Los Angeles » Having watched the Jazz over the past few weeks -- and on Sunday in Game 1 against the Lakers -- devolve into their current state as a life-sized Fred Flintstone punching bag, I can't help but wonder what their former boss would be thinking and saying were he here to witness it.
One of Larry Miller's many charms was his willingness to say what he thought, regardless of whose hackles might get traumatized. In a time when one thing is said behind closed doors and another is portrayed when those doors are open, Larry's forthrightness was a fresh wind blowing, and more important, a perspective worth hearing, whether or not it was agreeable.
Man, I wish we could hear him now.
Throw us a line from the clouds, Larry. Your team needs a thunderous heavenly voice.
"The last time we went to meet with Larry, he said he was proud of us, and he said to leave it all out on the floor," Deron Williams said before Monday's practice here. "That's what we have to do. He hated to lose. He'd be disappointed, but he'd be telling us the same thing."
Only he'd be saying it more emphatically.
His vocabulary would be exploding like leaky kegs of nitroglycerin, and he'd be publicly naming names and openly busting guys for everyone to hear.
The man hated to lose, all right, but were -- and are -- he and Williams the only ones? Perhaps Sloan, too? Who else? You have to wonder.
Miller used to whisper that he regretted some of his outbursts aimed at players and coaches, and that he needed to be more careful in choosing his words.
I always called B.S. on that, firing back that his honesty and passion were two of his best qualities as an NBA owner.
If Karl Malone was acting like a child or a buffoon, why not call him out? If Carlos Boozer showed little eagerness to get back on the court because of one injury or another, or if he said five months prematurely that he was going to opt out at season's end, tearing away the spirit of his teammates, where's the problem in countering it with some straight talk back?
Nobody can speak for Larry, God rest his soul, but we can all guess regarding how the pressure and friction building up in the plate tectonics of his brain -- frustration grinding from the one side against anger pushing from the other, might manifest itself.
The Jazz fell behind by 22 points at the end of the half in Game 1 here, and never seriously threatened the Lakers thereafter. That would not have sat well with Miller. Nor would have the sight of Kobe Bryant, in the postgame tunnel at Staples Center, calling Boozer and Williams over for Boozer to retell a joke they had shared at some previous juncture.
Let's get this straight: Bryant's Lakers just popped the Jazz in Game 1 of the playoffs, an outing that was nothing close to the Jazz's best, and, afterward, players are goofing with Kobe, laughing it up?
Can anyone imagine Malone and John Stockton doing that with Michael Jordan?
The Jazz have to bring their best game now, if anybody remembers what that is anymore, and stir their pride.
"I'm fired up," Williams said.
What about the rest of the Jazz?
"I would hope so," he said. "If not, we need to get there."
Larry would agree.
Maybe Miller's disappointment would have been verbalized long ago, back when the Jazz were beaten at home by Golden State, or by Minnesota, or blistered in hapless showings on the road at Portland and Dallas, when some of the players looked wholly disconnected from the urgency of the moment.
Maybe what's going on now with the Lakers doesn't really matter, because the Lakers are clearly superior to the Jazz and everybody knows it.
Still, the one thing Miller couldn't abide was a lack of effort. He cared even more about that than about winning, and the work being lobbed out on the court these days by the Jazz blows straight past questionable, directly into dubious.
Jerry Sloan said he was satisfied with the effort the Jazz extended in Game 1, but knowing Larry's explosive side, anybody think the same would have been true for the owner?
Competitive nastiness, or a lack thereof, in this Jazz team was discussed at length after Game 1, spilling over into Monday's off-day practice session. The Jazz need to find some in order to avoid being swept.
The Lakers are more talented than the Jazz, it's true, and even Miller might have conceded that.
But, just as quickly, he would have questioned their determination, their manhood, and reminded them that talent alone is no reason to allow themselves to be laughed at by Kobe, or even laughed with, as a punch line or a cartoonish punching bag, when there's still so much work to do.