Monday, June 04, 2007

AK and the future of the Utah Jazz

I'll be honest, I feel pretty good about the Jazz. Sure, we looked like the Boise Community College JV team against the Spurs, but I'm extremely optimistic about the future. Like I said before, our season was a success the minute we beat Houston in game 7. In fact, before I go any further, let's briefly chronicle the Jazz' accomplishments this year:

1. A complete season with no serious injuries.
2. 50+ wins for the first time post-Malone/Stockton
3. First playoff appearance post-Malone/Stockton
4. Defeated the surging Houston Rockets who reached their prime right as we beat them.
5. Beat the media-favorite G.S. Warriors in 5 games
6. Posted a winning record against the 5 best teams in the West, and therefore the 5 best teams in the league
7. Winning the division championship soundly over the Nuggets.

Now the question is: how do we get to the next level? How do we beat teams like the Spurs or the Mavericks or the Suns? To find the answer, one only needs to look at how the Spurs beat us. The Spurs beat us by driving the lane. They exploited our slow-moving defense and made easy lay-ins, or found open guys on the perimeter.

First, we need to correct the problem. The Jazz need a defender who can stay with a speedy two guard who will drive the lane. Derek Fisher did a decent job defensively, but we need a taller, bigger guy for this role.

Second, we need to imitate the Spurs' success. The Jazz need someone who can create plays on offense. We need a guy who can cut to the basket, take guys off the dribble, and hit open shots. The difference between the Spurs and the Jazz, is when the Spurs had an open three, they hit it enough to really hurt the Jazz. When the Jazz had an open three, the defenders gathered around the hoop to collect the rebound. See Andre Kirilenko.

We need a big, athletic two guard who can hit threes and defend the leading scorer on the other end. Personally, I like Ronnie Brewer for this job. I think the Brew Crew can get the job done down the road, but the Jazz brass also need to bring in a veteran to help him on his way.

Now speaking of Kirilenko, I feel bad for the guy. I mean, he's like a little puppy. How can you look at that chiseled, droopy face and not feel for him? He was the franchise player when Stockton and Malone left. When the Jazz were rebuilding, they needed a player who they could build their organization around. That player, at the time, was Kirilenko. On a bad team, he was a bright spot. He scored, he defended, he led the league in blocks, he was an all-star. He gave the Jazz fans hope for the future, and in turn he was signed to a mega-deal worth something like $86 mil through 2010-2011.

But then, the Jazz went ahead and picked up Mehmet Okur, Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer- three guys who have become the core of this Jazz team. Anyway, yadda yadda yadda, AK suddenly isn't the shiz of the team any more, and a lot of people are questioning his heart/his future with the program.

This, I think, is a tragedy. AK was the face of the program during its darkest period. He was the one who helped the Jazz turn the corner, and now right when Utah becomes a formidable foe once again, people are calling for his head. Not only that, AK wants out of Utah.

Do I think AK should leave? In the words of Rev. Lovejoy, "Short answer: yes with an if, long answer: no, with a but."

AK should leave if he's unhappy, and if he refuses to play the hand he's been dealt. He is now cast as a defender, not an offensive threat. If he's unhappy with that and refuses to accept it, he's got to go. The Jazz need to shop him around and pick up a solid two guard.

On the other hand, AK could stay, and thrive with the future Jazz, but he needs to understand his new role on the team. He could be a great contributor if he continues to block the weakside, play solid defense, pick up occasional steals, and fight his way to get open under the basket for easy layups. AK is most effective when he does those things. He sucks donkeys when he tries to command the offense (he passes it away), or when he tries to shoot jumpers (he lays bricks). If he tries to be the main guy, and whines about it the whole season, the Jazz should send him packing, and shop for an outside shooter.

Anyway, that's all I have. Actually one more thing: Why is Gordan Giricek playing professional basketball? That man is no good at everything. If he sucks and defense and he can't make jumpers... why do we keep this guy around?

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