The Jazz came into their home game against the Spurs on Saturday night completely out of sorts. They were a mess. They seemed to have lost their focus, their commitment, their vision, their mission, their way. They had forgotten who they are. Their play was worrisome, making their fans uncomfortable and leading themselves nowhere. They were wandering far afield. And if all that kept up, maybe, just maybe, Ty Corbin wasn’t the right man for the job.
He and his team had taken their eyes off the prize and off the standings, and seemed oblivious to the fact not only that other teams were gaining on them, but that they were skipping steps. They were blowing it.
They were winning too much.
All that took a turn for the better against San Antonio, a team that, appropriately enough, had written the book on losing games to win them. The reward in the Spurs’ case was exaggerated, pie in the sky. It was … Tim Duncan. Four championships and 15 seasons of 50-plus wins later, they stand as a beacon on a hill. They reminded the Jazz, beating them 100-84, about the spoils of doing it the right way.
“They are who we thought they were,” Corbin said afterward. “… That’s what you have to aspire to be.”
Lose, draft yourself the right star, craft and shape the other pieces together moving forward with smart basketball decisions.
It’s the only way the Jazz can become a contender.
And then — shut the front door - they started in with their silly bit of winning. After dropping 14 of their first 15 games, the Jazz were 5-5 over the next 10, coming in on Saturday night. They looked most recently like world-beaters on the road against Sacramento and Denver, doing things like playing defense, sharing the ball and hitting shots and such.
Meanwhile, sad sacks like Milwaukee, Philly, New York, Orlando, Sacramento and Toronto remain threats to complicate the Jazz’s plan. Some of those teams are flat-out tanking. The Jazz are trying to do this a little different way — not using the tawdry T-word, at least not in the traditional sense.
They’re attempting to enjoy the best of both worlds — lose enough to land that lofty lottery pick, but work as much as possible to not compromise the integrity of the players they do have on their roster. To make it in good conscience — with themselves, with management and ownership, with fans — through what they have to do can be summed up in two words:
And improve as they do.
That’s all anybody around here can ask this one season. It is enough.
Too bad they don’t play the Spurs every night, so the young’uns can learn from Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili while losing to them.
If they play hard as a team and better the games of the youngsters — Derrick Favors, Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks — and then add an authentic star — Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Andrew Wiggins — into the mix, rounding out the roster with a couple of moderate veteran free-agent signings or trades in the offseason, now the Jazz have set themselves up for a decade of good winning.
The only two things that can block that ascent are … 1) winning too much this season, pushing them down the draft order, and 2) making bad personnel decisions once that opportunity is there.
There is one other negative possibility: promising young players already in the fold not being as good as management had hoped.
That’s why this process is a tad complicated. Favors and Hayward and Burke must grow into what they might be, but, on the other hand, if great things happen too quickly, then the adding-the-star part gets fouled up. They must edge forward, then, not burst onto the scene and blow up with a bunch of wins.
Try hard, give good effort, and allow those losses to stack up. Do not let veterans like Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams, who may not be around in coming seasons, contribute to too many victories. Let the 22-year-olds grow and stumble, learn and lose - and thereby ultimately win — over the long haul.
Doing that isn’t going to ruin them or poison anybody’s competitive soul. It’s just working the system the NBA has created. For doubters, would you take one season of serious losing followed by five of building toward serious contention? For worrywarts who believe developing players will simply bolt a small market once they are free to do so, why didn’t Duncan and Tony Parker leave San Antonio? It’s because they’re getting paid and they’re winning. For them, the River Walk never had to be Broadway.
Something at least within shouting distance can happen here — as long as the Jazz keep their eyes on the prize and don’t mess things up over the long term by winning too much in the short.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.