SALT LAKE CITY — During his introduction in Utah last week, Quin Snyder said little about where he would take the Jazz. There was general talk about improvement and potential, but no bluster. This was in contrast to New York Knicks coach Derek Fisher, who said in his press conference that “we want to add more banners to this ceiling in here as we all continue to come back to this building on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly basis. I thank you all. I look forward to working with you all, in helping re-establish the New York Knicks as not only the best team in New York, but as one of the best teams in the world."
Lots of New York talk, if you ask me.
That doesn’t make Snyder a lesser hire for the Jazz. At the same time, I have to repeat what I said to a friend who asked me if I thought Snyder was “the answer.”
“John R. Wooden wouldn’t be the answer with this group,” I said.
Unless the Jazz can pull off some major upgrades beyond acquiring a fine player with the No. 5 pick in the draft, Snyder won’t even get them to the playoffs. It will be putting lipstick on a pig.
That’s the worry of it. Far more than the NCAA, the NBA is about players, not coaches. I’ve heard NBA people rhetorically ask who couldn’t win 11 titles — sorry, Phil Jackson — if you had Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan in your lineups. That’s like picking up some KFC and saying, “Kids, I’m making dinner tonight!”
The Jazz didn’t just miss the playoffs last season, they missed the concept, finishing 24 games out of eighth place. They couldn’t have found league-leading San Antonio with the Hubble Telescope. Even if they draft Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid or Andrew Wiggins, it won’t be enough to make a 24-game difference, much less the 37-game difference between first and last place.
There are occasional exceptions to the superstar/championship rule. The Detroit Pistons won a title in 2004 with Richard Hamilton, Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Chauncey Billups and Mehmet Okur. That’s not exactly a Hall of Fame convention. Yet they still played in a combined 17 All-Star games.
The Jazz have no All-Stars. It's debatable whether they have any future All-Stars.
The Milwaukee Bucks won just 27 games in 1968-69, but won 56 and made the conference finals after drafting Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. They won the title in 1971 after adding Oscar Robertson. But they didn’t just add two players; they added two of history’s 10 greatest.
The 1979-80 Lakers won a championship in Magic Johnson’s first year. But they already had Abdul-Jabbar, Ron Boone, Michael Cooper, Norm Nixon and Jamaal Wilkes. Plus, they added Spencer Haywood that year. Boone was a four-time All-Star, Abdul-Jabbar 18, Haywood five, Nixon two and Wilkes three.
Gordon Hayward is a restricted free agent, so the Jazz will probably keep him, but it’s hard to say whether an opponent could gum things up with a “toxic” contract offer. Derrick Favors? They say he’s going to break out, but when? He’s been in the league four years. Magic already had two titles and one finals appearance after his first four years.
The player who elicits the most optimism by Jazz fans nowadays is Trey Burke, a No. 9 draft pick.
So this is the team Snyder inherits. Tyrone Corbin improved his players, despite being left without his two best scorers, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, last summer. The former Jazz coach didn’t have a single All-Star in 2013-14, much less two Hall of Famers, a la Jerry Sloan.
Tom Nissalke, the former Jazz coach, often says, “Nobody can win without the players.”
He should know. He was both ABA and NBA coach of the year.
In that sense, Snyder has a big task. If the Jazz draft well and acquire an All-Star or two, the coach will look smarter than Tesla. If they don’t, he’ll look a lot like Corbin: a performer who spent his career working without a net.
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