“Nobody thought they’d be any good this year.”
— Charles Barkley, on the Jazz
Warning: I’m going to preach to the choir here. And irritate those in other choirs in other places. So be it.
Another warning: When you pump up people for postseason awards, it always sounds as though you’re putting down somebody else. Maybe you are, but it’s not so much intended that way.
And one last reminder: None of this individual stuff is overly important in a team sport. Although money in contracts sometimes can be tied to individual recognitions, the real reward comes from and in what the team achieved. The rest, especially in the case of the NBA, is showbiz.
Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter.
But it mattered to Rudy Gobert, whose eyes dusted up a bit, when he went ahead and won this year the award he should have won last year — the NBA defensive player of the year.
Donovan MItchell lost this year the award he should have won this year — NBA rookie of the year. And he looked about as torn up over it as Jolly Ol’ St. Nick, decked out as he was in a big smile and a red suit.
Quin Snyder lost this year the award he may well win next year or some other year — NBA coach of the year. He seemed relieved not to have had to walk up on the stage and put words to what it all meant.
Same for Dennis Lindsey, who also lost his chance at the award for NBA executive of the year. There are other goals for him to achieve.
In all the glitz and the glamor, the hip and the hop, the Jazz, then, went 1-for-4 from the field. That’s one way of looking at it. The other is they won one gold medal and three silvers.
And with that, mixed in with commentary from Ernie, Shaq, Kenny and Chuck, music presented by a DJ in a shiny dress and a bleepity-bleepin’ rap performance/lip-sync by Travis Scott, along with Bill Russell flipping off Barkley on national television, the NBA awards ceremony came and went Monday night from the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica on TNT, brought to you by Kia.
The fact that Mitchell and Snyder lost to Ben Simmons and Dwane Casey wasn’t exactly a shock. Simmons was bequeathed his trophy prematurely, before Mitchell came on the way he did, winning the West’s award for rookie of the month four months in a row.
We can crunch the numbers and make arguments one way or the other. Simmons is a terrific talent who plays in a large media market smack-dab in the middle of the East Coast. But let’s say it in the manner in which is most plain — what the eyes tell us. And what the eyes say is that Mitchell is flat a better player than Simmons. The Philly rookie — if that’s what he was — does a lot of things really well, but he lacks the most important skill of all: shooting. Here’s the brutal truth: Dude. Can’t. Shoot. And that’s a problem, a problem that will continue to manifest itself as coming seasons unfold.
Mitchell can do — and was counted on to do — a little of everything, including lift an entire team and put it on his shoulders as that team’s lead scorer and playmaker. Ask yourself this question: Where would the Jazz have been this season had Mitchell not been there? They would have played some defense, but they would not have qualified for the playoffs and would not have made it to the semifinals in the West.
The seats in Vivint Arena would not have been filled the way they were. In that way, Mitchell lifted an entire franchise, an entire fanbase, an entire city. Remarkable, for a 21-year-old, taken with the 13th pick in the draft.
Mitchell had no advantage of sitting around for a full season the year before, watching, training, learning the pro game, getting paid like a pro, having a contract like a pro. Instead, he was going to class, taking tests, practicing with a bunch of collegians, wondering what it would be like to play in the NBA.
He found out soon enough, in a way nobody could have expected.
But you, at least, already knew all that.
Anyone who really believes Casey did a better coaching job than Snyder is welcome to their opinion, but misguided. Casey was great, but he had huge advantages, including two established All-Stars on his roster, and a team that thrived in the easier East. The Jazz were seen before the season by many observers, including Barkley, as a team, minus free agent Gordon Hayward, that was screwed. They had Gobert, and little else. Half their team had been turned over in an offseason from hell.
They had a new point guard who couldn’t shoot. They had an off guard who struggled with injuries and consistency and who ultimately was moved at the trade deadline. They had a journeyman wing who was cut by the Clippers. They had a 4 who couldn’t do what 4’s are relied upon to do in the modern NBA — stretch the floor. Their best player — Gobert — got injured early and the team lurched. And then, it bounced back in a manner rarely seen. It won and won and won. It made the playoffs, it won a first-round series.
Given the low expectations, and all the adjustments that had to be made, those achievements were incredible. And Snyder was at the center of them.
He didn’t get his award, at the end, neither did Mitchell or Lindsey, But they all got something seen to be more valuable in their minds — a foundation set for what comes next for the Jazz. Gobert wrapped that up on Monday night about as well as anyone could — by crediting and dedicating the trophy he got to his team.
Which is the point, all along, in basketball, right?
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.