Nice guys finish … what’s this, fifth?
Nice guys get eliminated in the first round.
Thing is: Can they finish first? Can they hack and hammer through to the top?
What I’m about to write here about the Jazz is a little out of the ordinary.
I don’t know these guys, not really. Not up close and personal. I have no clue as to whether Donovan Mitchell is the all-world good guy he seems to be, always helping little old ladies across the street, never acting like the jerk he once told me he wouldn’t allow himself to become because, if he did, his mother “would kill” him. I’m not sure that Rudy Gobert carries the regal bearing he normally demonstrates to everyone at every turn. I once spent a few hours with Joe Ingles, asking him public and private questions, while writing a feature story about him, and when I did, Quin Snyder asked me how on God’s green earth I could sit and listen to Joe for that long, that he himself could barely stand to be around him during practices — kiddingly, of course.
What I do know is how Mitchell and Gobert and Derrick Favors and Ricky Rubio and Ingles and Jae Crowder, and the rest handled themselves on the court and in the locker room before and after games this season, the way they interacted with Joe and Jill Sixpack. They were easy to cover and easy for fans to cheer for. That’s one of the reasons the Jazz drew so well, regularly filling Vivint Arena with people who really believe these players care about one another, care about them, play hard for them, and are an authentic part of their community.
“I love playing here,” Ingles said. “I like the city, the people, the team. And the guys actually do like each other. We do. That’s not an act, it’s real. We’re friends. I love our group.”
And the group loves him back.
“We like being around each other,” Gobert said.
Added Mitchell: “The bond we have is very special.”
So special, he and his teammates were going together to see the premiere of “The Avengers” Thursday night.
“The season’s over and we’re still hanging out,” he said.
Not every team is like that. Most are not. Not every Jazz team has been like that.
These guys are. Were.
Let’s put it in the past tense because this team is on the verge of changing. It might not lose all of those same characteristics, even if it loses some of its characters. After last offseason, when folks were fairly certain not that many personnel moves would be made and when those folks were absolutely right, there will be some made this time around. The makeup of the team will be altered in the name of making it better. That’s the main thrust of pro sports, after all.
The Jazz have said for quite some time that they want to win an NBA championship. And seeing that this team, as presently constituted, is not good enough to get that title, furniture in the house must be moved out, refurbished, replaced, remade, renovated.
Even when some of those sofas and chairs were pretty damn comfortable.
Just not suitable enough, at least not competitively.
“We’re going to keep getting better,” Gobert said. “… No team stays together forever.”
On the annual locker-clean-out day, traditionally coming in the 24 hours after the Jazz’s last game ends, the team’s general manager, along with each player, are brought out in front of the media to make comments about what they’ve experienced during the season, the postseason, and what they expect the future — theirs and the team’s — to hold.
That’s exactly what happened on Thursday at the Jazz’s practice facility.
Dennis Lindsey spoke. Mitchell and Gobert spoke. All the players spoke.
Most of them echoed what Mitchell and Ingles said.
“This is a really good place to be,” Kyle Korver said.
And so, there was a tinge of melancholy to the entire proceeding. The specifics were blurry, but you could read the goodbyes between some of the lines.
Ekpe Udoh, for one, said: “I was able to create relationships here that will last a lifetime.”
Rubio said: “It’s been a blessing having [Donovan] as a teammate.”
Lindsey wasn’t pronouncing with any exactness what his plans are for the team. He mentioned some of its achievements in the recent past and needs in the months and seasons ahead. He did not get deep into the cabbage over who will stay and who will go.
But it’s clear the veritable stability of last offseason will not stand this offseason. In a way, it’s sad, but necessary for the franchise to reach its goals.
I’ll miss some of these players because, even though they too often couldn’t shoot straight, they were, I do believe, good dudes. That, isolated, isn’t enough, but it does make an outfit a lot easier to be around.
And that’s what the 2018-19 Jazz, in my mind, will be remembered for — being exceptionally close to each other, exceptionally team-oriented, exceptionally decent to the fans, exceptionally community-based, and fairly cooperative with reporters, from radio and TV broadcasters to bloggers to ink-stained wretches.
And that’s worth noting.
It’s as unusual as it is cool.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.