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Monson: Jazz can learn one important lesson from the Spurs

Published June 17, 2014 11:30 pm

They play the game the way it is supposed to be played — unselfishly.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The way the Spurs won the NBA title was good news for the Jazz and a pleasure for everybody else, anybody who … 1) lives outside the 305 area code or 2) loves basketball — for basically the same reason.

The game, all of a sudden, became a team sport again.

The Spurs reminded us that basketball is exactly that. Should be, can be.

In this case, the team with the best player lost. The team with the player with the most endorsement deals on it lost. The team with the player at the center of the basketball universe on it lost.

The team that shared the ball the best won.

What a concept.

We'd all kind of forgotten that's the way the game was supposed to be played. Sacrifice for one another, execute for one another, play defense for one another, give to one another.

And everybody on the winning team was in the pool. Five guys at a time working in concert to get the ball where it should go to get the best shot at the best place at the best time, instead of simply handing the ball to the best player and letting him work his wonders by himself. Guys coming off the bench and following suit.

It was a beautiful thing, one of the most enjoyable Finals in memory, despite its lopsidedness. This, then, is more a note of appreciation than it is one of analysis.

In the throes of Game 4, during a timeout after a stretch during which the Spurs repeatedly carved up the Heat's defense with unselfish passing, Gregg Popovich sat in front of his players and said: "The ball doesn't stick, it keeps moving."

If there were seven words that summed up San Antonio's success in the five-game championship series, those were them. The magnificent seven.

The Spurs didn't depend on a couple of megastars and a supporting cast to carry them to the mountaintop. They relied on a 17-year veteran, an aging second-round draft pick (57th overall), a late first-rounder, a player who emerged out of the D-League, a journeyman who ate himself out of a previous job, an Australian, and a 22-year-old who could have been available to any team that had had the same foresight the Spurs displayed by acquiring him after the Pacers took him with the 15th pick in the 2011 draft.

That's hardly the worn path to NBA titles past. But it was an open freeway to glory this go-round.

How many times did we see the ball rotate in some combination from Tony Parker to Manu Ginobili to Tiago Splitter to Boris Diaw? Or from Patty Mills to Danny Green to Tim Duncan to Kawhi Leonard? Bam-bam-bam-bam-bam. At times, it was like somebody throwing a Superball inside a shower stall. It was a blur. Nobody on that team cared one bit who got to finish the business. All that mattered was that the ball didn't stick, that it kept moving until it spun through the net. There were offensive possessions when the Spalding never touched the floor.

That's a blast of good hope for the Jazz because they have no megastar player. If they could learn to play together the way the Spurs have, maybe they, too, could make a positive move.

Not saying the Spurs aren't talented — Duncan is the best power forward ever, or, at least, was — nor that the young Jazz have the savvy that Parker and Duncan and Ginobili have. But, at this stage in their careers, none of those players is stand-alone overwhelming or otherworldly. Throw in Leonard, Green, Mills, Diaw, Splitter and the collective result far exceeds the separate, individual talent.

On account of that, the two-time-defending champs — the team with the better player, the best player — were sent packing.

Bad for them, bad for marketing the league, bad for selling King James jerseys, bad for spotlighting the superstars, good for the game.

Perhaps the Jazz could aspire to that and put into play the same attitude.

If they are smart enough to identify and pick some specific, select talent, not necessarily from the most advantageous positions in the draft or in free agency, get them to play and mesh together, maybe they also can go beyond what conventional thinking normally allows. Maybe that's why the Jazz are working out nearly every prospect ever to run through a gym in the run-up to the coming draft. Even if that less traveled road doesn't take them to absolute heights, it would be a happy trip to see them play so unselfishly, to see them sacrifice for one another, to see them play team defense and to see them share the ball so willingly.

They might not win a title. They will not win like the Spurs. But they would win some fans, appreciative fans who otherwise couldn't quite remember the way the game is supposed to be played.

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.