“The nice part about being a pessimist is that you are constantly being either proven right or pleasantly surprised.” — George F. Will
“It doesn’t hurt to be an optimist. You can always cry later.” — Lucimar Santos de Lima
Utah Jazz fans have a choice to make through the long offseason of which they are skidding and bumping into the last few weeks. There are two ways to go — the optimistic or the pessimistic route. The realistic route is excluded because at this juncture there is no reality, only guesses about what might come next.
Some folks are seeing trouble ahead, after The Indecision, the departure of … well, He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. Many prognosticators are saying the Jazz won’t make the playoffs in 2017-18, in part because the cowhide global warming in the West has caused the tough tide to rise to unforeseen levels and, in part, because HWSNBN left for Boston.
That’s a tough one-two punch to absorb and some of the pessimism is understandable. But there are reasons, as the poet said, to see the backward step, after last season’s forward step, as a dance rather than a disaster.
Listed below, in inverse order, are the five biggest reasons from the offseason to remember what Harry Truman said, that optimists make opportunities out of their difficulties:
5. The hiring of Mike Elliott to oversee health and training needs of Jazz players
Let’s say it the way it is here. The comprehensive health of the Jazz over the past two seasons was a collision of misfortune and susceptibility to injury. The team did, in fact, make win-loss progress in each of those years, but that progress was hindered greatly by a traffic jam in the training room. The most noted factoid of 2016-17 was that the Jazz’s preferred starting lineup was on the floor less than 15 times. That’s ridiculous and it likely had to do with more than just bad luck.
There’s no specific blame to hurl here, but the hiring of Elliott, who built a respected reputation with the Suns in previous seasons, has to help. His official title is vice president of performance health care, which means he’ll oversee training, strength and conditioning, and sports science. Whatever that entails, here’s to imagining a Jazz lineup that won’t look like a colonial drum-and-fife corps, bandaged and limping and bleeding while returning from the nasty front lines against the Warriors, Spurs and Rockets.
4. The renovation of Vivint Smart Home Arena
This may not help the Jazz secure more wins, but it certainly will make fans much more comfortable absorbing whatever it is they will enjoy/endure night after night after night. A whole bunch of great eating and shopping and lounging options mixed with better bathrooms, softer seats and a refurbished feel are bound to make the basketball experience more advanced for everyone.
3. Rudy Gobert’s emergence as a vocal leader and anchor of the defense that could the best in the NBA
After all, nobody’s spoken out more about the Jazz being OK than Gobert. He’s brought up issues of loyalty, of staying a promising course, of looking forward to a brighter tomorrow loud enough for everybody in and around the Jazz to hear the message. Not only was he the Jazz’s best player a year ago, he’s the team’s best front man. And he’s going nowhere.
He’ll go on anchoring a defense that got even better than it was by adding Ricky Rubio, one of the most accomplished defensive point guards in the league, and perimeter defender Thabo Sefolosha, among others. Let’s just say scoring points against the Jazz will be like attempting to roll straight over the Maginot Line. In this case, there’s no Belgium to cut through. (Perhaps that’s too hurtful a historical analogy, considering the country from which Gobert hails.)
2. The acquisition of Ricky Rubio
The analytics people love this guy, and for good reason: He does everything well, except shoot it straight, and even that sometimes is corrected over hot stretches. Rubio, still only 26, sees the floor, gets the ball where teammates like to get it — in timely fashion, making all of them better at the offensive end. And that’s something the Jazz will need. He also runs the floor well, helping his team get points in transition, another advantage Quin Snyder can utilize. And — did we mention? — he defends.
1. The drafting of Donovan Mitchell
There’s all kinds of proof that jumping to happy conclusions based on a youngster’s performance in summer leagues is a bad idea. Remember when Greg Ostertag made Tim Duncan look pedestrian all those summers ago? Remember when Morris Almond appeared to be the next Kobe Bryant? Remember when … nobody wants to remember that stuff. Especially since Mitchell looked like one of the best rookies coming out of a stellar draft class in subsequent games.
But the dude is athletic, strong, confident, coachable and happier than a pig in slop to be in Utah. In an offseason of rejection, that last one is significant. Either Mitchell has been taught well or he naturally gets that the best way to make a positive impression on a defensive-minded coach is to focus on that end of the floor. Even when he was scoring in summer league games, all he talked about was the joy of D’ing up. Don’t think Snyder didn’t notice. And so did everyone else. Which is to say this kid could be something special, and with a get-better-at-all-costs mindset, it’s easy to go on and step ahead of ourselves by projecting that not only is he something to look forward to, but also something to make a difference right from the jump.
How’s that for making opportunity out of difficulty, for dancing around disaster?
You can always cry later.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Chacketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.