OKLAHOMA CITY — Seeing how the Utah-Oklahoma City playoff series involves only small-market teams, can we speak in country talk? Toby Keith and Garth Brooks are Oklahoma natives. SHeDAISY is from Magna and Julianne Hough from Orem.
Jeans are fine for the theater in both places, especially if “Oklahoma!” is playing.
So here we go with the country-speak: The Oklahoma City Thunder are what the Utah Jazz want to be when they’re all growed up.
Trailing 1-0 in their best-of-seven series, the Jazz aren’t conceding anything. It’s just that OKC is what the Jazz want to be, i.e., a seriously strong team in a relatively underrated city.
Two decades ago, when the Jazz twice made the NBA Finals, there was suspicion this could never again happen with a small-market team. Then San Antonio won five championships. Oklahoma City has been to four conference finals, including one NBA final.
So take a close look, Jazz.
As they say in the weight-loss commercials, this could be you!
It might even happen soon.
“I think so,” said Jazz reserve Royce O’Neale. “I mean, we’ve got a great group of guys who work hard, love playing with each other, guys who want to be great. So they’re going to do what they have to. I think we’ve got a couple guys ready for that role in a couple years.”
It can’t come soon enough for Jazz fans, who haven’t seen a deep playoff team since the days of Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams. For now, OKC is a team with enough talent in its starting lineup to win a championship.
Currently the Jazz are a tomorrow team, with Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell rapidly evolving. If Mitchell’s foot contusion slows him in Wednesday’s Game 2, they’ll probably be a “gone team.” Oklahoma City is all about today. Carmelo Anthony is 33 and showing some mileage, but pairing him with 29-year-old Russell Westbrook and 27-year-old Paul George was a shrewd move.
Utah couldn’t be blamed for watching the Thunder from the corner of its eye. Every team wants draft picks that turn into stars (Westbrook, Steven Adams). It also wants trades that infuse superior talent (George, Anthony). Then it picks up some still useful free agents (Corey Brewer).
At one time, Kevin Durant, James Harden and Westbrook were on the same OKC team, drafted by the franchise, at Nos. 2, 3, 4, respectively (Durant and Westbrook were selected when the team was in Seattle). Teams mess up on draft day, but it hasn’t often happened with the Thunder.
The Jazz admit they aren’t likely to outbid anyone for top free-agent talent, but that’s not how OKC has done it, either.
What is the likelihood of the Jazz retaining Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell long term?— Deseret News Sports (@desnewssports) April 17, 2018
Not only are the Thunder a team the Jazz want to beat, they’re also a team they want to be, i.e. immensely talented and supremely confident. That’s why Oklahoma City’s Paul George has been referring to himself in third person as “Playoff P.”
Whatever works. He got 36 points in Sunday’s series opener.
“If we are going to get that every night,” OKC’s Raymond Felton said, “I like our chances.” It’s hard not to.
Right now the Jazz are a fair distance from being the Thunder. Jenni Carlson described the Jazz predicament in the Oklahoman, pointing out that while the Jazz have maintained respectability in the post-Stockton-Malone era, they’re a blip on he international radar.
“Frankly I’m not sure any small market has ever had the star power of Westbrook and Durant, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony,” she wrote. “For as great as they were, Stockton and Malone weren’t worldwide stars. The NBA wasn’t a global brand. They could’ve traveled to India or China and largely been unknown.” That was fine with Stockton, who did travel to Barcelona largely unknown — during the 1992 Olympics. He loved it.
Regardless, success with stars has indeed put the Thunder on the map.
All the Jazz need to do is follow directions.