Brian T. Smith: Earl Watson won't leave Utah Jazz behind
Earl Watson could've been anywhere.
His hometown of Kansas City, Kan. His second home of Los Angeles. Europe. A private island. Wherever millionaires who are paid to play a game go when the regular season ends and the second season begins.
Instead, Watson spent last week with the Jazz in Orlando, Fla. Unable to play. Not officially in uniform. But watching, laughing and hanging with Utah's Summer League team, wearing a gray Jazz practice T-shirt and long basketball shorts as if coaches Scott Layden, Sidney Lowe and Jeff Hornacek would soon call his name.
They never did and couldn't have, even if they'd wanted to. The 33-year-old Watson's coming off right knee surgery, after having a torn medial meniscus repaired in April. He just started jogging, won't begin the second stage of his rehabilitation until August, and is tentatively eyeing a clean start when training camp begins.
So, of course, Watson showed up in Orlando. Jeremy Evans was there. Alec Burks, DeMarre Carroll and Enes Kanter, too. That was enough for Watson. He has 11 years in the league, he's played for seven teams, and he still acts in the best possible way like a 15-year-old junior-varsity role player who believes his team is the best, coolest and most genuine thing in the gym.
When Watson's around, it is. While the Jazz were being embarrassed by San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs in early May, Watson didn't disappear. Before a close-out Game 4 in Salt Lake City, Watson hobbled on crutches during shootaround, vowing to a reporter he'd be in uniform by tipoff. He was. While Manu Ginobili shredded Utah, Watson was wrapped in full Jazz gear. Still supported by wooden sticks. Still burning like he was one call away from checking in.
Orlando was a looped replay. Ever since Utah's 2011-12 season unceremoniously ended, the fiery point guard swore he'd show up at Summer League. Why? Because he wanted to. Because he felt like he should be there. Because there was nowhere else he'd rather be.
Several other non-Summer League NBA players appeared inside Amway Center. Some were cool. Some were aloof. Almost all were distant, distracted and untouchable. And the cold swagger swung despite the fact fans weren't even allowed inside the building.
All the while, Watson anonymously stuck by his team. He sat at the end of the bench, squeezing between Carroll and Kanter, watching Burks soar. When the buzzer rang, Watson trailed a collection of soon-to-be castoffs and European-bound second-tier talent to Utah's locker room. He quietly blended in, shaking a few hands, saying a few words, but often just keeping to himself and absorbing the scene.
He could've been anywhere. He was exactly where he wanted to be: home.