Now that the Utah Jazz have again taken the first exit off the playoff freeway, a lot of people are talking about breaking up the neighborhood, about wheeling and dealing, about bringing in new faces and new jumpshots.
The urge to help out at times like this is powerful.It has become especially popular to cite the example of the Phoenix Suns, the Jazz's recent conquerers and resurrected - their franchise from the ashes of a drug scandal four years ago. With the exception of sixth man Dan Majerle, who was drafted ahead of the Jazz pick two years ago (and who the Jazz say they would have taken), each of the Suns' main Jazz assassins was also available to the Jazz.
That includes Kevin Johnson and Mark West (both acquired in a trade with Cleveland), Tom Chambers (acquired as a free agent), Eddie Johnson (acquired in a trade with Sacramento), Jeff Hornacek (a second-round draft choice in 1986, taken well in back of Jazz pick Dell Curry) and Kurt Rambis (acquired in a trade with Charlotte).
These players have jelled well in Phoenix, producing consecutive seasons of 55 and 54 wins, respectively, and advancing both years to the round-of-Los Angeles in the playoffs.
The perception is that the Suns are wheeler-dealer geniuses and should serve as a role model to the Jazz on how to play the NBA's open market to perfection.
However, if not for the aforementioned drug scandal (one that affected nearly every member of the team, including star player Walter Davis, who was dealt to Denver) and ineffective performances at the college drafts, the Suns would never have been in such a dealing mood in the first place.
Rambis was picked up in exchange for Armon Gilliam, the player the Suns selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the 1987 college draft. Eddie Johnson was picked up in exchange for Ed Pinckney, the Suns first-round draft choice (overall No. 10) in the 1985 draft.
Phoenix's 1986 first-round draftee, William Bedford, taken No. 6 overall, was traded to Detroit for a 1988 first-round draft choice. With that pick the Suns selected Tim Perry (No. 7 overall), who could be seen languishing on the bench during the recent Jazz-Suns series.
And for their 1989 draft choice, the Suns first selected Anthony Cook of Arizona (No. 24 overall), who they traded to Detroit for Kenny Battle, who could be seen next to Perry during the Jazz-Suns playoff games.
From 1985 through 1989, then, every player the Suns have taken first in the draft has been, for them, a fizzle. And if you want to stretch the point, consider that they got Kevin Johnson and West from Cleveland in exchange primarily for Larry Nance, their - you guessed it - No. 1 selection in the 1981 college draft.
All of Phoenix's wheeling and dealing hasn't been strictly to the Suns' advantage either. In 1988 they decided veteran center James Edwards was washed up. They traded him to Detroit, where he now starts for the defending NBA champs.
Also, Nance became an All-Star in Cleveland, Pinckney is a starter for the Celtics, and Gilliam picked up his game a notch in Charlotte, where he scored 18.8 points per game.
The flip side of the Phoenix Suns story is that, from 1984-85 through 1987-88, they had to struggle through four miserable seasons, averaging 33 wins and never winning more than 36. Attendance dropped, the franchise was sold (for $44.5 million in 1987), and there was a grand total of three playoff games during the four years.
During that same time period the Jazz, on the other hand, never had a losing record while increasing their win totals from 41 in 1984-85 to 42, 44, 47, 51 and, this year, to 55. Attendance has reached the sellout-every-night level - something that is yet to happen in Phoenix, where the Suns had 26 sellouts this year.
A full 15 nights during the year you could walk up to the ticket counter at game time in Phoenix and get into the game - an inconceivable occurrance in Salt Lake City.
It's true that the Jazz have a conservative, draft-oriented nature. Eleven of their 12 current players have never played for another team (Mike Brown is the only exception). It's also true that a deal here or there (like for Danny Ainge or Tom Chambers, to list a couple that, in hindsight, got away) might not be a bad idea.
But loyalty isn't such a bad way to go either. Neither is improving your won-loss total for five straight years. Neither is selling out every game.
The Jazz's big problem isn't personnel, it's figuring out what to do once the playoffs arrive. Mr. Springtime, they're not.
Sure, they could have been Phoenix in this past playoff series. The enemy could have been the Jazz. But they'd have to have had a drug scandal first, and lousy drafts, and losing seasons; and it could be that the reason Jazz fans are so anxious to flood the radio talk lines with suggestions at times like this is because the team seems like one of the family, not a dozen mercenaries who became expendable somewhere else.