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Describing how the newly arrived Shelvin Mack can help the Jazz, coach Quin Snyder cited the team's trouble defending some of the NBA's bigger point guards, including Dallas' Deron Williams.
So follow along: In the five years since the Jazz traded their most recent All-Star selection, they have used nine starting point guards, and now they've traded for another player at the position in the interest of stopping opponents like Williams. Just to make it more fun, Mack will wear D-Will's old No. 8 when he presumably debuts Sunday at Portland a team featuring the locally produced point guard who could have accelerated the Jazz's rebuilding effort. But that's another story.
This is not a lament of the Williams trade of February 2011. Knowing what we know now, the Jazz probably would make that deal with the Nets for just Derrick Favors, never mind the rest of the package. Yet the truth is the Jazz's search for Williams' replacement has become more challenging than discovering Williams as John Stockton's successor, considering they haven't won a playoff game without him.
In these five years (the official anniversary is Tuesday), the Jazz have used nine starting point guards for various durations: Devin Harris, Mo Williams, Jamaal Tinsley, Earl Watson, John Lucas III, Trey Burke, Dante Exum, Raul Neto and Alec Burks.
If not for the knee injury that has caused Exum to miss this season, this discussion would be different. Mack would not have come from Atlanta for a future second-round pick. Now that he's here, this will get interesting.
Skipping ahead, if the Jazz win even an extra game or two because of Mack, the trade will have been worthwhile. This three-team fight with Portland and Houston for the Western Conference's last two playoff spots will be tougher than you may believe, and who knows, Mack might make enough of a difference.
Having two equal quarterbacks can be a problem for a football team, but having three point guards is different even if only two of them can play significant minutes in any game. That's especially true in Snyder's system, as the ball is not always in the hands of a traditional point guard. Less continuity and cohesion are required from that position than with other teams, so Snyder can adjust situationally and the distribution of minutes can change from game to game.
In Exum's absence, though, Neto and Burke knew they would play a lot every night for two-thirds of the season. Now, as Snyder said, "At some point, it's going to be difficult to play three guys at that position. It does become more about who's going to play, but that's competition and that's what makes teams function."
That's not to say nobody ever will be unhappy. Burke is the most logical candidate for that condition, as a former starter. "I'm just going to be me, man play my role," Burke said, when asked how the trade may affect him.
Neto said, "If [Mack] can help us, I'm happy. I've just got to keep doing what I'm doing. I'm not thinking about [whether] he's going to have my minutes. We're a team. We can't have that mentality."
If Neto and Burke wanted to keep the job-sharing arrangement strictly between the two of them, they should have played better. "What we haven't had over the course of the year is consistency at that position," Snyder said. "That's not to diminish anything any one guy's done, because it's not really any one person."
No, it's both of them. Neto has overachieved as a rookie and Burke has improved after shooting horribly last season, but they've too often been overwhelmed defensively. The 6-foot-3 Mack should help in that regard. The former college teammate of Gordon Hayward is "a self-made player" and "a great teammate," said Boston's Brad Stevens, their coach at Butler.
Neto payed one of his better games Friday in a 111-93 win over Boston, scoring a season-high 15 points. The Celtics' Isaiah Thomas scored 25, but he went 7 of 19 from the field. With Neto in foul trouble, Burke was on the court during the Jazz's decisive 15-2 run in the third quarter and Snyder said of his point guards, "You could feel their energy."
They'll need everything they can summon Sunday, facing Portland's Damian Lillard. The Jazz loved Lillard at Weber State in 2012, when they figured to have Golden State's first-round pick if it fell outside of the top seven. The Warriors succeeded by losing 22 of their last 28 games and then winning a drawing with Toronto that gave them the No. 7 pick, so the Jazz's choice was deferred for a year.
Portland also targeted Lillard. The Trail Blazers had the No. 6 pick via the Nets, but they would have lost it if they had moved to No. 3 or higher in the lottery. Portland remained at No. 6 and took Lillard, who scored 51 points Friday against Golden State.
So it all would have taken some luck or other machinations, but the Jazz could have ended up with Lillard, who would have solved their D-Will problem long before now. Instead, the search continues, at five years and counting.
Jazz at Blazers
P At Moda Center, Portland, Ore.
Tipoff • Sunday, 7 p.m. MST
TV • ROOT