39, Derrick Rose IS an All-Star, and Vinny del Negro gets (vomit) a contract extension.

  2. Scott,

    No, I wasn’t relying on the SI Preview to deliver genuine insight. It’s always been a guilty pleasure, but this year it delivered decidedly less pleasure when contrasted to the BoB. I didn’t even venture a glance at ESPN the Mag’s Preview though. I secretly think that magazine is written by Mrs. Wolfenberg’s fifth grade class from Fort Wayne, Indiana.

    Of course I remember your Ron Artest encounter. Do you remember me telling you about the time I saw Craig Sager in the Miami airport? I learned two things from that experience: 1) He’s tall. 2) He dresses that way all the time.

    You sound pretty dour about Chicago’s chances this year. Do you, like an “Enemy Scout” (i.e., Chester the Chimpanzee), think Luol Deng’s health coming off his stress fracture is a big factor? That keeps me up at nights.

    And why are you copying my Finals prediction? More importantly, what is wrong with us that we both think the Spurs will win it all this year?

    Kind of makes me vomit in my mouth just a little.

    1. I think the fact that we both chose the Spurs is our collective way of saying, “I don’t think anybody in the East is gonna win, but PLEASE don’t let it be the Lakers.” And I fully support that.

      And don’t get me wrong, I’m excited about the Bulls season, but I just can’t get too carried away. I think the Boston series actually hurts them quite a bit, because everyone now is like, “Ooh, look at this young team that nearly beat a half-good team with its emotional core missing.” It reminds me of when they swept the Heat, and then spent the entire subsequent season crapping the bed. Not good.

  3. I thought about this for a long time. I was going to say Zaza Pachulia (doesn’t the mere name seem to say, “You might want to bring a match and a commercial-grade can of Glade”?), but I think the best answer is….

    Luis Scola. Yikes. Call the plumber.

  4. I was going to say Scola too! (I’m not kidding!)

    Other finalists: Chris “Birdman” Andersen; Drew Gooden; Shelden Williams; and Chris Kaman.

    No way Nenad Krstic’s dumps smell like roses either. Same for Eduardo Najera.

    Apparently white guys have the smelliest poops.

  5. I agree with your entire list. I’d add Dirk, too.

    Coaches: Mike Brown and Greg Popovich.

    I’m glad I could help raise the level of discourse on voreblog.

  6. I’m glad you have begun NBA blogging, and as a big sports fan will try to add my two cents on occasion. I want to clarify up front that I am a Lakers fan, though, and have been since Magic Johnson’s rookie year. (It’s true, I’m no longer young. But I am a loyal fan.) This will probably annoy you and others, so apologies in advance. I agree that no team in the East will win the title, and worry most about the Spurs topping the Lakers. The Jefferson move was HUGE. I just hope that having two powerful and very different team leaders, Kobe and Phil, will lead him to keep under control.

    I also really enjoy Bill Simmons as a writer, and have been reading his columns since he started at ESPN. As a matter of fact, I first joined as an ESPN Insider so I could have access to every column he had written since he started working there. I have since downloaded every single one of them, as well as some others from his old Boston Sports Guy website that he has posted.

    His writing style is exactly as you describe – like you’re hanging around with him, having a beer and talking sports, and that is what drew me to his columns. My favorites tend to be the running commentaries on the NBA Draft or various fantasy drafts, his trips to Vegas, and his mailbags. I’m looking forward to reading the new book, but will be waiting for my local library to stock it… 😦

  7. Oh, I forgot one thing. I’d like to throw in a couple names for consideration of the “most smelly poop”: Eddy Curry and Marko Jaric.

      1. I can’t believe I missed this! On page 401 of The Book of Basketball, Simmons includes a footnote listing his “all-time team for Guys You Wouldn’t Have Wanted to Follow in a Bathroom Had They Been in There For a Half Hour or More: Wes Unseld (C), Hot Plate Williams (PF), Charles Barkley (SF), Micheal Ray Richardson (SG), John Bagley (PG).” Incidentally, none of these guys are white.

        1. How did Pat Ewing not make the poop list?

          Bill Laimbeer deserves a mention if only for his absolute willingness to upperdeck anyone.

  8. Andy — I’m not going to hold being a lifelong Lakers fan against you. I can respect a Showtime Lakers fan. While I generally favored the Celtics over the Lakers in their championship clashes of the 80s, I would’ve given anything to be Michael Cooper for a day. I hiked my socks up to my knees for elementary school kickball games just because of him. (When my allegiances to John Stockton superseded all others, I dropped the knee high tube socks in favor of shockingly short shorts. As you can imagine, the fourth grade girls were over the moon for me.)

  9. Why is everyone picking the Spurs? Aren’t their combined age somewhere between 30.5 – 45.2. The Spurs probably won’t make the playoffs this year. Adding RJ wasn’t going to amount to anything, and Manu looks done. As far as Utah’s chances to win the west, I think there is a better chance this season than there was last season, but not better than in 07. Utah can win the Northwest. Denver has issues, such as, no bench. Portland has been dealing with some early season injuries (Greg Oden, Travis Outlaw and Nate McMillian) and a whole heap of chemistry problems. I do agree with you, Utah seems to crumble whenever they play L.A. If they can take one game in Los Angeles (which seems impossible) I believe they could beat the Lakers in six. Maybe I’m just crazy, but from what I’ve seen from L.A. thus far, they too suffer from a lack of bench. Besides, how long can Ron Artest remain sane.

  10. Seems like the Jazz did ok against the Spurs this year after all. 4-0 i guess is not too bad against the team that will supposedly win the championship.

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