In an era of the NBA when every team, if it had its druthers, would be the equal of the Golden State Warriors, not just in overall team quality, but in exciting style of pinball play, the Jazz are going a different way.
Their own way.
That’s the conclusion — and a mustache, too, on an otherwise pretty portrait — to draw.
No copy-catting or caving in for them. They don’t want to prance up and down the court, wowing opponents with their skill, with their artistry, with their happy expressions of whiz-bang basketball. They don’t have two of the best shooters in the history of the game. They don’t have Kevin Durant.
And that’s OK.
They have one amazing young offensive force and a bunch of lathered-up, smudge-faced trash collectors. They have Joe Ingles.
They do not want to bow to the pressure of dressing or sweetening up their approach, even, especially, in the deep and talented Western Conference, as was demonstrated by their offseason re-collection of nearly the same team, plus one pug-like rookie, that they put on the floor a year ago.
They didn’t want to chase big-name free agents, same as other teams did. At no time did Quin Snyder march into Dennis Lindsey’s office and say, “Denny-boy, I need me some Boogie Cousins, some Carmelo Anthony … right now!”
He would have just as soon slammed his head in the door of his SUV.
They — Lindsey and Snyder — wanted to steel themselves further with a familiar crowd. They wanted the guys they already had to work their tails to improve themselves and thereby to improve the team as a whole.
Magic Johnson ran off and begged to get LeBron James. So, he did.
The Jazz put on some gloves, picked up a shovel and pushed a wheelbarrow through the mud.
They talked about making what was at the end of last season the best defense in the league a better defense. They couldn’t care less about appearances or style points or high-octane scoring. They want to score one more point than whatever the other guys score, and that’s good enough.
They didn’t want to become the Warriors or the Rockets, two of the few clubs that were better than them the last time around. They didn’t want to emulate anybody — other than maybe the 1985 Chicago Bears, a team that won a Super Bowl by hammering opponents into submission and laughing at their pain.
That’s what the Jazz are aiming to do in 2018-19.
They want pugnacious play. They want to funnel the world straight into Rudy Gobert, just like the Bears wanted to funnel everything the opponent had directly at Mike Singletary — back in the glorious day.
They want to bore teams to death. They want to pass and pass and pass and pass and pass and pass and pass — zzzzzzzzz — to get the perfect shot on offense, and then they have every intention at the other end of putting an ugly thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump on all of this prettification by Western foes. Haul the garbage is what they’ll do.
Lindsey recently said as much, emphasizing the point that “as long as a guy plays defense, there will be a spot for him on this team.”
Some pundits have admiration for the way the Jazz are stepping out of the mainstream, not going with the flow, not copying the crowd, but walking their own path, doing it their own way. Some think that’s a bit of brilliance on the part of Lindsey and Snyder, and they admire it, believing that is the definition of strong leadership.
Others just see it as the Jazz playing the desperate hand that is dealt them.
Everyone knows Donovan Mitchell is a dynamic, exciting player. What they are less likely to know is that he loves to put on the dungarees and mix the cement, too. Ingles isn’t the only one. Go ahead and tell Gobert what the Jazz cannot do. On go the XXXXXL overalls. Jae Crowder and Derrick Favors? Watch the sweat drip down from under the hard hats. Ricky Rubio? That was him that had the bandaged-up eye returning to the game against Detroit in the fourth quarter, a show of determination and courage that launched the Jazz onto that 29-6 finish to last season.
You think these guys are sitting back and luxuriating, floating on a raft in the Caribbean, slamming plate-loads of pasta and cheesecake, watching the clouds blow by, after a surprising season during which they were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs?
No, they are not.
They are hitting the gym, lifting weights, working on agility, grinding their teeth, looking for ways to better their defensive rating of 103.9, which was second in the NBA, hoping to ugly up a league that, under the draw of the Warriors, has sought out expensive plastic surgery.
The Jazz don’t want to go under the knife.
They want to wear their hard-earned scars.
They want to draw mustaches on the Mona Lisa, and call it good.