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Confident. Proud. Intense.
The traits have long defined Earl Watson.
After nine years in the NBA and four practices with the Utah Jazz, nothing has changed.
Watson is all muscle, all the time. Despite charting at just 6-foot-1 and weighing only 185 pounds. Despite being one of the last recognizable players in a loaded free agent market to find a new home.
Watson, 31, signed with the Jazz less than a week ago. The point guard is still adjusting to the altitude; still learning new faces and new names. But while Utah's rookies are balancing anxious nerves with lofty goals, Watson is already locked in. Strong-willed talk about winning, chemistry, leadership, attitude, taking over for starter Deron Williams and not just filling in but going for the jugular, Watson is already ready to deliver.
"When I'm on the court, I'm looking to enhance the lead," Watson said. "Get into the game, and let D-Will close it out. My job's easy."
For him, maybe.
There are few affordable veterans in the league who have a pedigree that includes four college years at UCLA playing with Baron Davis and absorbing the wisdom of John Wooden. Then there are Watson's 676 NBA games, 4,993 points and two playoff appearances, all while learning from highly respected names such as Hubie Brown and Jerry West during his tenure with Memphis.
Watson referred to his basketball career as a wealth of knowledge. His encyclopedia lined with talent, tricks and tenacity is one of the primary reasons Utah added his name to the team's 2010-11 training camp roster at the final hour, overloading a backcourt that already featured Ronnie Price and Sundiata Gaines.
"I'm probably more excited to have him on this team than anybody else," Price said. "Just because the type of career he's had is kind of the career that I hope to have as a pro. He's just a guy that I can learn from. He's a class-act guy."
Watson stressed that nothing was an act when he decided to join the Jazz. Several teams wanted him. But after examining the possibilities, Watson said Utah was a last-minute revelation. Winning, consistency, commitment the same attributes the Jazz have been built upon during the past 20-plus years were the same traits Watson wanted to reattach to his name after enduring five consecutive losing seasons.
"I was spoiled early," Watson said. "So now, going into my 10th year, it's a chance to get back to my foundation, my roots."
He added: "Winning is key to me. You can't replace winning. Winning is priceless."
You also cannot replace veteran leadership.
Williams has ascended to once-unthinkable heights, evolving into an Olympic athlete who many believe rivals and possibly tops New Orleans' Chris Paul as the NBA's premier point guard. But while Price is a capable young backup and Gaines has shown potential, the face of the franchise has not had a quality veteran slapping his hand as he walks off the court for a breather since Derek Fisher left Utah for Los Angeles in 2007.
Williams was hesitant to acknowledge that anything has changed with Watson's addition, going so far as to promote the value of ex-Jazz backup guards Brevin Knight and Jason Hart.
"My learning curve is over, man," Williams said. "You learn every year, I guess. But I know how things go."
But while Williams stated that nothing has been decided and it is still too early to determine whether Watson or Price will be his right-hand man this season, the same player who has averaged at least 36.8 minutes per game the past four years clearly recognized Watson's virtues. Tough, aggressive, pesky defense; the ability to expertly run an offense; invaluable big-time experience. Williams ran down the list.
And while Williams once gave Watson a hard elbow whenever they faced off in the past, the duo could soon unite to form one of the premier point guard tandems in the Western Conference.
"It's really good for me to be on a team with a leader that really wants to win, and win the right way," Watson said. "That's hard to get in the NBA."
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Earl Watson file
Position • Guard
Age • 31
Vitals • 6-foot-1, 185 pounds
Stats • 7.4 points, 4.7 assists, 2.3 rebounds, 1.1 steals
College • UCLA
Previous teams • Seattle, Oklahoma City, Memphis, Denver, Indiana
What happened » The Jazz held their second day of training camp. Two-a-day sessions run through Friday, with a scrimmage scheduled Saturday at EnergySolutions Arena.
Who shined » Utah coach Jerry Sloan said Sundiata Gaines, Jeremy Evans, Ryan Thompson and Demetris Nichols have been impressive. All four are competing for roster spots. Gordon Hayward also caught Sloan's eye.
Of note » Center Kyrylo Fesenko said slimming down to 285 pounds has already made a difference. "[Tuesday] I had two awesome practices," Fesenko said. "They're not as hard to me as they used to be, because I'm finally in shape."
Offbeat » Sloan on rookies working hard during camp: "Hope they realize they can feed their family a lot easier playing this than playing bingo."
Past three teams
Earl Watson's stats from 2007-10:
Gms Pts Reb Ast
Indiana 79 7.8 3.0 5.1
Oklahoma City 68 6.6 2.7 5.8
Seattle 78 10.7 2.9 6.8