Now what will the Jazz do for on-court leadership? Contact a temp agency? Scour the classifieds? Post an opening on monster.com?
Raja Bell announced Friday he's leaving town. No offense, of course. Just business. He says he loved Salt Lake and playing for Jerry Sloan. It's the place where he became a real player, not just a CBA escapee. It's just that the Phoenix Suns were up in the night, working a deal, and Bell accepted their offer. While the Jazz may not have wanted to give Bell as many years on a contract as the Suns, that wasn't the only issue. Like all good players, he wanted a championship, ASAP. Look at the teams. Look at Bell's age (29 in September).
It doesn't take Sherlock Homes to deduce that going to Phoenix made sense.
"I don't know if the timetable (for a championship) is as imminent in Utah as in Phoenix," he told 1320-KFAN's Ian Fitzsimmons.
How much can a team miss a 12-point, three-rebound player anyway?
This much: Has anyone considered calling Stephen Covey?
Someone has to keep those guys motivated.
It never was about the points Bell produced or even the minutes he played. It was about the attitude. It seems a long time since Karl Malone, Jeff Hornacek and John Stockton could get their teammates fired up with a hard stare. Now look. Sometimes the Jazz are as soft as goose down. Occasionally last year, in spite of Bell's efforts, they seemed ready to curl into the fetal position. Lots of big bad teams and mediocre ones, too came in and slapped the Jazz around. Used to be teams feared the Jazz. Now they dismiss them.
Aside from Jerry Sloan, the steadiest force against apathy was Bell. He was the guy who drew the technical fouls. When the Jazz showed little interest in playing, it was Bell who called their effort "unacceptable." In mid-March, sensing a number of teammates had already checked out, Bell growled, "So we don't make the playoffs? But we can beat teams just to say we beat them."
Wow. What a concept.
It was also Bell who called out the team's best and highest-paid player, Andrei Kirilenko, one game, saying: "Set the (expletive) screen!"
Wait a minute.
Who made Raja shift foreman?
He did. You got a problem with that?
The situation was, and is, this: The Jazz don't have much leadership. Bell may not have been the team's long-term solution, in part because he wasn't a starter half the time. But he did his best. Kirilenko has the right spirit, but his orders get lost in translation. Carlos Boozer doesn't always motivate himself, much less his teammates. Matt Harpring has enough to deal with just staying healthy. The Jazz's best hope now is Deron Williams. But it's doubtful veterans will pay much attention to a rookie right off. Not everyone can be Magic Johnson.
Bell wasn't just a leader on the court, though. He was always there after games to offer perspective. He had that rare combination of civility and honesty. The man was as straightforward as a judge. It was Bell who labeled the Jazz's inability to execute "ridiculous." It was Bell, too, who said he wasn't worried about his contract, but whether he played well and won; Bell who kept the Jazz from simply forfeiting the season after Kirilenko and Boozer went down.
Bell can't be blamed for leaving the Jazz. Even with the addition of the promising Williams, they are probably several years away from scaring anyone. Besides, it's a business. In typical Bell style, he didn't entertain numerous offers, playing one off the other. He listened to the Suns and said yes.
Bell put in two seasons with the Jazz, doing everything he could, throwing himself about the court, taking charges and, of course, firing people up. He showed younger players how they should play, coaches how much he cared and fans why paying $50 for a ticket is worth it.
All for a bargain basement salary.Not even Jazz fans should feel bad about seeing someone get what he deserves.