SALT LAKE CITY — It doesn’t matter whether they’re seen as mentors, teachers or coaches on the floor, Jazz point guards Jamaal Tinsley and Earl Watson have earned the respect of their younger teammates.
And now that starter Mo Williams will be out for at least the next six weeks, Tinsley and Watson have put themselves in position to guide the Jazz over some potentially rocky terrain.
“We’ve got two veteran point guards who’ve see it all,” 22-year-old Jazzman Gordon Hayward said. “They’re great leaders by themselves and we’re going to have to lean on them a little bit.”
Prior to Wednesday’s runaway victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Jazz announced Williams will undergo surgery to repair his sprained right thumb and will be out for at least the next six weeks. That leaves Tinsley, 34, and Watson, 33, as Utah’s primary floor leaders.
Fortunately for the Jazz, Tinsley and Watson have already established a good rapport with their teammates, who say they trust and respect them completely.
“When you have respect it makes it a lot easier,” Watson said.
Hayward was in junior high school and living in the suburbs of Indianapolis when Tinsley played for his hometown Pacers. Now fast forward a decade and he routinely gets Tinsley’s advice in practices, during games and on road trips.
“He’s been an asset like that since the day he got here,” Hayward said. “(He is) just helping out us younger guys and guiding us a little bit. He’s been through it all.”
Wednesday’s victory over the Timberwolves marked the fifth consecutive game Williams has missed. The Jazz are just 2-3 during that span, which includes back-to-back losses to the L.A. Clippers.
Utah plays at Phoenix tonight and in Denver on Saturday.
While Jazz players insist Tinsley and Watson have their full faith and respect, that alone doesn’t guarantee wins.
“Everybody knows what’s at stake,” Tinsley said. “Everybody knows it takes to win ballgames, everybody should be on the same page. You (can no longer) control what happened in the last two or three games but you can always (try to ) get better the next time you get on the court.”
Tinsley started and scored 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting against the T-Wolves. Watson came of the bench and dished out nine assists in 24 minutes of work.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with mentoring, you just have to be accountable,” Watson said. “I think leadership takes a lot of responsibility. When you lose, you have to take it, you can’t point fingers.”
Tinsley said leadership also means accepting your role on the team and not complaining about playing time. Since coming to the Jazz he has largely been used in a backup role but has also been a cheerleader and teacher on the bench.
By doing so, he said he likes to think he and Watson set a good example and solidified the team concept.
“From the beginning I think we’ve been professional about leading on, whatever role we get and whatever minutes we come across,” he said. “(We have) just tried to teach the young guys to be ready when your number’s being called and when it’s not being called (asking) ‘Why are you sitting on the bench complaining?’”
Watson said neither he nor Tinsley need to change their playing style in Williams’ absence.
“I think basketball’s a great parallel to life: Never change who you are,” he said. “Just be true to yourself and be prepared to play hard and people will respect it. Eventually, will embrace it.”