Jazz have gone far enough in copying Spurs’ example

Dec 15 2012 - 11:59pm

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He was drafted by them in 2003, but it took leaving Salt Lake City and bouncing around the NBA for a while to help Mo Williams understand how the Utah Jazz are perceived around the NBA.

The 29-year-old point guard said Tuesday he learned the Jazz are viewed by many of his colleagues as a tough, no-nonsense, workmanlike franchise, very much like the San Antonio Spurs.

"Absolutely," Williams said. "But me being from this organization -- a product of this organization -- I knew that already. But playing with guys coming in here, yes, that's the perception. It's a very respectable organization, a la the Spurs, and that's a good testament, that's a good persona to have."

For a long time, the Spurs looked at the Jazz and said, "That's who we want to be."

Now, of course, it's the other way around.

With NBA titles in 1999, 2003 and '05, the Spurs have become the model franchise for small-market clubs like the Jazz.

As the Jazz prepare to play host to the Spurs tonight for an ESPN-televised game at EnergySolutions Arena, media focus once again centers around these two rock-solid franchises.

Neither comes from a major market and neither has the luxury of being able to reel in high-priced free agents.

On the other hand, because nobody's going to mistake San Antonio or Salt Lake City for South Beach or Hollywood, each franchise has had to build its success on a bedrock of consistency, loyalty and dogged adherence to fundamentals.

The difference, of course, is that the Jazz reached the NBA finals in 1997 and '98, and came up short. The Spurs, on the other hand, have three titles. Ultimately, that makes them the better franchise.

But while it's impossible to argue with their success on the court, I'd caution the Jazz to be careful in following the Spurs' blueprint to the letter.

On the way to once again becoming one of the NBA's most formidable teams, San Antonio is quickly becoming a team of troublemakers this season.

Yes, winning is the ultimate deodorant. But frankly I'm not sure the Jazz are cut out to become the bad boys of the NBA; nor am I convinced their fans want them to venture down that road.

Earlier this season the league hit the Spurs with a $250,000 fine after coach Gregg Popovich decided to send four starters home early from a six-game road trip. Popovich insisted his motives were pure but considering their Nov. 29 game at Miami was being televised nationally and attended by commissioner David Stern, my hunch is there was some gamesmanship afoot.

Days later, a photo of surfaced of Spurs' stars Tim Duncan and Tony Parker at what appeared to be a Halloween party. The two future Hall of Famers are seen pointing toy guns to the head of a man dressed to look like longtime NBA ref Joey Crawford.

Crawford and Duncan have a strained history together, which involves a game in which Crawford ejected Duncan during a timeout in 2007.

Finally, there is a situation involving forward Stephen Jackson, who last week was fine $25,000 after threatening Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka in a Twitter message.

Jackson implied he'd punch Ibaka in the mouth the next time the Thunder big man "run up on me."

So, to review for those keeping score at home, this season the Spurs and/or their players have stepped in it three different times.

Look, I know nobody's perfect and that no sports franchise -- not even the saintly Jazz -- is free from controversy.

OK, the Popovich brouhaha with the league is almost laughable, I suppose.

But players with caliber of Duncan and Parker pointing guns at the head of a guy dressed up like a real NBA official? That's over the line.

Even if it was meant to be a joke, it was in remarkably poor taste.

And this latest thing with Jackson?

Please. The NBA is a macho, tough-guy league where those who back down often get backed over, but when the league seems so desperate to downplay any hint of thuggery, it's just not a good idea to have players thumbing out threatening messages on social networks.

No doubt about it, the Spurs are one of the NBA's keystone franchises and at this point the Jazz can only dream of being as successful.

Still, I don't believe the franchise or its fan base can abide the thought of being the NBA's bad boys.

Jim Burton is the Standard-Examiner's sports columnist. He also covers the Utah Jazz and the NBA. He can be reached at 801-625-4265 or at jburton@standard.net. He tweets at http://twitter.com/jmb247

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