SALT LAKE CITY — If you've followed the Jazz for long, you know this week's acquisition of Al Jefferson is important news. Not as interesting as 1987, when they acquired Darryl Dawkins in a trade with Cleveland, but still.
That's not to imply Dawkins did much when he was here. By the time he arrived in Utah, "Chocolate Thunder" had melted into a gooey, sweet memory. He played only four games before being traded to Detroit.
Nevertheless, he was a big name.
A big, over-the-hill name.
But now the Jazz have gained a low-post scoring threat who averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds in three years with Minnesota. That's not the kind of player you order at the drive-through window. If he plays the way he did for the Timberwolves, Utahns will be aghast. They're simply not used to this. They're accustomed to slow, rigid centers, not spinning, wheeling, jumping athletes.
They're used to Studebakers, not Audis.
In part, the Jazz haven't had scoring centers because they had great power forwards. Traditionally, one of the center's main directives was to stay out of the way. With Karl Malone and Carlos Boozer doing the heavy lifting for much of the last quarter of a century, there wasn't a lot of opportunity for others.
Often the Jazz would pull the center out to the top of the circle to clear space inside.
But Jefferson — who can play both forward and center — uses a combination of clever moves and athleticism. He doesn't name his best dunks "Rim Wrecker" or "In-Your-Face Disgrace" the way Dawkins did, but nobody's complaining.
Not everyone can be a poet AND shatter backboards.
For many years, the center position was a source of frustration to Jazz fans, though it did employ some great nicknames: "Chocolate Thunder" Dawkins, "Dinner Bell" Mel Turpin, "Gentle Ben" Poquette and Billy "The Whopper" Paultz.
Sometimes the Jazz even got scoring from the 5-spot. For instance, Mehmet Okur is a good scorer, but his game is on the perimeter. His idea of scoring inside means just inside the 3-point line.
Put him down low and he looks like a truck stuck in traffic.
Greg Ostertag was tall and rangy but moved like a continent. If he spun, there was always the fear he would lose his false tooth. Felton Spencer was an undersized, immobile center who was slowed by injury. Olden Polynice — the onetime cop impersonator — was better at stopping unsuspecting motorists than stopping the opposition. James Donaldson was a thoughtful but limited player who arrived in Utah at the end of his career. Mike Brown was a power forward without a home.
The Jazz even started two games with Luther Wright, a childlike big man who enjoyed watching himself on the JumboTron during timeouts. But Wright's drug and emotional troubles drove him from the league.
Greg Foster, Danny Schayes and Rich Kelley all gave it a try in the middle, in varying times and circumstances, but none was a serious force in the post.
The most identifiable Jazz center was Mark Eaton, who was imposing on defense, a fine shot-blocker and a calming influence. But he wasn't a scorer. Fans howled when he missed a close-up shot or bobbled an entry pass.
They complained, "If only we had a center who could score ..."
So now they do. By adding Jefferson, the Jazz have someone who can make it to the rim and bend it when he gets there.
Hard to imagine — a Utah team with sizzle in the middle.
The Jefferson deal doesn't put the Jazz in title contention, but it should end suspicion they're roasting marshmallows while other teams deal. Strange how the picture keeps changing. In a single day, they went from not too good to not too bad, thanks to a guy everyone should watch on the JumboTron.
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