If there is one thing I learned when following NBA basketball, it is everything is different in Utah.
There are various reasons why the Jazz are so unique, not just in the NBA but for all professional leagues across the country. The stability of the front office, the core system and the way they bring in players that fit that system, and how they are marketed as part of the city’s fabric all give the sense this team and the fans are intertwined and inseparable.
That makes the context of an interview given by former Jazz star Deron Williams so interesting. Leading up to Tuesday night’s match between the Jazz and the Brooklyn Nets, the team the Jazz traded Williams to nearly two years ago, Williams compared his current play to his time in Utah.
In Utah, Williams was the key cog in our intricate system designed by Jerry Sloan. In an interview with the New York Daily News, Williams compared his time in Utah to his current team, calling himself more of a “system player,” continuing that he, “loved coach (Jerry) Sloan’s system there, I loved the offense there.” Brooklyn runs more isolation sets than the Jazz do, and Williams has struggled adjusting to the different style.
The story has been exaggerated as have all news stories have in the modern age. What is not mentioned is how Williams mentioned the system he was in while in school at Illinois under coach Bruce Weber. But all the focus in the NBA is how another star is complaining about his team.
Williams was simply referring back to the culture whose foundation can be traced back to Frank Layden and the early days of the team back in the 80’s. The key to a successful franchise, and any business for that matter, is defining what the goals of the franchise are and how they will set out to achieve these goals. There are certain rules and expectations in place, and finding the right people who can work within these expectations are paramount to success.
Williams was a key part of our success once upon a time, and now he is in a new chapter of his career. He is part of a team creating a new identity and direction for itself, a team that models itself after other successful franchises, including the Jazz. Williams has struggled in the new role, however.
Williams is making only 33 percent of his shots this season from the field and 28 percent from three, both career lows. While Brooklyn is a better team than last season, the improvement is due to the return of injured center Brook Lopez.
Williams is not the first player in Jazz history to fade away after leaving the team. Shandon Anderson was a key contributor as a rookie and sophomore during the Jazz championship runs, but never made his mark after leaving Utah. More recently, Carlos Boozer’s production is much lower than his time in a Jazz uniform. Even Hall of Fame member Karl Malone struggled during his one season with the Lakers.
The Jazz way works for this franchise in a way that will not work outside of the state. Sure, there are tweaks and modifications made on a consistent basis, but the success of the franchise is in its business model.
The players they find are “Jazz” players, ones that develop in college or Europe as system players and then are given the tools to succeed.
The free agency season is now in full swing, allowing teams to trade players they signed last offseason. The Jazz need to improve their team to stay competitive in an extremely deep Western Conference. In a recent article on ESPN, writer Zach Lowe mentioned the Jazz are a key player in the trade market this year. But teams do not have a feel on what the Jazz will do.
While this certainly is not an expert opinion, it is safe to say a move for the Jazz will require a player that will fit our system, not someone who has a fancy name and will sell tickets. There are a few redundancies on the roster, and some valuable trade assets the Jazz can use, but they only will be used if a player fits with what the team needs. We may not see another Williams, but there is always hope a player such as him will boost the team to the top of the West.
Otherwise, expect business as usual.