The scene was 1998 in my parent's basement living room. I had just watched Michael Jordan sink a 15 foot jumper over Byron Russell's head in Game Six of the NBA Finals effectively ruining my 11-year-old life.
I just didn't understand. I didn't understand why my Utah Jazz couldn't bring home the title. Why hadn't Russell fouled? I realized it was MJ but seriously? Shouldn't he at least have made him earn it? Why couldn't a few more of Jeff Hornacek's three pointers have dropped? Why was Karl Malone the world's biggest playoff choke artist?
Why? Why? Why?
Now, more than a decade later, my confusion regarding the Utah Jazz abounds anew. At the beginning of the 2010-2011 season, many Jazz faithful (and others) thought that should this team stay healthy, they were the best chance to challenge the Los Angeles Lakers in the west.
Now, heading into the all-star break the question has to be asked: Are they?
The answer is a resounding...nobody knows.
After going undefeated in preseason play, the Jazz opened this season abysmally, dropping a road game in Denver in an embarrassing fashion, followed by a larger than necessary loss at home to a significantly less talented Phoenix Suns team. Analysts, armchair jocks and players alike blamed it on a lack of cohesiveness between the new teammates and asked for a little patience from the fans.
We gave it and the results started pouring in. D-Will and company showed some serious grit and garnered a reputation as the comeback kids, winning several close ones after being down by double digits in almost all of those games. They rattled off five and seven game win streaks respectively and Salt Lake City breathed a collective sigh of relief.
That is until January 17th 2011. That's when the wheels came off of Jerry Sloan's wagon. The same team that had been so hot in late November and early December went colder than the temperature outside Energy Solutions Arena. A slew of injuries came rushing in like cold and flu season, leading up to a point where only nine players practiced. The team dropped six in a row and continue to struggle to put teams away, barely getting past teams like Minnesota and Sacramento.
Why? Why? Why?
Were the Jazz just lucky during the good times early this year? Did someone's dog die? Has Jerry gone off the deep end, ruining the team's mojo?
No, to all of it.
The ailment concerning the most confusing team in the NBA is a lack of synergy. It's something they had early in the season and have lost, at least for the time being. A lack of cooperation between moving parts to move the whole machine. The team has devolved into a group of dudes playing basketball and just happen to be wearing the same colored shirts every night.
This is not to say that any one player has exhibited selfishness, it's more about frustration on an individual level. To one degree or another each player has got to be experiencing deep seated personal frustration. Deron Williams is an All-Star but can't figure out why his leadership isn't enough at the moment. Paul Millsap is frustrated that his mostly consistent play doesn't seem to be making a difference. C.J. Miles still can't find his offensive identity and Raja Bell can't seem to stay in the groove that works for him.
In explaining the concept of synergy, I once had a teacher explain it like this: Two horses by themselves can pull 200 pounds but together they can pull 500. That is synergy in action. Deron Williams is the best point guard in the league but he cannot ensure this team's success. Millsap is an emerging all-star and will be a force for many years in this league, but he cannot do it alone either. Combine the talents of this entire team, get them to stop trying to pull that 500 pounds alone and remember that a unified team mentality is going to get the job done.
So relax Jazz fans. All will be well. Just remember the lesson of the horses.