SALT LAKE CITY —
The car looked particularly nice. Clean lines, understated burgundy paint, leather seats, sun roof for style. Very European.
I bought it from a seemingly trustworthy guy. He told me it was "a great little car," which was all I needed (or wanted) to hear. It was a few years old, but an Audi nonetheless.
This was in the early 1980s, so maybe the German automaker hadn't worked out all the kinks. Or maybe the owner hadn't worked out the maintenance. Anyway, I bought the car used and this is how things went: brake problems, leaking oil, frozen odometer, unreliable starter, balky transmission …
I'll leave the rest to your imagination.
Over the next several years, I realized something that has stuck with me ever since: Fancy sounding, flashy products — especially used ones — can be overrated.
I mention this because the Utah Jazz open their season tonight at ESA against the Dallas Mavericks and, by some accounts, the Jazz are in trouble. Not only with the Mavericks, but with the entire Western Conference. A few experts are picking the Jazz to miss the playoffs. They cite the numerous player movements that occurred during the off-season and point out that although the Jazz are better, almost everyone else is too. I agree. What I'm not really buying is how much better those other teams are.
Don't forget that used vehicles often come "as is," with no warranty.
I'm not saying the Jazz will finish ahead of most of the Western Conference teams; I'm saying they'll finish ahead of at least seven of them. They'll win enough games to make the playoffs. And they'll get that far by simply working until their opponents wheeze.
In case you have been, oh, dead since August, the Los Angeles Lakers acquired Dwight Howard in the offseason, which was a terrific move. They also picked up Steve Nash, who has been around since the Industrial Revolution. The man is 38. When Karl Malone and John Stockton were that age, it was over. Even with them, the Jazz lost in the first round of the playoffs three straight years.
Nash is still a threat, but he can't guard a trash can. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant has dents everywhere. At 34 he has more miles behind him than an astronaut. He has played almost 60,000 minutes, counting playoffs.
Bryant missed the entire preseason with a bruised foot and was listed as a game-time decision for L.A.'s opener.
By teaming Nash, Howard and Bryant with Metta World Peace and Pau Gasol, the Lakers have one of the most glamorous lineups ever. Only Hollywood could come up with a cast like that.
Even so, I figure as a team they've exceeded their 1000,000-mile warranty.
Meanwhile, the L.A. Clippers too will be good, but adding Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups is like adding Morgan Fairchild and Tom Selleck to the fall TV lineup.
Not as much sizzle as there once was.
San Antonio has some fine young talent, which keeps it dangerous. Yet the key is still 36-year-old Tim Duncan, who at some point this year is going to rust up and stop in his tracks. Likewise, Dallas depends on one thing: Dirk Nowitzki. He's out for several weeks after knee surgery.
Sorry, but I've already had too much experience with damaged German products to be impressed.
Oklahoma City and Memphis should be tough. But the Timberwolves will be gone before the snow flies — which happens early in Minnesota. Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio are out with injuries for a couple of months. Rubio could wind up another Raul Lopez, i.e. a Spaniard who wasn't healthy long enough to show his true gifts.
Another Minnesota acquisition, Andrei Kirilenko, was fading when he left Utah. Brandon Roy quit last year for a good reason. He had no knees.
The stats of older players almost always drop, whether it's field goal percentage (Bryant, Duncan), scoring and assists (Nash) or scoring and rebounding (Nowitzki). Those players shouldn't feel bad about it; just accept it.
I keep hearing the Jazz are young and talented. Now they can prove it. I can't think of a better way to do so than to pick on the old and infirm. That's what Sacramento did to the Jazz back at the end of the Stockton-Malone era.
I don't see the Jazz finishing ahead of teams like the Spurs, Lakers and Clippers. Nor do I see them missing the playoffs. They'll even win some games against the aforementioned teams, for one main reason: Just because something has a famous name and an array of luxury features doesn't mean it has a ton of miles left in the tank.