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After back-to-back questions about the Utah Jazz’s locker room leadership and his role in it during Wednesday’s media session, Donovan Mitchell went off.
Not with malice or anger or short-temperedness toward the questioners, but with intensity and focus and single-mindedness of purpose.
Regardless of whether you think the Jazz did enough this offseason to take the next step in the path toward championship contention, Donovan said the team has no alternative but to pull it off. He’s said on several occasions over the past weeks that he felt the team — himself included — lost sight of the small details after building a 3-1 postseason lead over the Denver Nuggets, a mistake that relegated them to another early exit.
And so, he added, there is a sense of urgency to this Jazz training camp, a pervasive feeling that another season of not making tangible progress toward a title can only be viewed as an unacceptable failure.
“I’m trying to be the best leader that I can be, understanding that we need to hold ourselves to a high, high standard, which we have, and not forgetting that we we blew a 3-1 lead,” Donovan said. “We lost in the first round. And there’s no time for that. There’s no time for slow starts. We can’t be complacent when we’re up. And we’ve got to start focusing more on the details when we’re down. We’ve got to continue to play the same way throughout.
“So I think my biggest message: keeping the same consistency on the defensive end, on the offensive end, focusing on the little details, and not backing down from it,” he added. “There’s no day where we can have that lapse, because the West is stacked — the guys that are coming back, the Golden States, Phoenix made big improvements, too — so we’ve got to find ways to continue to stay where we’re at and get better as a group. That’s my biggest message, because at the end of the day, there’s no easing my way into this. We need to come out ready to go because losing in the first round just ain’t it no more.”
Deron Williams speaks on Jerry Sloan
If you’ve been a Jazz fan for more than a minute, you know of the drama between the former All-Star guard and the late iconic coach back in the day. Well, D-Will recently appeared on the Knuckleheads Podcast with Darius Miles & Quentin Richardson, and part of his convo includes his time with the Jazz and his mercurial relationship with the hard-nosed coach.
At around the 26:00 mark, he gets into Utah and coach Sloan, starting off by saying “That was the team I wanted to go to the most,” believing the Jazz had underperformed the year before due to injuries and were well-positioned to win quickly. Another interesting component was hearing how Sloan had the team train with “so much dummy offense,” by having players go out of position in practice so that everyone understood exactly how every single action of every single play functioned.
‘We already saw how that movie ends’
John Hollinger of The Athletic has been doing season previews of each team, and just got to the Jazz. Let’s just say that, like McKayla Maroney, he’s not impressed. Last year’s Jazz squad was “a good team that rewired itself in an effort to move up a level and failed.”
As for this year’s team … well, while the Jazz have been touting the virtues of continuity and upgrading their backup center spot by bringing back Derrick Favors, Hollinger argues that the Fav move was just the latest gross misallocation of resources: “Despite the weaknesses shown in the previous season — a lack of ballhawks and limited weapons at the backup forward spots — Utah’s offseason entirely focused on playing musical backup centers. This seemed a little too much like a case of familiarity overwhelming reason. The Jazz know Favors well, and their backup centers did hurt them last year. But using the full MLE to fill this spot was absurd given the size of the role. It’s not one capable of expanding, either: Playing Favors and Gobert doesn’t work. We already saw how that movie ends.”
Ex-BYU, UVU star on his Jazz experience
Jake Toolson, who played collegiately for both Utah Valley University and Brigham Young University, is in the Jazz’s training camp this month on an “Exhibit 10″ deal — meaning that should the team cut him (which will certainly happen, barring something crazy), he’ll get a bonus of somewhere between $5,000 to $50,000 if he winds up spending at least 60 days with the Salt Lake City Stars. He spoke to the media on Tuesday afternoon, and it was interesting hearing the underdog perspective he’s bringing to what is an uphill battle to make an NBA roster.
“It’s very uncertain right now, and I’m out here fighting every day for a chance,” Toolson said. “… I’ve learned throughout my career that things aren’t always the way I plan them to be, and things don’t always go very smoothly — I’ve had different stops and I’ve had adversity and I’ve had a lot of things kind of go sideways. But I’ve always kind of just embraced that and tried to make the best of every situation and choose to keep going.”
Music I’ve been listening to …
An unusual week in that there was nothing new I came across that really appealed to me. Also, usually by this point in December, I’ve caught the Christmas music bug, and that hasn’t really happened yet. Maybe soon, we’ll see. In the meantime, I’ve been listening to some relatively old-school stuff (by which I mean late-’80s to mid-’00s) — mostly because I’ve been buying up vinyl lately to decorate my office with the covers, and throwing the records on the turntable to revisit some old favorites. There’s also one in here from 2017 that’s brand new to me:
• Pearl Jam, “Ten”: Just an absolute classic, from a band that’s proven to have far more staying power than many thought. What’s interesting about “Ten” is that, after decades of believing that hits “Alive” and “Jeremy” were my favorite tracks, the more I listen to it now, the more “Black” resonates with me.
• Bon Jovi, “These Days”: As an undiscerning child, they were one of my favorite bands. As an adult, not so much. But this 1995 album remains an underappreciated gem. Having shrugged off their party-band shackles, they authentically captured a certain world-weariness, especially on “Hey God” and the title track, and unleashed some of their best riffs in years.
• My Chemical Romance, “The Black Parade”: Emo?!?! Yup. “Welcome to the Black Parade” remains the standard-bearer of the scene, “Mama” was over-the-top theatricality (even for these guys), “Teenagers” a cheeky middle finger, and “Famous Last Words” an energetic crescendo.
• Tom Petty, “Full Moon Fever”: After going pretty hard on “Wildflowers & All the Rest” a month or two ago, I’ve been rocking an earlier solo album, this one featuring help from both The Heartbreakers and the superest of super-groups, The Traveling Wilburys. Best-known for “Free Fallin’” and “I Won’t Back Down,” I’ve also been digging “The Apartment Song” and “Zombie Zoo.”
• The Hollering Pines, “Mansion of Heartbreak”: Bluegrass and Americana are not typically in my wheelhouse, but I discovered these Salt Lake City musicians’ 2017 album as a result of a story I wrote about the Record Spread vinyl subscription service, and I really dig it. Opener “Memory of a Wild Heart,” “Friend of Mine” and “Tucson to Illinois” are some personal favorites.