In a game that essentially, if not technically, determined the Jazz’s postseason survival, Raja Bell never got off the bench Saturday night. He was never called on to help his team, and he never budged, as the Jazz stayed afloat with the Spurs for a while and then slowly slipped under the waves.
Now down 3-0 in their playoff series, in games that have been decided by a combined count of 58 points, and in a series that often has been defined by a lack of competitive fire, Bell is the only active Jazz player not to have seen time.
He says he doesn’t know why Ty Corbin isn’t using him at all. At 35 and coming off a tweaked knee, but now healthy, Bell knows he isn’t the player he once was, but he also believes he can contribute.
“It’s not really my call,” he says. “I’m guessing he doesn’t think I’m the right fit for us. I’ve got to support that. I go out there and help any way I can. I’ve played the Spurs in a lot of playoff series, so there’s some stuff I see — and I try to talk to Gordon [Hayward] and Alec [Burks] and try to give them some pointers here or there. Any way I can help, I try to do that.”
Pressed further why he’s not playing, Bell says: “I just don’t know. I wish I had a good answer for you. I wish I could tell you the reason is bam, bam, bam. I just don’t have it. After I had the knee [issue], when I came back, I knew the team was playing pretty well, so I had my agent call and ask what they wanted me to do … get in shape for the playoffs or what? I was told I needed to get in shape and that they thought I could help them. So, that’s what I tried to do. And, then, here we are.”
Corbin says there is no troubled attitudinal disconnect between him and his veteran guard: “It’s just where we are now. He’s coming off an injury, and we’re just playing with what we’ve got, with where we are. There’s no problem. Not on my part.”
Kevin O’Connor adds: “Nobody’s happy not playing.”
Bell says there’s been “no communication” between Corbin and himself about his being nailed down courtside. Coach and player haven’t shared a word about the situation.
“I can do what I can do to help this team with what I’m given to work with,” says Bell. “Beyond that, I can’t change anything. Going to a meeting and asking is fruitless in my book. I haven’t been spoken to about it. So, we are where we are. It’s obvious that I’m not the right fit. And that’s OK by me. I support them any way I can. I said from the beginning of the season that I was here to help them in whatever capacity they needed me. And that’s not changed.”
There have been ruptured moments in the past, though. When it was reported that Bell was unhappy and frustrated with his role in January, Corbin’s response was: “Ask him about it.” In February, Bell said: “We’ve had some ups and downs. … I’ve played for some Hall of Fame coaches and they’ve done some things differently than what we’re doing here, but it’s not my ship to run.”
Bell, who is under contract with the Jazz through next season when he will make $3.4 million, was sent home for a game during the Jazz’s five-game road trip in March, after a heated argument broke out between him and Corbin.
It’s fair — and understated — to say the two haven’t always gotten along. Bell was told at the end of last season that the Jazz had nice plans for him this year, so he worked hard during the lockout and showed up for a truncated preseason camp in great physical condition, earning the starting 2-guard position. Then, injuries and spotty play hampered him. Still, he’s good enough to have helped the Jazz’s cause at least a bit, in some small role against the Spurs, beyond being an adviser. And it’s easy to speculate that something other than ability is contributing to Bell’s nonexistent playing time now. Nobody will confirm that.
Either way, Corbin and Bell are both smart, articulate, reasonable men who will find middle ground or some other solution to their circumstance during the offseason. An offseason that has swelled up and is about to break on the Jazz as San Antonio leads, 3-zip, and Utah’s veteran guard sits on the bench.
GORDON MONSON hosts the “Gordon Monson Show” weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.