Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Lakers
Tuesday December 27th, 8:30 p.m.
TV: TNT; Radio: 1320-AM
LOS ANGELES —
The Jazz open the season tonight, having addressed some pressing issues. In the last 18 months, they've added players who can fill more than one position, such as Josh Howard, Al Jefferson and Gordon Hayward. They've become bigger by picking up Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. And they got deeper by bringing on Earl Watson and Alec Burks.
What the Jazz haven't resolved is who should be their alpha dog. Right now, there is no team leader. They govern by committee. If a player has something to say, he just says it. There's nobody really there to set him straight.
Like jury duty and Republican hopefuls, everyone is a potential candidate.
Unfortunately, as the saying goes, everybody's assignment is nobody's assignment.
Since the Jazz traded Deron Williams last winter, they have been rudderless — at least on the court. Neither Mehmet Okur nor Andrei Kirilekno had the temperament for the job, which is maybe a blessing, since they're both now gone. Raja Bell is the closest thing to a leader the Jazz have. He's charismatic, strong, fiery, articulate and experienced. Trouble is, he might not be playing much. Last season was an off year for Bell, and it's unclear how much starting time he'll get this year, or how well he'll play.
Bench players can be a fine locker room influence, but a true team leader is usually a top player as well. John Stockton, Karl Malone and Williams were leaders, Earl Watson is not.
When you consider Jazz leaders, the names — and drawbacks — are obvious.
Jefferson has charisma, and he obviously gets enough court time. But he can be moody and inconsistent in his delivery. When Devin Harris arrived in the Williams trade, some assumed that as the point guard, he would take the reins. But so far that hasn't happened. Last year, he appeared competent but unassertive, even a bit aloof. Word is he intends to step up his leadership this year. But it isn't like switching on a light.
Favors is too inexperienced and soft spoken. Josh Howard is too new and his future with the Jazz unclear. C.J. Miles is too laid back, Watson too temporary, Gordon Hayward too agreeable, Enes Kanter too, well, Turkish.
Another possibility is Paul Millsap, the reliable, hard-working forward. He is certainly a good example. But he also is too quiet for the job and besides, he might end up coming off the bench. With all the mentions of him being traded, you wonder if it's a role he would even want.
Some say a clear-cut team leader isn't necessary. Hmmm. Dallas has one. The Lakers have one. Chicago has one. Miami and Boston have several.
Asked if teams need an acknowledged leader, Jazz coach Ty Corbin replied, "I think it helps. I don't think you necessarily need it. I'd like for all the guys to make sure they lead themselves in the right direction."
It isn't even clear yet whether the players consider Corbin a strong leader. He has only had the reins for a few months. Anyone would seem meek following Jerry Sloan.
Can a team really govern by committee, or does it need a Stockton and/or Malone?
Said Corbin: "Well, Stockton and Malone aren't coming back. I hope they would, but ... I think this group of guys will learn to do it individually and then collectively as a group, and then hopefully somebody will emerge as the one or two guys that can lead everybody, or encourage everybody.
"We have the guys that can do it. But for whatever reason, they're a little apprehensive to step up and do it. Hopefully, they'll get a little more comfortable as they go."
Thus, the Jazz must add "find a team leader" to their list of things to do ASAP. Leadership by committee? Save it for the PTA.
"We just need to form a chemistry with each other," Favors said.
And find an on-court presence to do the mixing.
If last year's meltdown showed anything, it's that when things start unraveling, someone needs the authority to call a meeting.