It would be really nice if one day NBA players treated the contracts they've signed as something more than an invoice for future services rendered. When a player plucks their signature down on that piece of paper, they are saying that for this period of time I will work in your employ to the best of my ability and in return you will pay me 'x' number of dollars. It's that simple. Could you imagine what the league would be like if team owners started saying that they wished a player would just quit because they don't like this or that aspect of them or the way they play?
Andrei Kirilenko had a bad year. Coach Jerry Sloan opted to run his team's offense through his three best offensive players - Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur and Deron Williams - because teams tend to highlight their strengths whenever possible. Kirilenko pouted. It didn't matter to him that the team was winning. It didn't matter to him that when he was the main cog they didn't win. It didn't matter to him that basing an offense around him is foolhardy because he hasn't played more than 70 games in three years. Yet he goes off to play Euroball on a team where he is the best player and thusly is the key piece of the offense, he wins the MVP (deservedly) and now he decides that he should be traded because he doesn't like coach Sloan or the system in Utah because it doesn't match his experience with the Russian national team. .
You know what? Too bad. He seemed to like coach Sloan fine when the Jazz were asking him to take their $87 million. It's all well and good for him to say he'd give it up now when he knows there is no legal way for him to do that. Ironic, too, that the day after making that statement he stops speaking out for fear of fines from the NBA. I suppose his money isn't so irrelevant after all.
Of course, if he had just been able to produce on the court, none of this would be happening. Either way the Jazz are going to force him to honor his contract and that is in all likelihood what he is going to do. So for all of the posturing and attention he will get during media day and beyond, all of this will amount to nothing more than a once-promising rising star in the NBA having the spotlight on him again briefly before the games that matter start being played.
And when that happens, mercifully, it will be Boozer, Okur and Williams who step back into the limelight. Those three emerged as a force last year in a fashion no one anticipated when the season kicked off. A year ago they were a question mark to even make the Playoffs, but when all was said and done they had made it to the Western Conference Finals and had flipped the switch from rebuilding to rebuilt.
Especially promising was the tandem of Boozer and Williams. The two, playing in just their first full season together, seem to be in perfect sync from the opening tip. Boozer's aggressive inside game meshed perfectly with Williams' potent outside game in a way as harmonious as the former Jazz tandem they were brought in to emulate. To say that the two of them run the best pick-and-roll in the NBA today is a testament to both of those players (and to the system in which they are employed) and the way both managed to improve upon their games in the Playoffs was truly a sight to behold.
The downside, aside from Kirilenko, is that this team was forced this summer to lose Derek Fisher, a locker-room leader and veteran Playoff performer, and they got nothing in return for his departure. Compound that fact with the issue that this team still has no clear starting shooting guard and this team could face trouble achieving the same heights they did last season should all three Western powers (San Antonio, Dallas and Phoenix) make it out of the first round. Heck, they would be given a far more serious run for their money if they are forced to face Houston again at any point in the post-season.
So it is with mixed expectations that the Jazz head into his season. Surely they are still somewhat juiced from their experiences last spring, but that one cannot help but wonder if that is tempered somewhat by the loss of Fisher and the lack of off-season acquisitions (not to mention Kirilenko). While this team has a reason to look to the future with optimism, they may have to wait their turn if they refuse to beef-up their roster externally.