“Beware the fury of a patient man.”
There are sports writers and commentators who argue over who expressed those words first. Some say it was Publilius Syrus, who was a power forward, I think, for a team in the Italian League. Others credit coach John Dryden for using it in a poetic pregame speech a while back.
Either way, the saying perfectly fits the guys running the Utah Jazz.
There are those who thought the team wasn’t all that serious about upgrading its prospects for NBA championship contention, not after the events — or lack thereof — of the previous offseason, and the dearth of realized action before February’s trade deadline, when it was obvious the Jazz were not talented enough to mount any sort of authentic run at a title.
But beneath the surface, under all of that forbearance, was hyper-heated rock, molten to the core, to the point where the continents were floating along toward desired ends, even if nobody on the outside knew it. Even as the Jazz’s weaknesses became evident to everyone, targets were being sighted, moves were planned, needs made certain and, then, addressed.
Not everyone in the Jazz hierarchy initially agreed how best to push the thing forward. But, as is the case in any strong organization with smart, strong-minded mentors, ultimately, through all the discussion, and in some cases, discord, a course was charted and traversed.
You saw the results over the past 10 days.
And after 20 years of trying to scratch and pull their way back to the top of a league whose sheer stone walls often lean harshly toward a mid-market team, of what seemed to some to be fiddling around, the Jazz are back in the championship-contention business.
When Dennis Lindsey came to the Jazz in 2012, he said he wouldn’t skip any steps, that the ascent would be a process, and that it would require acumen, diligence, and patience. When Quin Snyder arrived, it became apparent that the Xs and Os part would be in good hands, as long as the coach was given proper talent to make the climb.
There were stubbed fingers and toes en route. The Jazz moved up in the draft to select Trey Burke. They drafted Trey Lyles instead of Devin Booker. They took Dante Exum with the No. 5 overall pick in 2014.
But they also got their hands, through a trade with the Nuggets, on Rudy Gobert, when most of the league thought he was some sort of freak show, and he wears the number 27, the spot at which he was taken, to remind everyone of their mistake. They grabbed Donovan Mitchell with the 13th pick, thanks to another trade with Denver, to give the team hope when it needed it most.
And they worked their way up the mountain, getting eliminated in the second round of the playoffs.
Then, just two years ago, on July 4, the Jazz lost Gordon Hayward in free agency, which was a little like cascading down that cliff, dangerously hanging from a belay device.
They crawled back up, again making it to the playoffs second round.
That’s when Lindsey sat in wait, wanting to see what he had. He made a few minor moves, but nothing substantial. Other than picking up an Ekpe Udoh here, a Kyle Korver there, the Jazz’s progress depended on the growth of Gobert and Mitchell.
It wasn’t enough.
The Jazz had the NBA’s second-best defense. They needed shooting. They needed explosiveness. That’s not exactly breaking news.
The route and timing to getting it was … complicated. Opinions varied on what was worth giving up, what would be most helpful in return.
Come this offseason, though, after Lindsey was promoted to executive vice president of basketball operations and Justin Zanik was named general manager, the Jazz throttled up.
And now, their starting lineup will look like this: Gobert, Mitchell, Conley, Bogdanovich and Joe Ingles. Their second group will include Royce O’Neale, Davis, Georges Niang, Exum and a host of others vying for time.
The Jazz put up a whole lot of 3-point shots last season, with particular preference for the corner 3. Their problem came in actually making them. Now, every player in the presumed starting lineup, other than Gobert, can do exactly that. Last season, Bogdanovich made 52 percent of his corner shots. That’s ridiculous. Every one of the starters, with the exception of Gobert, hit 40 percent or better on spot-up bombs last season.
Think about what that means in the pick and roll, what that creates for Gobert when he is diving to the basket for another dunk, what that pressures defenses into reconsidering when they try to prevent Gobert from attacking the rim, leaving shooters open to fire away.
Think further about how the addition of Conley and Bogdanovich enables the Jazz offense to attack switching defenses when they dare the Jazz to go against them one-on-one. Conley can do that. Bogdanovich, who led the Pacers’ offense last season after the injury to Victor Oladipo, can do that. Mitchell can do that.
No longer is Mitchell left alone to handle resistance that surrounds him.
The Jazz have gone from a so-so shooting team to a great one, without compromising the defense on which they’ve hung their name. They can catch-and-shoot from deep, they can conjure shots in the midrange, they can make defenders pay in the paint.
They can contend for a title.
Beware the fury of a patient man.
Beware the fury of a patient team.
For the Jazz, the fury has at last revealed itself. It’s up to the players themselves now to show it on the court, to exact the toll for which that patience calls.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.