Facing a stream of questions this offseason, the Jazz might take note from the journey of All-Star forward Zach Randolph.
In a recorded interview with ESPN and Grantland.com’s Bill Simmons earlier this season, the Grizzlies’ All-Star forward revealed what helped him go from well-traveled and unwanted to beloved citizen and athlete in Memphis.
“[Memphis] is a place where people work hard,” Randolph said. “Ain’t nothing given to them easy. I’m that type of guy…They respect real people. It’s a blue-collar town and I’m a blue-collar player. It’s a perfect fit.”
It’s no coincidence Randolph’s seamless fit in Memphis led to the Grizzlies’ rise in the Western Conference.
Yes, Randolph is talented. Yes, he has talented players around him. There’s something else at play with the combination, however. It’s both subtle and overwhelming. It’s the point when a team’s star and a city’s personality reflect each other, lifting the franchise to an identity that breeds success.
It’s not just Randolph and the Grizzlies. Oklahoma City was ready to support an NBA franchise. No question. But for a city renowned for college sports, the Thunder’s college-age star core couldn’t have been a better fit.
Ditto for LeBron’s fun-loving showmanship and Miami. Tim Duncan’s almost-boring consistency is the glove to San Antonio’s almost-boring lifestyle.
There’s a reason Golden State has embraced Stephen Curry so feverishly. Oakland is pickup hoops heaven. Its streets produced Gary Payton and Jason Kidd for crying out loud.
So when Curry is pulling off double-crossovers and splashing step-backs from 25 feet out, the crowd isn’t just entertained. It’s more than that, more than merely an entertainer and his audience. In his best moments, Curry represents a fan base, a community. It’s the kind of connection that has fans nodding their heads when they talk about him.
Yeah, that’s our guy.
The Jazz had that for 18 years in Stockton and Malone. They weren’t flashy, but by gum they were dependable. They didn’t call in sick. They showed up. They got the job done in the most efficient way possible, and did it long enough to become known as the best pick-and-roll game in the business.
When national pundits would highlight those qualities, you know what Utahns did? They nodded their heads and smiled in approval.
It’s been a while since that connection was severed. Others tried to replace it. Kirilenko. Williams. Boozer. Jefferson. For various reasons, none of them latched on.
Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Gordon Hayward appear to be the next candidates, and young ones at that. It’s a valid attempt. In a state overflowing with college kids, the NBA “kids” could do a bang-up job representing the fans for whom they play.
Jazz fans would love nothing more than that. It’s been a while since they took a source of prolonged pride in the faces plastered on the sides of Energy Solutions Arena. The last few years’ worth of faces have inspired more dissatisfaction than anything else.
Utah needs to get better. They need a star that can carry the team. But if this year’s playoff teams have proven anything, the fit is just as important as the talent.