Earlier this month, Grantland published an interview and career retrospective with former Utah Jazz forward and one-time All-Star Josh Howard. While the piece provided many interesting tidbits about Howard and his journey, revelations about NBA players and their perception of playing in Salt Lake City drudged up some old wounds and once again confirmed what many fans have been griping about for decades –Utah is not an attractive destination for players because they don’t want to live in Salt Lake.
“A lot of people think Utah is a bad place to play, but hell nah,” Howard said. “That fan support is so crazy up there. You have a home-court advantage there, a serious one.”
There is, of course, a silver lining in that statement, but that initial thought process (one that is no doubt shared by the majority of players) stings a bit. It brings to mind past instances where the Jazz did their best to acquire a difference maker for their team, but the player in question balked at the notion of playing for Utah.
In 1997 and 1998, the Jazz narrowly missed out on winning an NBA title. Each year, Jazz management reached agreement on a trade that would have netted the team a player who could have made a difference and potentially pushed them over the hump that kept them from the title. Both times, the player in question refused to report to the Jazz, thus killing any deal that had been in place.
First it was Derek Harper. His statements following a failed move to Utah from the Dallas Mavericks continue to resonate among the Jazz faithful.
“There was a Utah deal, but you go live in Utah. Nothing against Utah or their team, but I don’t want to live there.”
The following season, it was Rony Seikaly, who had no intention of reporting to the Jazz despite a completed deal with the Orlando Magic. It was a disturbing turn of events for the team and its fans, and something that continues to plague the franchise to this very day.
There’s a reason that Utah wasn’t in play for the top-flight free agents like Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and LeBron James, and this is it. The Jazz have a perception problem. It seems at times that the only way they can acquire a high caliber player is through the draft or trades, and as evidenced by Seikaly and Harper, even that can be a risky proposition. What’s unfortunate is that once players are actually here, they adjust, grow to love the state, and often come out of the experience as better players. This was Howard’s experience and is one that has been shared by many over the years.
Just last season, Richard Jefferson utilized his time with the Jazz to prove that he can still contribute at a high level and parlayed that success into a new contract and important role with the Mavericks. Current Jazz big man Derrick Favors bought a house in Utah before signing his contract extension and has been enjoying his offseason is Salt Lake. The same could be said for former franchise point-man Deron Williams, who continues to spend a lot of time in Utah years after being traded from the team. Even Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest player in the history of the game, owns a home in Park City.
So despite the perception, when players are actually able to spend time in Utah with the Jazz, they tend to come out better for it. Hopefully the team will be able to lock in to the right player and use this to their advantage as they look to build the foundation for a winning team going forward.