On a night the Jazz went about correcting many of their errors in the comfort of their own building against a bad team that had won only one of its last 16 road games, I took an informal poll, asking players, coaches, former players, former coaches, broadcasters, beat writers, columnists, commentators, security guys, ushers, vendors the following question:
What’s wrong with the Utah Jazz?
What flowed back was … all over the map.
That’s what 12 losses in 16 games stirs. Before beating Philly, an opponent that made it easy to briefly see the brighter side, the Jazz had lost four straight into the teeth of a supposed playoff race. If the Jazz could play every game at EnergySolutions Arena against a team on a long road trip that pretty much quit after the first two minutes, they wouldn’t be stumbling and bumbling it out with the Lakers for the last playoff spot in the West. But they can’t and they are.
Jump aboard, then, whichever problem — or some other — you deem most pressing, presented here in no particular order:
• A lack of identity: The Jazz, so this assertion goes, don’t know what they are. Are they a young, promising, developing team? Are they a veteran team with young players just sprinkled in to play their limited roles? Are the younger guys to be trusted in key minutes of important games or are they simply a bailout plan when the starters don’t bring what’s necessary? The end result is a confused group that doesn’t play with much consistency.
• Lack of focus, effort and energy: This has been a theme on bad nights from Tyrone Corbin. After Monday’s win, the coach said: “You have a chance every night when you have the effort and focus we had tonight.” But when he was asked specifically about that issue in losses, he said: “It’s not just focus and energy. That has something to do with it, but it varies. It moves around. We’ve had so many things with this team. Guys being in and out of the lineup, it’s been hard to find a rhythm. It’s been a moving target. Guys [have to] muster ways to fight back.”
• Lack of consistent defense: Al Jefferson’s name spills out a lot in this specific shortcoming. His lack of lateral speed allows opposing guards to work the pick-and-roll and score easily. Of particular concern is the ineffective play at the defensive end when Jefferson and Derrick Favors are on the court together, a combo that was a bonus last season, but has been a minus this year. Favors said Monday night that defense is the team’s biggest need: “We have to get stops at that end. We know we can score, but we have to get stops for 48 minutes.”
• No moves made before the trade deadline: There’s no hiding that the Jazz spun into their downturn in late February and haven’t recovered. But it’s counterintuitive to believe there would be a mental lapse or attitude slide, especially on the part of Jefferson or Paul Millsap, because those vets weren’t moved. Trading them directly before free agency would have inconvenienced their lives, not bettered them. It’s a curious, mind-bending theory. But those numbers remain as evidence: 4-12 in the last 16.
• Mo Williams is not a Jazz point guard: Since Williams returned from his thumb injury, he’s reverted at times to his hero-ball mindset, looking to take his shot at significant junctures instead of setting up a better shot for a teammate. The Jazz need a distributing floor leader in the tradition of their past.
• The cloud of free agency: More than half the team is on the verge of testing the waters, and those possibilities are adversely affecting their brains. Even Corbin has raised this issue as an area of concern.
• Lack of mental toughness: There’s a split among those polled on whether the primary difficulties stem more from deficiencies on the mental side or the physical. Are they weak in the head or in the body? The argument for the mental side is bolstered by the Jazz’s success/lack of success at home versus on the road. They are 25-9 at ESA and 10-27 on the road. That’s ridiculous. They also have a tendency to suffer through periods of ineptitude in the middle of an otherwise well-played game. In many recent losses, they’ve given up huge runs by opponents, often spurred by turnovers or bad shots that have derailed them.
“We have to make sure we come with the same intensity,” Gordon Hayward said. “We’ve got to come together as a team and not let one mistake turn into four or five. That’s when other teams go on big-time runs. We’ve got to be more poised than we’ve been. The effort is there, but a lot of times the execution isn’t. There are times when we’re working hard, but we’re not making the right play, both offensively and defensively.”
Said Millsap: “A lot of it is just being aware of what’s going on.”
• Corbin’s coaching ability: Some think he’ll eventually be a fine head coach. Others think he’s flat-out the wrong guy. Some think his staff needs to be rearranged. There are a lot of complaints about Corbin’s rotations and the uncertainty those rotations have created.
• A rudderless ship: Most of those polled see no real leader on the court, no player who not only can think and talk a good game, but put the team on his shoulders and bring it along. That leader will have to be cultivated, traded for, or drafted. In present form, he does not exist.