Quin Snyder’s Jazz Lack Toughness


Nov 7, 2014; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz players (left to right) Joe Ingles and Trey Burke and Derrick Favors and Trevor Booker watch from the bench during the second half against the Dallas Mavericks at EnergySolutions Arena. Dallas won 105-82. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

I feel like I’m in the middle of a bad Wendy’s commercial parody. The difference is, I keep watching this Utah Jazz team, with a knot in my stomach, lay down and accept loss after loss. My guts start to churn as I scratch my head and yell out loud, “Where’s the toughness?! Where the hell is the toughness?!” I get mad, throw a pillow, and I’m left feeling empty, because the hissy fit I just threw displayed more emotion and passion than any Jazz player has shown all season.

Admittedly, I’m a crusty, cynical curmudgeon, much like the old Wendy’s ladies. However, we’re both searching for something that just isn’t there while leaving unsatisfied. I hate that feeling. I hate it a lot.

I’m also someone who has an affinity towards toughness in sports. I still worship at the altar of the John Stockton Charlie-horse and the Karl Malone elbow. I owned a Charles Oakley jersey. I get downright giddy when the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens play. And I’m 99.9 percent sure I’ve seen every Clint Eastwood movie ever. I like gritty. I like grimy. I like nasty. And I especially like when the basketball team I cheer for embodies those three attributes.

I’m just going to go ahead and say what we’ve all been thinking: this Utah Jazz team is soft. Like skipping through a field of daisies, reciting break-up poetry, draped in fleece and velvet soft. I can just imagine them in the locker room before a big game, warming up to some Drake song where he’s pining over a girl who didn’t call him in middle school. Look, I’m sure these Jazz players are super sweet guys, and they’re also young. That’s a terrible combination for a basketball team.

When my driveway is covered in a foot of snow, and I can’t get my car out to go to work, I’ll call some nice, young guys for help. But when I want to watch basketball, I’ll keep my allegiances towards teams that ooze strength.

I know Jazz fans can feel my pain. This is a franchise that was built on toughness, hard work and Gary Briggs’ “Magic Spray.” For years, we saw the Jazz practically body slam their opponents into submission. Jerry Sloan and his squads snarled, barked and performed with a Mount Olympus sized chip on their shoulder. They never blinked an eye when it came to setting a hard screen or laying down a hard foul. It was a stark reminder to opponents that points and/or wins were never going to come easy. Teams were going to have to earn everything they got, all the time.

This is a franchise that was built on toughness, hard work and Gary Briggs’ “Magic Spray.”

Us fans lauded it. It’s easy to cheer for the underdog that never gives up. It’s why players like Antoine Carr, Adam Keefe, Matt Harpring and Demarre Carroll are spoken about in reverent tones. It’s also why those teams were beloved and equally rewarded with the best home-court advantage in the league. Jazz fandom is well documented—we’re deafeningly loud, daunting and downright intimidating. I miss that and I want it back.

In the past, there wasn’t a single team in the NBA that wanted to play in Salt Lake City. That’s not the case anymore. Last night’s game against the Orlando Magic might as well have been played in the downtown SLC library. The fans were lifeless, apathetic and that aforementioned intimidation factor has vanished. The best home court advantage in the league is now in hiding, waiting for a glimmer of hope, so it can come back and unleash hell.

The problems are apparent. The Jazz have lost 8 straight games—many of which they’ve never even had a lead. They continuously get pushed around, only to mope back to the bench with their tails tucked between their legs. They have the swagger of my Dad’s old catcher‘s mitt. Something needs to change.

So how does a team that is currently bubble-bath soft gain the toughness to compete in the NBA?

It begins on the defensive end. Based on John Hollinger’s rankings, the Jazz are the 29th worst defensive team in the league, only above the Los Angeles Lakers. Yes, the Lakers team that starts Carlos Boozer and Jordan Hill. That’s awful. That’s really awful.

Too often we’ve seen Jazz players give up easy shots, not defend the rim, miss on rotations and help defense and look completely lost on the defensive end. Just ask Anthony Davis and Kyle Lowry, who both scored new career highs against the Jazz in the span of about a week.

If the Jazz want to get off this schneid, and more so, become a winning basketball team again, they’re going to have to defend a whole hell of a lot better. Defense more than anything is effort. It’s a mindset, a sort of protruding self-confidence that says, “there’s absolutely no way you’re scoring on me.”

Go ahead and spend a night watching teams like the Warriors, Spurs or Grizzlies. They’re some of the best defensive teams in the league for a reason. They get upset when their opponent gets easy buckets. It makes them mad. In return, they’re willing to do whatever it takes to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The Jazz are missing that pride. Instead of getting angry, they get discouraged. The result is a lot of finger pointing, slumped shoulders and Quin Snyder losing his freaking mind. It has to stop. Poutiness has never won a basketball game. Not once.

The next component is a sense of urgency.

Right now, the Jazz are a broken record: they come out flat in the first half, with the energy of a retirement home craft session, and spend the rest of the game trying to make up for lost time, only to fall flat on their faces. Night after night, I find myself muttering, “What are you waiting for?”

Good teams establish the tone of the game early. It’s more than diving on the floor for loose balls or making the extra pass; it’s a mental commitment that blends hustle with execution. It’s a cliché, but playing with a sense or urgency means doing the little things that translate into winning plays. The central element will always be increased effort, but trusting and buying into the system wholeheartedly carries an equal amount of importance.

Lastly, the Jazz must develop some resiliency.

Mike Tyson famously said, “Everyone has a plan – until they get punched in the face.” This couldn’t ring more true for the Utah Jazz. Right now, teams don’t fear playing them. They know they can punch the Jazz square in the mouth without any retaliation. What this has resulted in is a lot of hanging/shaking heads and huffing and puffing. The body language is gross and it speaks volumes.

Maybe they should have a Rocky marathon so they can learn what to do when they get hit? An NBA season is going to have its fair share of tough moments. Basketball is also a game of runs—other teams are going to get hot and make plays. The crucial thing is the reaction/counter attack. The ability to weather the storm and still come out on top. I’m not seeing that out of the Jazz. Right now they’re the runt of the litter, and if they ever want to reach alpha-dog status, they’re going to have to bite back. Hard.

I’m not giving up hope just yet. Part of having a young team is experiencing growing pains. But if the Jazz want to be something other than perpetual cellar dwellers, they’re going to have to toughen up in a big way.